Crude, which has fallen into a pattern of limited movements caught in a tug-of-war between evenly matched forces adding and subtracting supply, could be jolted by a hurricane in the US Gulf of Mexico, which was threatening major oil and gas production, refining, import andexport facilities Friday. As the market tracked the hurricane’s path towards Texas and waited to assess the short- and long-term impact of any damage and disruptions, crude was inching up, but gasoline futures had jumped, suggesting bigger worries over products supply. Meanwhile, a growing schism between Brent and WTI is paving the way for rising US crude exports — could that restore the traditional price relationships or is Brent's backwardation a precocious sign of the global oil market rebalancing?
Hurricane Harvey was barreling across the US Gulf of Mexico and towards the coast of Texas Thursday night local time, threatening major offshore oil and gas production and refining in the region, as well as imports and exports of crude and refined products.
Harvey was expected to make a landfall as a Category 3 hurricane Friday night or early Saturday local time and the US National Hurricane Center had warned of “life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline.”
The Gulf of Mexico offshore area pumps about 1.66 million b/d or 17% of the total US oil output. Some 8.44 million b/d or 46% of the country’s refining capacity is located in the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast districts.
Terminals in the region process around 3.9 million b/d of crude imports (46% of US total) and about 700,000 b/d of product imports (31%) an well as handling around 2.7 million b/d of finished petroleum product exports (82%).
Producers and refiners were scrambling to evacuate or shut down their facilities as a precautionary measure through Thursday night, while some continued to assess the situation, caught off-guard by the sudden strengthening of a storm that had disintegrated into a tropical depression as it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula earlier in the week.
The last major tropical cyclone to hit Texas was Hurricane Ike, close on the heels of Hurricane Gustav, both in September 2008. Those resulted in 1.3 million b/d of oil production and just over 7 Bcf/day of gas production in the US Gulf being shutin as a precautionary measure. About 85% of oil production and 71% of gas production had been restored in the 12 weeks after Gustav hit. Refining capacity outage peaked at 4 million b/d, but was fully restored in less than six weeks after Gustav.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005 respectively were far more destructive and caused longer outages. They shuttered up to 1.5 million b/d of oil and up to 8.8 Bcf/day of gas production. Restoration of supplies occurred gradually from November 2005 through March 2006. Twelve weeks after Katrina struck, a little over 5 Bcf/day of gas and over 1 million b/d of oil production was still shut in.
Beyond the knee-jerk rise in crude and product prices early Friday to factor in the likelihood of oil-related supply disruptions in general, Hurricane Harvey will need to be watched closely over the next 48 hours for a more detailed assessment of the precise nature and likely duration of its impact.
If the hurricane dissipates without causing any major damage to infrastructure and production and refining facilities, any capacity shut in as a precaution should be restarted fairly swiftly, enabling the crude market to return to “normal” within days. In the event of major damage to facilities, the impact could play out differently in the crude and refined products markets, depending on which infrastructure has suffered more.
A major, drawn-out oil production outage would support crude prices, but would also be mitigated by the presence of increased spare capacity available among the 22 OPEC and non-OPEC producers that have restrained supply under their agreements since January, as well as the cushion of brimming oil inventories globally.
If refineries in Texas are damaged and are forced to halt operations for a prolonged period, it would prop up refined product prices, while also pressuring crude down because of reduced demand for the feedstock, driving a rally in product cracks, or the premium of refined products over crude.
Any major disruptions in the imports and exports of crude and products will need to be analysed carefully, for they could well cancel each other out in terms of the balance between crude and refined product supply available in the country.
The market appeared more concerned about products than crude supply through the trading sessions in Asia and Europe Friday. The front-month September NYMEX RBOB gasoline contract changed hands at $1.7295/gal at 1300 GMT Friday, up 4% from Thursday’s settle, while WTI and Brent were up only 0.5% and 1% over the same period. The EIA Wednesday reported a 107,000 b/d rise in US gasoline demand to around 9.63 million b/d in the week to August 18, and a draw of 1.22 million barrels in gasoline stockpiles, supporting sentiment for the fuel amid the ongoing US summer driving demand season.
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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.