George Barber

Country Manager Indonesia at Terra Energy & Resource Technologies, (TERT) Inc.
Last Updated: September 25, 2017
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Exploration
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It is a shame to spoil natures natural beauty as we can see from the picture that leads this article, Indonesia is blessed with many such areas, in order to preserve nature and what has been given to all of us, we need to explore in an environmentally friendly way and adapt to new ideas, after all, if mankind is to survive, resources will always be required.

Richard Fuller recently published a very interesting article in the Jakarta Post (JP) titled “The risk of losing an important asset – natural gas”. In this article, he mentioned that the cost of 2D, 3D seismic over ten years would be $2 billion, a figure that makes one eyes water, with an extremely long time frame (10 years). It was also stated that by continuing to pursue oil and gas exploration under the historic and current procedures that Indonesia would lose $1.1 trillion in economic benefits, another eye-watering figure, even in Rupiah too many of us. 

The Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla made a statement at the opening ceremony for the IIGCE conference on 2 August that the cost of exploration for geothermal is quite high, considering the cost of exploration required for the development of one Geothermal Working Area (WKP) is approximately US $20-25 million. We need to bear in mind that one WKP is normally forty to fifty Square Kilometre in size and that the total length of the geothermal arc in Indonesia is 5100 km.

I made the following statements at the IIGCE conference during my presentation which was titled "Exploration Requirements to Achieve the Geothermal Development 2025 Target” that “Speculation should not be a part of the geothermal vocabulary, neither should the common belief that exploration costs are high.  Yes, they are if we insist on not accepting or adapting our exploration methods to Innovative Exploration Tools (IET) that do reduce the Time, Cost and Risk of Exploration”.

“Many parts of Indonesia are unexplorable by traditional methods of exploration, large parts of Indonesia's resources potential has not been explored, actual resources are not known. Current pre-drilling practices for geothermal exploration methods are time-intensive, costly and do not achieve active reservoir imaging”. 

IET will provide the information and data that will encourage license tender participation and investment, which in turn will generate further interest in the Indonesian geothermal and resource industry”.  This also applies to oil, gas, and minerals. 

Another article in the JP that was titled “Oil crisis lurks as production drops, consumption soars”, in this article it states that Indonesia has depleted more than 90% of their oil reserves within a period of sixty years, this can not be a true, as Indonesia does not know the actual reserves that it had or has, neither does it know the full potential of the geothermal and mineral resources available, all estimations are speculation, based on extremely experienced consultants and geoscientists reports, who by the way get paid vast sums of money very often from the taxpayers money. These reports are speculation and only become reality when they have been confirmed by exploration, which is unlikely to happen when we look at the eye-watering figures that are being quoted. 

There is a Roadmap Project called “Geothermal Island Flores” with cooperation from the British government through FCO-UK at the British Embassy and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The project is developing a related study "Tariff Model Geothermal Energy and Geothermal Roadmap. It is intended to make Flores a Geothermal showcase for Indonesia. This is a very good idea, although exploration is required.

One of the problems, in my opinion, is that there are far too many companies that have self-interest, they have invested in certain exploration tools and of course want this expensive equipment to be used, drilling companies want to drill more holes, seismic companies want to run more kilometres, do they care if a resource is found or nature is destroyed? The owner of a block, mine or geothermal working area should care as it is them that are paying for very expensive methods of exploration, which by the way has not changed in many years, seismic has been around for 100 years, it makes a noise, we get a return, this is what it did 100 years ago, the principle is the same, the tools have improved tremendously over the years, especially with the processing power with the advent of powerful computers, but at the end of the day, the principle is the same. These tools were designed out of necessity.

Is it not time that new ideas for exploration that enhances our way of doing exploration are used, tools that have been designed by geoscientists, geologists, people of the trade, based on sound and proven geoscience and geology which by the way has also not changed so much over the years. Drilling and seismic companies will be doing more as the overall cost of exploration is reduced, instead of today where they are doing very little work.

Should we not be accepting IET as part of the exploration toolbox? Of course we should, the same way that we accepted in the mid 1980’s new ways of conducting hydrographic surveys which improved the output and the quality of surveys, no one lost jobs, in fact more jobs were created as the ships were able to spend more time at sea collecting data instead of drawing the results by hand. 

Innovative exploration programs will provide the information and data that will encourage license tender participation and investment, which in turn will generate further interest in the Indonesian geothermal and resource industry at a fraction of the costs that have been suggested in this article and in far less time, months rather than years.

Indonesia must elevate the value and level of information given to investors and it must invest to do this, but invest wisely, not with methods that we know carry high-risk. New thinking and new strategies are required to meet this challenge. The government and the industry need to work together to achieve their mutual goals. An examination of government policy related to the exploration industry is also in order, but first and foremost we must further de-risk exploration investment, and use innovative, cost-effective tools which can bridge the gap and at the same time save the unnecessary destruction of our environment by carrying out exploration looking for something that may not exist.

“With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we use it” – Stephen Hawking

 


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China’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves

After the OPEC+ club met on September 1st,  and confirmed that it would be sticking to its plan of increasing its crude supply by 400,000 b/d a month through December, China made a rather unusual announcement. It announced that it was going to release some crude oil from its strategic petroleum reserves, selling it to domestic refiners that were grappling with crude’s heady price rise over 2021. The release of strategic oil reserves isn’t news in itself. What is news is that the usually secretive China did it and did it publicly.

And it did it to send a message to OPEC+: attempts to create artificial scarcity to maintain crude prices will not be tolerated. China has a right to feel that way. Even though great strides have been made to ease the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, the virus is still exerting major effects on the global economy. Not least a massive ripple through the health of global supply chains that has seen the price of almost everything – plastics, semiconductors, agricultural commodity, lumber, steel – spike due to supply issues. In some cases, the prices of raw materials are at historic highs. Crude oil is still nowhere near its peak of above US$100/b, but it is high enough to be concerning, especially since it is happening within a major inflationary environment. And for a manufacturing-heavy economy like China, that matters. That matters a lot. So China’s National Food and Strategic Reserves announced that it would be releasing some of the country’s crude stocks to ‘better stabilise domestic market supply and demand, and effectively guarantee the country’s energy security’, a month after the country’s producer price inflation – ie. the cost of manufacturing – hit a 13-year high.

China made good on that promise, releasing 7.38 million barrels from its stockpile to domestic bidders on September 24 with more tranches expected. This was the first ever recorded release from China’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR), which began back in 2009 in serendipitous response to crude oil prices exceeding the US$100/b mark for the first time in 2008. But curiously, it may not have been the first ever release. So secretive is the SPR that China does not reveal the size of the reserve, although analysts have estimated it at some 300-400 million barrels with total capacity of 500 million barrels using satellite imaging. It has been speculated that batches of crude from the SPR have been released before on the quiet. But this is the first time China has gone public. Compared to the country’s overall oil consumption, 7.38 million barrels is small, almost tiny. And even if additional supplies are released, it will not make a major impact on China’s oil balances. But the message is what is important.

It is a message that China is not alone in sending. US President Joe Biden has already called on OPEC+ to accelerate its supply easing plans, given indications that the crude glut built up over 2020 has been all but erased. It is a notion that would be supported by some OPEC+ members – Russia, Mexico, the UAE – but so far, the discipline advocated by Saudi Arabia has held. The US too has attempted to release of its own crude reserve stocks – the largest in the world with a capacity of 727 million barrels – but this was also in response to the devastating impact of Hurricane Ida. India, China’s closest analogue to size and stage, has been complaining too. As a major oil importer and with a shakier economic situation, India is particularly sensitive to oil price swings. US$70/b is way above what New Delhi is comfortable with. But since India’s appeals to OPEC+ have fallen on deaf ears, it is attempting domestic directives instead. India’s state refiners have been ordered to reduce crude purchases from the Middle East, but with supply tight, there aren’t many other people to buy from. India has also been selling oil from its strategic reserve – officially stated to be for clearing space to lease storage capacity to refiners – although since India is more transparent about these announcements, the announcement isn’t as surprising.

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But, at the very least, the message has been sent. Beijing has a tool that it can wield if crude prices get out of hand, and it is not afraid to use it. The first step might have been small, and it is a giant leap in what mechanics are available to influence crude prices. And as history has proven, China can be very quick to scale up and very single-minded in its approach. Over to you, OPEC+.

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$73-76/b, WTI – US$71-74/b
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The New Wave of Renewable Fuels

In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.

Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.

Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.

This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.

But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.

But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.

Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.

Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$71-73/b, WTI – US$68-70/b
  • Global crude benchmarks have stayed steady, even as OPEC+ sticks to its plans to ease supply quotas against the uncertainty of rising Covid-19 cases worldwide
  • However, the success of vaccination drives has kindled hope that the effect of lockdowns – if any – will be mild, with pockets of demand resurgence in Europe; in China, where there has been a zero-tolerance drive to stamp out Covid outbreaks, fuel consumption is strengthening again, possibly tightening fuel balances in Q4
  • Meanwhile, much of the US Gulf of Mexico crude production remains hampered by the effects of Hurricane Ida, providing a counter-balance on the supply side

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September, 16 2021