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Last Updated: January 18, 2018
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 15 January 2017 – Brent: US$69/b; WTI: US$63/b

  • After a strong week, oil prices reversed course as concerns that a correction is imminently due, after a major crude-buying spree by hedge funds last week.
  • There are also fears that the strength in oil prices could cause OPEC to revise its supply freeze plan far earlier than expected, but several OPEC oil ministers have urged the group to ‘stay the course.’
  • Supply disruptions in Libya and unrest in Iran have largely died down, removing output concerns over crude price equations.
  • With WTI prices above US$60/b, more interest in shale has emerged, but the industry warms that it is facing a tight labour and supply chain market. Indications are that shale players have also not been adding significantly more drills, instead electing to ‘do more with less’.
  • Larger-than-expected drops in the US crude inventory levels have also supported strong crude prices, but the EIA is also reporting significant gains in gasoline and fuel stocks.
  • The EIA maintains that US crude production will rise over 2018, hitting 11 mmb/d by 2019. The target for Q118 is 10.4 mmb/d.
  • However, there are warning signs in Asia, where Singaporean refining margins slumped to under US$6/b last week, down 90% from the 2017 high. With huge supply coming out of China as well, the Asian fuels glut could see a major correction this year, impacting crude demand.
  • Active US oil and gas rig sites jumped by 15 last week, with onshore shale gains leading the way. Canadian rigs jumped by a massive 102 sites, a 10-month high as drillers returned en masse from the Christmas/New Year break.
  • Crude price outlook: Oil prices should ease back from recent highs as correction sets in, but still maintain around US$67-68 for Brent and US$61-62/b for WTI.

Headlines of the week


  • After President Donald Trump moved to open up almost all US offshore waters to oil/gas drilling, at least 12 American states are applying for exclusion from the plan, after Florida was granted an exemption.
  • Premier Oil has announced plans to triple production at the North Sea Cather field to 60,000 b/d within the first half of 2018.
  • With repairs on the Forties Pipeline System completed successfully, the affected Bruce, Keith and Rhum fields have all resumed production.
  • The first Norwegian drilling licence of 2018 has been handed out, as Norway stands caught between expanding its upstream industry and its environmental lobby. Lundin Norway AS received the permit for well 16/4-11 in the central part of the North Sea, the fifth well in the area.
  • ExxonMobil’s streak in Guyana continues, as it announced a ‘home run’ offshore finding in the Stabroek Block (also claimed by Venezuela), which is its sixth major finding since drilling began in 2015.


  • India’s oil consumption grew by the slowest pace in four years, with oil product demand growing by only 2.3%, hit by a tax increase and the government’s demonetisation drive. Gasoline demand was up 7.4%, as was gasoil, but both were capped by rising retail prices. Naptha, jet fuel and kerosene were all sharply down, with only LPG as a bright spot.
  • State group Sinoche and private chemical giant Hengli Group have signed an agreement to cooperated on crude/fuel trading and marketing, with Hengli expecting to start its 400 kb/d Dalian refinery this year.
  • Fairfax Africa Fund and multiple (undisclosed) Asian partners are planning a US$4 billion, 120 kb/d oil refinery in Ethiopia in Awash.
  • The Curacao drama continues. After been rejected by the state government for its high levels of debt, China’s Guangdong Zhenrong Energy has tapped the private Baota Petrochemical Group to assist in its plan to operate the aging Isla refinery in the Caribbean.

Natural Gas/LNG

  • The USA has officially become a net exporter of natural gas for the first time since 1957, as the EIA data showed net exports averaging at 400 mmcf/d in 2017, boosted by piped gas to Mexico and LNG shipments.
  • Australia’s LNG exports in 2017 hit a record high of 56.8 mtpa, boosted by the startup of major projects and strong demand from Japan and China.
  • Beach Energy has struck gas at Haselgrove-3 ST1, in the onshore Otway Basin in South Australia. Initial flow indications are at some 25 mcf/d.  
  • Indonesia will be opening a tender this year for three natural gas pipelines connecting the Natuna fields to Borneo, landing in West Kalimantan and continuing onshore to South Kalimantan. The tender is worth an estimated US$1.1 billion, and could break up the current gas pipeline duopoly held by Pertamina and PGN.


Just after recently after selling its US oil trading business to Vitol, the Noble Group is shutting down its London oil trading desk and winding down its Asian trading operations as its battles heavy losses and debt.

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January, 26 2021
The Growing Divergence In Energy

Two acquisitions in the energy sector were announced in the last week that illustrate the growing divergence in approaching the future of oil and gas between Europe and the USA. In France, Total announced that it had bought Fonroche Biogaz, the market leader in the production of renewable gas in France. In North America, ConocoPhillips completed its acquisition of Concho Resources, deepening the upstream major’s foothold into the lucrative Permian Basin and its shale riches. One is heading towards renewables, and the other is doubling down on conventional oil and gas.

What does this say about the direction of the energy industry?

Total’s move is unsurprising. Like almost all of its European peers operating in the oil and gas sector, Total has announced ambitious targets to become carbon-neutral by 2050. It is an ambition supported by the European population and pushed for by European governments, so in that sense, Total is following the wishes of its investors and stakeholders – just like BP, Shell, Repsol, Eni and others are doing. Fonroche Biogaz is therefore a canny acquisition. The company designs, builds and operates anaerobic digestion units that convert organic waste such as farming manure into biomethane to serve a gas feedstock for power generation. Fonroche Biogaz already has close to 500 GWh of installed capacity through seven power generation units with four in the pipeline. This feeds into Total’s recent moves to expand its renewable power generation capacity, with the stated intention of increasing the group’s biomethane capacity to 1.5 terawatts per hour (TWh) by 2025. Through this, Total vaults into a leading position within the renewable gas market in Europe, which is already active through affiliates such as Méthanergy, PitPoint and Clean Energy.

In parallel to this move, Total also announced that it has decided not to renew its membership in the American Petroleum Institute for 2021. Citing that it is only ‘partially aligned’ with the API on climate change issues in the past, Total has now decided that those positions have now ‘diverged’ particularly on rolling back methane emission regulations, carbon pricing and decarbonising transport. The French supermajor is not alone in its stance. BP, which has ditched the supermajor moniker in favour of turning itself into a clean energy giant, has also expressed reservations over the API’s stance over climate issues, and may very well choose to resign from the trade group as well. Other European upstream players might follow suit.

However, the core of the API will remain American energy firms. And the stance among these companies remains pro-oil and gas, despite shareholder pressure to bring climate issues and clean energy to the forefront. While the likes of ExxonMobil and Chevron have balanced significant investments into prolific shale patches in North America with public overtures to embrace renewables, no major US firm has made a public commitment to a carbon-neutral future as their European counterparts have. And so ConocoPhillips acquisition of Concho Resources, which boosts its value to some US$60 billion is not an outlier, but a preview of the ongoing consolidation happening in US shale as the free-for-all days give way to big boy acquisitions following the price-upheaval there since 2019.

That could change. In fact, it will change. The incoming Biden administration marks a significant break from the Trump administration’s embrace of oil and gas. Instead of opening of protected federal lands to exploration, especially in Alaska and sensitive coastal areas and loosening environmental regulations, the US will now pivot to putting climate change at the top of the agenda. Although political realities may water it down, the progressive faction of the Democrats are pushing for a Green New Deal embracing sustainability as the future for the US. Biden has already hinted that he may cancel the controversial and long-running Keystone XL pipeline via executive order on his first day in the office. His nominees for key positions including the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and Council on Environmental Quality suggest that there will be a major push on low-carbon and renewable initiatives, at least for the next 4 years. A pledge to reach net zero fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035 has been mooted. More will come.

The landscape is changing. But the two approaches still apply, the aggressive acceleration adopted by European majors, and the slower movement favoured by US firms. Political changes in the USA might hasten the change, but it is unlikely that convergence will happen anytime soon. There is room in the world for both approaches for now, but the future seems inevitable. It just depends on how energy companies want to get there.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$54-56/b, WTI – US$51-53/b
  • Global crude oil benchmarks retreated slightly, as concerns of rising supplies and coronavirus spread impact consumption anticipations; in particular, new Covid-19 outbreaks in key countries such as Japan and China are menacing demand
  • Mapped against the new OPEC+ supply quotas, there is a risk that demand will retreat more than anticipated, weakening prices; however, a leaking pipeline in Libya has reduced oil output there by about 200,000 b/d, which could provide some price support
  • However, the longer-term prognosis remains healthier for oil prices factoring out these short-term concerns; the US EIA has raised its predicted average prices for Brent and WTI to US$52.70 and US$49.70 for the whole of 2021

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January, 22 2021
EIA expects crude oil prices to average near $50 per barrel through 2022

In its January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects global demand for petroleum liquids will be greater than global supply in 2021, especially during the first quarter, leading to inventory draws. As a result, EIA expects the price of Brent crude oil to increase from its December 2020 average of $50 per barrel (b) to an average of $56/b in the first quarter of 2021. The Brent price is then expected to average between $51/b and $54/b on a quarterly basis through 2022.

EIA expects that growth in crude oil production from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) will be limited because of a multilateral agreement to limit production. Saudi Arabia announced that it would voluntarily cut production by an additional 1.0 million b/d during February and March. Even with this cut, EIA expects OPEC to produce more oil than it did last year, forecasting that crude oil production from OPEC will average 27.2 million b/d in 2021, up from an estimated 25.6 million b/d in 2020.

EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production in the Lower 48 states—excluding the Gulf of Mexico—will decline in the first quarter of 2021 before increasing through the end of 2022. In 2021, EIA expects crude oil production in this region will average 8.9 million b/d and total U.S. crude oil production will average 11.1 million b/d, which is less than 2020 production.

EIA expects that responses to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases will continue to limit global oil demand in the first half of 2021. Based on global macroeconomic forecasts from Oxford Economics, however, EIA forecasts that global gross domestic product will grow by 5.4% in 2021 and by 4.3% in 2022, leading to energy consumption growth. EIA forecasts that global consumption of liquid fuels will average 97.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2021 and 101.1 million b/d in 2022, only slightly less than the 2019 average of 101.2 million b/d.

EIA expects global inventory draws will contribute to forecast rising crude oil prices in the first quarter of 2021. Despite rising forecast crude oil prices in early 2021, EIA expects upward price pressure will be limited through the forecast period because of high global oil inventory, surplus crude oil production capacity, and stock draws decreasing after the first quarter of 2021. EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $53/b in both 2021 and 2022.

quarterly global liquid fuels production and consumption

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

You can find more information on EIA’s expectations for changes in global petroleum liquids production, consumption, and crude oil prices in EIA’s latest This Week in Petroleum article and its January STEO.

January, 22 2021