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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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Geopolitical Tensions Overshadow a Year of Big Discoveries

2019 has been a fairly good year for big hydrocarbon discoveries. After several years of depressed activities, a slew of major upstream finds were announced this year as oil and gas companies recovered from the slump in oil prices to begin drilling once again. Despite the onshore shale revolution, the US Gulf of Mexico keeps giving, with Shell landing a huge oil discovery in the Perdido Corridor. In Russia, Gazprom hit payday with a 17 tcf gas find in the Dinkov and Nyarmeyskoye fields in the Yamal Peninsula. Beyond established upstream basins, large finds have also come in from new frontiers. In South Africa, Total made a huge discovery at Brulpadda that could transform the economy, while in Guyana, ExxonMobil and Tullow keep adding on to a long list of major oil finds dating back to 2015. Up to 8 tcf of gas was hit in Cyprus – though that lies in disputed waters claimed by Turkey – while Kosmos Energy announced the largest gas discovery of the year at the Orca-1 well in Mauritania.

And then there is Iran. Hammered by US sanctions that have severely curbed its oil exports – and scaring off international investors – Iran has continued to go alone in exploration work within its borders. Just last week, Iran announced that it had struck a new field in its southwest that contains up to 53 billion barrels of oil. This single field would increase Iran’s proven oil reserves by a third. In any other scenario, this would be a trigger for a swathe of investment. But in this geopolitical climate, the question instead is: can Iran even develop this field?

To be fair, the Khuzestan field isn’t actually new. Named Namavaran, the reservoir was first probed in 2016, when the relationship between Iran and the West had thawed with the nuclear agreement deal, with an initial 33 billion barrels proven. Since then, additional test wells recently revealed that Namavaran is far bigger than expected. Stretching over 2,400km from Bostan near the Iraqi border to the Omidiyeh province, an additional 20 billion barrels or so were identified, increasing the total figure to 53 billion barrels. Some of this would have been siphoned off from existing assets that were thought to be standalone – including the Ab Teymour, Mansouri, Soosangerd, Darkhovin, Jofeir and Sepehr fields – but even so, the estimated new exploitable reserves from Namavaran number in the 22-27 billion barrel range.

The problem is who will help Iran tap into this. Initially lured by the promise of the geopolitical cooldown, major players such as Total have since abandoned their assets in Iran in the wake of the new US sanctions. Even China is not immune; CNPC also exited the giant South Pars gas project this year while the imposition of sanctions on China Ocean Shipping threw the global tanker market into disarray in October. But it is apparently on China (and Russia) that Iran is depending on. News in the market suggests that Iran is in talks with Chinese companies to develop and commercialise Namavaran, as part of the latter’s Belt and Road global plan. The same news also suggests that a few international firms – hinted to include Shell and Total – are also interested in participating. But given the current tension between Iran and the US and its Middle East allies, foreign participation is a huge question mark at the moment.

A few months ago, it looked like war was imminent in the Middle East. Today, it seems as if the situation has thawed slightly. Some experts even believe that the US may begin easing sanctions – particularly with the exit of ultra-Iran-hawk John Bolton as National Security Advisor. If this happens (and it is a big if), there are many willing parties waiting at Iran’s doors to help exploit the giant Namavaran field. Even if the door is shut, Iran is ready to go ahead alone, not least because it needs a fair amount of oil for its own domestic use. And when this happen, it will spin a new problem: in a world where OPEC is trying desperately to control prices, how will it deal with an Iran whose oil reserves have just increased by a third?

The Namavaran field in Iran:

  • Initial discovery in 2016, expanded discovery in 2019
  • Iran’s second largest field, after Ahvaz
  • Some 53 billion barrel of proven oil in place
  • Increases Iran’s proven oil reserves from 155.6 billion barrels to 208.6 billion barrels
November, 21 2019
EIA increases U.S. crude oil production forecast

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) revises the U.S. crude oil production forecast it publishes in each Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) based mainly on two factors: updates to EIA’s published historical data and EIA’s crude oil price forecast. In the November 2019 STEO, EIA increased its forecast of U.S. crude oil production in 2019 by 30,000 barrels per day (b/d) (0.2%) from the October STEO. EIA increased its 2020 crude oil production forecast by 119,000 b/d (0.9%) compared with the October STEO (Figure 1). The increases in crude oil production forecast in the November STEO were primarily driven by

  • EIA’s upward revision to historical production in the Lower 48 states of about 90,000 b/d for August, based on EIA’s most recent–October 31, 2019–914 monthly crude oil and natural gas production survey
  • Higher initial production for future wells that will be drilled in the Texas Permian region
  • Slightly higher crude oil price forecast for the November 2019–January 2020 time period than in the October STEO

Figure 1. U.S. crude oil production forecast

In the November STEO, EIA increased its U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price forecast by $2 per barrel (b) in November to $56/b and by $1/b in both December and January to $55/b and $54/b, respectively. The slight increase in crude oil prices also contributed to EIA’s increased production forecast for the first half of 2020 because of EIA’s assumption of a six-month lag between a crude oil price change and a production response.

In the November STEO, EIA now forecasts U.S. crude oil production will increase to 12.3 million b/d in 2019 from 11.0 million b/d in 2018. Production in the Permian region is the primary driver of EIA’s forecast crude oil production growth, and EIA forecasts Permian production will grow by 915,000 b/d in 2019 and by 809,000 b/d in 2020 (Figure 2). Increases in Permian production are supported by the crude oil pipeline infrastructure expansion seen earlier this year, which helped alleviate the transportation bottleneck and supported prices for WTI in Midland, Texas (the price producers may expect to receive in the Permian region), relative to prices for WTI-Cushing. The higher relative prices in the Permian should continue to encourage production in the region. EIA forecasts that the Bakken region will have the next largest crude oil production growth in 2019, and it is forecast to grow by 152,000 b/d in 2019 and 96,000 b/d in 2020. EIA forecasts that production in the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico will increase by 138,000 b/d in 2019 and 116,000 b/d in 2020.

Figure 2. Monthly U.S. crude oil production by region

Although EIA forecasts that overall U.S. crude oil production will increase, EIA expects the growth rate to decline from 11.8% in 2019 to 8.1% in 2020. One of the primary indicators of a slowdown in production growth is the decline in oil-directed rigs. According to Baker Hughes, active rig counts fell from 877 oil-directed rigs in the beginning of January 2019 to 674 rigs in mid-November. Rig counts in the Permian region also declined during this period, falling from 487 to 408 (Figure 3). Because EIA expects WTI-Cushing crude oil prices to stay below $55/b until August 2020, EIA anticipates that drilling rigs will continue to decline as producers cut back on their capital spending, resulting in notable slowing in the growth of domestic crude oil production over the next 14 months.

Figure 3. Total U.S. and Permian Basin region oil rigs

Although U.S. rig counts are declining, improvements in rig efficiency, which allows fewer rigs to drill the same number of wells, partially offset declining rig counts. In addition, higher initial production from wells (although not necessarily the total estimated ultimate recovery) is offsetting some of the slowdown in rigs.

U.S. average regular gasoline prices fall, diesel prices increase slightly

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail fell more than 2 cents from the previous week to $2.59 per gallon on November 18, 2 cents lower than the same time last year. The West Coast price fell by more than 5 cents to $3.54 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell by more than 4 cents to $2.22 per gallon, the East Coast price fell by more than 2 cents to $2.45 per gallon, and the Midwest price fell less than 1 cent, remaining at $2.44 per gallon. The Rocky Mountain price increased by nearly 2 cents to $2.84 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose by less than 1 cent to remain at $3.07 per gallon on November 18, 21 cents lower than a year ago. The Rocky Mountain price increased by nearly 3 cents to 3.23 per gallon, and the East Coast price rose by less than 1 cent, remaining at $3.05 per gallon. The Gulf Coast price fell by less than 1 cent to $2.79 per gallon, and the West Coast and Midwest prices each decreased by less than 1 cent, remaining at $3.76 per gallon and $2.97 per gallon, respectively.

Propane/propylene inventories decline

U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 3.4 million barrels last week to 94.2 million barrels as of November 15, 2019, 5.8 million barrels (6.6%) greater than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast and Midwest inventories decreased by 2.5 million barrels and 1.5 million barrels, respectively. East Coast inventories increased by 0.5 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.4% of total propane/propylene inventories.

Residential heating fuel prices

As of November 18, 2019, residential heating oil prices averaged almost $2.99 per gallon, more than 1 cent per gallon above last week’s price but 33 cents per gallon below last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged nearly $2.06 per gallon, almost 3 cents per gallon more than last week’s price but nearly 13 cents per gallon less than a year ago.

Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.99 per gallon, 5 cents per gallon higher than last week’s price but more than 43 cents per gallon lower than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged nearly $0.85 per gallon, almost 9 cents per gallon higher than last week’s price but nearly 6 cents per gallon below last year’s price.

November, 21 2019
Brazil’s net metering policy leads to growth in solar distributed generation

Brazil’s growth in distributed generation from renewable resources—especially solar—has increased since it implemented net metering policies in 2012. As of mid-November 2019, owners have installed more than 135,000 renewable distributed generation systems in Brazil, totaling about 1.72 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, according to the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency (ANEEL).

Solar photovoltaic accounts for the largest share of the total installed distributed generating resources, representing about 1,571 megawatts (MW), or 91%, of the country’s total distributed generation capacity. Small hydroelectric and wind account for 97 MW and 10 MW, respectively. Net metering policies allow owners of the renewable distributed generation systems to sell excess electricity to the grid for billing credits.

ANEEL’s policy initially allowed small generators using hydro, solar, biomass, wind, and qualified cogeneration of renewable sources of up to 1 MW of capacity to qualify for net metering. In 2015, ANEEL amended the rule to increase the maximum capacity for up to 3 MW for small hydropower and up to 5 MW for other qualified renewable sources.

Qualified generators can choose to sell surplus generated electricity back to Brazil’s grid in return for billing credits. As part of the billing credit structure, net-metering customers can generate credits earned on days when they generated more electricity than they consumed. Before 2015, these credits expired after 36 months, but now credits for excess generation expire after 60 months.

Most of Brazil’s distributed generation units are in the southern, southeastern, and northeastern regions of the country. The states with the most distributed generation units are Minas Gerais with 372 MW, Rio Grande do Sul with 223 MW, and São Paulo with 194 MW.

Brazil distributed generation by technology

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on data from the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency (ANEEL)

At the end of 2018, ANEEL released a regulatory impact analysis and conducted a series of public hearing meetings to discuss economic aspects and sustainable growth of distributed generation in the country.

November, 20 2019