Crude oil dropped down towards US$41/b, stoking fears that prices will once again fall below US$40/b as the markets deals with a persistent supply glut that does not seem to have an end in sight. China, in particular, is almost finished filling up its strategic petroleum reserves, and has been buying up less crude in July than earlier in the year.
Last week in Asian oil
In a sign that the global oil glut is growing ever bigger, Saudi Aramco has lowered the pricing of its crude sold to Asian customers, slashing Arab Light and Arab Extra Light in particular as it competes with Iran to sell crude to an Asian refining market that is under pressure from low margins. In contrast, prices to Europe were raised, an indication of the region’s lower priority in the race for demand stakes.
In a sign that Asian demand is running out of steam, Korean crude oil imports for July fell by 5.8% y-o-y to 88 million barrels. There is also concern about the wider Korean economy; overall exports fell by 10.2%, the 19th consecutive monthly contraction, and weak economies have weak oil demand.
Years of sluggish investment and the depressed crude markets have seen Indonesia’s proven oil reserves sink to their lowest level since 2000, with only 2,922 million stock tank barrels in oil reserves declared for the first half of 2016. This comes despite an increase in fields - 757 in 2015 vs 632 in 2000 – indicating that mature fields are depleting fast and new fields coming online are not substantial enough to offset the loss.
Pakistan is reviving its plans for two new oil refineries to eliminate surging domestic demand that have caused oil imports to spike. The ambitious plans call for the planned Balochistan and central Punjab refineries, with a whooping combined 480kb/d capacity, to come online by 2023, eliminating the need for imports. As grand as the plan is, it is also unlikely to happen.
Japanese refiner TonenGeneral has purchased its first crude oil from Iran, a move that was not possible when it was part of ExxonMobil, illustrating a shift towards embracing Iran as a new crude source for Japan.
Indonesia has reversed its decision to implement a new pricing formula based on dated Brent for its July shipments, to ‘maintain stability’ in the market, but will press ahead with the new formula by the end of 2016.
The first LNG shipment from the lower 48 US states is on its way to China, as Shell’s Maran Gas Apollonia loaded with Cheniere’s Sabine Pass gas moved past the Panama Canal towards China. Expect this to become a busy route in the near future, as the US Gulf heats up the race to supply LNG to Asia, joining Canada and Australia.
Two major deepwater natural gas fields in Indonesia will start production in the next 12 months, with Chevron’s Bangka project due in August, and Eni’s Jangkrik expected for July 2017. Both are located in the Kutai Basin in East Kalimantan.
China’s upstream giant CNOOC is warning investors that it will likely declare a loss of US$1.2 billion for 1H16, as it takes a hit on the oil sands assets it bought from Nexen. The severe decline in oil prices has been particularly brutal for CNOOC, as it has no downstream assets to hedge and offset revenue that evaporated when oil prices crashed.
International markets last week
The impasse between the Libya government and Libya’s National Oil Co is over. NOC has now said that it ‘unconditionally welcomes’ the deal brokered between the government and the Petroleum Facilities Guard, moving to restart crude exports from three blocked ports. It is good news for Libya’s oil exports, but another contribution to ever-growing supply.
Norway’s Statoil has agreed to pay US$2.5 billion to Petrobras for a 66% stake in the BM-S-8 offshore licence in Brazil, which includes a substantial part of the Carcará oil field in the Santos basin. Although Petrobras is loath to part with recoverable volumes of up to 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent, huge debts means it must offer up valuable assets for cash.
A fifth consecutive rise for the US rig count, with producers adding three new oil rigs but stopped two gas rigs to bring the total to 462. Though lower than the rise of 14 last week, the continued additions show producers gaining confidence, but contributing to the growing glut.
The Petrobras sell-off continues, with the Brazilian giant offering up its petrochemicals units in Pernambuco to Mexico’s Alpek for US$700 million. The deal is part of Petrobras’ attempt to pare down debt through asset sales, and the petchems units’ recent performance has been weak.
In other Petrobras news, the Brazilian state oil firm says its plans to re-evaluates its plans for the massive Comperj and Abreu refining and petrochemical projects, suspending ongoing work at both sites for the time being as it grapples with its debt and a refocusing of priorities.
A favourable FEIS (final environmental impact statement) has been released for the Golden Pass LNG export project in Texas by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, clearing the way for US$10 billion Golden Pass to switch from an import to an export facility, just as the widened Panama Canal dramatically shortens the journey of US Gulf LNG to Asia.
Tumbling oil prices have knocked the earnings of the world’s oil giants. ExxonMobil posting a 59% decline in profits for Q2, down to US$1.7 billion, while Chevron’s drop was even more dramatic – into the red with a loss of US$1.47 billion after a US$571 million profit in Q215. The picture was repeated across the earnings reports of oil companies, with players like Shell, BP and Statoil reporting weak results.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 18 March 2019 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$58/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Risk and reward – improving recovery rates versus exploration
A giant oil supply gap looms. If, as we expect, oil demand peaks at 110 million b/d in 2036, the inexorable decline of fields in production or under development today creates a yawning gap of 50 million b/d by the end of that decade.
How to fill it? It’s the preoccupation of the E&P sector. Harry Paton, Senior Analyst, Global Oil Supply, identifies the contribution from each of the traditional four sources.
1. Reserve growth
An additional 12 million b/d, or 24%, will come from fields already in production or under development. These additional reserves are typically the lowest risk and among the lowest cost, readily tied-in to export infrastructure already in place. Around 90% of these future volumes break even below US$60 per barrel.
2. pre-drill tight oil inventory and conventional pre-FID projects
They will bring another 12 million b/d to the party. That’s up on last year by 1.5 million b/d, reflecting the industry’s success in beefing up the hopper. Nearly all the increase is from the Permian Basin. Tight oil plays in North America now account for over two-thirds of the pre-FID cost curve, though extraction costs increase over time. Conventional oil plays are a smaller part of the pre-FID wedge at 4 million b/d. Brazil deep water is amongst the lowest cost resource anywhere, with breakevens eclipsing the best tight oil plays. Certain mature areas like the North Sea have succeeded in getting lower down the cost curve although volumes are small. Guyana, an emerging low-cost producer, shows how new conventional basins can change the curve.
3. Contingent resource
These existing discoveries could deliver 11 million b/d, or 22%, of future supply. This cohort forms the next generation of pre-FID developments, but each must overcome challenges to achieve commerciality.
Last, but not least, yet-to-find. We calculate new discoveries bring in 16 million b/d, the biggest share and almost one-third of future supply. The number is based on empirical analysis of past discovery rates, future assumptions for exploration spend and prospectivity.
Can yet-to-find deliver this much oil at reasonable cost? It looks more realistic today than in the recent past. Liquids reserves discovered that are potentially commercial was around 5 billion barrels in 2017 and again in 2018, close to the late 2030s ‘ask’. Moreover, exploration is creating value again, and we have argued consistently that more companies should be doing it.
But at the same time, it’s the high-risk option, and usually last in the merit order – exploration is the final top-up to meet demand. There’s a danger that new discoveries – higher cost ones at least – are squeezed out if demand’s not there or new, lower-cost supplies emerge. Tight oil’s rapid growth has disrupted the commercialisation of conventional discoveries this decade and is re-shaping future resource capture strategies.
To sustain portfolios, many companies have shifted away from exclusively relying on exploration to emphasising lower risk opportunities. These mostly revolve around commercialising existing reserves on the books, whether improving recovery rates from fields currently in production (reserves growth) or undeveloped discoveries (contingent resource).
Emerging technology may pose a greater threat to exploration in the future. Evolving technology has always played a central role in boosting expected reserves from known fields. What’s different in 2019 is that the industry is on the cusp of what might be a technological revolution. Advanced seismic imaging, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the cloud and supercomputing will shine a light into sub-surface’s dark corners.
Combining these and other new applications to enhance recovery beyond tried-and-tested means could unlock more reserves from existing discoveries – and more quickly than we assume. Equinor is now aspiring to 60% from its operated fields in Norway. Volume-wise, most upside may be in the giant, older, onshore accumulations with low recovery factors (think ExxonMobil and Chevron’s latest Permian upgrades). In contrast, 21st century deepwater projects tend to start with high recovery factors.
If global recovery rates could be increased by a percentage or two from the average of around 30%, reserves growth might contribute another 5 to 6 million b/d in the 2030s. It’s just a scenario, and perhaps makes sweeping assumptions. But it’s one that should keep conventional explorers disciplined and focused only on the best new prospects.
Global oil supply through 2040
Things just keep getting more dire for Venezuela’s PDVSA – once a crown jewel among state energy firms, and now buried under debt and a government in crisis. With new American sanctions weighing down on its operations, PDVSA is buckling. For now, with the support of Russia, China and India, Venezuelan crude keeps flowing. But a ghost from the past has now come back to haunt it.
In 2007, Venezuela embarked on a resource nationalisation programme under then-President Hugo Chavez. It was the largest example of an oil nationalisation drive since Iraq in 1972 or when the government of Saudi Arabia bought out its American partners in ARAMCO back in 1980. The edict then was to have all foreign firms restructure their holdings in Venezuela to favour PDVSA with a majority. Total, Chevron, Statoil (now Equinor) and BP agreed; ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips refused. Compensation was paid to ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, which was considered paltry. So the two American firms took PDVSA to international arbitration, seeking what they considered ‘just value’ for their erstwhile assets. In 2012, ExxonMobil was awarded some US$260 million in two arbitration awards. The dispute with ConocoPhillips took far longer.
In April 2018, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favour of ConocoPhillips, granting US$2.1 billion in recovery payments. Hemming and hawing on PDVSA’s part forced ConocoPhillips’ hand, and it began to seize control of terminals and cargo ships in the Caribbean operated by PDVSA or its American subsidiary Citgo. A tense standoff – where PDVSA’s carriers were ordered to return to national waters immediately – was resolved when PDVSA reached a payment agreement in August. As part of the deal, ConocoPhillips agreed to suspend any future disputes over the matter with PDVSA.
The key word being ‘future’. ConocoPhillips has an existing contractual arbitration – also at the ICC – relating to the separate Corocoro project. That decision is also expected to go towards the American firm. But more troubling is that a third dispute has just been settled by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunal in favour of ConocoPhillips. This action was brought against the government of Venezuela for initiating the nationalisation process, and the ‘unlawful expropriation’ would require a US$8.7 billion payment. Though the action was brought against the government, its coffers are almost entirely stocked by sales of PDVSA crude, essentially placing further burden on an already beleaguered company. A similar action brought about by ExxonMobil resulted in a US$1.4 billion payout; however, that was overturned at the World Bank in 2017.
But it might not end there. The danger (at least on PDVSA’s part) is that these decisions will open up floodgates for any creditors seeking damages against Venezuela. And there are quite a few, including several smaller oil firms and players such as gold miner Crystallex, who is owed US$1.2 billion after the gold industry was nationalised in 2011. If the situation snowballs, there is a very tempting target for creditors to seize – Citgo, PDVSA’s crown jewel that operates downstream in the USA, which remains profitable. And that would be an even bigger disaster for PDVSA, even by current standards.
Infographic: Venezuela oil nationalisation dispute timeline