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Last Updated: May 31, 2017
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Last week in the world oil:

Prices

  • As it turns out, an extension of the OPEC and non-OPEC supply cuts wasn’t enough, even if it ‘gave clarity until March 2018’ according to French major Total. Traders and investors were expecting deeper cuts to quotas, and when those failed to materialise, sent oil prices down by almost 5% to US$51/b for Brent and US$49/b for WTI.

Upstream & Midstream

  • Norway’s Statoil will start up its Gina Krog oil and gas field in June, after receiving consent from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. Originally expected to start up in April, Gina Krog is estimated to hold some 106 million barrels of oil, 11.8 bcm of natural gas and 3.2 million tons of NGLs. Operator Statoil owns 58.7% of the field, while Total’s 15% stake has been sold to Norwegian startup Okea for US$350 million. With new output expected, Norway has declined to enforce a cut in its output, despite being approached by Saudi Arabia to join in the OPEC-led freeze.
  • The worst disruption in Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta are over, with output expected to climb back to 2.2 mmb/d entering the second half of 2017 and Forcados expected back by end June. This would add pressure on global oil prices, as Nigeria is currently exempt from the OPEC supply freeze. This could be further exarcebated by the passing of the country’s Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, part of the Petroleum Industry Bill that will overhaul Nigeria’s upstream sector to boost investment.
  • With the OPEC cuts extended for another nine months, US drillers are sensing opportunity to sell more volumes, adding another seven new sites to bring the total up to 908. Last week, however, added only two new oilrigs, the slowest expansion rate in three months – perhaps a sign that US onshore shale drilling is reaching a ceiling.

Downstream

  • Saudi Aramco has been making major downstream steps recently, strengthening up its portfolio ahead of its planned IPO. Fresh from ending its partnership with Shell over its US refining subsidiary Motiva, Saudi Aramco has announced plans to spend some US$18 billion through 2022, investing in expanding Port Arthur – the largest refinery in America – adding new petrochemical capacity and expanding marketing operations.
  • Uganda and Tanzania have agreed to move ahead with the proposed US$3.55 billion crude pipeline that will bring landlocked Ugandan crude in the country’s west to Tanzania’s port of Tanga by 2020. Fiscal terms, timelines, routing and mechanical details of the pipeline have been agreed, with the 1,445km, 24inch pipeline being the longest electrically-heated crude pipeline in the world when operational.

Natural Gas and LNG

  • Another first for Cheniere, as the Netherlands received its first ever LNG cargo from the US, expanding Sabine Pass’ LNG footprint in Europe. Cheniere is currently the only company exporting large LNG cargoes from the US Gulf, and its increasing volumes sent to Europe proves the case for international viability of US LNG exports; and a boon to European countries keen to reduce their reliance on cunning Russia.

Last week in Asian oil

Upstream

  • Shell has been given the green light by Petronas to sell its 50% stake in the 2011 North Sabah Enhanced Oil Recovery PSC to Malaysian player Hibiscus Petroleum. The clears the way for the stake to exchange hands for US$25 million, with Petronas Carigali waiving it pre-emption rights. The PSC includes the Labuan Crude Oil Terminal and the offshore fields of St. Joseph, South Furious, SF30 and Barton, lumped together to eke additional production out of the aging fields. Petronas has 50% of the PSC, with Shell holding the remainder through two subsidiaries – split evenly between Sabah Shell Petroleum and Shell Sabah Selatan.

Downstream

  • China has signalled that private companies will eventually be allowed to invest in Chinese oil and gas storage sector, part of a larger plan to streamline the country’s complex and lumbering state players and stimulate competition. Foreign participation in upstream is also on the cards, filtering down to pipeline and other midstream distribution.
  • Vietnam’s sole operational refinery in Dung Quat will sell off 5-6% of its shares in late 2017 via an IPO aimed that reducing government ownership in state-run enterprises. An additional 36% is also earmarked to be sold to ‘strategic partners’ – which reportedly include Gazprom, PTT and Kuwait Petroleum – after flotation, as the refinery struggles to maintain consistent operations.

Natural Gas & LNG

  • The Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) has established talks with Shell to build a grassroots LNG import plant in Batangas. It is the latest in a series of planned LNG import projects in the area, including one by Shell on its own, with Batangas being the main transmission point to Metro Manila. PNOC has been trying to establish an LNG terminal for almost a decade to cope with increasing power demands, but cannot handle the project alone, hence the need to seek out experienced partners.
  • The state government of Sarawak is negotiating with Petronas to acquire a 10% stake in the LNG Train 9 at the Petronas LNG complex in Bintulu. With a capacity of 3.6 million tons of LNG, Train 9 is the latest liquefaction facility in Bintulu, which began operations in January and raised total capacity at the site to 30 million tons per year. Petronas is the operator and main shareholder in Train 9, with Japan’s JX Nippon Oil & Energy also a significant stakeholder. The state government has been pushing to derive more direct revenues from Sarawak’s vast natural gas industry, and is also asking for a larger equity share in the operational Malaysian Liquefied Natural Gas (MLNG) Dua plant.

Corporate

  • China’s Sinochem and ChemChina are on the verge of merging. The deal would create the world’s largest industrial chemicals firm, dwarfing BASF, in the world’s largest chemicals market. Sinochem chief Ning Gaoning is earmarked to be the head of the new firm, which Beijing sees as a blueprint for streamlining its vast and complex state entreprises holdings, creating international champions in the process.

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North American crude oil prices are closely, but not perfectly, connected

selected North American crude oil prices

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.

The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.

Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.

pricing locations of selected North American crudes

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.

Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.

Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.

Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.

Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett

May, 28 2020
Financial Review: 2019

Key findings

  • Brent crude oil daily average prices were $64.16 per barrel in 2019—11% lower than 2018 levels
  • The 102 companies analyzed in this study increased their combined liquids and natural gas production 2% from 2018 to 2019
  • Proved reserves additions in 2019 were about the same as the 2010–18 annual average
  • Finding plus lifting costs increased 13% from 2018 to 2019
  • Occidental Petroleum’s acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum contributed to the largest reserve acquisition costs incurred for the group of companies since 2016
  • Refiners’ earnings per barrel declined slightly from 2018 to 2019

See entire annual review

May, 26 2020
From Certain Doom To Cautious Optimism

A month ago, the world witnessed something never thought possible – negative oil prices. A perfect storm of events – the Covid-19 lockdowns, the resulting effect on demand, an ongoing oil supply glut, a worrying shortage of storage space and (crucially) the expiry of the NYMEX WTI benchmark contract for May, resulted in US crude oil prices falling as low as -US$37/b. Dragging other North American crude markers like Louisiana Light and Western Canadian Select along with it, the unique situation meant that crude sellers were paying buyers to take the crude off their hands before the May contract expired, or risk being stuck with crude and nowhere to store it. This was seen as an emblem of the dire circumstances the oil industry was in, and although prices did recover to a more normal US$10-15/b level after the benchmark contract switched over to June, there was immense worry that the situation would repeat itself.

Thankfully, it has not.

On May 19, trade in the NYMEX WTI contract for June delivery was retired and ticked over into a new benchmark for July delivery. Instead of a repeat of the meltdown, the WTI contract rose by US$1.53 to reach US$33.49/b, closing the gap with Brent that traded at US$35.75b. In the space of a month, US crude prices essentially swung up by US$70/b. What happened?

The first reason is that the market has learnt its lesson. The meltdown in April came because of an overleveraged market tempted by low crude oil prices in hope of selling those cargoes on later at a profit. That sort of strategic trading works fine in a normal situation, but against an abnormal situation of rapidly-shrinking storage space saw contract holders hold out until the last minute then frantically dumping their contracts to avoid having to take physical delivery. Bruised by this – and probably embarrassed as well – it seems the market has taken precautions to avoid a recurrence. Settling contracts early was one mechanism. Funds and institutions have also reduced their positions, diminishing the amount of contracts that need to be settled. The structural bottleneck that precipitated the crash was largely eliminated.

The second is that the US oil complex has adjusted itself quickly. Some 2 mmb/d of crude production has been (temporarily) idled, reducing supply. The gradual removal of lockdowns in some US states, despite medical advisories, has also recovered some demand. This week, crude draws in Cushing, Oklahoma rose for the second consecutive week, reaching a record figure of 5.6 million barrels. That increase in demand and the parallel easing of constrained storage space meant that last month’s panic was not repeated. The situation is also similar worldwide. With China now almost at full capacity again and lockdowns gradually removed in other parts of the world, the global crude marker Brent also rose to a 2-month high. The new OPEC+ supply deal seems to be working, especially with Saudi Arabia making an additional voluntary cut of 1 mmb/d. The oil world is now moving rapidly towards a new normal.

How long will this last? Assuming that the Covid-19 pandemic is contained by Q3 2020, then oil prices could conceivably return to their previous support level of US$50/b. That is a big assumption, however. The Covid-19 situation is still fragile, with major risks of additional waves. In China and South Korea, where the pandemic had largely been contained, recent detection of isolated new clusters prompted strict localised lockdowns. There is also worry that the US is jumping the gun in easing restrictions. In Russia and Brazil – countries where the advice to enforce strict lockdowns was ignored as early warning signs crept in – the number of cases and deaths is still rising rapidly. Brazil is a particular worry, as President Jair Bolosnaro is a Covid-19 skeptic and is still encouraging normal behaviour in spite of the accelerating health crisis there. On the flip side, crude output may not respond to the increase in demand as easily, as many clusters of Covid-19 outbreaks have been detected in key crude producing facilities worldwide. Despite this, some US shale producers have already restarted their rigs, spurred on by a need to service their high levels of debt. US pipeline giant Energy Transfer LP has already reported that many drillers in the Permian have resumed production, citing prices in the high-US$20/b level as sufficient to cover its costs.

The recovery is ongoing. But what is likely to happen is an erratic recovery, with intermittent bouts of mini-booms and mini-busts. Consultancy IHS Markit Energy Advisory envisions a choppy recovery with ‘stop-and-go rallies’ over 2020 – particularly in the winter flu season – heading towards a normalisation only in 2021. It predicts that the market will only recover to pre-Covid 19 levels in the second half of 2021, and a smooth path towards that only after a vaccine is developed and made available, which will be late 2020 at the earliest. The oil market has moved from certain doom to cautious optimism in the space of a month. But it will take far longer for the entire industry to regain its verve without any caveats.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$33-37/b, WTI – US$30-33/b
  • Demand recovery has underpinned a rally in oil prices, on hopes that the worst of the demand destruction is over
  • Chinese oil demand is back to the 13 mmb/d level, almost on par year-on-year
  • News that development of potential Covid-19 vaccines are reaching testing phase also cheered the market
  • The US active oil and gas rig count lost another 35 rigs to 339, down 648 sites y-o-y

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May, 23 2020