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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It has been 21 years since Japanese upstream firm Inpex signed on to explore the Masela block in Indonesia in 1998 and 19 years since the discovery of the giant Abadi natural gas field in 2000. In that time, Inpex’s Ichthys field in Australia was discovered, exploited and started LNG production last year, delivering its first commercial cargo just a few months ago. Meanwhile, the abundant gas in the Abadi field close to the Australia-Indonesia border has remained under the waves. Until recently, that is, when Inpex had finally reached a new deal with the Indonesian government to revive the stalled project and move ahead with a development plan.
This could have come much earlier. Much, much earlier. Inpex had submitted its first development plan for Abadi in 2010, encompassing a Floating LNG project with an initial capacity of 2.5 million tons per annum. As the size of recoverable reserves at Abadi increased, the development plan was revised upwards – tripling the planned capacity of the FLNG project to be located in the Arafura Sea to 7.5 million tons per annum. But at that point, Indonesia had just undergone a crucial election and moods had changed. In April 2016, the Indonesian government essentially told Inpex to go back to the drawing board to develop Abadi, directing them to shift from a floating processing solution to an onshore one, which would provide more employment opportunities. The onshore option had been rejected initially by Inpex in 2010, given that the nearest Indonesian land is almost 100km north of the field. But with Indonesia keen to boost activity in its upstream sector, the onshore mandate arrived firmly. And now, after 3 years of extended evaluation, Inpex has delivered its new development plan.
The new plan encompasses an onshore LNG plant with a total production capacity of 9.5 million tons per annum. With an estimated cost of US$18-20 billion, it will be the single largest investment in Indonesia and one of the largest LNG plants operated by a Japanese firm. FID is expected within 3 years, with a tentative target operational timeline of the late 2020s. LNG output will be targeted at Japan’s massive market, but also growing demand centres such as China. But Abadi will be entering into a far more crowded field that it would have if initial plans had gone ahead in 2010; with US Gulf Coast LNG producers furiously constructing at the moment and mega-LNG projects in Australia, Canada and Russia beating Abadi’s current timeline, Abadi will have a tougher fight for market share when it starts operations. The demand will be there, but the huge rise in the level of supplies will dilute potential profits.
It is a risk worth taking, at least according to Inpex and its partner Shell, which owns the remaining 35% of the Abadi gas field. But development of Abadi will be more important to Indonesia. Faced with a challenging natural gas environment – output from the Bontang, Tangguh and Badak LNG plants will soon begin their decline phase, while the huge potential of the East Natuna gas field is complicated by its composition of sour gas – Indonesia sees Abadi as a way of getting its gas ship back on track. Abadi is one of Indonesia’s few remaining large natural gas discoveries with a high potential commercialisation opportunities. The new agreement with Inpex extends the firm’s licence to operate the Masela field by 27 years to 2055 with the 150 mscf pipeline and the onshore plant expected to be completed by 2027. It might be too late by then to reverse Indonesia’s chronic natural gas and LNG production decline, but to Indonesia, at least some progress is better than none.
The Abadi LNG Project:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 June 2019 – Brent: US$62/b; WTI: US$53/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
A month ago, crude oil prices were riding a wave, comfortably trading in the mid-US$70/b range and trending towards the US$80 mark as the oil world fretted about the expiration of US waivers on Iranian crude exports. Talk among OPEC members ahead of the crucial June 25 meeting of OPEC and its OPEC+ allies in Vienna turned to winding down its own supply deal.
That narrative has now changed. With Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov suggesting that there was a risk that oil prices could fall as low as US$30/b and the Saudi Arabia-Russia alliance preparing for a US$40/b oil scenario, it looks more and more likely that the production deal will be extended to the end of 2019. This was already discussed in a pre-conference meeting in April where Saudi Arabia appeared to have swayed a recalcitrant Russia into provisionally extending the deal, even if Russia itself wasn’t in adherence.
That the suggestion that oil prices were heading for a drastic drop was coming from Russia is an eye-opener. The major oil producer has been dragging its feet over meeting its commitments on the current supply deal; it was seen as capitalising on Saudi Arabia and its close allies’ pullback over February and March. That Russia eventually reached adherence in May was not through intention but accident – contamination of crude at the major Druzhba pipeline which caused a high ripple effect across European refineries surrounding the Baltic. Russia also is shielded from low crude prices due its diversified economy – the Russian budget uses US$40/b oil prices as a baseline, while Saudi Arabia needs a far higher US$85/b to balance its books. It is quite evident why Saudi Arabia has already seemingly whipped OPEC into extending the production deal beyond June. Russia has been far more reserved – perhaps worried about US crude encroaching on its market share – but Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the government is now seemingly onboard.
Part of this has to do with the macroeconomic environment. With the US extending its trade fracas with China and opening up several new fronts (with Mexico, India and Turkey, even if the Mexican tariff standoff blew over), the global economy is jittery. A recession or at least, a slowdown seems likely. And when the world economy slows down, the demand for oil slows down too. With the US pumping as much oil as it can, a return to wanton production risks oil prices crashing once again as they have done twice in the last decade. All the bluster Russia can muster fades if demand collapses – which is a zero sum game that benefits no one.
Also on the menu in Vienna is the thorny issue of Iran. Besieged by American sanctions and at odds with fellow OPEC members, Iran is crucial to any decision that will be made at the bi-annual meeting. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, has stated that Iran has no intention of departing the group despite ‘being treated like an enemy (by some members)’. No names were mentioned, but the targets were evident – Iran’s bitter rival Saudi Arabia, and its sidekicks the UAE and Kuwait. Saudi King Salman bin Abulaziz has recently accused Iran of being the ‘greatest threat’ to global oil supplies after suspected Iranian-backed attacks in infrastructure in the Persian Gulf. With such tensions in the air, the Iranian issue is one that cannot be avoided in Vienna and could scupper any potential deal if politics trumps economics within the group. In the meantime, global crude prices continue to fall; OPEC and OPEC+ have to capability to change this trend, but the question is: will it happen on June 25?
Expectations at the 176th OPEC Conference