Last week in world oil:
-Traders appear to have cold feet over the prospect of an OPEC supply freeze, causing a choppy pattern in prices. Oil started the week at some US$47/b. An announcement by OPEC on 30 November will swing prices up or down depending on the context, with Saudi Arabia declined to appear at meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC producers this week.
Upstream & Midstream
-BP has snapped up two new oil interests in the North Sea, acquiring a 25% interest in two Statoil licences in Shetland (including the Jock Scott prospect) and 40% in Nexen’s prospect, which include Craster. Exploration wells are expected to be drilled mid 2017, seen as a sign of BP reaffirming its support for the North Sea.
-And the US rig count is up again. Three new oil rigs and two new gas rigs were added last week, bringing the total up to 474 and 118, respectively, as US oil players continued to see improvement in the market.
-The US Environmental Protection Agency has mandated a record amount of biofuel to be mixed into American gasoline and diesel in 2017. Benefitting farmers and placing presence on oil companies, the program will require refiners to mix some 19.28 billion gallons of renewable fuel into American fuel next year, with 15 billion coming from corn. It will be one of the last orders of the Obama administration, with question marks over Donald Trump’s future policies, which could either favour the oil lobby or Midwest farmers that helped deliver his presidency.
-Uganda plans to select the partner for its first oil refinery in February 2017, with Sinopec among the leading contenders. Uganda had first partnered with Russia’s RT Global Resources, but then moved on the South Korea’s SK Engineering with talks falling through both times. The refinery, if it goes ahead, has also attracted the attention of neighbouring Tanzania and Kenya, while upstream operators Total, CNOOC and the UK’s Tullow Oil have all also expressed interest in the refinery.
Natural Gas & LNG
-Israel’s Leviathan gas field has secured another customer. Paz Gas, the largest distributor of refined products in Israel has secured a deal to purchase 3.12 bcm of natural gas for 15 years, which will be channelled to the Paz Oil refinery in Ashdod.
-France’s Total has established a consortium to build a LNG import terminal in the Ivory Coast. Meant to feed the country’s growing electricity consumption, the other partners are Azerbaijan’s SOCAR (26%), Royal Dutch Shell (13%), Ivorian state oil company Petroci (11%) with Golar and Endeavour Energy holding minority stakes. The Cote d'Ivoire-GNL terminal is expected to be completed in mid-2018, with Total supplying LNG from its global portfolio.
-Denmark’s state-owned Dong Energy and shipping giant Maersk are mulling a merger as they battle the persistent low oil price environment. Both companies have a larger presence in North Sea oil, with Maersk also highly affected by the parallel slump in shipping.
Last week in Asian oil:
Upstream & Midstream
-With the downturn in Singapore’s upstream offshore and marine industry worsening, the city state’s government has stepped in to prop it up. Among the measures introduced will be boosting the government International Enterprise Singapore finance scheme and bringing back government-backed bridging loans.
Downstream & Shipping
-India Oil is planning a US$5.5 billion plan to upgrade its Nagapattinam plant, owned by subsidiary Chennai Petroleum Crop and Iran’s Nafitran Intertrade. The refinery is currently the smallest in India Oil’s portfolio, with capacity rising to 300 kb/d if and when the upgrade plan goes ahead.
-A second Vietnam refining project has been cancelled this year. After Thailand’s PTT scrapped its project in July, the Can Tho refinery led by Vien Dong Investment has been cancelled. The small US$538 million project had a capacity of 40 kb/d. PetroVietnam’s second refinery in Nghi Son is also facing delays, casting doubt on its completion by July 2017.
-With Singapore having banned floating storage and ship-to-ship (STS) transfers, competition to the Asian hub for oil products is heating up. The Malaysian state of Malacca is planning to spend nearly US$3 billion to build a port that it hopes will siphon off tanker, refuelling, repair and storage traffic away from Singapore. The project is led by T.A.G Marine and Linggi Base, backed by Chinese investors, which is part of the larger US$12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port project.
Natural Gas & LNG
-Energy policy makers in Thailand are aiming to increase its imports of LNG to meet rising power demand, after the construction of new coal-fired plants have hit repeated delays. The Energy Ministry upped its target for LNG imports to 17.4 million tons in 2022 and 34 million tons by 2036. The previous target for 2036 was 23 million tons. Declining natural gas production in the Gulf of Thailand means that Thailand will have to look overseas to procure the LNG it requires for electricity generation.
-The Japan Fair Trade Commission is probing the sales destination clauses of the country’s numerous LNG contracts. The clauses, long-time features of LNG sales contracts, restrict buyers from re-selling cargoes to third parties, which Japanese buyers have long disliked. With LNG moving into a buyer’s market, Japan is taking advantage of the supply overhang to re-dictate terms for its LNG contracts.
-Once rivals, Singapore and Japan now appear to be joining forces to create a benchmark for the LNG market in Asia. The Singapore Exchange (SGX) and Japan’s Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM) have signed a memorandum of understanding to ‘jointly develop Asia’s LNG market’, a sign that instead of being rivals, the two countries could be friends in creating the first Asian LNG hub. Singapore, which already has the Singapore Sling and North Asia Sling LNG assessments, is the established hub for oil in Asia but lacks significant volumes. Japan, on the other hand, has huge volumes but is seen as too domestic-focused. Meanwhile, China has launched its first gas derivatives exchange in Shanghai last week.
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It was a good run while it lasted. Almost exactly a decade ago, the military junta in Myanmar was dissolved, following civilian elections. The country’s figurehead, Aung San Suu Kyi, was released from house arrest to lead, following in the footsteps of her father. Although her reputation has since been tarnished with the Rohingya crisis, she remains beloved by most of her countrymen, and her installation as Myanmar’s de facto leader lead to a golden economic age. Sanctions were eased, trade links were restored, and investment flowed in, not least in the energy sector. Yet the military still remained a powerful force, lurking in the background. In early February, they bared their fangs. Following an election in November 2020 in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won an outright majority in both houses of Parliament. A coup d’etat was instigated, with the Tatmadaw – the Burmese military – decrying fraud in the election. Key politicians were arrested, and rule returned to the military.
For many Burmese, this was a return to a dark past that many thought was firmly behind them. Widespread protests erupted, quickly turning violent. The Tatmadaw still has an iron grip, but it has created some bizarre situations – ordinary Burmese citizens calling on Facebook and foreign governments to impose sanctions on their country, while the Myanmar ambassador to the United Nations was fired for making an anti-army speech at the UN General Assembly.
The path forward for Myanmar from this point is unclear. The Tatmadaw has declared a state of emergency lasting up to a year, promising new elections by the end of 2021. There is little doubt that the NLD will win yet another supermajority in the election, IF they are fair and free. But that is a big if. Meanwhile, the coup threatens to return Myanmar to the pariah state that it was pre-2010. And threatens to abort all the grand economic progress made since.
In the decade since military rule was abolished, development in Myanmar has been rapid. In the capital city Yangon, glittering new malls have been developed. The Ministry of Energy in 2009 was housed in a crumbling former high school; today, it occupies a sprawling complex in the new administrative capital of Naypyidaw. While not exactly up to the level of the Department of Energy in Washington DC, it is certainly no longer than ministry that was once reputed to take up to three years to process exploration licences for offshore oil and gas blocks.
And it is that very future that is now at stake. Energy has been a great focus for investment in Myanmar, drawn by the rich offshore deposits in the Andaman Sea and the country’s location as a possible pipeline route between the Middle East and inland China. Estimates suggest that – based on pre-coup trends – Myanmar was likely to attract over US$1.1 billion in upstream investment in 2023, more than four times projected for 2021 and almost 20 times higher than 2011. The funds would not only be directed at maintaining production at the current Yadana, Yetagun, Zawtika and Shwe gas fields – where offshore production is mainly exported to Thailand, but also upcoming megaprojects such as Woodside and Total’s A-6 deepwater natural gas and PTTEP’s Aung Sinka Block M3 developments.
The coup now presents foreign investors in Myanmar’s upstream energy sector with a conundrum and reputational risk. Stay, and risk being seen as abetting an undemocratic government? Or leave, and risk being flushing away years of hard work? The home governments of foreign investors such as Total, Chevron, PTTEP, Woodside, Petronas, ONGC, Nippon Oil, Kogas, POSCO, Sumitomo, Mitsui and others have already condemned the coup. For now these companies are hoping that foreign pressure will resolve the situation in a short enough timeframe to allow business to resume. Australia’s Woodside Petroleum has already called the coup a ‘transitionary issue’ claiming that it will not affect its exploration plans, while other operators such as Total and Petronas have focused on the safety of their employees as they ‘monitor the evolving situation’.
But the longer the coup lasts without a resolution satisfactory to the international community and the longer the protests last (and the more deaths that result from that), the more untenable the position of the foreign upstream players will be. Asian investors, especially the Chinese, mainly through CNPC/PetroChina, and the Thais, through PTTEP - will be relatively insulated, but American and European majors face bigger risks. This could jeopardise key projects such as the Myanmar-to-China crude oil and natural gas pipeline project (a 771km connection to Yunnan), two LNG-to-power projects (Thaketa and Thilawa, meant to deal with the country’s chronic blackouts) and the massive Block A-6 gas development in the Shwe Yee Htun field by Woodside which just kicked off a fourth drilling campaign in December.
It is a big unknown. The Tatmadaw has proven to be impervious to foreign criticism in the past, ignoring even the most stringent sanctions thrown their way. In fact, it was a huge surprise that the army even relinquished power back in 2010. But the situation has changed. The Myanmar population is now more connected and more aware, while the army has profited off the opening of the economy. The economic consequences of returning to its darker days might be enough to trigger a resolution. But that’s not a guarantee. What is certain is that the coup will have a lasting effect on energy investment and plans in Myanmar. How long and how deep is a question that only the Tatmadaw can answer.
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The year 2020 was exceptional in many ways, to say the least. All of which, lockdowns and meltdowns, managed to overshadow a changing of the guard in the LNG world. After leapfrogging Indonesia as the world’s largest LNG producer in 2006, Qatar was surpassed by Australia in 2020 when the final figures for 2019 came in. That this happened was no surprise; it was always a foregone conclusion given Australia’s massive LNG projects developed over the last decade. Were it not for the severe delays in completion, Australia would have taken the crown much earlier; in fact, by capacity, Australia already sailed past Qatar in 2018.
But Australia should not rest on its laurels. The last of the LNG mega-projects in Western Australia, Shell’s giant floating Prelude and Inpex’s sprawling Ichthys onshore complex, have been completed. Additional phases will provide incremental new capacity, but no new mega-projects are on the horizon, for now. Meanwhile, after several years of carefully managing its vast capacity, Qatar is now embarking on its own LNG infrastructure investment spree that should see it reclaim its LNG exporter crown in 2030.
Key to this is the vast North Field, the single largest non-associated gas field in the world. Straddling the maritime border between tiny Qatar and its giant neighbour Iran to the north, Qatar Petroleum has taken the final investment decision to develop the North Field East Project (NFE) this month. With a total price tag of US$28.75 billion, development will kick off in 2021 and is expected to start production in late 2025. Completion of the NFE will raise Qatar’s LNG production capacity from a current 77 million tons per annum to 110 mmtpa. This is easily higher than Australia’s current installed capacity of 88 mmtpa, but the difficulty in anticipating future utilisation rates means that Qatar might not retake pole position immediately. But it certainly will by 2030, when the second phase of the project – the North Field South (NFS) – is slated to start production. This would raise Qatar’s installed capacity to 126 mmtpa, cementing its lead further still, with Qatar Petroleum also stating that it is ‘evaluating further LNG capacity expansions’ beyond that ceiling. If it does, then it should be more big leaps, since this tiny country tends to do things in giant steps, rather than small jumps.
Will there be enough buyers for LNG at the time, though? With all the conversation about sustainability and carbon neutrality, does natural gas still have a role to play? Predicting the future is always difficult, but the short answer, based on current trends, it is a simple yes.
Supermajors such as Shell, BP and Total have set carbon neutral targets for their operations by 2050. Under the Paris Agreement, many countries are also aiming to reduce their carbon emissions significantly as well; even the USA, under the new Biden administration, has rejoined the accord. But carbon neutral does not mean zero carbon. It means that the net carbon emissions of a company or of a country is zero. Emissions from one part of the pie can be offset by other parts of the pie, with the challenge being to excise the most polluting portions to make the overall goal of balancing emissions around the target easier. That, in energy terms, means moving away from dirtier power sources such as coal and oil, towards renewables such as solar and wind, as well as offsets such as carbon capture technology or carbon trading/pricing. Natural gas and LNG sit right in the middle of that spectrum: cleaner than conventional coal and oil, but still ubiquitous enough to be commercially viable.
So even in a carbon neutral world, there is a role for LNG to play. And crucially, demand is expected to continue rising. If ‘peak oil’ is now expected to be somewhere in the 2020s, then ‘peak gas’ is much further, post-2040s. In 2010, only 23 countries had access to LNG import facilities, led by Japan. In 2019, 43 countries now import LNG and that number will continue to rise as increased supply liquidity, cheaper pricing and infrastructural improvements take place. China will overtake Japan as the world’s largest LNG importer soon, while India just installed another 5 mmtpa import terminal in Hazira. More densely populated countries are hopping on the LNG bandwagon soon, the Philippines (108 million people), Vietnam (96 million people), to ensure a growing demand base for the fuel. Qatar’s central position in the world, sitting just between Europe and Asia, is a perfect base to service this growing demand.
There is competition, of course. Russia is increasingly moving to LNG as well, alongside its dominant position in piped natural gas. And there is the USA. By 2025, the USA should have 107 mmtpa of LNG capacity from currently sanctioned projects. That will be enough to make the USA the second-largest LNG exporter in the world, overtaking Australia. With a higher potential ceiling, the USA could also overtake Qatar eventually, since its capacity is driven by private enterprise rather than the controlled, centralised approach by Qatar Petroleum. The appearance of US LNG on the market has been a gamechanger; with lower costs, American LNG is highly competitive, having gone as far as Poland and China in a few short years. But while the average US LNG breakeven cost is estimated at around US$6.50-7.50/mmBtu, Qatar’s is even lower at US$4/mmBtu. Advantage: Qatar.
But there is still room for everyone in this growing LNG market. By 2030, global LNG demand is expected to grow to 580 million tons per annum, from a current 360 mmtpa. More LNG from Qatar is not just an opportunity, it is a necessity. Traditional LNG producers such as Malaysia and Indonesia are seeing waning volumes due to field maturity, but there is plenty of new capacity planned: in the USA, in Canada, in Egypt, in Israel, in Mozambique, and, of course, in Qatar. In that sense, it really doesn’t matter which country holds the crown of the world’s largest exporter, because LNG demand is a rising tide, and a rising tide lifts all 😊
Throughout much of its history, the United States has imported more petroleum (which includes crude oil, refined petroleum products, and other liquids) than it has exported. That status changed in 2020. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) February 2021 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) estimates that 2020 marked the first year that the United States exported more petroleum than it imported on an annual basis. However, largely because of declines in domestic crude oil production and corresponding increases in crude oil imports, EIA expects the United States to return to being a net petroleum importer on an annual basis in both 2021 and 2022.
EIA expects that increasing crude oil imports will drive the growth in net petroleum imports in 2021 and 2022 and more than offset changes in refined product net trade. EIA forecasts that net imports of crude oil will increase from its 2020 average of 2.7 million barrels per day (b/d) to 3.7 million b/d in 2021 and 4.4 million b/d in 2022.
Compared with crude oil trade, net exports of refined petroleum products did not change as much during 2020. On an annual average basis, U.S. net petroleum product exports—distillate fuel oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids, and motor gasoline, among others—averaged 3.2 million b/d in 2019 and 3.4 million b/d in 2020. EIA forecasts that net petroleum product exports will average 3.5 million b/d in 2021 and 3.9 million b/d in 2022 as global demand for petroleum products continues to increase from its recent low point in the first half of 2020.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), February 2021
EIA expects that the United States will import more crude oil to fill the widening gap between refinery inputs of crude oil and domestic crude oil production in 2021 and 2022. U.S. crude oil production declined by an estimated 0.9 million b/d (8%) to 11.3 million b/d in 2020 because of well curtailment and a drop in drilling activity related to low crude oil prices.
EIA expects the rising price of crude oil, which started in the fourth quarter of 2020, will contribute to more U.S. crude oil production later this year. EIA forecasts monthly domestic crude oil production will reach 11.3 million b/d by the end of 2021 and 11.9 million b/d by the end of 2022. These values are increases from the most recent monthly average of 11.1 million b/d in November 2020 (based on data in EIA’s Petroleum Supply Monthly) but still lower than the previous peak of 12.9 million b/d in November 2019.