Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of NrgEdge
Last Updated: October 24, 2016
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Last week in world oil:

All of Saudi Arabia’s bluster can’t hide the fact that the tenuous OPEC agreement to cut production had hit a number of obstacles, with the latest being that Iraq wants exemption from the cuts, just as Nigeria, Libya and Iran do. That was enough to send oil prices lower today, though they remain just above the US$50/b level.

Mexico has approved Italy’s Eni to go ahead with test drilling at the Amoca 2 well, a shallow water field in the Gulf of Mexico. It is only the second well to be drilled in Mexico since reforms to open up its energy sector dissolved Pemex’s upstream monopoly. The first well was Amoca 1, also by Eni, part of an acreage that is estimated to hold some 800 million barrels of oil and 480 bcf of associated gas. 

Announcements of asset sales by supermajors are common these days, particularly from Shell, seeking to pay for its acquisition of the BG Group. The latest involves some US$1.3 billion of non-core oil and gas properties in western Canada exchanging hands between Shell and Tourmaline Oil, including onshore land in the Gundy area of British Columbia and the Deep Basin area of Alberta that currently have a minor production output of 25 kb/d, with reasonable room for growth.

Higher prices spur more rigs, and the US operational oil rig count jumped by 11 last week, bringing the total to 443. Gas rigs also added 3 to their number, up to 108, as nimble onshore producers react to the positive price signals. The number of offshore rigs remains unchanged at 23.

There’s a problem looming in PDVSA and it threatens to spill over into the US Gulf. Beset with a huge amount of debt, the Venezuelan national oil company has been attempting to negotiate short-term measures to defer its debt, with the spectre of a default looming on the horizon. Already, Curacao appears to be abandoning PDVSA, seeking Chinese involvement in its refinery, while the woes are affecting PDVSA’s subsidiary Citgo in the USA and its Aruba refinery. A default would also wreck havoc with the US Gulf Coast refining system, dependent on Venezuela’s output that supplies a third of the crude processed along the Gulf Coast.

Qatargas has inked a deal with Petronas LNG UK to supply 1.1 million tons of LNG per year through 2023, extending a contract that was due to expire at the end of 2018. The deal is particularly important for Qatar, as it seeks to secure long-term supply agreements in the face of a looming global glut of gas supplies from Australia and the US, with Europe being a priority target. The LNG will be supplied from Qatargas 4, a joint venture between Qatar Petroleum and Shell, with the supplies delivered to the Dragon LNG terminal in Milford Haven in the UK. Qatargas is also looking at securing supply agreements in Rotterdam, which would be its gateway into western continental Europe.

The Chinese upstream sector is considered expensive, inefficient and now, declining. China’s crude output fell by 9.8% y-o-y in September, as low oil prices make imports cheaper while making the case that the country’s high-cost fields, like Daqing and Shengli, should be shut down. Crude output in August fell by 9.9%, the highest y-o-y decline on record, while September crude imports growth reached 18%.

Petrobras has finally reached a deal for its mothballed Nansei Seikyu refinery in Okinawa, agreeing to sell it to Japan’s Taiyo Oil for US$129.3 million as it continues on its asset sale spree to reduce its debt. The Okinawan refinery, an oddball choice that was acquired by Petrobras in 2007, has proven particularly difficult to sell, having its refining operations shut down last year due to the industry downturn. 

With the downstream oil market in doldrums but the petrochemical industry still holding strong, Saudi Arabia is aiming to capitalise on that by focusing on a giant crude-to-chemicals project. Saudi Aramco and SABIC have formed a joint management team, together with a unnamed third party, to assess the viability of such a project that would cut out the middle link in petrochemical production, bypassing gasoline and diesel to go straight into chemicals. A preliminary study is expected in 2017, and is in line with the Kingdom’s stated desire to diversify its economy away from crude petroleum sales.

After the US$15 billion Inpex/Shell plan to boost output at the Masela natural gas field by 2.5 mtpa utilising a floating LNG facility was rejected by the Indonesian government in March, a new plan has been proposed to build an onshore LNG plant on the islands of Aru or Saumlaki. The anticipated start date of the giant gas field has been pushed into the late 2020s, and to recoup investment, Inpex is proposing a near quadrupling of output, to between 7.5-9.5 mtpa in total now. A decision on the new proposal is expected from the Indonesian government within the month.

Under pressure gas player Santos has sold its offshore natural gas assets in Victoria to Australia’s Cooper Energy for US$62 million. The sale marks the exit of Santos from offshore Victoria following the sale of its Kipper field for US$520 million in March. The assets include interests in the Casino-Henry gas project, as well as control of the Sole field and Orbost gas plant in Gippsland Basin.

In another sign that petrochemicals are booming, India’s Reliance has beaten forecasts by posting an 18% y-o-y increase in its Q2 profit, buoyed by its petrochemicals business. Reliance’s petrochemicals margins for Q216 were 15%, the highest in nearly four years, while its refining margins fell sharply due to weak product prices. 

Meanwhile in the rig-making sector, Singapore’s Keppel Oil saw its quarterly profits fall by 38% on a weak offshore market. Cost-cutting measure and job cuts – more than 8,000 so far in 2016 – are continuing, and the company will also look at mothballing some facilities until 2020. 

Have a productive week ahead!

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OPEC And The Current State of Oil Fundamentals

It was shaping up to yet another dull OPEC+ meeting. Cut and dry. Copy and paste. Rubber-stamping yet another monthly increase in production quotas by 432,000 b/d. Month after month of resisting pressure from the largest economies in the world to accelerate supply easing had inured markets to expectations of swift action by OPEC and its wider brethren in OPEC+.

And then, just two days before the meeting, chatter began that suggested something big was brewing. Whispers that Russia could be suspended made the rounds, an about-face for a group that has steadfastly avoided reference to the war in Ukraine, calling it a matter of politics not markets. If Russia was indeed removed from the production quotas, that would allow other OPEC+ producers to fill in the gap in volumes constrained internationally due to sanctions.

That didn’t happen. In fact, OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee commented that suspension of Russia’s quota was not discussed at all and not on the table. Instead, the JTC reduced its global oil demand forecast for 2022 by 200,000 b/d, expecting global oil demand to grow by 3.4 mmb/d this year instead with the downside being volatility linked to ‘geopolitical situations and Covid developments.’ Ordinarily, that would be a sign for OPEC+ to hold to its usual supply easing schedule. After all, the group has been claiming that oil markets have ‘been in balance’ for much of the first five months of 2022. Instead, the group surprised traders by announcing an increase in its monthly oil supply hike for July and August, adding 648,000 b/d each month for a 50% rise from the previous baseline.

The increase will be divided proportionally across OPEC+, as has been since the landmark supply deal in spring 2020. Crucially this includes Russia, where the new quota will be a paper one, since Western sanctions means that any additional Russian crude is unlikely to make it to the market. And that too goes for other members that haven’t even met their previous lower quotas, including Iraq, Angola and Nigeria. The oil ministers know this and the market knows this. Which is why the surprise announcement didn’t budge crude prices by very much at all.

In fact, there are only two countries within OPEC+ that have enough spare capacity to be ramped up quickly. The United Arab Emirates, which was responsible for recent turmoil within the group by arguing for higher quotas should be happy. But it will be a measure of backtracking for the only other country in that position, Saudi Arabia. After publicly stating that it had ‘done all it can for the oil market’ and blaming a lack of refining capacity for high fuel prices, the Kingdom’s change of heart seems to be linked to some external pressure. But it could seemingly resist no more. But that spotlight on the UAE and Saudi Arabia will allow both to wrench some market share, as both countries have been long preparing to increase their production. Abu Dhabi recently made three sizable onshore oil discoveries at Bu Hasa, Onshore Block 3 and the Al Dhafra Petroleum Concession, that adds some 650 million barrels to its reserves, which would help lift the ceiling for oil production from 4 to 5 mmb/d by 2030. Meanwhile, Saudi Aramco is expected to contract over 30 offshore rigs in 2022 alone, targeting the Marjan and Zuluf fields to increase production from 12 to 13 mmb/d by 2027.

The UAE wants to ramp up, certainly. But does Saudi Arabia too? As the dominant power of OPEC, what Saudi Arabia wants it usually gets. The signals all along were that the Kingdom wanted to remain prudent. It is not that it cannot, there is about a million barrels per day of extra production capacity that Saudi Arabia can open up immediately but that it does not want to. Bringing those extra volume on means that spare capacity drops down to critical levels, eliminating options if extra crises emerge. One is already starting up again in Libya, where internal political discord for years has led to an on-off, stop-start rhythm in Libyan crude. If Saudi Arabia uses up all its spare capacity, oil prices could jump even higher if new emergencies emerge with no avenue to tackle them. That the Saudis have given in (slightly) must mean that political pressure is heating up. That the announcement was made at the OPEC+ meeting and not a summit between US and Saudi leaders must mean that a façade of independence must be maintained around the crucial decisions to raise supply quotas.

But that increase is not going to be enough, especially with Russia’s absence. Markets largely shrugged off the announcement, keeping Brent crude at US$120/b levels. Consumption is booming, as the world rushes to enjoy its first summer with a high degree of freedom since Covid-19 hit. Which is why global leaders are looking at other ways to tackle high energy prices and mitigate soaring inflation. In Germany, low-priced monthly public transport are intended to wean drivers off cars. In the UK, a windfall tax on energy companies should yield US$6 billion to be used for insulating consumers. And in the US, Joe Biden has been busy.

With the Permian Basin focusing on fiscal prudence instead of wanton drilling, US shale output has not responded to lucrative oil prices that way it used to. American rig counts are only inching up, with some shale basins even losing rigs. So the White House is trying more creative ways. Though the suggestion of an ‘oil consumer cartel’ as an analogue to OPEC by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is likely dead on arrival, the US is looking to unlock supply and tame fuel prices through other ways. Regular releases from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve has so far done little to bring prices down, but easing sanctions on Venezuelan crude that could be exported to the US and Europe, as well as working with the refining industry to restart recently idled refineries could. Inflation levels above 8% and gasoline prices at all-time highs could lead to a bloody outcome in this year’s midterm elections, and Joe Biden knows that.

But oil (and natural gas) supply/demand dynamics cannot truly start returning to normal as long as the war in Ukraine rages on. And the far-ranging sanctions impacting Russian energy exports will take even longer to be lifted depending on how the war goes. Yes, some Russian crude is making it to the market. China, for example, has been quietly refilling its petroleum reserves with Russian crude (at a discount, of course). India continues to buy from Moscow, as are smaller nations like Sri Lanka where an economic crisis limits options. Selling the crude is one thing, transporting it is another. With most international insurers blacklisting Russian shippers, Russian oil producers can still turn to local insurance and tankers from the once-derided state tanker firm Sovcomflot PJSC to deliver crude to the few customers they still have.

A 50% hike in OPEC’s monthly supply easing targets might seem like a lot. But it isn’t enough. Especially since actual production will fall short of that quota. The entire OPEC system, and the illusion of control it provides has broken down. Russian oil is still trickling out to global buyers but even if it returned in full, there is still not enough refining capacity to absorb those volumes. Doctors speak of long Covid symptoms in patients, and the world energy complex is experiencing long Covid, now with a touch with geopolitical germs as well. It’ll take a long time to recover, so brace yourselves.

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June, 12 2022