Henk Krijnen

Consultant decision, uncertainty and risk analysis
Last Updated: July 31, 2017
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When developing a strategy or making investment decisions, there will be many uncertainties that need assessment. These can range from cost and timing issues to broader questions at the macro level, for example political, regulatory or social developments. A way to get to grips with the latter category is by using ‘scenario analysis’, sometimes called ‘scenario thinking’ or ‘scenario planning’.

A scenario in this context is an alternative future: a coherent narrative of a set of developments, trends and events that could unfold within some defined environment space. Examples of such spaces are: a country, a group of countries, a sector, a city, the world. This is the environment space within which an entity (company, organization) anticipates operating over a predefined time frame, usually somewhere between 10 and 40 years. By articulating multiple such scenarios, each internally consistent but distinctly different, the entity is able to fathom various significant external (contextual) uncertainties that might have an impact on its future well-being or existence.

The purposes of scenarios can be multiple. They are a framework for discussion and strategy development. The entity can use them to engage with external parties. They can be a means to bridge gaps between different interests. A famous example of that are the Mont Fleur scenarios in South Africa, composed in 1991. In this article I however focus on the use of scenarios for decisions.

The question is how, once the scenarios are available and digested, the entity can use these in decision making. The common basis for investment or strategic decisions is some quantification of opportunity attractiveness coupled to various forms of risk analysis. Descriptions of alternative futures, however interesting they may be, do not easily find a place within the decision processes. For example, in most cases it is not (credibly) possible to assign probabilities to scenarios to sharpen the outlook (in another article I will discuss situations when this may nevertheless be an option). There is not a most likely future that can be used as a basis for landing the decision. The fuzziness around the scenario concept makes it difficult to appreciate its use for concrete decisions. This is the reason for the skepticism that the scenario approach encounters in many organizations. It should, however, be accepted that scenario analysis, like any quantitative modelling for that matter, does not eliminate the uncertainties. It justs helps to map them out, frame them, categorize them, discuss them. But we will see that meaningful operationalization of scenarios is certainly possible.

I distinguish three ways of incorporating scenario analysis in the decision making process.

Firstly there is the pervasive impact of the influence on senior leaders and decision makers within the organization of the insights that are brought about by the scenario analysis process. When a significant decision is taken, the underpinning data and analysis, of course, play a crucial role. However, the experience, background and intuition of decision makers is also important. In decision boards they will bring their own perceptions and judgements to the table, calibrating these against the analysis results and information presented to them. The insights from scenarios will assist shaping the perceptions of decision makers of the future contextual environment. At that level, they will have clear views of their own about themes such as the market, (geo)politics, technology and societal developments. Scenarios will enrich these perspectives and allow decision makers to adapt and adjust their thinking as appropriate. A well known characterization is that scenarios act like ‘memories of the future’. Of course it is then a great benefit if senior leaders within an organization are involved themselves in devising the scenarios to the extent practical.

Secondly there is the option of qualitatively stress testing investment decisions, but in particular strategies, against the different scenarios developed. This is what Kees van der Heijden, in his book Scenarios, The art of strategic conversation, called ‘wind tunneling’. This is about creating a matrix with the scenarios on one axis and the various strategy options on the other axis. Each box triggers a discussion of how attractive a specific strategy option will be under a particular scenario. This could result in qualitative attractiveness scoring in some form. Also here, the discussion associated with this process is more important than the resulting overview.

Thirdly, a quantitative approach is possible. The starting point is the key decision variable, for example the (aggregate) NPV of the investment or strategy. This variable is decomposed in its components (revenues, costs, tax) and the chain of influences on these components is mapped out. This is best done with an influence diagram so as to also visualize the interrelationships. In the contexts of the various scenarios, reasonings and quantitative assumptions are developed for the key influences. This is worked through to the level of the NPV: different NPVs under different scenarios (even better: NPV ranges under different scenarios). For the quantitative analysis techniques from the econometrics discipline can be useful (e.g. regressions). Sometimes a system dynamics model can be of assistance. But it does not need to be very complicated. Developing rounded estimates of some key external drivers whilst considering the interrelationships can be good enough. This is in fact what oil companies do (to some extent) when they annually consider a scenario based outlook for the oil price, link this to an assumption about cost escalation, exchange rates and a future price for carbon emissions.

There is no scheme that will allow collapsing all considerations into one number of attractiveness of an investment opportunity or strategy for the benefit of decision makers (except perhaps by judgementally assigning a ‘score’). But the earth is not flat and projecting its surface on a plane leads to substantial geometric distortions. Likewise, the richness of a scenario based analysis should not be kept away from decision makers, be it that the insights need to be adequately presented. Vice versa, decision makers should be prepared to digest the perspectives offered by the scenario approach and contrast that with their own perceptions, even though in the end the decision itself may be quantifiable by a single bit: 0 or 1.

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The Rise of a New Ultramajor?

A tremor ran through the oil & gas industry last week. It wasn’t a by-product of fracking activity, but it is certainly linked. Supermajor Chevron agreed to purchase US independent Anadarko Petroleum for US$33 billion, a 39% premium to Anadarko’s last traded price. It’s the largest industry deal since Shell’s US$61 billion takeover of the BG Group in 2015. That deal catapulted Shell to become the world’s largest LNG trader, expanding its reach in the fast-evolving industry. Chevron will be looking to do the same.

The purchase of Anadarko gets Chevron into two prolific areas: the Permian Basin in the US and LNG. Chevron is already one of the largest supermajors operating in the Permian, with 2.3 million acres in the area. In this respect, the purchase is strategic. Combined with Anadarko’s assets, Chevron would now have a 120 sq.km corridor in the sweet spot of the shale basin –  Delaware, which straddles the Texas-New Mexico border. It’s a major salvo fired and a great boost to Chevron’s ambitions, which named investment in the Permian as its major focus last year. But more than just extracting oil, the purchase plugs a hole in Chevron’s portfolio. Through Anadarko, Chevron will gain major US midstream space, including a 55% stake in the Western Midstream Partners whose pipelines crosses all over Texas, linking the Permian to the processing and exporting base on the Gulf.

Internationally, the acquisition also boosts Chevron’s presence in LNG, which had recently  lagged behind other supermajors like Shell, ExxonMobil and Total. Anadarko’s Mozambique LNG project is neck-in-neck to become the African nation’s first LNG project with ExxonMobil. Drawing on Mozambique’s prolific Rovuma basin, the LNG export project has a nameplate capacity of 12.88 mtpa, of which 8.5 mtpa has already been committed through sales and purchase agreements. With FID scheduled for this year and operations expected in the 2023/24 timeframe, it complements Chevron’s current LNG portfolio – including the massive projects in Western Australia – nicely.

Together with recent investments in the upper echelon of energy companies, it seems the moniker supermajor may not be enough. Within the supermajor category, there was already a hierarchy, with ExxonMobil and Shell outpacing the rest. With this Anadarko apurchase, Chevron leaps into that tier, which analysts are calling ultramajors. That is, if there isn’t a spanner in the works. Occidental Petroleum, which is also focused on the Permian, had previously made a US$70 per share bid for Anadarko. It is now considering a counter proposal. The battle for Anadarko will go on, but we expect that Chevron will prevail, seeing how Anadarko’s operations fit so neatly into its own portfolio.

But more than just Chevron, could this be a preview of the future? The US shale revolution was kickstarted by plucky companies and ambitious independents, while the majors lost out. With this Chevron deal – along with ExxonMobil’s expansion and BP’s recent purchase of BHP assets – this could kick off another round of industry consolidation, centred around buying the way into the Permian and other shale basins. This might be a major purchase that shakes up the status quo, but if the signs are correct, there is more of this to come.

Infographic: The Chevron-Anadarko deal

  • US$33 billion 25% cash- 75% stock deal
  • Chevron to acquire Anadarko shares for US$65 per share
  • Chevron will assume net debt of US$15 billion
  • Chevron will sell some US$15 billion of assets to offset the purchase
April, 24 2019
Your Weekly Update: 15 -19 April 2019

Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 15 April 2019 – Brent: US$71/b; WTI: US$63/b

  • Crude oil futures could be on the verge of snapping its longest weekly rally since 2016, as the market continues to balance managed crude supply from the OPEC+ nations with accelerating American output
  • Analysts are predicting that things could be coming to a head, which might see OPEC+ abandon its plans to stabilise supply and prices for an intense battle for market share with American shale producers instead
  • This seems to be echoed by comments from Saudi Arabia, hinting at a U-turn in OPEC+’s dedication to extending the current supply quota agreement
  • Russian Premier Vladimir Putin also chimed in, saying that he was ‘keeping his options open’ on the cuts and that he does not support an ‘uncontrollable’ increase in oil prices
  • Ongoing concerns in Libya, Venezuela and Iran are giving other OPEC nations some room to breathe in their supply deal, with the organisation reporting that its output plunged in March to 758,000 b/d below the expected Q2 average
  • After Japan reported it would hold back on resuming Iranian crude imports, India is now doing the same until clarification of American waivers on the sanctions is received
  • The International Energy Agency reports that it sees global oil markets tightening, warning that this could lower actual demand and forecasts
  • After a large 19 rig gain last week, the US reversed gear to lose 3 rigs, adding two oil sites while dropping five gas rigs, bringing the total active count to 1022
  • Rumbles of a shale slowdown in the US could keep crude prices on a gentle upward curve, with Brent likely to trade at US$71-72/b and WTI and US$63-64/b


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Shell has sold its 22.45% non-operating interest in the US Gulf of Mexico Caeser-Tonga asset to the Delek Group for some US$965 million in cash
  • US President Donald Trump is aiming to limit state powers over cross-border pipeline to promote projects stalled by state regulators over permit and environmental concerns through the issuance of Executive Orders
  • CNOOC has signed a new PSC with Smart Oil Investment for the Bohai 09/17 block in the shallow-water Qikou area of the Bohai Bay Basin in China
  • Also in the Bohai Bay, CNOOC and ConocoPhillips are planning to double production from the Penglai 19-3 field over the next few years
  • Shell has partnered with Sinopec in a maiden exploration of China’s shale oil potential, targeting the Dongying trough in Shengli in eastern China
  • Shell has also announced an ambitious drilling programme in Brazil, targeting the Argonauta pre-salt areas in the Santos Basin
  • Petrobras and the Brazilian government have settled a deepwater contract dispute for US$9.06 billion, paving the way for Petrobras and its partners to begin development of the crude deposits under the 2010 Transfer of Rights

Midstream & Downstream

  • Continuing on its diversification strategy, Saudi Aramco is now looking to double its global refining network to some 10 mmb/d by 2030 as a means of locking in buyers for its crude amidst intense competition, which would see Aramco to continue investing in key global refining centres
  • Shell is aiming to complete the overhaul of its RCCU at the 218 kb/d Norco refinery in Louisiana by May, ahead the US summer driving gasoline demand
  • Sinopec reports that its Jinling refinery in Jiangsu has sold its first 4,200-ton cargo of low-sulfur marine fuel ahdad of the new IMO standards kicking in
  • Saudi Aramco has signed an agreement with Poland’s PKN Orlen to trade Arabian-grade crude to the refiner in exchanges for high-sulfur fuel oil

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Total has been awarded an exploration licence for Block 12 in Oman, with the onshore 10,000 sq.km asset near the gas-rich Greater Barik area that is expected to hold ‘significant prospective gas resources’
  • Saudi Aramco is planning to move into LNG for first time ever, offering to supply Pakistan with cargos on a spot or short-term basis, even though it does not produce LNG and has only just begun developing an LNG trading desk
  • First feed gas has begun to flow at Sempra Energy’s Cameron LNG Train 1 in Louisiana, the final commissioning phase for the project
  • Keppel Gas in Singapore has imported its first 160,000 cbm cargo of US LNG under the country’s Spot Import Policy, its first from outside Southeast Asia and the first trickle in an exported flood of American LNG into the region

Corporate

  • Saudi Aramco has issued its first global bond, raising US$100 billion from the sale, above and beyond the initial expectations of US$10-15 billion
  • Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company has sold a ‘significant minority interest’ of 30-40% in Spanish energy firm Cepsa to investment group The Carlyle Group, but will retain majority shareholder
  • Canadian player Africa Oil has acquired 18.8% of fellow Canadian upstream firm Eco (Atlantic) Oil and Gas, but stressed that the acquisition was for investment purposes with no intention of exercising control
April, 23 2019
In 2018, the United States consumed more energy than ever before

U.S. total energy consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Primary energy consumption in the United States reached a record high of 101.3 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2018, up 4% from 2017 and 0.3% above the previous record set in 2007. The increase in 2018 was the largest increase in energy consumption, in both absolute and percentage terms, since 2010.

Consumption of fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—grew by 4% in 2018 and accounted for 80% of U.S. total energy consumption. Natural gas consumption reached a record high, rising by 10% from 2017. This increase in natural gas, along with relatively smaller increases in the consumption of petroleum fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear electric power, more than offset a 4% decline in coal consumption.

U.S. total energy consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Petroleum consumption in the United States increased to 20.5 million barrels per day (b/d), or 37 quadrillion Btu in 2018, up nearly 500,000 b/d from 2017 and the highest level since 2007. Growth was driven primarily by increased use in the industrial sector, which grew by about 200,000 b/d in 2018. The transportation sector grew by about 140,000 b/d in 2018 as a result of increased demand for fuels such as petroleum diesel and jet fuel.

Natural gas consumption in the United States reached a record high 83.1 billion cubic feet/day (Bcf/d), the equivalent of 31 quadrillion Btu, in 2018. Natural gas use rose across all sectors in 2018, primarily driven by weather-related factors that increased demand for space heating during the winter and for air conditioning during the summer. As more natural gas-fired power plants came online and existing natural gas-fired power plants were used more often, natural gas consumption in the electric power sector increased 15% from 2017 levels to 29.1 Bcf/d. Natural gas consumption also grew in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors in 2018, increasing 13%, 10%, and 4% compared with 2017 levels, respectively.

Coal consumption in the United States fell to 688 million short tons (13 quadrillion Btu) in 2018, the fifth consecutive year of decline. Almost all of the reduction came from the electric power sector, which fell 4% from 2017 levels. Coal-fired power plants continued to be displaced by newer, more efficient natural gas and renewable power generation sources. In 2018, 12.9 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity were retired, while 14.6 GW of net natural gas-fired capacity were added.

U.S. fossil fuel energy consumption by sector

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Renewable energy consumption in the United States reached a record high 11.5 quadrillion Btu in 2018, rising 3% from 2017, largely driven by the addition of new wind and solar power plants. Wind electricity consumption increased by 8% while solar consumption rose 22%. Biomass consumption, primarily in the form of transportation fuels such as fuel ethanol and biodiesel, accounted for 45% of all renewable consumption in 2018, up 1% from 2017 levels. Increases in wind, solar, and biomass consumption were partially offset by a 3% decrease in hydroelectricity consumption.

U.S. energy consumption of selected fuels

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Nuclear consumption in the United States increased less than 1% compared with 2017 levels but still set a record for electricity generation in 2018. The number of total operable nuclear generating units decreased to 98 in September 2018 when the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey was retired. Annual average nuclear capacity factors, which reflect the use of power plants, were slightly higher at 92.6% in 2018 compared with 92.2% in 2017.

More information about total energy consumption, production, trade, and emissions is available in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review.

April, 17 2019