It seems astonishing that a blockade could happen in this modern day and age. Yet it has. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Egypt, Bahrain and authorities in Yemen and Libya cut off diplomatic ties with the tiny Gulf state of Qatar. Accusing it of sponsoring terrorism, diplomats were recalled and Qataris nationals were expelled, with the UAE going as far as punishing any online sign of support for Qatar from its netizens. Airspace has been sealed off, while Qatari-flagged ships are being denied harbour. All that is left to Qatar in terms of navigation to the outside world is a narrow aerial and naval corridor leading the country that Saudi Arabia is cross with and cross with Qatar for being friendly with, Iran. With Eid celebrations around the corner, it couldn’t come at a worst time.
Tensions in the Middle East have always been simmering, but kept under boil by international diplomacy. However, in this post-Brexit, Trump world, the rules have changed. The Saudis cosying up to the American president were seen to have emboldened them into making this move. Indeed, Trump tweeted in support of the blockade, but later backtracked – possibly after being reminded that Qatar is home to America’s main Middle East military base, where some 10,000 soldiers are stationed. There were accusations of foreign meddling – from Russia, again. The straw that broke the camel’s back, for Saudi Arabia, was apparently a speech made by the Qatari emir in support of Iran. That is widely believed to have be faked, the product of ‘foreign hackers’ according to the FBI, which is investigating the tensions.
Demand for natural gas to produce electricity in the Gulf states have been increasing, and member states have been paying premium prices for access to LNG. With years of difficulty in developing their own gas wells, Qatar has instead achieved to extract gas at a very low cost. Qatar has also been engaged with Shiite Iran (to the anger of the Saudis) to secure the gas fields for future economic growth, especially the North Fields. Should Qatar offer its neighbours discounted gas rates and share its new found wealth? It is after all the up and coming cleaner energy source of the near future.
The geopolitical implications are threatening. Recent attacks in Tehran were blamed on the Saudis by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, ratcheting up the tensions as Kuwait and the US furiously try to mediate. Military action on either side is a possibility. But as all sides move to avoid that, the more immediate question is what will happen to Qatar and its massive LNG exports.
LNG is still being loaded and shipped out of Qatar, heading out into international waters from Qatari shores. Originally, the UAE had banned all Qatar-bound and origin ships from entering its waters, but has since limited it to Qatari-flagged ships. This lessens the impact, as international ships could still bunker at Fujairah – the region’s hub – but Qatari ships have to find alternate bunker locations, the nearest being Oman, which has not taken sides yet. LNG prices have not budged much, betting that trade will continue, but may react if it prolongs. Petrochemical exports will also still continue, as a naval blockade has not happened yet.
The main risk will be in cooperation. Qatar is a member of OPEC. It may have the smallest crude oil production within OPEC – some 650 kb/d – but it is a member of an organisation that just recently agreed to extend supply cuts to March 2018. That agreement could now break, especially if Iran and Qatar band together. A move back to free-pumping of oil within OPEC would be disastrous for oil prices. Already, crude oil prices have fallen to levels below that when the OPEC freeze was first announced in November 2016, and will drop even further as American drilling continues. If OPEC is torn apart by this political spat, then the fragile recovery in energy prices will be shattered. Qatar’s energy minister sought to reassure investors over the weekend that his country remains committed to limiting its oil output under an agreement with other major oil producers, despite a widening diplomatic rift with countries such as Saudi Arabia, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Summer Said. “Circumstances in the region shall not prevent the state of Qatar from honoring its international commitment of cutting its oil production,” Mohammed al-Sada said in an emailed statement.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 20 May 2019 – Brent: US$73/b; WTI: US$63/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
At first, it seemed like a done deal. Chevron made a US$33 billion offer to take over US-based upstream independent Anadarko Petroleum. It was a 39% premium to Anadarko’s last traded price at the time and would have been the largest industry deal since Shell’s US$61 billion takeover of the BG Group in 2015. The deal would have given Chevron significant and synergistic acreage in the Permian Basin along with new potential in US midstream, as well as Anadarko’s high potential projects in Africa. Then Occidental Petroleum swooped in at the eleventh hour, making the delicious new bid and pulling the carpet out from under Chevron.
We can thank Warren Buffet for this. Occidental Petroleum, or Oxy, had previously made several quiet approaches to purchase Anadarko. These were rebuffed in favour of Chevron’s. Then Oxy’s CEO Vicki Hollub took the company jet to meet with Buffet. Playing to his reported desire to buy into shale, Hollub returned with a US$10 billion cash infusion from Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway – which was contingent on Oxy’s successful purchase of Anadarko. Hollub also secured a US$8.8 billion commitment from France’s Total to sell off Anadarko’s African assets. With these aces, she then re-approached Anadarko with a new deal – for US$38 billion.
This could have sparked off a price war. After all, the Chevron-Anadarko deal made a lot of sense – securing premium spots in the prolific Permian, creating a 120 sq.km corridor in the sweet spot of the shale basin, the Delaware. But the risk-adverse appetite of Chevron’s CEO Michael Wirth returned, and Chevron declined to increase its offer. By bowing out of the bid, Wirth said ‘Cost and capital discipline always matters…. winning in any environment doesn’t mean winning at any cost… for the sake for doing a deal.” Chevron walks away with a termination fee of US$1 billion and the scuppered dreams of matching ExxonMobil in size.
And so Oxy was victorious, capping off a two-year pursuit by Hollub for Anadarko – which only went public after the Chevron bid. This new ‘global energy leader’ has a combined 1.3 mmb/d boe production, but instead of leveraging Anadarko’s more international spread of operations, Oxy is looking for a future that is significantly more domestic.
The Oxy-Anadarko marriage will make Occidental the undisputed top producer in the Permian Basin, the hottest of all current oil and gas hotspots. Oxy was once a more international player, under former CEO Armand Hammer, who took Occidental to Libya, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, the Congo and other developing markets. A downturn in the 1990s led to a refocusing of operations on the US, with Oxy being one of the first companies to research extracting shale oil. And so, as the deal was done, Anadarko’s promising projects in Africa – Area 1 and the Mozambique LNG project, as well as interest in Ghana, Algeria and South Africa – go to Total, which has plenty of synergies to exploit. The retreat back to the US makes sense; Anadarko’s 600,000 acres in the Permian are reportedly the most ‘potentially profitable’ and it also has a major presence in Gulf of Mexico deepwater. Occidental has already identified 10,000 drilling locations in Anadarko areas that are near existing Oxy operations.
While Chevron licks its wounds, it can comfort itself with the fact that it is still the largest current supermajor presence in the Permian, with output there surging 70% in 2018 y-o-y. There could be other targets for acquisitions – Pioneer Natural Resources, Concho Resources or Diamondback Energy – but Chevron’s hunger for takeover seems to have diminished. And with it, the promises of an M&A bonanza in the Permian over 2019.
The Occidental-Anadarko deal:
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
In April 2019, Venezuela's crude oil production averaged 830,000 barrels per day (b/d), down from 1.2 million b/d at the beginning of the year, according to EIA’s May 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook. This average is the lowest level since January 2003, when a nationwide strike and civil unrest largely brought the operations of Venezuela's state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), to a halt. Widespread power outages, mismanagement of the country's oil industry, and U.S. sanctions directed at Venezuela's energy sector and PdVSA have all contributed to the recent declines.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Baker Hughes
Venezuela’s oil production has decreased significantly over the last three years. Production declines accelerated in 2018, decreasing by an average of 33,000 b/d each month in 2018, and the rate of decline increased to an average of over 135,000 b/d per month in the first quarter of 2019. The number of active oil rigs—an indicator of future oil production—also fell from nearly 70 rigs in the first quarter of 2016 to 24 rigs in the first quarter of 2019. The declines in Venezuelan crude oil production will have limited effects on the United States, as U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil have decreased over the last several years. EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in 2018 averaged 505,000 b/d and were the lowest since 1989.
EIA expects Venezuela's crude oil production to continue decreasing in 2019, and declines may accelerate as sanctions-related deadlines pass. These deadlines include provisions that third-party entities using the U.S. financial system stop transactions with PdVSA by April 28 and that U.S. companies, including oil service companies, involved in the oil sector must cease operations in Venezuela by July 27. Venezuela's chronic shortage of workers across the industry and the departure of U.S. oilfield service companies, among other factors, will contribute to a further decrease in production.
Additionally, U.S. sanctions, as outlined in the January 25, 2019 Executive Order 13857, immediately banned U.S. exports of petroleum products—including unfinished oils that are blended with Venezuela's heavy crude oil for processing—to Venezuela. The Executive Order also required payments for PdVSA-owned petroleum and petroleum products to be placed into an escrow account inaccessible by the company. Preliminary weekly estimates indicate a significant decline in U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in February and March, as without direct access to cash payments, PdVSA had little reason to export crude oil to the United States.
India, China, and some European countries continued to receive Venezuela's crude oil, according to data published by ClipperData Inc. Venezuela is likely keeping some crude oil cargoes intended for exports in floating storageuntil it finds buyers for the cargoes.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, and Clipper Data Inc.
A series of ongoing nationwide power outages in Venezuela that began on March 7 cut electricity to the country's oil-producing areas, likely damaging the reservoirs and associated infrastructure. In the Orinoco Oil Belt area, Venezuela produces extra-heavy crude oil that requires dilution with condensate or other light oils before the oil is sent by pipeline to domestic refineries or export terminals. Venezuela’s upgraders, complex processing units that upgrade the extra-heavy crude oil to help facilitate transport, were shut down in March during the power outages.
If Venezuelan crude or upgraded oil cannot flow as a result of a lack of power to the pumping infrastructure, heavier molecules sink and form a tar-like layer in the pipelines that can hinder the flow from resuming even after the power outages are resolved. However, according to tanker tracking data, Venezuela's main export terminal at Puerto José was apparently able to load crude oil onto vessels between power outages, possibly indicating that the loaded crude oil was taken from onshore storage. For this reason, EIA estimates that Venezuela's production fell at a faster rate than its exports.
EIA forecasts that Venezuela's crude oil production will continue to fall through at least the end of 2020, reflecting further declines in crude oil production capacity. Although EIA does not publish forecasts for individual OPEC countries, it does publish total OPEC crude oil and other liquids production. Further disruptions to Venezuela's production beyond what EIA currently assumes would change this forecast.