Last week in the world oil:
* With an extension of the OPEC supply cuts seemingly imminent, as Saudi Arabia and Russia agreed that the freeze must last until early 2018, crude oil prices have gained ground. Brent topped US$52/b for the first time in three weeks, while WTI is inching up towards US$50/b again.
Upstream & Midstream
* France’s Total has signed a deal with Mauritanian state oil firm SMHPM to explore for offshore oil and gas, as the action in West Africa swings north to the new deepwater basins off Mauritania and Senegal. Total will take a 90% operating stake in the 7,300 sq.km 7,300 Block C7, just a week after it bought a 90% stake in the Rufisque Offshore Profond Block in Senegal.
* First oil has begun to flow at the Repsol Sinopec Resources’ Shaw field, part of the major redevelopment of the Montrose Area in the Central North Sea. Aiming to integrate new and existing infrastructure in the UK’s North Sea, the Shaw, Godwin and Cayley fields will add some 100 million boe to the reserves in Montrose.
* The recent razor-thin victory of Canada’s Liberal Party in British Columbia puts the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion and the US$27 billion Petronas LNG export projects at risk. Reduced to a minority government, the Liberals will require support from the Green Party to govern, and the Greens are vehemently opposed to both projects, despite the BC and Federals governments already approving them.
* American oilrigs added another nine to their number, reaching 712. It has been 17 consecutive weeks of rises in the US overall rig count, marching towards 900 as raising doubts about the effectiveness of more OPEC cuts.
* Italy’s Eni will be building a new 150 kb/d refinery in Nigeria. Part of the country’s drive to boost downstream investment to reduce reliance on imported oil products – despite being a crude exporter – the refinery will be built by Eni’s downstream subsidiary Agip, replacing the chronic aging existing refineries of NNPC.
* Venezuela’s refining woes continue, as aging units and manpower shortages reduce utilisation at the Paraguna Refining Center to 43%, with multiple units at the Cardon and Amuay refineries out of service.
Natural Gas and LNG
* As East Europe looks to assert a measure of energy independence away from Russia, Romania’s state gas producer Romgaz announced that production at the domestic Caragele field will start in 2019. With an estimated 25-27 bcm of gas, the field in Buzau could supply the entire country for three years. Romgaz is hoping to up that figure, sanctioning more tests and drilling in the area, with an eye toward becoming a net gas exporter through the impending Bulgarian-Romanian gas pipeline.
* From being desperate for oil and gas, Egypt is now talking to its LNG suppliers to defer shipments as its domestic gas production surges. Long seen as a reliable sink for LNG shipments, Cairo reportedly aims to scale back LNG purchases in 2018 from 70 to 30 cargoes, as production surges from BP’s Tauros and Libra fields in West Nile Delta, as well as Eni’s Zohr and giant Nooros field, which has hit 900 million cubic feet/d of output.
Upstream & Midstream
* Saudi Aramco will ship some 7 million barrels of crude oil less to Asia in June. Part of its commitment to the OPEC pact, the reduction also comes as the country hoards crude for domestic power demand during the searing summer, especially with the festive Ramadhan period beginning in late May. The nomination plans for June indicate a million barrel cut to Southeast Asia, China and South Korea each, slightly less than a million barrels for Japan and a whopping 3 million barrels for India. Expect the countries to turn to America and Africa to make up the shortage.
* Total and Japan’s Inpex are proposing to the Indonesian government take a 39% stake in the new Production Sharing Contract (PSC) at the Mahakam block. Under the current contract that began in 2015, the two companies – which operate the oil and gas block – have a smaller stake of 30%, with Pertamina taking the rest. Pertamina will be the operator of Mahakam under the new PSC, with Total and Inpex asking for new clauses in compensation, including 17% investment credit for developing the block and selling gas to domestic buyers at market prices.
* IndianOil has opened up talks with Saudi Aramco to build a mega refinery on India’s west coast. The project would be one of mutual benefit. India is aspiring to be self-sufficient in oil product demand, which would require that it vastly expand refining capacity. The project, which has a mammoth planned capacity of 1.2 mmbpd will also have a petrochemicals portion, to feed the country’s growing manufacturing sector. For Saudi Arabia, it locks in India as a top customer amid a growing oil supply glut. It also represents a strategic downstream move, with Aramco also involved in the RAPID project in Malaysia and pushing ahead with its American Motiva subsidiary after a divorce from joint venture partner Shell.
* ExxonMobil has agreed to buy the Jurong Aromatics refinery and petrochemical plant, outbidding South Korea’s Lotte Chemical by offering a price of US$1.7 billion. The JAC plant will now be integrated with ExxonMobil’s existing complex on Jurong, expanding the firm’s largest refining complex even further.
Natural Gas & LNG
* Malaysia’s Petronas is looking to expand its status as the third-largest LNG exporter by tapping new market in South and Southeast Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar have been identified as avenues of growth for the Malaysian state oil firm, while new sectors such as LNG fuel for commercial ships are also being tested.
* Without changing existing rules for American LNG exports, Donald Trump’s administration has clarified that current trade rules allow American shale gas producers to target China directly to sell LNG. Currently, American LNG heads to China under spot contracts, with Cheniere already shipping nine cargoes from its Sabine Pass facility. The clarification is expected to trigger a wave of long-term contracts with Chinese buyers, rather than prompt spot purchases.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 18 March 2019 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$58/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Risk and reward – improving recovery rates versus exploration
A giant oil supply gap looms. If, as we expect, oil demand peaks at 110 million b/d in 2036, the inexorable decline of fields in production or under development today creates a yawning gap of 50 million b/d by the end of that decade.
How to fill it? It’s the preoccupation of the E&P sector. Harry Paton, Senior Analyst, Global Oil Supply, identifies the contribution from each of the traditional four sources.
1. Reserve growth
An additional 12 million b/d, or 24%, will come from fields already in production or under development. These additional reserves are typically the lowest risk and among the lowest cost, readily tied-in to export infrastructure already in place. Around 90% of these future volumes break even below US$60 per barrel.
2. pre-drill tight oil inventory and conventional pre-FID projects
They will bring another 12 million b/d to the party. That’s up on last year by 1.5 million b/d, reflecting the industry’s success in beefing up the hopper. Nearly all the increase is from the Permian Basin. Tight oil plays in North America now account for over two-thirds of the pre-FID cost curve, though extraction costs increase over time. Conventional oil plays are a smaller part of the pre-FID wedge at 4 million b/d. Brazil deep water is amongst the lowest cost resource anywhere, with breakevens eclipsing the best tight oil plays. Certain mature areas like the North Sea have succeeded in getting lower down the cost curve although volumes are small. Guyana, an emerging low-cost producer, shows how new conventional basins can change the curve.
3. Contingent resource
These existing discoveries could deliver 11 million b/d, or 22%, of future supply. This cohort forms the next generation of pre-FID developments, but each must overcome challenges to achieve commerciality.
Last, but not least, yet-to-find. We calculate new discoveries bring in 16 million b/d, the biggest share and almost one-third of future supply. The number is based on empirical analysis of past discovery rates, future assumptions for exploration spend and prospectivity.
Can yet-to-find deliver this much oil at reasonable cost? It looks more realistic today than in the recent past. Liquids reserves discovered that are potentially commercial was around 5 billion barrels in 2017 and again in 2018, close to the late 2030s ‘ask’. Moreover, exploration is creating value again, and we have argued consistently that more companies should be doing it.
But at the same time, it’s the high-risk option, and usually last in the merit order – exploration is the final top-up to meet demand. There’s a danger that new discoveries – higher cost ones at least – are squeezed out if demand’s not there or new, lower-cost supplies emerge. Tight oil’s rapid growth has disrupted the commercialisation of conventional discoveries this decade and is re-shaping future resource capture strategies.
To sustain portfolios, many companies have shifted away from exclusively relying on exploration to emphasising lower risk opportunities. These mostly revolve around commercialising existing reserves on the books, whether improving recovery rates from fields currently in production (reserves growth) or undeveloped discoveries (contingent resource).
Emerging technology may pose a greater threat to exploration in the future. Evolving technology has always played a central role in boosting expected reserves from known fields. What’s different in 2019 is that the industry is on the cusp of what might be a technological revolution. Advanced seismic imaging, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the cloud and supercomputing will shine a light into sub-surface’s dark corners.
Combining these and other new applications to enhance recovery beyond tried-and-tested means could unlock more reserves from existing discoveries – and more quickly than we assume. Equinor is now aspiring to 60% from its operated fields in Norway. Volume-wise, most upside may be in the giant, older, onshore accumulations with low recovery factors (think ExxonMobil and Chevron’s latest Permian upgrades). In contrast, 21st century deepwater projects tend to start with high recovery factors.
If global recovery rates could be increased by a percentage or two from the average of around 30%, reserves growth might contribute another 5 to 6 million b/d in the 2030s. It’s just a scenario, and perhaps makes sweeping assumptions. But it’s one that should keep conventional explorers disciplined and focused only on the best new prospects.
Global oil supply through 2040
Things just keep getting more dire for Venezuela’s PDVSA – once a crown jewel among state energy firms, and now buried under debt and a government in crisis. With new American sanctions weighing down on its operations, PDVSA is buckling. For now, with the support of Russia, China and India, Venezuelan crude keeps flowing. But a ghost from the past has now come back to haunt it.
In 2007, Venezuela embarked on a resource nationalisation programme under then-President Hugo Chavez. It was the largest example of an oil nationalisation drive since Iraq in 1972 or when the government of Saudi Arabia bought out its American partners in ARAMCO back in 1980. The edict then was to have all foreign firms restructure their holdings in Venezuela to favour PDVSA with a majority. Total, Chevron, Statoil (now Equinor) and BP agreed; ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips refused. Compensation was paid to ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, which was considered paltry. So the two American firms took PDVSA to international arbitration, seeking what they considered ‘just value’ for their erstwhile assets. In 2012, ExxonMobil was awarded some US$260 million in two arbitration awards. The dispute with ConocoPhillips took far longer.
In April 2018, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favour of ConocoPhillips, granting US$2.1 billion in recovery payments. Hemming and hawing on PDVSA’s part forced ConocoPhillips’ hand, and it began to seize control of terminals and cargo ships in the Caribbean operated by PDVSA or its American subsidiary Citgo. A tense standoff – where PDVSA’s carriers were ordered to return to national waters immediately – was resolved when PDVSA reached a payment agreement in August. As part of the deal, ConocoPhillips agreed to suspend any future disputes over the matter with PDVSA.
The key word being ‘future’. ConocoPhillips has an existing contractual arbitration – also at the ICC – relating to the separate Corocoro project. That decision is also expected to go towards the American firm. But more troubling is that a third dispute has just been settled by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunal in favour of ConocoPhillips. This action was brought against the government of Venezuela for initiating the nationalisation process, and the ‘unlawful expropriation’ would require a US$8.7 billion payment. Though the action was brought against the government, its coffers are almost entirely stocked by sales of PDVSA crude, essentially placing further burden on an already beleaguered company. A similar action brought about by ExxonMobil resulted in a US$1.4 billion payout; however, that was overturned at the World Bank in 2017.
But it might not end there. The danger (at least on PDVSA’s part) is that these decisions will open up floodgates for any creditors seeking damages against Venezuela. And there are quite a few, including several smaller oil firms and players such as gold miner Crystallex, who is owed US$1.2 billion after the gold industry was nationalised in 2011. If the situation snowballs, there is a very tempting target for creditors to seize – Citgo, PDVSA’s crown jewel that operates downstream in the USA, which remains profitable. And that would be an even bigger disaster for PDVSA, even by current standards.
Infographic: Venezuela oil nationalisation dispute timeline