As it does every November, OPEC is convening once again in Vienna. In the past, such meetings have been more prosaic affairs, but of late, they have taken utmost significance. The current OPEC supply freeze deal (brokered together with Russia and several other important Non-OPEC countries) was formally detailed at last year’s meeting. The main question at this year’s meeting is: will OPEC extend the cuts beyond their current March 2018 end-date?
All signs point to yes. A draft agenda published for the November 30 meeting allocates three hours for discussion on the matter. Last year’s discussions reportedly stretched into the wee hours of the morning. That is a good indication that things are expected to proceed smoothly, if they haven’t already been locked in already. This is despite geopolitical tensions between several Middle Eastern OPEC countries, lining up into a pro-Saudi Arabia and pro-Iran block. Language by various OPEC oil ministers over the past two weeks indicate support for continuing the freeze, viewing it even as necessary. Oddly, Saudi Arabia has been the cagiest so far, but this may be posturing to make more of an impact.
The wider oil industry expects thinks an extension is guaranteed. They would seem to be right. What is likeliest to happen is that the current supply freeze gets extended by 9 months to December 31, 2018. The existing supply quotas will be maintained, but not deepened. It is likely to Libya and Nigeria will have to agree to some cuts, given that they were exempt from the last round. The market will view this as enough to maintain crude prices at a floor of US$60/b; breaking beyond this range would require deeper concession than OPEC is willing to do, out of the question if you follow its language so far. So good, but not great. Given the length of the oil downturn, however, that’s not a bad position to be in.
Winners & Losers of an OPEC extension for another 9 months
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The year’s final upstream auctions were touted as a potential bonanza for Brazil, with pre-auction estimates suggesting that up to US$50 billion could be raised for some deliciously-promising blocks. The Financial Times expected it to be the ‘largest oil bidding round in history’. The previous auction – held in October – was a success, attracting attention from supermajors and new entrants, including Malaysia’s Petronas. Instead, the final two auctions in November were a complete flop, with only three of the nine major blocks awarded.
What happened? What happened to the appetite displayed by international players such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP in October? The fields on offer are certainly tempting, located in the prolific pre-salt basin and including prized assets such as the Buzios, Itapu, Sepia and Atapu fields. Collectively, the fields could contain as much as 15 billion barrels of crude oil. Time-to-market is also shorter; much of the heavy work has already been done by Petrobras during the period where it was the only firm allowed to develop Brazil’s domestic pre-salt fields. But a series of corruption scandals and a new government has necessitated a widening of that ambition, by bringing in foreign expertise and, more crucially, foreign money. But the fields won’t come cheap. In addition to signing bonuses to be paid to the Brazilian state ranging from US$331 million to US$17 billion by field, compensation will need to be paid to Petrobras. The auction isn’t a traditional one, but a Transfer of Rights sale covering existing in-development and producing fields.
And therein lies the problem. The massive upfront cost of entry comes at a time when crude oil prices are moderating and the future outlook of the market is uncertain, with risks of trade wars, economic downturns and a move towards clean energy. The fact that the compensation to be paid to Petrobras would be negotiated post-auction was another blow, as was the fact that the auction revolved around competing on the level of profit oil offered to the Brazilian government. Prior to the auction itself, this arrangement was criticised as overtly complicated and ‘awful’, with Petrobras still retaining the right of first refusal to operate any pre-salt fields A simple concession model was suggested as a better alternative, and the stunning rebuke by international oil firms at the auction is testament to that. The message is clear. If Brazil wants to open up for business, it needs to leave behind its legacy of nationalisation and protectionism centring around Petrobras. In an ironic twist, the only fields that were awarded went to Petrobras-led consortiums – essentially keeping it in the family.
There were signs that it was going to end up this way. ExxonMobil – so enthusiastic in the October auction – pulled out of partnering with Petrobras for Buzios, balking at the high price tag despite the field currently producing at 400,000 b/d. But the full-scale of the reticence revealed flaws in Brazil’s plans, with state officials admitting to being ‘stunned’ by the lack of participation. Comments seem to suggest that Brazil will now re-assess how it will offer the fields when they go up for sale again next year, promising to take into account the reasons that scared international majors off in the first place. Some US$17 billion was raised through the two days of auction – not an insignificant amount but a far cry from the US$50 billion expected. The oil is there. Enough oil to vault Brazil’s production from 3 mmb/d to 7 mmb/d by 2030. All Brazil needs to do now is create a better offer to tempt the interested parties.
Results of Brazil’s November upstream auctions:
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Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
The amount of natural gas held in storage in 2019 went from a relatively low value of 1,155 billion cubic feet (Bcf) at the beginning of April to 3,724 Bcf at the end of October because of near-record injection activity during the natural gas injection, or refill, season (April 1–October 31). Inventories as of October 31 were 37 Bcf higher than the previous five-year end-of-October average, according to interpolated values in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report.
Although the end of the natural gas storage injection season is traditionally defined as October 31, injections often occur in November. Working natural gas stocks ended the previous heating season at 1,155 Bcf on March 31, 2019—the second-lowest level for that time of year since 2004. The 2019 injection season included several weeks with relatively high injections: weekly changes exceeded 100 Bcf nine times in 2019. Certain weeks in April, June, and September were the highest weekly net injections in those months since at least 2010.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report
From April 1 through October 31, 2019, more than 2,569 Bcf of natural gas was placed into storage in the Lower 48 states. This volume was the second-highest net injected volume for the injection season, falling short of the record 2,727 Bcf injected during the 2014 injection season. In 2014, a particularly cold winter left natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states at 837 Bcf—the lowest level for that time of year since 2003.