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Last Updated: December 21, 2016
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Business Trends

Last week in the world oil:


-Although trading is thin ahead of Christmas, oil prices have maintained their gains last week, opening the week at the US$52/b levels, as the market anticipate tighter supplies next year, which should end the year on a positive note after a prolonged weakness in prices. 

Upstream & Midstream

-The UAE, Kuwait and Oman have joined Saudi Arabia is implementing the planned OPEC cuts, warning some clients on long-term contracts that they would receive reduced supplies of crude from January. Saudi Aramco is also telling a few Asian clients that the cuts would impact them as well. 

-Libya’s Sharara and El Feel oil field pipelines have been re-opened, after protestors blocking the assets agreed to halt their action. The oil guards have restarted the long blockaded pipeline, which could restore up to 400 kb/d of output to Libya’s production. Libya’s crude output is one of the two (Nigeria is the other) exempt from the new OPEC supply quotas. 

-While other companies are restarted their oil sands projects, Norway’s Statoil is planning a complete exit. It has agreed to sell its Leismer and Corner sites, along with associated midstream assets, to Canada’s Athabasca Oil for C$832 million, which would leave Statoil with no oil sands assets, figuring that the segment will be remain too challenging.

-The US rig count jumped again last week, up by 13, with 12 of those being oil rigs as US producer dilute the OPEC deal by ramping up production.


-Shell will likely sell its 38.5% stake in the 220 kb/d Schwedt refinery in Germany to Varo Energy (a joint venture between Vitol and the private equity Carlyle Group). This deal is part of Shell’s drive to dispose of US$30 billion in assets to pay for its acquisition of the BG Group. 

-Petrobras will sell its minority 49% stake in sugar/ethanol company Nova Fronteira Bioenergia to its existing joint venture partner São Martinho for US$133 million in a shares-only payment. The move would hasten Petrobras’ exit from domestic biofuels, but it has indicated that it plans a re-entry once it completes its debt reduction plans. In other Petrobras news, the company has signed a US$5 billion, 10-year financing deal with China Development Bank Corp, as well as agreeing an oil supply accord with China National United Oil, China Zhenhua Oil and Chemchina Petrochemical as its seeks a secure stream of revenue and funding. 

Natural Gas & LNG

-Italy’s Eni has sold a 30% stake in its giant Egyptian offshore Zohr gas field to Russia’s Rosneft for US$1.575 billion, after selling a 10% to BP for the same price. Zohr is the largest natural gas find in the Mediterranean thus far, and while Eni is typically good at discovering fields, it lacks the financial clout to pursue its discoveries on its own. 


-With CEO Tex Tillerson heading into the US government as Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, ExxonMobil has named heir apparent Darren Woods as the company’s next chairman and CEO. The boss of ExxonMobil’s refining arm since 2012, Woods’ challenge will be to bring his ability to whip refineries into shape to the company’s larger portfolio, including its challenged upstream business.

Last week in Asian oil:

Upstream & Midstream

-Malaysia’s Petronas is finalising the next round of its PanMalaysia transportation and installation contract, which should provide a boon to offshore contractors hurting for business in Asia. The contracts awarded by Petronas cover domestic upstream oil and gas T&I activities for three years, with the previous round in 2014. The bulk of the contracts this time are said to be in the state of Sarawak, as Petronas aims to bulk up its deepwater activities in East Malaysia.   

Downstream & Shipping

-China has dealt a blow to its teapot refineries, refusing to renew their fuel export quotas for 2017. This means that any fuel produced by the independent refiners have to be sold within China. This would transform assumptions of the Chinese oil market in 2017, as the teapots were expected to import sizeable amounts of crude. But with outlets now limited to the domestic market and consumption slowing down, this move upends that and we very well see teapot production decline. On the plus side, it may remove the glut of refined products sloshing around Asia, allowing cracks and prices to rise. 

-CNOOC’s 200 kb/d Huizhou refinery will start up in May or June 2017, with Saudi Arabia named at the mainly supplier for the plant. CNOOC has traditionally been a more offshore upstream player, but has moved downstream as the traditional lines delineating China’s Big Three energy groups have blurred. 

-Indonesia has officially assigned Pertamina to build and operate a planned refinery at Bontang in East Kalimantan. The 300 kb/d project always had to involve Pertamina – it is the state energy company, after all – but this does not mean the project will see fruition; Pertamina does not have the means to undertake a refinery project this big on its own and has faced considerable problems in moving ahead with joint venture partners. Indonesia will also import 500,000 tons of LPG from Iran next year, aimed at plugging a domestic shortage. 

-Shell continues its withdrawal from what it considerable peripheral downstream markets, selling its aviation fuel business in Australia to Viva Energy for US$250 million. 

Gas & LNG

-Russia’s Novatek, its second biggest gas producer, has signed individual agreements with Japan’s Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Marubeni for co-operation in LNG and energy. The deals will see the companies co-operate in upstream natural gas projects in Russia, including the Arctic LNG-2 project, with Japan hungry to secure LNG supplies while Russia wants to boost its global LNG market share. 


-Qatar will merge its two state-owned LNG producers, consolidating Qatargas and RasGas under QatarGas. The move is a reaction to the prolonged slump in oil prices, which has affected LNG given its oil-linked pricing, cutting costs in the town state-run behemoths. Qatargas and RasGas were originally created as separate companies to focus on the Eastern and Western markets, as well as to encourage competition 

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The New Wave of Renewable Fuels

In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.

Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.

Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.

This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.

But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.

But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.

Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.

Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$71-73/b, WTI – US$68-70/b
  • Global crude benchmarks have stayed steady, even as OPEC+ sticks to its plans to ease supply quotas against the uncertainty of rising Covid-19 cases worldwide
  • However, the success of vaccination drives has kindled hope that the effect of lockdowns – if any – will be mild, with pockets of demand resurgence in Europe; in China, where there has been a zero-tolerance drive to stamp out Covid outbreaks, fuel consumption is strengthening again, possibly tightening fuel balances in Q4
  • Meanwhile, much of the US Gulf of Mexico crude production remains hampered by the effects of Hurricane Ida, providing a counter-balance on the supply side

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