Last week, the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Syrian government in response to chemical gas attacks on its own the civilian population there. Then later in the week, the US announced that it has dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb – better known as the Mother of All Bombs – for the first time in Afghanistan, targeting an underground network of ISIS insurgents. More worryingly, the Trump administration has opened the possibility it may launch a first strike against North Korea. US warships are already gathering around South Korea, joined by some Japanese battleships as well, while on the other sides, reports have come in that China is amassing as many as 150,000 troops along its North Korean border.
Crude oil promptly rose on the news about the Syrian missile attack. Considering that from the last 3 years of on-going conflict in Libya, northern Iraq and Yemen in which the market completely ignored any substantial risk to oil supply, the events last week seems to be taking a different perspective. The market appears to be considering real geopolitical risk arising from the new conflicts at play now. Regardless if nothing comes out of it in the ends.
Concerns are growing about the possible reversal of the Iranian nuclear agreement, which may result in a cut of Iranian supply. Where there was optimism of US – Russian relations is now looking the other way. The prospect that Donald Trump will remove trade sanctions on Russia is now looking more remote than ever. But more worrying is the situation in North Korea. A first strike on the part of the US could trigger a disproportionate retaliation by the belligerent nation, with South Korea caught in the crossfire. An important hub for oil and gas refining and trade in the region, most of South Korea’ important oil and gas facilities are in the safer southernmost part of the peninsula, but capital Seoul is less than 60km from the North Korea border. If North Korea has a nuclear-capable weapon, as is widely suspected, carnage could be unleashed, engulfing not just the Korean Peninsula, but Japan and China as well.
The issue of geopolitical risk can also be linked to the unpredictable nature of the current White House and Mar-a-Lago (depending on the day of the week). It has been a week of unprecedented flip and flops in relation to several core election promises. Trump’s more extreme campaign promises abated this week, to the chagrin of some of his more right-wing supporters. He failed to label China as a ‘currency manipulator’ during his meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping, which would have likely started a disruptive tit-for-tat trade war. He walked back on his claims that NATO, saying the organisation was no longer ‘obsolete’. Oil traders are wary that Trump may not have consistent policy viewpoint on how far he will go with the growing conflicts. His promise to not divulge military plans as a measure to keep his enemies guessing, may just keep the markets guessing as well, creating uncertainly.
The issue about geopolitical risks, also comes at a time when the market appears to be tightening up. OPEC is predicted to proceed with the cuts in May, allowing for further excess stock depletion. This could put the market into recovery mode in the next half of the year. Any unexpected or perceived shocks to supply from wars or sanctions may drive prices up further.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 19 August 2019 – Brent: US$58/b; WTI: US$55/b
Headlines of the week
A lot of complications arise when a government changes. Particularly if the new government comes in on a mandate to reverse alleged deficiencies and corruption of previous governments. This is amplified when significant natural resources are involved. It has happened in the past – when Iran nationalised its oil industry by kicking out BP – and it could happen again in the future – in Guyana where the promise of oil riches in the hands of foreign firms has already caused grumbles. And it is also happening right now in Papua New Guinea, as the new government led by Prime Minister James Marape took aim at the Papua LNG deal.
Negotiated by the previous government of Peter O’Neill, the state’s new position that is the current gas deal is ‘disadvantageous’ to country. A complex set of manoeuvres – accusing O’Neill of multiple levels of corruption – led to a proposed vote of no confidence and an eventual resignation. With the departure of O’Neill, public opinion on the Papua LNG project (as well as the PNG LNG project) switched from being viewed as a boon to the economy to one of unequal terms that would not compensate the nation fairly for its resources.
So, despite a previous assurance in early August that the new government of Papua New Guinea would stand by the previous gas deal agreed with the Papua LNG stakeholders in April, Marape sent a team led by the Minister of Petroleum Kerenga Kua to Singapore to renegotiate with the project’s lead operator Total.
As the meeting was announced, suggestions pointed to a hardline position by Papua New Guinea… that they could ‘walk away from a new deal’ if the new terms were not acceptable. In a statement, Kua stated that the negotiations could ‘work out well or even disastrously’. From Total’s part, CEO Patrick Pouyanne said in July that he expected the government to respect the gas deal while Oil Search stated that it was seeking ‘further clarity on the state’s position’. The gas deal covers framework of the Papua LNG project, which was scheduled to enter FEED phase this year with FID expected in 2020, drawing gas from the giant onshore Elk-Antelope fields ahead of planned first LNG by 2024. So, the stakes are high.
With both sides locked into their positions, reports from Singapore suggested that the negotiations broke down into a ‘Mexican standoff’. No grand new deal was announced, and it can therefore be inferred that no progress was made. There is a possibility that PNG could abandon the deal altogether and seek new partners under more favourable terms, but to do so would be a colossal waste of time, given that Papua LNG is nearing a decade in development. Total and ExxonMobil have already raised the possibility of legal moves if the deal is aborted, with compensation running into billions – billions that the PNG government will not have unless the Papua LNG project goes ahead.
But the implications of the deal or no-deal are even wider. The PNG state has already stated that it will look at the planned expansion of the PNG LNG project (led by ExxonMobil and Santos) next, which draws from the P’nyang field. Renegotiation of the current gas deals in PNG may have populist appeal but have serious implications – alienating two of the largest oil and gas supermajors and two of PNG’s largest foreign investors could lead to a monetary gap and a mood of distrust that PNG may be unable to ever fill. Hardline positions are a good starting position, but eventual moderation is required to ever strike a deal.
Papua LNG Factsheet:
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) earned almost $711 billion in net oil export revenues in 2018 (Figure 1). The estimate is up 29% from 2017, but about 40% lower than the record high of almost $1,200 billion in 2012. The 2018 earnings increase is mainly a result of higher crude oil prices. The Brent spot price rose from an annual average of $54 per barrel (b) in 2017 to $71/b in 2018. However, EIA forecasts annual OPEC net oil export revenues will decline to $593 billion in 2019 and to $556 billion in 2020. Decreasing OPEC revenues are primarily a result of decreasing production among a number of OPEC producers.
EIA estimates net oil export revenues based on oil production—including crude oil, condensate, and natural gas plant liquids—and total petroleum consumption estimates, as well as crude oil prices forecast in the August 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). EIA’s net oil export revenues estimate assumes that exports are sold at prevailing spot prices and adjusts the prices for benchmark crude oils forecast in STEO (Brent, West Texas Intermediate, and the average imported refiner crude oil acquisition cost) with historical price differentials among spot prices for the different OPEC crude oil types. For countries that export several different varieties of oil, EIA assumes that the proportion of total net oil exports represented by each variety is the same as the proportion of the total domestic production represented by that variety. For example, if Arab Medium represents 20% of total oil production in Saudi Arabia, the estimate assumes that Arab Medium also represents 20% of total net oil exports from Saudi Arabia.
Although OPEC net export earnings include estimated Iranian revenues, they are not adjusted for possible price discounts that trade press reports indicatedIran may have offered its customers after the United States announced its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May 2018. The United States reinstated sanctions targeting Iranian oil exports in November 2018. Similarly, EIA does not adjust for Venezuelan crude oil exports to China or India for volumes that are sent for debt repayments to China and Russian energy company Rosneft, respectively, and thus do not generate cash revenue for Venezuela.
If the $711 billion in net oil export revenues by all of OPEC is divided by total population of its member countries and adjusted for inflation, then per capita net oil export revenues across OPEC totaled $1,416 in 2018, up 26% from 2017 (Figure 2). The increase in per capita revenues likely benefited member countries that rely heavily on oil sales to import goods, fund social programs, and otherwise support public services.
In addition to benefiting from higher prices, some OPEC member countries have increased export revenues by reducing domestic consumption and consequently exporting more. For example, Saudi Arabia has significantly reduced the amount of crude oil burned for power generation. Limiting crude oil burn allowed Saudi Arabia to export more crude oil and to maximize revenues.
Others have been able to charge higher premiums based on the quality of their crude oil streams. As the global slate of crude oil has changed with more light crude oil production (with higher API gravity), OPEC members have benefited from a narrowing price discount for their heavy crude oils, which are typically priced lower than lighter crude oils because of quality differences. Smaller discounts for OPEC members’ heavier crude streams contributed to higher spot prices for the OPEC crude oil basket price, which incorporates spot prices for the major crude oil streams from all OPEC members (Figure 3).
Despite the increase in annual average crude oil prices in 2018, OPEC revenues fell during the second half of 2018, mainly because of lower production and export volumes from Iran and Venezuela (Figure 4). EIA estimates that OPEC total petroleum liquids production decreased slightly in 2018 when increased production in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Libya could not offset significant declines in Iranian and Venezuelan production. Combined crude oil production in Iran and Venezuela fell by almost 800,000 barrels per day (b/d), or 14%, in 2018 and again by over 1.0 million b/d in the first seven months of 2019. Although Iranian net oil export revenues increased by 18% from 2017 to 2018, a year-to-date comparison indicates a significant decrease in revenues in 2019 (Figure 4). EIA estimates that from January to July 2018, Iran received about $40 billion in export revenues, compared with an estimated $17 billion from January to July 2019. Further decreases in OPEC members’ production beyond current EIA assumptions would further reduce EIA’s OPEC revenue estimates for 2019 and 2020.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 3 cents from the previous week to $2.60 per gallon on August 19, 22 cents lower than the same time last year. The Gulf Coast price fell nearly 6 cents to $2.27 per gallon, the East Coast price fell nearly 4 cents to $2.52 per gallon, the West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each fell nearly 2 cents to $3.24 per gallon and $2.67 per gallon, respectively, and the Midwest price fell nearly 1 cent, remaining at $2.52 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell nearly 2 cents to $2.99 per gallon on August 19, 21 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell over 2 cents to $2.90 per gallon, the West Coast and East Coast prices each fell nearly 2 cents to $3.56 per gallon and $3.02 per gallon, respectively, the Gulf Coast price fell more than 1 cent to $2.75 per gallon, and the Rocky Mountain price fell less than 1 cent, remaining at $2.94 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 4.0 million barrels last week to 90.5 million barrels as of August 16, 2019, 10.2 million barrels (12.7%) greater than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast, East Coast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased by 2.0 million barrels, 1.0 million barrels, 0.7 million barrels, and 0.4 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 4.4% of total propane/propylene inventories.