Oman is the largest oil and natural gas producer in the Middle East that is not a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Located on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman’s proximity to the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, and Persian Gulf grant it access to some of the most important energy corridors in the world, enhancing Oman’s position in the global energy supply chain (Figure 1). Oman plans to capitalize on this strategic location by constructing a world-class oil refining and storage complex near Ad Duqm, Oman, which lies outside the Strait of Hormuz (an important oil transit chokepoint).
Like many countries in the Middle East, Oman is highly dependent on its hydrocarbons sector. The Oman Ministry of Finance stated that finances have been severely affected by the decline in oil prices since mid-2014. In 2016, Oman lost more than 67% of its oil and natural gas revenues compared with oil revenue the country earned in 2014, despite achieving record production.1 Oil revenue accounted for 27% of Oman’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, a decrease from 34% of GDP in 2015 and 46% in 2014, according to the Central Bank of Oman.2
The ninth iteration of the Oman 5-Year Plan (2016-2020) released in 2016, created in the context of sustained low oil prices, aims to enhance the country’s economic diversification by adopting a set of sectoral objectives, policies, and mechanisms that will increase non-oil revenue. Oman’s diversification program is largely aimed at expanding industries such as fertilizer, petrochemicals, aluminum, power generation, and water desalination. Concerted efforts to develop these sectors would also accelerate non-oil job growth in coming years.3However, with rising production levels and a growing petrochemical sector–which relies on liquefied petroleum gases (LPG) and natural gas liquids (NGL)–the country is unlikely to significantly alter its dependence on hydrocarbons as a major revenue stream in the short term.
Figure 1. Map of Oman
Source: Central Intelligence Agency World FactbookPetroleum and other liquid fuels
Oman’s petroleum and other liquids production averaged more than 1 million barrels per day in 2016, its highest production level ever. Oman was on track to maintain this production level in 2017, but it reduced production to approximately 970,000 barrels per day in early 2017 to meet the production cut it agreed to, along with members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).Sector organization
The Ministry of Oil and Gas coordinates the government’s role in Oman’s hydrocarbon sectors. Final approval on policy and investment, however, rests with the Sultan of Oman. The majority state-owned Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) holds most of Oman’s oil reserves and operates the Sultanate’s largest block, Block 6. PDO is responsible for more than 70% of the country’s crude oil production.4 In addition to the government’s 60% ownership stake in PDO, Shell (34%), Total (4%), and Portugal’s Partex (2%) also own stakes.5 In addition to the PDO, the Oman Oil Company (OOC) is responsible for energy investments both inside and outside of Oman. The OOC is fully owned by the government. The Oman Oil Refineries and Petroleum Industries Company (ORPIC) is owned by the Government of the Sultanate of Oman and by the OOC. It controls the country’s refining sector and owns both of Oman’s operating refineries, Sohar and Mina al-Fahal.6
The U.S. firm, Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), is the second-largest operator after PDO and has the largest presence of any foreign firm in Oman. Oxy operates mainly in northern Oman at Block 62 and Block 9, along with the Mukhaizna field in the south. Lebanese independent, Consolidated Contractors Energy Development (CCED), operates Blocks 3 and 4 with a 50% stake alongside Sweden’s Tethys Oil (30%) and Japan’s Mitsui (20%). Daleel Petroleum is a 50:50 joint venture between Omani private firm Petrogas and Chinese state firm China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and operates Block 5.Upstream
According to the Oil & Gas Journal, Oman had 5.4 billion barrels of estimated proved oil reserves as of January 2017, ranking Oman as the 7th largest proved oil reserve holder in the Middle East and the 22nd largest in the world.7 The majority of the fields are located within PDO’s concession area.
Figure 2. Oman major oil and natural gas infrastructure
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, IHS EDINExploration and production
Enhanced oil recovery techniques helped Oman’s oil production rebound from a multi–year decline in the early 2000s.
Oman’s petroleum and other liquids (total oil) production ranks 7th in the Middle East and ranks among the top 25 oil producers in the world. Oman is the largest oil producer in the Middle East that is not a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Oman’s annual petroleum and other liquids production peaked at 972,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 2000, but dropped to 715,000 b/d by 2007. Oman successfully reversed that decline, and total oil production has risen, hitting a new peak of a little more than 1 million b/d in 2016 (Figure 3). Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) techniques helped drive this production turnaround, along with additional production gains as a result of previous discoveries.
Several recent developments could contribute to future oil production growth in Oman. The major oil discoveries of 2016 were in north Oman (Figure 2, Table 1).Enhanced oil recovery
Oman’s ability to increase its oil and natural gas production relies heavily on innovative extraction technologies, such as EOR. Several EOR techniques are already used in Oman, including polymer, miscible, and steam injection techniques.8 Because of the relatively high cost of production in the country, Oman’s government offers incentives to international oil companies (IOCs) for exploration and development activities related to the country’s difficult-to-recover hydrocarbons. The government enlists foreign companies in new exploration and production projects, offering generous terms for developing fields that require the sophisticated technology and expertise of the private sector. Given the technical difficulties involved in oil production, the contract terms for IOCs have become more favorable in Oman than in other countries in the region, with some allowing significant equity stakes in certain projects.
Block 6, located in central and southern Oman and operated by PDO, is the center of current EOR operations, using all four of the EOR techniques with the Marmul field (polymer), Harweel field (miscible), Qarn Alam field (steam), and Amal-West field (solar). Solar EOR at Alam-West in southern Oman was the first solar EOR project in the Middle East, completed by GlassPoint Solar in 2012 and commissioned in early 2013. This project uses the production of emissions-free steam that feeds directly into current thermal EOR operations, reducing the need to use natural gas in EOR projects.9
In partnership with PDO, GlassPoint Solar is currently building the Miraah solar thermal plant to improve recovery of heavy and viscous crude oil from Amal oil field. The plant is expected to produce 1,021 megawatts (MW) of peak thermal energy in the form of 6,000 tons of solar steam each day (no electricity is produced). Construction on the project began in October 2015, with steam generation from the first glasshouse module expected in 2017.10
However, in 2016, because of relatively low crude oil prices and the resource-intensive nature of EOR, PDO announced it was placing more emphasis on accelerating conventional oil and gas opportunities instead of short-term expansion of EOR projects.11
Oman consumed 186,000 b/d of petroleum and other liquids in 2016 (Figure 4), most of which were petroleum products refined at Oman’s refineries and a small amount that was imported.
Oman is not a major refined petroleum product producer, although it has plans to expand the country’s refining and storage sectors. Oman aims to capitalize on its strategic location on the Arabian Peninsula by expanding its refining capabilities.
Oman has two refineries, Mina al Fahal and Sohar. As of early 2017, Minal al Fahal was operating at 106,000 b/d and Sohar at 116,000 b/d.12 Plans are underway to upgrade the facility at Sohar as part of the ORPIC-led Sohar Refinery Improvement Project (SRIP), scheduled for completion in 2017.13 Sohar’s capacity is expected to expand to 197,000 b/d from 116,000 b/d. In February 2017, ORPIC announced the mechanical completion of all Sohar units as part of the expansion project. A major bunkering and storage terminal near Sohar is scheduled to be completed in 2017, and the facility’s location outside the Strait of Hormuz could make it an attractive option for international crude oil shippers.14
The OOC and Kuwait Petroleum International (KPI) have signed a partnership agreement for their Ad Duqm Refinery and Petrochemical Industries Company (DRPIC) joint venture to build a 230,000 b/d export refinery in a special economic zone under development at Ad Duqm on the Arabian Sea coast of central Oman and a 200 million barrel crude oil storage terminal at Ras Markaz.15 The storage terminal, with phase one estimated to be complete in 2019, will be one of the world’s largest crude oil storage facilities.16 The Ad Duqm refinery could be operational by 2022, with most of the plant’s output to be exported.17 According to the OOC, the cost of developing the refinery will be $6 billion–$7 billion. Both Oman and Kuwait will provide crude feedstock.
Oman does not have any international oil pipelines, although plans are in place to expand the country’s domestic pipeline infrastructure. The Muscat Sohar Pipeline Project (MSPP), built by ORPIC and scheduled to be completed in 2017, is a 180-mile refined product pipeline that will connect the Mina al-Fahal and Sohar refineries with a new storage terminal near Muscat airport and reduce tanker traffic between the two coastal facilities.18
Oman is an important oil exporter, particularly to Asian markets. In 2016, virtually all of the country’s crude oil exports went to countries in Asia, with 78% going to China.
Oman’s only export crude oil stream is the Oman blend, with an API gravity of 32, medium-light and sour (high sulfur- 1.33%) crude. Oman is an important crude oil exporter, particularly to Asian markets (Figure 5). In 2016, Oman exported 912,500 b/d of crude oil and condensate, its highest level since 1999.19
China is Oman’s largest export market, and that country received 78% of Oman’s crude oil exports in 2016, while Taiwan received the second-highest volume, despite falling by almost one-third from 2015 levels. Thailand, which had previously been a consistent purchaser of 40,000 to 50,000 b/d of Omani exports, bought only two small cargoes in 2016.20
The greatest growth potential for Oman’s natural gas production is in the Khazzan-Makarem field, Block 61. The planned start–up of that field in late 2017 could significantly ease pressure on Oman’s natural gas supplies.Sector organization
PDO has an even greater presence in the natural gas sector than it does in the oil sector, accounting for nearly all of Oman’s natural gas supply, along with smaller contributions from Occidental Petroleum, Oman’s largest independent oil producer, and Thailand’s PTTEP. The Oman Gas Company (OGC) directs the country’s natural gas transmission and distribution systems. The OGC is a joint venture between the Omani Ministry of Oil and Gas (80%) and OOC (20%). Oman Liquefied Natural Gas (Oman LNG)–owned by a consortium including the government, Shell, and Total–operates all liquefied natural gas (LNG) activities in Oman through its three liquefaction trains in Qalhat near Sur.21Exploration and production
Oman’s potential for natural gas production growth may be substantial, supported by promising developments in several new projects.
According to the Oil & Gas Journal, Oman held 23 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proved natural gas reserves in 2016.22 Oman’s natural gas production grew to 1.16 Tcf in 2016, turning around a recent decline and surpassing the previous high of 1.15 Tcf in 2013. Approximately 80% of production was from non-associated fields.23
Consumption more than doubled from 2006 to 2016, increasing from 380 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in 2006 to 820 Bcf in 2016 (Figure 6). Oman consumes slightly more than 70% of the natural gas it produces. Natural gas is becoming a key source of energy to the Omani economy with its increased focus on economic diversification away from oil.24 The Central Bank of Oman estimates that demand for natural gas will continue to rise going forward with the number of energy-intensive industries coming online combined with rising demand in the electric power sector.25 The concern over rising natural gas consumption prompted the Oman LNG company to announce in 2015 that it would divert all its exported volumes of natural gas away from foreign markets and toward domestic consumers by 2024.26
The greatest growth potential for Oman’s natural gas production is in the Khazzan-Makarem field in BP’s Block 61. The field is a tight gas formation, and BP proposed two phases to develop the 10.5 Tcf of recoverable gas resources. Combined plateau production from Phases 1 and 2 is expected to total approximately 1.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), equivalent to about 40% of Oman’s current total domestic gas production.27 This project will involve construction of a three-train central processing facility with associated gathering and export systems and drilling about 325 wells over a 15-year period.28 BP estimates that Phase 1 of the project is more than 80% complete29 and will be online by the end of 2017.30 The start-up of the Khazzan tight gas field will significantly ease the pressure on Oman’s natural gas supplies.
The Rabab Harweel integrated project (RHIP), located in Block 6, is PDO’s largest capital project underway. The project integrates sour miscible gas injection (MGI) in multiple oil reservoirs with production and pressure maintenance of a government gas condensate field, and it will also contribute to easing Oman’s overall natural gas demand. The RHIP is slated for completion in 2019.31
Oman is a member of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) and exports natural gas as LNG through its Oman LNG facilities near Sur, in the Gulf of Oman. In 2016, Oman exported 358 Bcf of natural gas (Figure 7).32 Nearly all of Oman’s natural gas exports go to South Korea and Japan, accounting for 80% of exports in 2016.33
Oman’s natural gas sector grew in importance over the past two decades, largely the result of two LNG trains that opened in 2000 at the LNG complex at Qalhat, near Sur, operated by Oman LNG (a joint venture between PDO and other shareholders). The third LNG train, operated by Qalhat LNG SAOC and built alongside the two existing trains, entered into production in 2005. Qalhat merged into Oman LNG in 2013. Its main shareholders are the Omani state (51%) and Shell Gas B.V (30%).
South Korea is Oman LNG’s primary buyer. Oman’s LNG exports have increasingly been under pressure as rising domestic consumption has cut into volumes available for export. LNG supplies received a boost last year with lower consumption from power stations, and these supplies will see a further boost from new production when the Khazzan gas field comes online in 2017. Khazzan volumes are primarily designated for domestic consumption, with excess volumes exported from Oman’s LNG facilities.
The Sultanate has been focused on diversifying its LNG export destinations because regional demand for LNG is growing. Oman LNG’s 2016 Annual Report reported the first-ever sales of two spot cargoes to Kuwait and Jordan as representing “new departures for our company” by exporting to new geographic destinations.34
Oman has one international natural gas pipeline–the Dolphin Pipeline–that runs from Qatar to Oman through the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Oman is not a major importer of natural gas, although the country imported approximately 74 Bcf of natural gas in 2016 from Qatar through the Dolphin Pipeline.35 According to the Omani government, the imports through the Dolphin Pipeline are necessary to meet the rising level of domestic natural gas consumption (including re–injection in oil wells).
In March 2014, Oman signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran on a natural gas import contract. The deal will deliver approximately 353 million cubic feet of natural gas per year through a new pipeline under the Gulf of Oman, much of which is slated to be re-exported as LNG. A new route was agreed upon in February 2017 to avoid UAE waters, and Iran is expecting natural gas to begin flowing in 2020.36Electricity
Oman’s electricity sector relies heavily on domestic natural gas to fuel electricity generation.
The Authority for Electricity Regulation Oman (AER Oman) regulates the country’s electricity and associated water sectors. Its primary functions include implementing general policy from the state, licensing, compliance, and coordination between the various ministries, organizations, and stakeholders in the sector. The Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) is the planning body for power supplies in Oman, and the Oman Electricity Transmission Company (OETC) is in charge of the country’s transmission networks.
Oman’s electricity sector has two major networks–the Main Interconnected System (MIS) and the Salalah system. The MIS, the larger of the two, covers most of the northern area of Oman. The Dhofar Power System (DPS) covers the city of Salalah and surrounding areas in the Governorate of Dhofar in the south. Areas outside both networks get electricity from the Rural Areas Electricity Company (RAECO), primarily from diesel generators.37 The Sultanate’s power plants are almost entirely natural gas-fired, and OPWP expects peak demand from power plants connected to each of Oman’s two main power grids to rise by 6% per year through 2023.38
Oman’s electric generation more than doubled between 2006 and 2016, from 13 billion kilowatthours (kWh) to 33 billion kWh. Electricity consumption over the same period also grew at a fast rate, tripling from 10 billion kWh to 30 billion kWh.39 Oman generates electricity primarily from natural gas, although it also has some generation from diesel/distillate.
Oman is a part of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) grid interconnection system, which allows for electricity transfers between the six connected countries (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman).
OPWP plans to raise electricity generating capacity by 51% from 7.77 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2016 to 11.7GW in 2023 to meet rising demand. OPWP’s 2017 Seven-Year Plan sees peak power demand rising by 53%, from 6.52 GW in 2016 to 9.96 GW in 2023.40 Eleven firms have submitted applications to develop a 750–850 MW capacity power plant at Misfah for start-up in 2022. Misfah will be the first conventional large-scale power plant for which Oman’s Ministry of Oil and Gas will not guarantee a supply of natural gas fuel.41
Oman has a growing renewable energy sector, with several projects making progress. RAECO plans to install 90 MW of renewable capacity by 2020. UAE’s Masdar was awarded a contract to build the 50 MW wind farm at Harweel in the Dhofar region, estimated to start-up in 2017.42 In July 2015, Oman’s first commercial solar power project, with a 307 kilowatt-capacity, started generating electricity. RAECO will purchase electricity for 20 years from this plant operated by Bahwan Astonfield Solar Energy Company.43 Although Oman does not currently have a nuclear energy program, the country joined the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2009. Currently, the country has no plans to construct any nuclear generating facilities.
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
On Saturday, September 14, 2019, an attack damaged the Saudi Aramco Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Abqaiq oil processing facility is the world’s largest crude oil processing and stabilization plant with a capacity of 7 million barrels per day (b/d), equivalent to about 7% of global crude oil production capacity. On Monday, September 16, 2019, the first full day of trading after the attack, Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices experienced the largest single-day price increase since August 21, 2008 and June 29, 2012, respectively.
On Tuesday, September 17, Saudi Aramco reported that Abqaiq was producing 2 million b/d and that its entire output capacity was expected to be fully restored by the end of September. Additionally, Saudi Aramco stated that crude oil exports to customers will continue by drawing on existing inventories and offering additional crude oil production from other fields. Tanker loading estimates from third-party data sources indicate that loadings at two Saudi Arabian export facilities were restored to the pre-attack levels. Likely driven by news of the expected return of the lost production capacity both Brent and WTI crude oil prices fell on Tuesday, September 17.
Crude oil markets will certainly continue to react to new information as it becomes available in the days and weeks ahead, but this disruption and the resulting changes in global crude oil prices will influence U.S. retail gasoline prices.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that Saudi Arabia was producing 9.9 million b/d of crude oil in August, and estimates from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI) indicate the country exported 6.9 million b/d during July, the latest month for which data are available (Figure 1). Estimates from a third-party tanker tracking data service, ClipperData, indicate Saudi Arabian crude oil exports in August remained at 6.7 million b/d. These crude oil production and export levels are each 0.5 million b/d lower than their respective 2018 annual averages. JODI data indicate that Saudi Arabia held nearly 180 million barrels of crude oil in inventory at the end of July 2019. Saudi Arabia can use these inventories to maintain a similar level of crude oil exports as before the strike, assuming the production outage is short in duration, as indicated by Saudi Aramco’s update on September 17.
Saudi Arabia is rare among oil producing countries, in that it regularly maintains spare crude oil production capacity as a matter of its oil production policy. EIA defines spare capacity as the volume of production that can be brought online within 30 days and sustained for at least 90 days using sound business practices. In the September Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) EIA estimated that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) spare capacity was 2.2 million b/d in August 2019, nearly all of which was in Saudi Arabia. Outside of OPEC, EIA does not include any unused capacity in its spare capacity total, even when countries periodically hold such capacity (as is the case with Russia). During previous periods of significant oil supply disruptions, Saudi Arabia generally increased production to offset the loss of supplies and stabilize markets (Figure 2).
Following the September 14 attack and an ensuing outage at the Abqaiq facility, the amount of available spare capacity that can be brought online within 30 days in Saudi Arabia is unknown. In addition, because Saudi Arabia holds most of OPEC’s spare capacity, there is likely little spare production capacity elsewhere to offset the loss. Russia may be able to increase production in response to disruption and higher prices, but the amount of time needed for these volumes to become available is uncertain. The United States would also likely be able to increase production, but it would take longer than 30 days. Therefore, without Saudi Arabian spare capacity, the global crude oil market is vulnerable to production outages, as events would be more disruptive than normal.
The most readily available alternative source of supply during a supply outage is stocks of crude oil. As of September 1, commercial inventories of crude oil and other liquids for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members were estimated at 2.9 billion barrels, enough to cover 61 days of its members’ liquid fuels consumption. On a days-of-supply basis, OECD commercial inventories are 2% lower than the five-year (2014-18) average (Figure 3).
The United States has two types of crude oil inventories: those that private firms hold for commercial purposes, and those the federal government holds in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for use during periods of major supply interruption. Weekly data for September 13 indicate total U.S. commercial inventories were equivalent to 24 days of current U.S. refinery crude oil inputs, with the SPR holding additional volumes equal to slightly more than 37 additional days of current refinery inputs, for a total of 62 days. The supply coverage provided by oil inventories can also be measured by days of net crude oil imports (imports minus exports). By this metric, as of June 2019 the United States could meet its net import needs by drawing down the SPR for 162 days. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act states the President may make the decision to withdraw crude oil from the SPR should they find that there is a severe petroleum supply disruption. The SPR has been used in this capacity three times since its creation: first, in 1991 at the beginning of Operation Desert Storm; second, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005; and third, in June 2011 to help offset crude oil supply disruptions in Libya.
Although U.S. imports of crude oil from Saudi Arabia have declined during the past three years—and recently hit a four-week average record low of 380,000 b/d in the week ending September 6—the United States still imports about 7 million b/d of crude oil (Figure 4). As a result, a tighter global crude oil market and increased global crude oil prices will ultimately increase the price of crude oil and transportation fuels in the United States.
Crude oil prices are the largest determinant of the retail price for gasoline, the most widely consumed transportation fuel in the United States. In general, because gasoline taxes and retail distribution costs are generally stable, movements in U.S. gasoline prices are primarily the result of changes in crude oil prices and wholesale margins. Each dollar per barrel of sustained price change in crude oil translates to an average change of about 2.4 cents/gal in petroleum product prices. About 50% of a crude oil price change passes through to retail gasoline prices within two weeks and 80% within four weeks. However, this price pass-through tends to be more rapid when crude oil prices increase than when they decrease. Brent crude oil prices are more relevant than WTI prices in determining U.S. retail gasoline prices.
EIA is closely monitoring the developments related to the oil supply disruption in Saudi Arabia and the effects that they have on oil markets. EIA’s findings will be reflected in the October STEO, which is scheduled for release on October 8.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices increase
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose less than 1 cent from the previous week to remain at $2.55 per gallon on September 16, 29 cents lower than the same time last year. The Rocky Mountain and Midwest prices each rose 2 cents to $2.65 per gallon and $2.46 per gallon, respectively. The East Coast price fell nearly 1 cent to $2.45 per gallon, and the Gulf Coast price fell less than 1 cent to $2.23 per gallon. The West Coast price remained unchanged at $3.25 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose nearly 2 cents to $2.99 per gallon on September 16, 28 cents lower than a year ago. The West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each rose nearly 3 cents to $3.57 per gallon and $2.96 per gallon respectively, the Midwest and Gulf Coast prices each rose nearly 2 cents to $2.88 per gallon and $2.76 per gallon, respectively, and the East Coast price rose nearly 1 cent to $3.00 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 2.9 million barrels last week to 100.7 million barrels as of September 13, 2019, 14.3 million barrels (16.6%) greater than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this time of year. Gulf Coast inventories increased by 1.2 million barrels, and East Coast and Midwest inventories each increased by 0.9 million barrels. Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 4.1% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Crude oil prices have been on a rollercoaster ride as tensions heat up in the Middle East. Drone strikes on the heart of the Saudi Arabian production complex – the Abqaiq processing plant (called the most important crude site in the world) and the 1.5 mmb/d Khurais oil field – took out 5.7 mmb/d of crude output. That’s the single largest outage of crude output ever – more than 1973 Middle East oil embargo, more than the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, more than the 1978 Iranian Revolution. The fires it caused affected more than half of Saudi Arabia’s current crude production output and essentially wipes a large part of the country’s spare capacity. Fortunately, I have not read of any casualty reports from this massive incident.
Yemeni Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attacks. There is some logic to this, given that the Houthi rebel have waged an extended campaign on Saudi oil facilities over the past few years, including a recent attack on the East-West Pipeline – part of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran backing different factions in Yemen’s civil war. But this incident is different. The Abqaiq crude facilities are near Bahrain, over 700km from closest Yemeni border, and over 400km further than the farthest attack into Saudi territory by the Houthis. For the Houthis to suddenly gain a tremendous amount of range in their attacks – especially given that the suspected drones involved in the attack only have a range of up to about 200km – seems implausible. Which is why the US has publicly blamed Iran for the attacks, releasing data and photos that claim the attacks came from a north-westerly direction. Iran, predictably, has claimed that it is not responsible. Other countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UK, have struck a more cautious approach, promising ‘investigations’.
Because the attacks occurred over the weekend, there was no immediate effect on traded prices. But when markets opened in Asia on Monday, crude oil prices soared by up to 20% at the highest point – with Brent jumping past the US$70/b mark – before settling back to a daily gain of 15%. Because the attacks were on such an important processing plant, market players worried about global supply disruptions that could last for months. President Donald Trump’s move to release US strategic petroleum reserves calmed the market slightly, while subsequent reports from Saudi Aramco that up to 70% of the affected 5.7 mmb/d capacity at Abqaiq had been brought back online provided even more reassurance. Initial fears that the attack would take months to fully restore Saudi Arabian output were downgraded to weeks; still a severe shock, but nowhere near the catastrophe that was suspected.
What is chilling, though, is where this will lead us next. This is the single largest attack in the simmering tensions of the Persian Gulf. With the US so eager to blame Iran, claiming that it was ‘locked and loaded’ for any possible conflict, the risk of military conflict in the region has risen to new heights. Iran has replied that it is also ‘always been ready for a full-fledged war’. We live in chilling times because of this. The supply disruption caused by the drone attack may have already be mitigated by quick action by Saudi Aramco, but the long-term implications are dangerous. War is always triggered by a series of escalating actions, and fears are that the attack on Abqaiq might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. And if that happens, the supply disruptions that will be spinning out of this war will be considerably more severe.
Recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure:
Fossil fuels continue to account for the largest share of energy consumption in the United States. In 2018, about 79% of domestic energy production was from fossil fuels, and 80% of domestic energy consumption originated from fossil fuels.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes the U.S. total energy flow diagram to visualize U.S. energy from primary energy supply (production, imports, and stock withdrawals) to disposition (consumption and exports). In this diagram, losses that take place when energy is converted to the secondary forms that are delivered to customers—primarily electricity and gasoline—are allocated to those customers. The result is a visualization that associates the primary energy with customers, even though the amount of energy they purchase is much less.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
Note: Natural gas plant liquids (NGPL) denoted at top of left panel in brown.
The share of U.S. total energy production from fossil fuels peaked in 1966 at 93%. Total fossil fuel production has continued to rise, but so have non-fossil fuel sources, mainly renewables like wind and solar energy. As a result, fossil fuels have accounted for close to 80% of U.S. energy production over the past decade. Since 2008, production of crude oil, dry natural gas, and natural gas plant liquids (NGPL) has increased by 12 quadrillion British thermal units (quads), 11 quads, and 3 quads, respectively. These increases have more than offset decreasing coal production, which has fallen 9 quads since its peak in 2008.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
Petroleum has the largest share of U.S. energy trade, accounting for 67% of energy exports and 86% of energy imports in 2018. Much of the imported crude oil goes to U.S. refineries and is then exported as petroleum products. Petroleum products accounted for 71% of total U.S. energy exports in 2018.
In 2018, net energy imports reached the lowest level since 1963. U.S. net energy imports as a share of consumption peaked in 2005 when it reached 30%; in 2018, energy net imports fell to only 4% of consumption.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
The share of U.S. total energy consumption that originated from fossil fuels has fallen from its peak of 94% in 1966 to 80% in 2018. The total amount of fossil fuels consumed in the United States has also fallen from its peak of 86 quads in 2007. Since then, coal consumption decreased by 10 quads and petroleum by 2 quads, more than offsetting a 7 quad increase in natural gas consumption.
EIA previously published articles detailing the energy flows of petroleum, natural gas, coal, and electricity. More information about total energy consumption, production, trade, and emissions is available in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review.