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Last Updated: November 9, 2017
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Last week in the world oil:

Prices

  • Brent crude surged to US$64/b and WTI to US$57/b as instability in Saudi Arabia – ranging from royal arrests of 11 princes, missiles launched from Yemen and a Saudi prince killed as his helicopter crashed – rattled the market. Also supporting stronger prices is Nigeria’s pledge to limit its output, despite being exempt from OPEC’s freeze due to insurgent attacks.

Upstream

  • The hits keep coming in Mexico. State oil firm Pemex announced the country’s largest onshore oil discovery in 15 years, with the Ixachi well in Veracruz estimated to have some 350 million barrels of proven, probable and possible reserves. Exploiting the light crude resource should prove straightforward, given that it is located near existing onshore drilling infrastructure.
  • Papua New Guinea’s Oil Search is expanding into (very) different territory that the equatorial island. The company has bought stakes in Alaska’s North Slope for some US$400 million, acquiring Nanushuk and surrounding fields that are estimated to contain up to 500 million barrels.
  • The acquisition of the Forties Pipeline System (FPS) by INEOS from BP has been completed, with INEOS now having complete ownership and operation of the FPS, Kinneil gas processing plant, Kinneil oil terminal, Dalmeny storage and export facility, infrastructure sites in Aberdeen and the Forties Unity Platform - a key part of the British North Sea industry.
  • Greenland will hold an oil and gas concession auction in offshore west coast areas in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay next year in a bit to get its moribund upstream exploration programme back on track. Estimates have suggested Greenland holds some 17 billion barrels of oil equivalent off its west coast, and 32 billion boe off its east coast, but accessing those reserves has been hampered by weak crude prices over the past 3 years.
  • Insurgent sabotage could be returning to Nigeria as the Niger Delta Avengers issued a ‘bloody and brutal’ warning to energy firms operating in the region, with a specific mention of Total’s Engina FPSO system.
  • The US lost another eight oil rigs last week, the largest drop since May 2016, causing the overall active American oil and gas rig count to slip below 900. Languishing in the face of recent crude price stagnation, the recent rally in WTI prices may tempt some drillers to restart sites soon.

Downstream & Midstream

  • Much like US LNG, American crude is starting to pop up in new places. PKN Orlen – Poland’s largest refiner – received its first American crude shipment last week. It adds another dimension to eastern Europe’s desire to wean itself off Russian oil and gas, as a vast majority of crude oil refined in Poland currently comes from Russia.

Natural Gas and LNG

  • Greece’s Energean has signed three new deals to sell natural gas from Israel’s offshore Karish and Tanin fields to Israeli energy firms Dorad Energy, Ashdod Energy and Ramat Negev Energy. Expected to start production in 2020, gas from the Karish and Tanin fields will be piped onshore to the customers – amounting to 6.75 bcm over 14 years for Dorad, and 2.65 bcm for Ashdod and Ramat Negev over the same period.

Last week in Asian oil

Upstream

  • As pipeline shipments from Iraq’s Kurdish region resume to Turkey, Baghdad is moving to impose federal will on Kurdistan’s oil assets. Iraq state-oil marketer SOMO is attempting to convince Turkey to see SOMO as the sole seller of Kurdish crude that arrives at Ceyhan. Currently, Turkey recognises independent exports by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as well as SOMO volumes that piggyback on the pipeline.
  • As Pertamina takes over the Mahakam block from Total and Inpex on January 1, 2018, the Indonesian state oil firm announced plans to spend US$700 million to maintain production levels at the block. Production at Mahakam has been dipping recently, projected to fall to 53,000 bpd of oil and 1.43 bcf/d of gas in 2017, and even maintaining current output levels will require significant investment on Pertamina’s part.
  • SOCO International has picked up two new offshore blocks in Vietnam. The PSCs for the blocks, located in moderate-to-deepwater in the Phu Khanh Basin, north of the prodigious Cuu Long Basin, are with PetroVietnam and SOVICO Holdings, with SOCO holding 70%.

Downstream

  • South Korea’s SK Energy will be building a new US$900 million 40 kb/d desulfurisation unit at its 840 kb/d Ulsan refinery, in an attempt to boost its production of low-sulphur fuels. International sanctions on sulphur emissions in the marine section are scheduled to take effect in 2020, pushing refiners to invest in upgrade units. The new unit at Ulsan will also boost production of gasoil and naphtha through reprocessing of fuel oil.
  • It appears that Saudi Aramco’s involvement in Petronas’ RAPID refinery project is not yet set in stone. Some technical issues are holding up final agreements, which will see Aramco pump in US$7 billion into the refinery in Johor, but the Malaysian government expects things to be smoothed over soon. It is likely to, given that Aramco just bought a US$900 million stake in RAPID-associated petrochemical projects last month.
  • India’s BPCL has completed the expansion of its Kochi refinery, bringing its capacity up from 190 kb/d to 310 kb/d. A new CDU and coking unit was installed as part of the expansion, delayed from its original projected date of late-2016, with BPCL now ramping up production. The Kochi refinery is currently running at some 84% utilisation, and BPCL intends to move to full capacity over the next two years.

Natural Gas & LNG

  • As Petronas announced that it will no longer include resale destination clauses in its new Japanese LNG contracts as required by the Japan Fair Trade Commission, Osaka Gas announced plans to raise its LNG resale volumes significantly by 2020. One of the few buyers with some looser clauses, Osaka Gas has been reselling LNG since 2006 – hitting 1.1 mtpa in resales last year – and is pushing to increase that. It targets annual trading volumes of 10 mtpa, of which 3 mtpa would be from resales.

Chevron has exported its first LNG cargo from its Wheatstone project in Australia. Production at the mega-LNG facility started up in early October, with shipments targeted at markets in northeast Asia. The inaugural cargo goes to Japan’s JERA, the world’s largest buyer of LNG.

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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.

Will it work? At least immediately, no. Crude prices did come under pressure in the wake of China’s announcement, but then recovered with Brent hitting US$75/b. But the fact that China timed the announcement of the September 24 auction to coincide with peak global trading time and with a lot of details (again an unusual move) shows that Beijing is serious about wielding its strategic reserves as weapons. If not to moderate crude prices, then to at least stabilise it. But this is a war of attrition. China may very well have a planned schedule to release more crude reserves over 2021 and 2022 if prices remain high, but its supplies are finite. And they will have to eventually be replenished, possibly at an even higher cost if the attempt to quell crude price inflation fails. Thus far, the details of the SPR release hint that this is a tentative dip in the pool: the volume of 7.38 million barrels was far lower than the 35-70 million barrels predicted by some market participants. And because successful bidders can lift the oil up to December 10, it seems unlikely that a second auction for 2021 is in concrete plans at this point.

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+.

End of Article

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$73-76/b, WTI – US$71-74/b
  • Global crude benchmarks retain their strength, with Brent zipping past US$75/b, as supply-side issues and healthy demand continue to reverberate
  • After Hurricane Ida, US upstream players have gradually brought back some 70% of Gulf of Mexico production, easing some supply concerns, but a standoff between Libya’s Ministry of Oil and National Oil Corp could disrupt Libyan output

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September, 23 2021
Chicago Cubs Shirts: Wear Style with Ultimate Comfort!

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September, 16 2021
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.

End of Article

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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