For the third year in a row, Indian fuel consumption has eclipsed China’s. In fact, it grew by 10.7% in 2016, the highest growth rate in 16 years, according to the Indian Oil Ministry. This should be a cause for cheer; as one of the main reasons that crude prices collapsed in 2015 was due to China's economic slow down. With India now apparently taking China’s place as the motor of oil growth in Asia and the world, how long can this hold?
Indian growth in 2016 was down to cheap oil, an advantage that is being erased as crude oil prices climb on OPEC’s decision to enforce a supply freeze. Higher crude means higher oil product prices; so the transport boom in gasoline and aviation fuel sales might peter out. LPG penetration was also a major factor in expanding demand, but this will also begin to slow down. The surge in automotive ownership following two years of low oil prices led gasoline and diesel sales to leap by 12.2% and 5.6%, while LPG grew by 11.3%. This sort of growth figures might not be able to continue. It should be noted, however, that these statistics are based on the Oil Ministry’s fuel consumption statistics, which is generally higher than official oil demand figures as it excludes oil for non-fuel use but indicates trends.
The annual figures, however, mask developments that occurred at the end of 2016. A demonetisation drive to crackdown on tax dodgers and counterfeiters by removing the 500 and 1,000-rupee notes from circulation has dented consumption; fuel consumption spiked in November as consumers rushed to stock up, and grew by only 4.3% in December. Across India, there is a slowdown in consumption, affecting all products from coconut oil to diesel to scooters, as consumers hold back on purchases to monitor the ongoing demonetisation (even though old notes are still valid for buying automobile fuel and cooking oil). This has affected the rural population in particular, heavily cash dependent. Alarmists are saying that that demand growth could slow by as much as 80%. That would be a worst-case scenario. The more likely outlook is that growth will fall to the 6-8% range instead. Because oil demand is resilient, the population will adapt to the new monetary rules and the cash crunch will abate, leading to stronger growth in the second half of 2017 offsetting a slower first half.
And even the first half has bright spots. This is an election year for India, and the political arena will see the main parties stage huge rallies across the vast country, requiring gasoil for generator and heavy transport, as well as gasoline. The size of the country, including its large rural population, also means voters will have to travel great distances to reach a ballot box, with political parties and the government again stepping in to ferry people to cast their vote.
Looking forward, the government’s "Make In India" initiative to boost local manufacturing and a slew of new petrochemical projects onstream should ensure a stable basis for growth over the next 3 - 5 years. Higher fuel prices might choke off some momentum, but India is ready to inherit the crown of the world’s oil demand driver from China. Take note that, India’s economy is very different from China’s centrally-planned one, India's economy is more dependent on private entreprise and complex political factors. Though this should provide a broader base for fuel growth, but will probably not reach the dizzying heights of double-digit growth that China did. But grow it will, and the oil world will be banking on that.
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The Permian is in desperate need of pipelines. That much is true. There is so much shale liquids sloshing underneath the Permian formation in Texas and New Mexico, that even though it has already upended global crude market and turned the USA into the world’s largest crude producer, there is still so much of it trapped inland, unable to make the 800km journey to the Gulf Coast that would take them to the big wider world.
The stakes are high. Even though the US is poised to reach some 12 mmb/d of crude oil production next year – more than half of that coming from shale oil formations – it could be producing a lot more. This has already caused the Brent-WTI spread to widen to a constant US$10/b since mid-2018 – when the Permian’s pipeline bottlenecks first became critical – from an average of US$4/b prior to that. It is even more dramatic in the Permian itself, where crude is selling at a US$10-16/b discount to Houston WTI, with trends pointing to the spread going as wide as US$20/b soon. Estimates suggest that a record 3,722 wells were drilled in the Permian this year but never opened because the oil could not be brought to market. This is part of the reason why the US active rig count hasn’t increased as much as would have been expected when crude prices were trending towards US$80/b – there’s no point in drilling if you can’t sell.
Assistance is on the way. Between now and 2020, estimates suggest that some 2.6 mmb/d of pipeline capacity across several projects will come onstream, with an additional 1 mmb/d in the planning stages. Add this to the existing 3.1 mmb/d of takeaway capacity (and 300,000 b/d of local refining) and Permian shale oil output currently dammed away by a wall of fixed capacity could double in size when freed to make it to market.
And more pipelines keep getting announced. In the last two weeks, Jupiter Energy Group announced a 90-day open season seeking binding commitments for a planned 1 mmb/d, 1050km long Jupiter Pipeline – which could connect the Permian to all three of Texas’ deepwater ports, Houston, Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Plains All American is launching its 500,000 b/d Sunrise Pipeline, connecting the Permian to Cushing, Oklahoma. Wolf Midstream has also launched an open season, seeking interest for its 120,000 b/d Red Wolf Crude Connector branch, connecting to its existing terminal and infrastructure in Colorado City.
Current estimates suggest that Permian output numbered around 3.5 mmb/d in October. At maximum capacity, that’s still about 100,000 b/d of shale oil trapped inland. As planned pipelines come online over the next two years, that trickle could turn into a flood. Consider this. Even at the current maxing out of Permian infrastructure, the US is already on the cusp on 12 mmb/d crude production. By 2021, it could go as high as 15 mmb/d – crude prices, permitting, of course.
As recently reported in the WSJ; “For years, the companies behind the U.S. oil-and-gas boom, including Noble Energy Inc. and Whiting Petroleum Corp. have promised shareholders they have thousands of prospective wells they can drill profitably even at $40 a barrel. Some have even said they can generate returns on investment of 30%. But most shale drillers haven’t made much, if any, money at those prices. From 2012 to 2017, the 30 biggest shale producers lost more than $50 billion. Last year, when oil prices averaged about $50 a barrel, the group as a whole was barely in the black, with profits of about $1.7 billion, or roughly 1.3% of revenue, according to FactSet.”
The immense growth experienced in the Permian has consequences for the entire oil supply chain, from refining balances – shale oil is more suitable for lighter ends like gasoline, but the world is heading for a gasoline glut and is more interested in cracking gasoil for the IMO’s strict marine fuels sulphur levels coming up in 2020 – to geopolitics, by diminishing OPEC’s power and particularly Saudi Arabia’s role as a swing producer. For now, the walls keeping a Permian flood in are still standing. In two years, they won’t, with new pipeline infrastructure in place. And so the oil world has two years to prepare for the coming tsunami, but only if crude prices stay on course.
Recent Announced Permian Pipeline Projects
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 3 December 2018 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
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