Last week in the world oil
It’s happier days for crude prices, as OPEC’s upcoming meeting in Algeria has triggered speculation that the organisation will finally agree to a production freeze not only within its members, but also with non-OPEC producers like Russia. Brent closed above US$50/barrel last week, and WTI just a shade below the mark, but analysts are warning that the rally is based on optimism and not fundamentals.
With Iran engaging in a mild price war with Saudi Arabia over crude market share in Asia, buyers are welcoming the challenge. Japan tripled its crude imports from Iran in July, while South Korea has quadrupled its Iranian crude liftings y-o-y. The lifting on sanctions on Iran has been a boon for Asian refiners, benefiting from lower prices as Iran and Saudi Arabia jostle for position to supply crude, scrambling with Russia as well. India’s July imports from Iran also leapt, even as total imports fell slightly.
A Malaysian oil tanker reported as missing and possibly hijacked early last week has instead been taken to Indonesia over an ‘internal dispute’ between the crew and the ship’s operator.
India’s growing appetite for natural gas is currently fed by imports, but BP India believes that the country has the potential to unlock gas reserves of at least 10-15 trillion cubic feet (tcf) by 2022, which would halve imports. The announcement came as part of a push to stimulate investment and simplify rules to revitalise the country’s existing and upcoming natural gas fields in line with increasing the gas share of energy mix from 8% to 15% by 2030.
With its once prodigious local fields faltering, Thailand is preparing to expand its LNG import capacity to feed its vast network of gas-fed infrastructure that came about from the discovery of domestic sources. State oil firm PTT announced plans to nearly double LNG imports to 5 million tons in 2017, aiming to source LNG from Shell, BP and Qatar.
Just next to Thailand, Australia’s Woodside is preparing to begin its drilling campaign in Myanmar next year, to commercialise its Shwe Yee Htun-1 and Thalin-1a discoveries with 2.4 tcf of gas reserves. Long isolated due to the ruling military junta, Myanmar has tremendous reserves of natural gas, traditionally exploited by Thailand’s PTT, but the thawing of international relations after political developments have now brought up plenty of foreign investors eager to capitalise on the country.
Two Australian upstream giants – Santos and Woodside – have reported disappointing results for the first half of 2016. Santos recovered a loss of US$1.1 billion, while Woodside’s profits halved to US$340, as weak oil and gas prices offset gains in production. Woodside is in a better position, given its low holdings of debt, but Santos is in a trickier position scrambling to slash costs and reduce debts.
The oil debt malaise hitting Singapore that claimed Swiber is spreading to Malaysia, with offshore rig contractor Perisai Petroleum Teknology likely to miss a US$125 million securities payout due in October, triggering a fall in its bonds to distressed levels. Expect the contagion to keep spreading, as offshore contractors in Singapore and Malaysia combat mounting debts amidst a stagnant market.
After a year of delay, Iran will begin exporting natural gas to Iraq via pipeline in September, beginning with a contract to supply 7 million cubic metres a day to a power plant in Baghdad. A second route to Basra will be added next year, with the long-term goal of reaching 70 million cubic metres per day. The move will help Iraq to free up crude supplies for export, with fields in Kurdistan resuming pumping last week after a dispute between the government and the Kurdish regional authorities was settled.
The number of oil and gas rigs operating in the US rose for an eighth-consecutive week, up by 10 to 491. Oil rigs were up by ten, as producers came in to capitalise on rising crude prices ahead of OPEC’s September meeting.
Saudi Arabia’s combined crude and product exports reached 8.83 million barrels in June 2015, 450,000 barrels higher y-o-y and 1.1 million barrels higher than June 2014. The uptick comes during a period when the Kingdom traditionally exports less to divert fuel to local power stations for cooling during its scorching summers, indicating the level of aggression Saudi Arabia is taking to maintain and combat Russia and Iran over oil market share, particularly in Asia.
Iraq has started up its Misan natural gas processing plant in its southeastern region to capture gas that was previously flared for power generation purposes. Iraq currently flares some 70% of its gas output, a tremendous waste that it is aiming to rectify, ordering that all fields coming onstream in Misan, including Fakka and Bazargan, be connected to the plant.
Russia’s Yamal LNG project led by Novatek has received some €780 million in funding from China to help move to project ahead. The Yamal project in Siberia is remote and costly, and with Western powers cutting off Russia’s access to funds over its role in the Ukrainian crisis, China through the China Development Bank and Export-Import Bank of China has stepped in filled the gap, and no doubt enable China to demand more offtake of Yamal LNG when it starts up in 2017.
If the oil industry has taken a battering from low prices, it is worst in shipping. Danish shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk has been badly hit by the slump in shipping, raising the option of the company being split into two: one focusing on shipping and transport, and one focusing on energy.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 December 2018 – Brent: US$62/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
The Permian is in desperate need of pipelines. That much is true. There is so much shale liquids sloshing underneath the Permian formation in Texas and New Mexico, that even though it has already upended global crude market and turned the USA into the world’s largest crude producer, there is still so much of it trapped inland, unable to make the 800km journey to the Gulf Coast that would take them to the big wider world.
The stakes are high. Even though the US is poised to reach some 12 mmb/d of crude oil production next year – more than half of that coming from shale oil formations – it could be producing a lot more. This has already caused the Brent-WTI spread to widen to a constant US$10/b since mid-2018 – when the Permian’s pipeline bottlenecks first became critical – from an average of US$4/b prior to that. It is even more dramatic in the Permian itself, where crude is selling at a US$10-16/b discount to Houston WTI, with trends pointing to the spread going as wide as US$20/b soon. Estimates suggest that a record 3,722 wells were drilled in the Permian this year but never opened because the oil could not be brought to market. This is part of the reason why the US active rig count hasn’t increased as much as would have been expected when crude prices were trending towards US$80/b – there’s no point in drilling if you can’t sell.
Assistance is on the way. Between now and 2020, estimates suggest that some 2.6 mmb/d of pipeline capacity across several projects will come onstream, with an additional 1 mmb/d in the planning stages. Add this to the existing 3.1 mmb/d of takeaway capacity (and 300,000 b/d of local refining) and Permian shale oil output currently dammed away by a wall of fixed capacity could double in size when freed to make it to market.
And more pipelines keep getting announced. In the last two weeks, Jupiter Energy Group announced a 90-day open season seeking binding commitments for a planned 1 mmb/d, 1050km long Jupiter Pipeline – which could connect the Permian to all three of Texas’ deepwater ports, Houston, Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Plains All American is launching its 500,000 b/d Sunrise Pipeline, connecting the Permian to Cushing, Oklahoma. Wolf Midstream has also launched an open season, seeking interest for its 120,000 b/d Red Wolf Crude Connector branch, connecting to its existing terminal and infrastructure in Colorado City.
Current estimates suggest that Permian output numbered around 3.5 mmb/d in October. At maximum capacity, that’s still about 100,000 b/d of shale oil trapped inland. As planned pipelines come online over the next two years, that trickle could turn into a flood. Consider this. Even at the current maxing out of Permian infrastructure, the US is already on the cusp on 12 mmb/d crude production. By 2021, it could go as high as 15 mmb/d – crude prices, permitting, of course.
As recently reported in the WSJ; “For years, the companies behind the U.S. oil-and-gas boom, including Noble Energy Inc. and Whiting Petroleum Corp. have promised shareholders they have thousands of prospective wells they can drill profitably even at $40 a barrel. Some have even said they can generate returns on investment of 30%. But most shale drillers haven’t made much, if any, money at those prices. From 2012 to 2017, the 30 biggest shale producers lost more than $50 billion. Last year, when oil prices averaged about $50 a barrel, the group as a whole was barely in the black, with profits of about $1.7 billion, or roughly 1.3% of revenue, according to FactSet.”
The immense growth experienced in the Permian has consequences for the entire oil supply chain, from refining balances – shale oil is more suitable for lighter ends like gasoline, but the world is heading for a gasoline glut and is more interested in cracking gasoil for the IMO’s strict marine fuels sulphur levels coming up in 2020 – to geopolitics, by diminishing OPEC’s power and particularly Saudi Arabia’s role as a swing producer. For now, the walls keeping a Permian flood in are still standing. In two years, they won’t, with new pipeline infrastructure in place. And so the oil world has two years to prepare for the coming tsunami, but only if crude prices stay on course.
Recent Announced Permian Pipeline Projects
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 3 December 2018 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week