NrgEdge interviews Dr Mazlan Madon who is an independent geologist. He is also involve as a member of Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and Academy of Sciences Malaysia. A passionate geologist with vast experience, Dr Mazlan Madon is considered among the top Geology experts.
1) You are someone who has taken up many geologist position with Petronas over the years. Are you able to share with us what kept your passion burning in order for you to be in the industry for more than 30 years?
I consider the many positions that I was appointed to during my service with Petronas were merely following the “natural” course of a career progression, starting as a trainee geologist in 1984 to the penultimate technical position of “Custodian” in 2007. Since then I had held various Custodian positions within different parts of the organisation, doing slightly different things but essentially the same role. Whether one considers a span of 23 years to reach the “top” to be slow, ‘average’, or fast, is a different question altogether. I think, for me to have stayed in the same industry for more than 30 years is not unusual, especially in the oil/gas industry. A more interesting question that people often asked is what kept me going for so long in the same company. The simple answer is my passion for geology. It is fair to say that I care more about geology as a science than its application to oil/gas exploration, because in a way, passion for the science is more everlasting than one’s love for exploration (which tend to emulate the oil price).
2) During your years with Petronas, you wrote a book titled “Petroleum Geology and Resources of Malaysia” which was the main source of reference for the petroleum geologist within the region. What was the factor that inspired or influenced you to write this book?
To be clear, the book was a team effort, and was a deliberate initiative by the management of Petronas at the time, to share the knowledge gained through decades of oil exploration in the country, with not just the oil industry people but the public at large. So a team was assembled and headed by a project manager/chief editor, and I was lucky to be called in by my boss to work full-time on it, along with two other people. It was 1996, and I had just re-joined the company after finishing my PhD studies and I think the momentum helped, because there was an enormous amount of documents I had to go through in order to provide a balanced view of the geology of each basin or province in Malaysia, based on the knowledge at that time. I was also fully aware that as an author I also represent, in some way, a Petronas ‘view’ of the geological understanding at that time.
3) As we know, you are a member of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a body of experts established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Are you able to tell us more on this position?
The CLCS consists of 21 members elected every 5 years from among the nationals of countries (coastal State) that ratify the UNCLOS. So, I was nominated by the Malaysian government to serve in that commission, but I serve in my personal capacity. Members of CLCS are experts in either hydrography, geology or geophysics. Under article 76 of UNCLOS, a coastal State may submit to the CLCS particulars relating to the limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. The main role of the CLCS then is to consider the data and information submitted by the coastal State in the justification to extend its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.
4) The world is constantly evolving, and new technologies have been given birth in the recent years. What are the most impactful technologies you feel that had greatly aid geologists or explorers like yourself in terms of new field research and development?
There is no doubt that as far as the oil exploration/development is concerned, seismic technologies have contributed immensely to the success of the business. On the flip side, it could be argued that because seismic has been so successful as a body of technology, some managers became over-reliant on it while inadvertently neglecting the fact that a brilliant technology still requires competent humans to use it. Besides seismic, an overarching factor in the industries’ success is the rapid development of computers. I still remember using floppy disks on DOS-based PCs when I started in 1984 and when the internet was still at a very rudimentary stage. Look where we are now due to the power of computers.
5) With fewer oil companies investing in exploring new oil fields in the current oil price climate, do you think this is a short-sighted move? Also how do you see the market picking-up again in terms of new exploration projects in this region?
I think it is just a normal business practice to cut back on exploration when the oil price is low, but how high exploration is going to bounce back depends on our appetite for new ideas and new plays. Bear in mind, activity was already at a low level in the traditionally mature regions, not because of the oil price but due to the higher risks and unfavourable economics.
6) In the current low oil price climate, a lot of exploration projects have been put on-hold. This has inadvertent lowered the demand for new geology talents. What are the options available for those who are specialised in this discipline? Are their skills transferrable?
It is not entirely true, or wise to assume, that due to less exploration projects, there is lower demand for “new geology talents”. I would say, less exploration projects may see less need for that many operations geologists but the company would need to do more “research” to prepare for the next wave. In any case, new talents would not be put straight onto exploration projects because there is a lag time between a new talent coming in and when he/she is ready to be deployed to the projects.
7) In today’s world, everything is going digital, even learning. Digital learning for geologists in Oil & Gas is now possible with e-courses, live webinars and even virtual field trips! Do you think geologist today are adapting to these new platform effectively? What do you think are the possible barriers preventing these new learning technologies from flourishing further, if they are indeed effective learning methods?
I am not worried about young people adapting to new platform. But I am not sure that they are able to absorb all the knowledge that is made available to them, in a way that will make them more productive in their work, bearing in mind their already busy day-to-day work schedule. My guess is that most people will have some spare time for one or two ‘extra-curricular’ endeavours outside of their ‘normal’ work. If those courses are remotely relevant to their work, it would not be an effective learning tool.
8) As we know, you came out with publications throughout your career. For now, you have retired, hence, will you continue publishing geology related publications to aid/educate other geology enthusiast?
Unlike a manager who loses his power and privileges upon retirement, a scientist never truly retires. When I retired, they took away my company laptop, but I could still write. I consider writing technical articles as one of the two most important tasks for a scientist. The other one is reading. Writing is the best way to articulate one’s thoughts and understanding of a particular subject in the vast field of geoscience. It is erroneous to think that a geologist who happens to work in oil and gas must write only on petroleum geology. A musician does not have to just play the blues. So, yes I will do my best to continue to write and publish articles of interest.
9) As an industry expert, you have had considerable experience as a geologist/geoscientist. For someone who’s just beginning their career in the industry, what advice can you give him or her? Do you feel that youths today have more opportunities to nurture their passion and what life lessons are you able to share with them?
I don’t consider myself an industry expert, but a geology or geosciences expert, maybe. So my only advice would be: to be honest in what you do, seek knowledge as truth, not half-truths, and not because your boss wants to hear it, but because you need to understand it yourself. Yes, young people are given ample opportunities, but they take too much time to decide what part of geoscience they like, before they can move forward in their career. Geoscience is a vast subject, with many inter-related sub-disciplines and topics. The problem in the way our industry has developed is to steer young people to want to do a very small part of geoscience, without wanting to or make it necessary to have a broader knowledge of the science. The result is a so-called ‘specialist’ but ironically with very little depth in understanding and lacking a broader appreciation of the scientific implications.
10) May I know what was the book you wrote that gained recognition? Are you able to elaborate more about this recognition and book? Do you think that the new generation can contribute in future?
It was not a book I wrote. In 2017, the AAPG, as part of its 100th year celebration, wanted to publish a book, “The Heritage of the Petroleum Geologist” which is a sequel to its 2002 publication of the same name, which had honoured 43 “pioneering and notable geologists” for their contribution to the profession. So, what AAPG did was to invite another 58 “accomplished and distinguished” geologists to make the total number of honourees 101, symbolic of 100 for the centennial celebrations plus 1 additional individual “to symbolize the passing of our deep heritage to the next generation of energy-finders”. Like all the other honorees, I was asked to contribute two pages of my “achievements, disappointments, anecdotes, advice” for the next generation, and was lucky to be chosen as one of the 101 honorees at the AAPG Convention 2017 in Houston last April.
Of course, the new (meaning younger) generation can contribute, but they must do it with sincerity, honesty and passion. I was once young too, and came into geology by chance, like many geologists I know. In order to make meaningful contribution, people often say, we must be “passionate” about our work. The word “passionate” has been used a lot by managers during my time when they were trying to motivate the youngsters. But passion takes time to develop, and you cannot fake it. You have to first “like” what you’re doing, before you can be “passionate” about it. When you are young, you wouldn’t know where the career would take you, until you are really deep into the subject and develop a kind of “passion”. You cannot be passionate if you don’t know enough about the subject or the work that you’re doing.
By “contribution”, I take that you mean contribution to geology, as a science and as a profession. The new generation can contribute to the science of geology by learning as much as they could, mainly by themselves, through reading and writing. After all, scientific knowledge grows from the ideas generated and written by scientists for people to read. Knowledge not shared is not knowledge. Attending conferences, making presentations, and writing technical papers are all part of the contribution to scientific knowledge but not all of it. For the geological profession, the new generation should join a scientific organization or geological society where they can interact with their peers as well as with other scientists and even students to share experiences and learn from them. These can be done in many ways, from organizing seminars, workshops, field trips to formal training sessions. Nowadays, there seem to be a lack of interest in joining scientific societies, like the Geological Society, for geologists, when especially in the petroleum industry wherein the perception is that all the knowledge and training are available within the industry or company and so joining a scientific society does not bring any benefit. I think this perception and attitude need to change. Contribution to geology and to the geological profession is not, and should not be, limited to making money for the oil companies, but also for the benefit of society at large.
11) With your intention to do a forum discussion, how will you work with us in terms of moderating those discussion at our NrgGuru section?
As I understand it, NrgGuru is a platform for users to ask questions relating to the oil and gas industry. In that regard, I will try to answer mainly questions that relate to my own knowledge and experiences, and leave other questions for other experts.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 13 January 2020 – Brent: US$64/b; WTI: US$59/b
Headlines of the week
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January 2020
In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on January 14, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that generation from natural gas-fired power plants in the electric power sector will grow by 1.3% in 2020. This growth rate would be the slowest growth rate in natural gas generation since 2017. EIA forecasts that generation from nonhydropower renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, will grow by 15% in 2020—the fastest rate in four years. Forecast generation from coal-fired power plants declines by 13% in 2020.
During the past decade, the electric power sector has been retiring coal-fired generation plants while adding more natural gas generating capacity. In 2019, EIA estimates that 12.7 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity in the United States was retired, equivalent to 5% of the total existing coal-fired capacity at the beginning of the year. An additional 5.8 GW of U.S. coal capacity is scheduled to retire in 2020, contributing to a forecast 13% decline in coal-fired generation this year. In contrast, EIA estimates that the electric power sector has added or plans to add 11.4 GW of capacity at natural gas combined-cycle power plants in 2019 and 2020.
Generating capacity fueled by renewable energy sources, especially solar and wind, has increased steadily in recent years. EIA expects the U.S. electric power sector will add 19.3 GW of new utility-scale solar capacity in 2019 and 2020, a 65% increase from 2018 capacity levels. EIA expects a 32% increase of new wind capacity—or nearly 30 GW—to be installed in 2019 and 2020. Much of this new renewables capacity comes online at the end of the year, which affects generation trends in the following year.
Forecast generation mix varies in each of the 11 STEO electricity supply regions. A large proportion of the retired coal-fired capacity is located in the mid-Atlantic area, where PJM manages the dispatch of electricity. EIA forecasts that coal generation in the mid-Atlantic will decline by 37 billion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2020. Some of this decline is offset by more generation from mid-Atlantic natural gas-fired power plants; EIA expects generation from these plants to grow by 23 billion kWh.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January 2020
In the Midwest, where the Midcontinent ISO (MISO) manages electricity, EIA expects coal generation to fall in 2020 by 33 billion kWh. This decline is offset by an increase in natural gas electricity generation (12 billion kWh) and by nonhydropower renewable energy sources (13 billion kWh). The regional increase in renewables is primarily a result of new wind generating capacity.
The electric power sector in the area of Texas managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is planning to see large increases in generating capacity from both wind and solar. EIA expects this new capacity will increase generation from nonhydropower renewable energy sources by 24 billion kWh this year. EIA expects the increased ERCOT renewable generation will lead to a regional decline of natural gas-fired generation and coal generation of 14 billion kWh for each fuel source in 2020.
EIA expects these trends to continue into 2021. EIA forecasts U.S. generation from nonhydropower renewable energy sources will grow by 17% next year as the electric power sector continues expanding solar and wind capacity. This increase in renewables, along with forecast increases in natural gas fuel costs, contributes to EIA’s forecast of a 2.3% decline in natural gas-fired generation in 2021. U.S. coal generation in 2021 is forecast to fall by 3.2%.
In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that the Brent crude oil spot price will average $65 per barrel (b) in 2020 and $68/b in 2021 (Figure 1). EIA forecasts that the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) spot price will average $59/b in 2020 and $62/b in 2021. EIA forecasts that crude oil prices will remain elevated in the first few months of 2020, reflecting a price premium on crude oil from recent geopolitical events. However, this price premium will diminish in the first half of 2020 and market fundamentals will drive the crude oil price forecast in the second half of 2020 and in 2021.
Several geopolitical events have provided upward pressure on crude oil prices in recent months. These events include attacks on oil tankers transiting the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, the September 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure, and recent tensions between the United States and Iran.
Although the immediate price spike following the mid-September attacks on Saudi Arabia was relatively short-lived, the attacks contributed to increased price risk. As a result, monthly average Brent prices rose from $63/b in September to $67/b in December. Crude oil prices increased during this period despite global liquid fuels inventories growing by 130,000 barrels per day (b/d). Further increasing the geopolitical risk premium on global oil prices, the U.S. military action in Iraq in January 2020 increased uncertainty about potential disruptions to oil production and shipping in the Middle East. Following these developments, the price of Brent crude oil reached $70/b, but prices have subsequently fallen.
As the risk premium decreases, EIA assumes that Brent prices will decline in early 2020 to an average of $62/b in May. EIA does not forecast supply disruptions, and any physical supply disruptions would put upward pressure on prices.
In the first half of 2020, EIA expects significant liquid fuels supply growth. Production restraint from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and several non-member countries (OPEC+), most notably Russia, and accelerating global demand growth will be more than offset by non-OPEC production, largely in the United States, Norway, Brazil, and Canada. EIA forecasts an average global stock build of 520,000 b/d in the first half of the year, which will put downward pressure on crude oil prices (Figure 2). However, later in 2020 and in 2021, non-OPEC production growth (particularly from U.S. tight oil) will slow significantly, which will contribute to tightening market balances and upward pressure on crude oil prices. Although the pace of global economic growth and resulting changes to oil consumption remain uncertain, EIA expects liquid fuels consumption growth to increase from 2019 levels.
In December, OPEC+ announced an agreement to deepen production cuts through March 2020. The group is now targeting production that is 1.7 million b/d lower than in October 2018, compared with the former target reduction of 1.2 million b/d. EIA forecasts that 2020 OPEC crude oil production will average 29.2 million b/d and 2021 production will average 29.3 million b/d, down from an average of 29.8 million b/d in 2019. In the forecast, OPEC production remains lower than 2019 levels because EIA assumes that OPEC will limit production through all of 2020 and 2021 to maintain balanced global oil markets and because of continuing production declines in Venezuela and Iran.
The crude oil price forecast is also driven by a forecast that global economic growth will be higher in 2020 than in 2019. Based on forecasts from Oxford Economics, EIA adjusted its global oil-weighted gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for 2020 up slightly to 2.4% and further to almost 3.0% in 2021, up from GDP growth of 1.9% in 2019. EIA forecasts that global liquid fuels consumption will increase by 1.3 million b/d in 2020 and 1.4 million b/d in 2021. On December 13, the Office of the United States Trade Representative announced that the United States and China reached an agreement for a trade deal, which was signed on January 15. Global trade conditions are among the many factors that may influence the pace of economic growth in the coming quarters.
EIA forecasts that non-OPEC liquid fuels production will increase by 2.6 million b/d in 2020 and by 0.9 million b/d in 2021. Growth in 2020 is largely driven by production increases in the United States, Norway, Brazil, and Canada. Total U.S. liquid fuels production is forecast to increase by 1.7 million b/d in 2020, but production growth slows to 0.6 million b/d in 2021. Most U.S. liquids production growth is from crude oil, which will grow by 1.1 million b/d in 2020 and by 0.4 million b/d in 2021. EIA expects that crude oil production growth will slow as a result of declining rig counts. However, EIA forecasts that production will continue to grow as a result of rig efficiency and well productivity that is expected to rise during the forecast period.
EIA forecasts that combined liquids production in Norway, Brazil, and Canada will grow, averaging 860,000 b/d in 2020 and 450,000 b/d in 2021. In Norway, Phase 1 of the Johan Sverdrup field came online in October 2019 and EIA forecasts that it will drive most of Norway’s production growth during the forecast period. In Brazil, seven floating production, storage, and offloading vessels (FPSO) came online in 2018 and 2019 and are now producing at maximum or near maximum capacity. FPSOs will continue to be the main driver of growth in Brazil; at least four more are expected online through 2023. EIA expects that Canada’s production growth will accelerate compared with 2019 as the Alberta government’s production curtailments are reduced and more rail takeaway capacity gives producers an outlet for supplies.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices decline
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 1 cent from the previous week to $2.57 per gallon on January 13, 32 cents higher than the same time last year. The Rocky Mountain price fell more than 3 cents to $2.61 per gallon, the East Coast price declined 2 cents to $2.52 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 1 cent to $3.20 per gallon, and the Gulf Coast price fell less than 1 cent, remaining at $2.28 per gallon. The Midwest price rose nearly 1 cent to $2.44 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell nearly 2 cents from the previous week to $3.06 per gallon on January 13, 9 cents higher than a year ago. The Rocky Mountain price fell nearly 4 cents to $3.07 per gallon, the West Coast price fell more than 2 cents to $3.59 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell nearly 2 cents to $2.81 per gallon, the Midwest price fell more than 1 cent to $2.97 per gallon, and the East Coast price fell nearly 1 cent to $3.11 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 0.9 million barrels last week to 87.9 million barrels as of January 10, 2020, 15.0 million barrels (20.6%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Midwest inventories decreased by 0.4 million barrels, 0.3 million barrels, and 0.2 million barrels, respectively. Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories remained unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 7.0% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating oil prices decrease, propane prices increase
As of January 13, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged nearly $3.11 per gallon, 1 cent per gallon below last week’s price and 3 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged more than $2.03 per gallon, almost 14 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price but more than 5 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged almost $2.01 per gallon, less than 1 cent per gallon above last week’s price but nearly 42 cents per gallon less than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged $0.64 per gallon, 2 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and more than 14 cents per gallon below last year’s price.