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Last Updated: November 8, 2017
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Sofiyan Yahya, SEAMOG CEO


  1. You have held and currently hold many important roles in oil & gas organisations, being a founding member and former president of MOGSC, current VP of MOGEC, and CEO of SEAMOG Group Sdn Bhd, to name a few. Over the years, what has been your greatest achievement(s)?
    From the point of view of various associations such as MOGSC and MOGEC, I think my greatest achievement through these organisations is that I have contributed towards the creation of a platform for industry and stakeholders to discuss and collaborate in a sustainable way on issues related to the industry. In the past, it was very much driven in one direction but since the organisations were formed, there is a platform where all relevant parties can engage collaboratively. To me this is a significant development for the local industry, to be able to have their voices heard, and play a role in shaping the future of the industry. Furthermore, through these organizations, we have been able to create a sort of community for the industry.  A community where stakeholders, government and the industry players themselves, can gather through various working platforms, meetings, forums, conferences, and even social events such as dinners and sport events. We’re not just all work, we also play together.

    As CEO of SEAMOG Group, a 100% Malaysian, very much a home-grown company – I think it’s an achievement for a local player to be able to offer the range of services we have. We have done this based on our determination and commitment to offer our experience, technical capabilities and resources, which we can also export. We are also happy that we have been able to contribute to the nation as our presence means another local player has emerged from the industry.

  2. Are there challenges you faced that became a crucial learning point for you? How did you overcome them?
    There are challenges but there was no one specific challenge that was so outstanding. I always keep an open mind. The key thing is, as long as you’re determined and resourceful, and apply yourself with initiative, every challenge is surmountable. That’s the only way you can progress.  

  3. Did you always know what you wanted to do in your career? What did you do to prepare yourself before starting your first job? I understand that your first job was in Petronas as an engineer.
    I have always been a determined person, so I always knew what I wanted to be. There wasn’t a time when I didn’t know what I wanted. If you know what you want from the beginning, then the issue isn’t so much about Where to start. If that is an issue for you, then you’ll have a slower start, because you need to get over that question first. But if you believe in yourself, and know what you want to achieve, then these are only minor issues because you are already on your way to going for your goals and working towards achieving them.

  4. What do you think about the current workforce coming into industry? What skills do you think are most relevant or most in demand today?
    The range of skills needed have always been the same, the oil and gas industry still requires the same range of capabilities from welders, riggers, technicians, engineers to specialist experts. The skill disciplines required to run and operate the oil and gas industry are the same. The only thing is because of the downturn, the industry is more focused on downstream, so perhaps we need more people for these downstream activities. But then again, when we talk about the capabilities needed for offshore and onshore – if you’re an expert in pumps offshore, you can also use this expertise in the petrochemical plants onshore. The same goes if you’re a welder, you can work offshore and you can also work onshore.

    The other issue is growing new talents and expand the talent pool. For example, now there is a lot of focus in Sabah and Sarawak areas, as well as in Johor for Pengerang project. There is a huge opportunity for growing local talents to serve the industry there. And when we want to go overseas, we also require more talents to follow the businesses and perform projects won overseas.

  5. What do you think about this statement, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Do you agree with that? Has your professional network been helpful in your career progression?
    I think for oil and gas industry, that’s not accurate. In general, oil and gas requires a higher standard of specifications, behaviour and discipline. So, no matter who you know, if you cannot perform at that higher level of standards and expectations, then you will eventually fail as a business. The ‘who you know’ is not sustainable in the oil and gas industry and is very short term, if that is your planned route to success. What is more important in this industry is what do you know, what are you capable of and what is your deliverable?

  6. Recent news have reported that the market condition for the oil & gas industry is slowly recovering. At the moment, the oil prices seem to hover between $50 - $60 per barrel. Do you think the price will go any higher?
    I think in the short term or in the near future, it’s not going to go above $60. I do believe $50 - $60 is what the range will be.

  7. What do you think is the future for oil & gas, especially with the emergence of Renewable energy?
    Renewable energy has been around for a while. The way I see it, it is an alternative. We still have coal for our power stations, and also hydroelectric power, so to me it is about co-existing alternatives. The world needs to look at the most efficient energy source and energy usage. I believe that renewable energy will co-exist with oil and gas, and that oil and gas will still be around for sometime because it has its niche where it is actually the most cost efficient use and application of energy. Of course if a time comes when renewable energy is much more efficient than anything else, then we should all move towards that – that’s a different scenario. For the moment, I believe that like with everything we have in this world today, we have alternatives. And having alternatives is always a good thing for the world.

  8. Do you foresee further consolidation in the supply side happening in the Malaysian oil industry in the near future?
    In the short term, the consolidation will happen because of the current situation. If we’re talking about the Malaysian scenario then of course it is dependent on how big is the Malaysian market. Now that it’s shrunk in certain areas, they will have to consolidate, otherwise they cannot survive. This will definitely have to happen in the near future and it is going to shape the industry. After that, we can’t say what will happen next. The crystal ball is very hard to see with clarity at the moment.

  9. What will be the critical success factors or qualities needed of entrepreneurs in the local oil and gas sector to sustain and even strive in the current competitive climate?
    Commitment to the business is important. A real entrepreneur who wants to go into a certain industry sector has to be really committed. By having this commitment and determination, you will find the solutions to be successful. It’s not so much about competitiveness – this is not the first time the industry climate has become very competitive. In fact, this is probably the third time in the span of 10-20 years that we are seeing this sort of business environment. During this time, businesses must persevere. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. And it’s not just oil and gas, other industries go through downturns as well. So, if an entrepreneur wants to go into the local oil and gas industry, they must have that commitment and determination to see through their business plan and their services or products offerings. If you do not have that determination, I do not think you will succeed. Again, this applies to any business in any industry sector.

  10. Besides depending on PETRONAS for contracts, do you see more local players preparing to venture overseas for more work (eg. what SapuraEnergy has done to-date)? As Malaysia has a low-cost base and experienced workforce.
    The industry does not depend solely on PETRONAS for contracts. Yes, Malaysia does have relatively low-cost base, and we also have an experienced workforce. I think it’s very important to encourage Malaysians to work overseas. For regions such as the Middle East, despite their already diverse workforce, they welcome Malaysians for our experience, capability and professionalism. Perhaps because of our focus here in Malaysia has been maximising Malaysian content, Malaysians tend to focus on Malaysian work rather than go overseas. In this downturn however, more Malaysians have found work overseas. We spoke about consolidation earlier, and with more businesses offering wider range of services and capabilities, Malaysian players are becoming more attractive and relevant overseas.

  11. Do you have a motto or philosophy that you follow in life?
    Set your goals and be determined. Determination is the key ingredient in what I do. Never give up and be determined to see things through.

  12. And finally, what do you do to unwind after a stressful day at work? 
    I love getting into nature and photography. I guess they are activities that are completely opposite from what I do in my day-to-day business, hence the opportunity to unwind.

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The Competition For The LNG Crown

The year 2020 was exceptional in many ways, to say the least. All of which, lockdowns and meltdowns, managed to overshadow a changing of the guard in the LNG world. After leapfrogging Indonesia as the world’s largest LNG producer in 2006, Qatar was surpassed by Australia in 2020 when the final figures for 2019 came in. That this happened was no surprise; it was always a foregone conclusion given Australia’s massive LNG projects developed over the last decade. Were it not for the severe delays in completion, Australia would have taken the crown much earlier; in fact, by capacity, Australia already sailed past Qatar in 2018.

But Australia should not rest on its laurels. The last of the LNG mega-projects in Western Australia, Shell’s giant floating Prelude and Inpex’s sprawling Ichthys onshore complex, have been completed. Additional phases will provide incremental new capacity, but no new mega-projects are on the horizon, for now. Meanwhile, after several years of carefully managing its vast capacity, Qatar is now embarking on its own LNG infrastructure investment spree that should see it reclaim its LNG exporter crown in 2030.

Key to this is the vast North Field, the single largest non-associated gas field in the world. Straddling the maritime border between tiny Qatar and its giant neighbour Iran to the north, Qatar Petroleum has taken the final investment decision to develop the North Field East Project (NFE) this month. With a total price tag of US$28.75 billion, development will kick off in 2021 and is expected to start production in late 2025. Completion of the NFE will raise Qatar’s LNG production capacity from a current 77 million tons per annum to 110 mmtpa. This is easily higher than Australia’s current installed capacity of 88 mmtpa, but the difficulty in anticipating future utilisation rates means that Qatar might not retake pole position immediately. But it certainly will by 2030, when the second phase of the project – the North Field South (NFS) – is slated to start production. This would raise Qatar’s installed capacity to 126 mmtpa, cementing its lead further still, with Qatar Petroleum also stating that it is ‘evaluating further LNG capacity expansions’ beyond that ceiling. If it does, then it should be more big leaps, since this tiny country tends to do things in giant steps, rather than small jumps.

Will there be enough buyers for LNG at the time, though? With all the conversation about sustainability and carbon neutrality, does natural gas still have a role to play? Predicting the future is always difficult, but the short answer, based on current trends, it is a simple yes. 

Supermajors such as Shell, BP and Total have set carbon neutral targets for their operations by 2050. Under the Paris Agreement, many countries are also aiming to reduce their carbon emissions significantly as well; even the USA, under the new Biden administration, has rejoined the accord. But carbon neutral does not mean zero carbon. It means that the net carbon emissions of a company or of a country is zero. Emissions from one part of the pie can be offset by other parts of the pie, with the challenge being to excise the most polluting portions to make the overall goal of balancing emissions around the target easier. That, in energy terms, means moving away from dirtier power sources such as coal and oil, towards renewables such as solar and wind, as well as offsets such as carbon capture technology or carbon trading/pricing. Natural gas and LNG sit right in the middle of that spectrum: cleaner than conventional coal and oil, but still ubiquitous enough to be commercially viable.

So even in a carbon neutral world, there is a role for LNG to play. And crucially, demand is expected to continue rising. If ‘peak oil’ is now expected to be somewhere in the 2020s, then ‘peak gas’ is much further, post-2040s. In 2010, only 23 countries had access to LNG import facilities, led by Japan. In 2019, 43 countries now import LNG and that number will continue to rise as increased supply liquidity, cheaper pricing and infrastructural improvements take place. China will overtake Japan as the world’s largest LNG importer soon, while India just installed another 5 mmtpa import terminal in Hazira. More densely populated countries are hopping on the LNG bandwagon soon, the Philippines (108 million people), Vietnam (96 million people), to ensure a growing demand base for the fuel. Qatar’s central position in the world, sitting just between Europe and Asia, is a perfect base to service this growing demand.

There is competition, of course. Russia is increasingly moving to LNG as well, alongside its dominant position in piped natural gas. And there is the USA. By 2025, the USA should have 107 mmtpa of LNG capacity from currently sanctioned projects. That will be enough to make the USA the second-largest LNG exporter in the world, overtaking Australia. With a higher potential ceiling, the USA could also overtake Qatar eventually, since its capacity is driven by private enterprise rather than the controlled, centralised approach by Qatar Petroleum. The appearance of US LNG on the market has been a gamechanger; with lower costs, American LNG is highly competitive, having gone as far as Poland and China in a few short years. But while the average US LNG breakeven cost is estimated at around US$6.50-7.50/mmBtu, Qatar’s is even lower at US$4/mmBtu. Advantage: Qatar.

But there is still room for everyone in this growing LNG market. By 2030, global LNG demand is expected to grow to 580 million tons per annum, from a current 360 mmtpa. More LNG from Qatar is not just an opportunity, it is a necessity. Traditional LNG producers such as Malaysia and Indonesia are seeing waning volumes due to field maturity, but there is plenty of new capacity planned: in the USA, in Canada, in Egypt, in Israel, in Mozambique, and, of course, in Qatar. In that sense, it really doesn’t matter which country holds the crown of the world’s largest exporter, because LNG demand is a rising tide, and a rising tide lifts all 😊

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$64-66/b, WTI – US$60-63/b
  • Despite the thaw after Texas saw a devastating big freeze, the slow ramp-up in restoring US Gulf Coast oil production and refining has supported crude oil prices, with Brent moving above the US$65/b level and WTI now in the low US$60/b level
  • Some Wall Street analysts, including Goldman Sachs, are predicting that oil prices could climb above US$70/b level based on current fundamentals, as the short-term spike gives ways to accelerating consumption trends
  • However, much will depend on OPEC+’s approach to managing supply in Q2, with a meeting set for early March; Saudi Arabia is once again urging caution, but there are many other members of the club champing at the bit to increase output and capitalise on the rising price environment


March, 01 2021
EIA forecasts the U.S. will import more petroleum than it exports in 2021 and 2022

Throughout much of its history, the United States has imported more petroleum (which includes crude oil, refined petroleum products, and other liquids) than it has exported. That status changed in 2020. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) February 2021 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) estimates that 2020 marked the first year that the United States exported more petroleum than it imported on an annual basis. However, largely because of declines in domestic crude oil production and corresponding increases in crude oil imports, EIA expects the United States to return to being a net petroleum importer on an annual basis in both 2021 and 2022.

EIA expects that increasing crude oil imports will drive the growth in net petroleum imports in 2021 and 2022 and more than offset changes in refined product net trade. EIA forecasts that net imports of crude oil will increase from its 2020 average of 2.7 million barrels per day (b/d) to 3.7 million b/d in 2021 and 4.4 million b/d in 2022.

Compared with crude oil trade, net exports of refined petroleum products did not change as much during 2020. On an annual average basis, U.S. net petroleum product exports—distillate fuel oil, hydrocarbon gas liquids, and motor gasoline, among others—averaged 3.2 million b/d in 2019 and 3.4 million b/d in 2020. EIA forecasts that net petroleum product exports will average 3.5 million b/d in 2021 and 3.9 million b/d in 2022 as global demand for petroleum products continues to increase from its recent low point in the first half of 2020.

U.S. quarterly crude oil production, net trade, and refinery runs

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), February 2021

EIA expects that the United States will import more crude oil to fill the widening gap between refinery inputs of crude oil and domestic crude oil production in 2021 and 2022. U.S. crude oil production declined by an estimated 0.9 million b/d (8%) to 11.3 million b/d in 2020 because of well curtailment and a drop in drilling activity related to low crude oil prices.

EIA expects the rising price of crude oil, which started in the fourth quarter of 2020, will contribute to more U.S. crude oil production later this year. EIA forecasts monthly domestic crude oil production will reach 11.3 million b/d by the end of 2021 and 11.9 million b/d by the end of 2022. These values are increases from the most recent monthly average of 11.1 million b/d in November 2020 (based on data in EIA’s Petroleum Supply Monthly) but still lower than the previous peak of 12.9 million b/d in November 2019.

February, 18 2021
The Perfect Storm Pushes Crude Oil Prices

In the past week, crude oil prices have surged to levels last seen over a year ago. The global Brent benchmark hit US$63/b, while its American counterpart WTI crested over the US$60/b mark. The more optimistic in the market see these gains as a start of a commodity supercycle stemming from market forces pent-up over the long Covid-19 pandemic. The more cynical see it as a short-term spike from a perfect winter storm and constrained supply. So, which is it?

To get to that point, let’s examine how crude oil prices have evolved since the start of the year. On the consumption side, the market is vacillating between hopeful recovery and jittery reactions as Covid-19 outbreaks and vaccinations lent a start-stop rhythm to consumption trends. Yes, vaccination programmes were developed at lightning speed; and even plenty of bureaucratic hiccoughs have not hampered a steady rollout across the globe. In the UK, more than 20% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccines, with the USA not too far behind. Israel has vaccinated more than 75% of its population, and most countries should be well into their own programmes by the end of March. That acceleration of vaccinations has underpinned expectations of higher oil demand, with hopes that people will begin to drive again, fly again and buy again. But those hopes have been occasionally interrupted by new Covid-19 clusters detected and, more worryingly, new mutations of the virus.

Against this hopeful demand picture, supply has been managed. Squabbling among the OPEC+ club has prevented a more aggressive approach to managing supply than kingpin Saudi Arabia would like, but OPEC+ has still managed to hold itself together to placate the market that crude spigots will remain restrained. And while the UAE has successfully shifted OPEC+ quota plan for 2021 from quarterly adjustments to monthly, Saudi Arabia stepped into the vacuum to stamp its authority with a voluntary 1 million barrels per day cut. The market was impressed.

That combination of events over January was enough to move Brent prices from the low US$50/b level to the upper US$50/b range. However, US$60/b remained seemingly out of reach. It took a heavy dusting of snow across Texas to achieve that.

Winter weather across the northern hemisphere seemed harsher than usual this year. Europe was hit by two large continent-wide storms, while the American Northeast and Pacific Northwest were buffeted with quite a few snowstorms. Temperatures in East Asia were fairly cold too, which led to strong prices for natural gas and LNG to keep the population warm. But it was a major snowstorm that swept through the southern United States – including Texas – that had the largest effect on prices. Some areas of Texas saw temperatures as low as -18 degrees Celsius, while electricity demand surged to the point where grids failed, leaving 4.3 million people without power. A national emergency was declared, with over 150 million Americans under winter storm warning conditions.

 

For the global oil complex, the effects of the storm were also direct. Some of the largest oil refineries in the world were forced to shut down due to the Arctic conditions, further disrupting power and fuel supplies. All in all, over 3 mmb/d of oil processing capacity had to be idled in the wake of the storm, including Motiva’s Port Arthur, ExxonMobil’s Baytown and Marathon’s Galveston Bay refineries. And even if the sites were still running, they would have to contend to upstream disruptions: estimates suggest that crude oil production in the prolific Permian Basin dropped by over a million barrels per day due to power outages, while several key pipelines connecting Cushing, Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast were also forced to shutter.

That perfect storm was enough to send crude prices above the US$60/b level. But will it last? The damage from the Texan snowstorm has already begun to abate, and even then crude prices did not seem to have the appetite to push higher than US$63/b for Brent and US$60/b for WTI.

Instead, the key development that should determine the future range for crude prices going into the second quarter of 2021 will be in early March, when the OPEC+ club meets once again to decide the level of its supply quotas for April and perhaps beyond. The conundrum facing the various factions within the club is this: at US$60/b, crude oil prices are not low enough to scare all members in voting for unanimous stricter quotas and also not high enough to rescind controlled supply. Instead, prices are at a fragile level where arguments can be made both ways. Russia is already claiming that global oil markets are ‘balanced’, while Saudi Arabia is emphasising the need for caution in public messaging ahead of the meeting. Saudi Arabia’s voluntary supply cut will also expire in March, setting up the stage for yet another fractious meeting. If a snow overrun Texans was a perfect storm to push crude prices to a 13-month high, then the upcoming OPEC+ meeting faces another perfect storm that could negate confidence. Which will it be? The answer lies on the other side of the storm.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$58-61/b, WTI – US$60-63/b
  • Better longer-term prospects for fuels demand over 2021 and a severe winter storm in the southern United States that idled many upstream and downstream facilities sent global crude oil prices to their highest levels since January 2021
  • Falling levels at key oil storage locations worldwide are also contributing to the crude rally, with crude inventories in Cushing falling to a six-month low and reports of drained storage tanks in the US Gulf Coast, the Caribbean and East Asia
February, 17 2021