Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of NrgEdge
Last Updated: November 11, 2016
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Business Trends
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The US elections were not rigged after all. Defying several polls that showed Hillary Clinton had a distinct lead, Donald Trump won a majority of the electoral college to become the 45th President of the United States. It is a scenario that very few prepared for, and it is now the reality for the next four years. What does this mean for the energy sector?  

In his first 100 days, Donald Trump promises to:
….lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars' worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.

….lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward

….cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America's water and environmental infrastructure

In the immediate aftermath of the news, oil prices fell sharply, part of a broader plunge in financial and commodity prices as markets reacted nervously to the unexpected outcome. But less than a day after the news sunk in, numbers were up again, and crude oil prices were back were they were before November 8 – in the mid US$40s/b. This suggests that the market seems to think that Donald Trump being in the White House is no preclusion to business as usual. However, it is in the longer term that these ramifications will manifest.

First, domestically. If Hillary won, she would have pushed the energy industry down the renewables trend it has been on since Barack Obama took power. Trump has campaigned to reverse it, and most Republicans would be behind that, focusing instead of exploiting the US’s vast amounts of shale, as well as possibly reviving the Keystone XL rejected by Obama in 2015, that will ship oil sands crude from Canada to Nebraska, then onward to the US Gulf. As Sarah Palin once said – the mantra is, drill baby drill – and a Trump presidency would scale back regulation to allow more drilling. Proponents say it will pump money into neglected states and spur job creations, while opponents fear the environmental damage and usage of eminent domain. There’s also another thing – the pipeline and more drilling will pump supply into a market already suffering from a glut. 

Secondly, internationally. Trump’s rhetorical hostility to trade is well documented –slapping taxes on Chinese imports and bringing manufacturing jobs back. The Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asia and the Transatlantic Economic Partnership with the EU is likely to be killed. But putting up barriers to trade is counter-productive and this is one promise Trump may not be able to keep, if he ever had any serious thought of it. But if you can’t keep trade from coming in, you can boost it going out – so LNG export projects along the Gulf will pop up more. Trump has also criticised the Iranian nuclear deal, which removed international sanctions to allow Iran to significantly ramp up its crude exports this year. This could be reversed with unilateral sanction, creating an upside  for Oil prices here but this may overshadowed by increased US production or even OPEC. 

It is in geopolitics that the greatest worry is. The Paris International Climate Accord is going to be stalled, and Trump has threatened to de-fund everything from the United Nations to NATO. An America under Trump – if you believe the rhetoric – is going to become significantly more isolationist and significantly less “international policeman”. There are tremendous ramifications resulting from this. Trump’s pal Putin could move unchecked towards Eastern Europe and into the Middle East and retain hold of Syria. While China will take full advantage of the power vacuum in East Asia, which depends on the US to act as a counterbalance. This could stoke tensions; between Japan and China, between Southeast Asia and China over the South China Sea’s large oil reserves in Spartly Islands. 

Chicken Littles may be running around crying that the world is ending because Trump is President. They are probably overstating it. The world is not and will not be coming to an end. There is too little that we know about what Trump will accomplish in office come this January onwards.  This is a man who has no history in public governance. Will he really “walk the talk”, and grab Congress and the Senate by the b***s! 

For now what is certain is uncertainty itself. And this traditionally makes Oil markets volatile and keeps investments at bay in a market that is already reeling. 

The sun will still shine tomorrow. You can bet on that for now.  

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Russia Is Heating Up The Arctic

After a year of securing deals, finalising details and even projecting way beyond the current, Novatek’s Arctic LNG 2 was been given its Final Investment Decision (FID), paving its way for a 2023 start. Led by Russia’s largest independent gas producer, the 19.8 million ton per annum project is also joined by Total, CNPC, CNOOC and the Japan Arctic LNG consortium (consisting of Mitsui & Co and JOGMEC).

The make-up of the project stakeholders is telling. There is Novatek, which aims to catch up with Gazprom as Russia’s largest gas player. Then there is Total, whose savvy deals have propelled it to become the second largest private gas player (behind Shell) through a diversified portfolio. Japan – currently the world’s largest LNG importer – is well represented, while the fast-growing demand market of China is in there as well. Each of the minority players owns a 10% stake but Total also has a 19.4% stake in Novatek, bringing its total economic interest to 21.6%.

The geography of the project is interesting as well. Centred on the Trekhbugornly and Gydanskiy fields, the terminal at Utrenniy and a large-scale liquefaction plant in the remote Gydan Peninsula, passage from this part of Russia’s Arctic is difficult. Which is why Novatek is also partnering with Sovcomflot to build a fleet of 17 icebreaker-class LNG carriers to ferry the super-chilled liquid through the Arctic to Northeast Asia. That’s the Northern Sea Route, the closest direct route to Asia available and it might even get easier. Climate patterns have shifted the Arctic’s ice floes, with new shipping channels opening up from thawing ice in the summer. The journey rivals delivery times from Qatar to Tokyo, or Australia to Shanghai – which explains the high interest from Japanese and Chinese parties. For Total, which has a global presence, Arctic LNG 2 will also be able to deliver cargoes to Europe via transhipment terminals in the Murmansk region.

It also explains why Novatek is already thinking beyond this. Arctic LNG 2 will consist of 3 phases. Train 1 is scheduled for 2023, while Train 2 and Train 3 planned for 2024 and 2026. But Novatek has already made overtures to expand its assets in the Gydan – part of West Siberia’s Yamal-Nenets region. Novatek’s ambitions call for up to 140 mtpa of LNG production in Gydan and Yamal, from its current 16.5 mtpa Yamal LNG and the 19.8 mtpa Arctic LNG 2, though Gazprom has pushed back on Novatek’s lobbying of the Russian government on the issue. However, plans have already been made for at least one more LNG project – oddly titled Arctic LNG 1 – that would focus on the Soletsko-Khanaveyskoye field in the Kara Sea, which has an estimated 2.18 bcm of gas in place.

The net result of this is that Russia will become a more diversified gas player. Besides the Sakhalin II and Yamal LNG projects, Russia primarily sells its gas by pipeline to Europe. But with resistance there increasing – see the furore over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – Russia needs more options. Geography and weather have always presented challenges to export Siberian gas to Asia and the rest of the world, but Arctic LNG 2 offers a very promising glimpse of a possibly profitable future.

Arctic LNG 2:

  • Stakeholders: Novatek (60%), Total (10%), CNPC (10%), CNOOC (10%), Japan Arctic LNG (10%)
  • Capacity: 19.8 million tons per annum through 3 Trains
  • Location: Gydan Peninsula, West Siberia
September, 18 2019
Natural gas and wind forecast to be fastest growing sources of U.S. electricity generation

In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that natural gas-fired electricity generation in the United States will increase by 6% in 2019 and by 2% in 2020. EIA also forecasts that generation from wind power will increase by 6% in 2019 and by 14% in 2020. These trends vary widely among the regions of the country; growth in natural gas generation is highest in the mid-Atlantic region and growth in wind generation is highest in Texas. EIA expects coal-fired electricity generation to decline nationwide, falling by 15% in 2019 and by 9% in 2020.

The trends in projected generation reflect changes in the mix of generating capacity. In the mid-Atlantic region, which is mostly in the PJM Interconnection transmission area, the electricity industry has added more than 12 gigawatts (GW) of new natural gas-fired generating capacity since the beginning of 2018, an increase of 17%.

This new natural gas capacity in PJM has replaced some coal-fired generating capacity—6 GW of coal-fired generation capacity has been retired in that region since the beginning of 2018. The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey was also retired in 2018, and the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania plans to shut down its last remaining reactor this month.

These changes in capacity contribute to EIA’s forecast that natural gas will fuel 39% of electricity generation in the PJM region in 2020, up from a share of 31% in 2018. In contrast, coal is expected to generate 20% of PJM electricity next year, down from 28% in 2018. In 2010, coal fueled 54% of the region’s electricity generation, and natural gas generated 11%.

PJM annual electric power sector generation

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook

Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of electricity in recent years in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region that serves most of Texas. Since the beginning of 2018, the industry has added 3 GW of wind generating capacity and plans to add another 7 GW before the end of 2020. These additions would result in an increase of nearly 50% from the 2017 wind capacity level in ERCOT. EIA expects wind to supply 20% of ERCOT total generation in 2019 and 24% in 2020. If realized, wind would match coal’s share of ERCOT's electricity generation this year and exceed it in 2020.

ERCOT annual electric power sector generation

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook

Natural gas-fired generation in ERCOT has fluctuated in recent years in response to changes in the cost of the fuel. EIA forecasts the Henry Hub natural gas price will fall by 21% in 2019, which contributes to EIA’s expectation that ERCOT’s natural gas generation share will rise from 45% in 2018 to 47% this year. Although EIA forecasts next year’s natural gas prices to remain relatively flat in 2020, the large increase in renewable generating capacity is expected to reduce the region’s 2020 natural gas generation share to 41%.

September, 18 2019
Your Weekly Update: 9 - 13 September 2019

Market Watch  

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 9 September 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$56/b

  • Hope reigns as the market banks on signs that the US and China could reach a trade deal would eliminate one of the largest risks to current oil prices: a full-blown global recession
  • However, this is merely the latest in a series of dashed hopes that has seen the trade war between the US and China – using tariffs as weapons – escalate dramatically over the year; new tariffs entered play September 1 and more could come, with both sides already feeling the pinch
  • But crude prices did get a lift from EIA data showing that US crude stockpiles fell far more than expected, down by 4.8 million barrels to its lowest level since October 2018 – an indication of strong demand, with US refinery utilisation at 94.8%
  • However, there are fissures appearing on the supply side that could trigger some risk premiums; in Venezuela, the upstream crisis continues with the latest blow being a Chinese contractor halting work over claims over non payment
  • More importantly, Saudi Oil Minister – or rather former Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih – was dismissed from the government; after initial reports suggested that al-Falih would focus on energy policy after the oil ministry was split, a royal decree issued days later confirmed his sacking
  • Saudi Arabia and its allies have been at pains to re-assure the market that the dismissal of al-Falih – who is respected around the world – will not impact Saudi production or the current OPEC+ supply pact
  • This will be confirmed at the upcoming OPEC+ meeting this week, which will be the first under Saudi Arabia’s new Energy Minister, one of the King’s sons Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman
  • Against this backdrop of turmoil, the active US rig count fell yet again; after two weeks of double-digit losses, US drillers lost four oil and two gas rigs, with losses seen once again in the Permian
  • Power moves within Saudi Arabia may have sent some tremors to the market, but it is likely that OPEC+ will stick to its commitments; with no signs that the US and China were doing anymore more than talking about talking, crude prices will remain rangebound – US$59-61/b for Brent and US$54-56/b for WTI

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Total has suspended plans for the US$3.5 billion crude export pipeline that would connect Ugandan oilfield to port facilities in Tanzania after a failure to buy a stake in Tullow Oil’s upstream assets in Uganda linked to tax negotiations; this will require a complete restart for the Uganda project
  • With other supermajors pulling out, Total remains committed to the North Sea, with CEO Patrick Pouyanne looking to invest up to US$10 billion over the next five years but cautions that Total maintain strict cost discipline
  • The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) has consented to the startup of the giant Johan Sverdrup field, a potential 660,000 b/d resource that has been called the North Sea’s ‘last hurrah’
  • Permian-focused player Concho Resource has agreed to sell its assets in the New Mexico Shelf to Spur Energy Partners for US$925 million, continuing a wave of consolidation in the US shale arena
  • Shell has announced plans to start drilling in the offshore Saturno field in Brazil, becoming one of the first private players tapping the pre-salt Santos Basin

Midstream/Downstream

  • Sinopec’s new 160 kb/d Yangzi refinery has begun production of Europe-standard gasoline, providing an outlet for Chinese fuel products amid a domestic glut that has seen refiners look overseas for sales
  • Petrobras is extending the deadline for interested parties for its four refineries on sale from September 16 to September 27, citing high investor interest for the refining assets that represent 37% of Brazilian capacity
  • Saudi Aramco continues its downstream push in China, signing an MoU with the Zhejiang Free Trade Zone that could pave the way for further investments beyond current plans to acquire 9% of the Zhejiang Petrochemical refinery
  • Russia’s Sibur will be cutting back LPG exports to Europe to some 2 million tons from a typical 3.5-4 million tons per year, redirecting the LPG to be used as feedstock for its ZapSibNefteKhim petrochemicals plant in Western Siberia

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Months of uncertainty have been put to rest as the government of Papua New Guinea endorsed the US$13 billion Papua LNG project, following some new commitments by project leader Total – primarily on local content
  • Also in PNG, the government has approved Australian independent Twinza Oil’s Pasca gas/condensate project - the country’s first offshore gas project
  • ExxonMobil and its partners have sanctioned plans for the 6.2 mtpa Sakhalin 1 LNG plant on Sakhalin Island in Russia’s far east, with easy access to Japan
  • Argentina’s YPF is pushing ahead with plans to build a US$5 billion LNG export terminal – tapping into the Vaca Muerta shale basin – despite continued domestic political and financial chaos hanging over the project
  • Petronas has agreed to purchase natural gas that is set to produced from the Gorek, Larak and Bakong fields in the SK408 area in Sarawak, jointly operated by SapuraOMV Upstream, Petronas Carigali and Shell
  • Qatar Petroleum has booked 100% of regasification capacity at the Fluxys Zeebrugge LNG terminal until 2044, consolidating Qatar’s hold on one of Northwest Europe’s important gas entry nodes
  • Equinor has brought the Snefrid Nord gas field online, which is the first of several planned projects related to the Aasta Hansteen field to begin production, with an initial output of 4 mcm/d
September, 13 2019