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Last Updated: February 8, 2018
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 5 February 2017 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$64/b

  • Swelling US crude production and a global rout in the financial markets – triggered by two consecutive days of 1,000 point plus drops in the Dow Jones – sent oil prices lower at the start of this week.
  • Stock markets across the globe have been tumbling over fears of accelerating inflation in America (and resulting interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve), with energy firms particularly hit hard.
  • The US dollar has also reversed its slide against major currencies, clawing back some ground and depressing some momentum in oil prices.
  • Strong compliance reported within the OPEC block provided some cheer, but US oil production finally exceeding 10 mmb/d for the first time since 1970 in November 2017 according to the EIA.
  • Goldman Sachs hiked its short-term crude oil price forecast to US$75/b within the next three months and to US$82.50 within six months, stating that the market was most likely already balanced, earlier than expected.
  • US crude stocks rose for the first time in 10 weeks, reaching 6.8 million barrels, although gasoline inventories fell by 1.98 million barrels.
  • The active US oil and gas rig count fell by a net one last week. The oil rig count grew by six, but was offset by a loss of seven gas rigs.
  • Crude price outlook: The global financial turmoil has calmed down somewhat, but rising US production is likely to weigh on the minds of traders, leading to some weakness. Brent may fall to US$65/b, while WTI could go as low as US$61/b.

 

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Chevron and partner Total announced a ‘major’ oil discovery at the Ballymore prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, with the resource described as ‘excellent’ and indicative of the potential in the emerging Norphlet play. 
  • The results of Mexico’s latest deepwater auction round have been announced, with Shell emerging with nine of the 19 awarded blocks, focusing on blocks in the Gulf of Mexico Perdido and Salina basins.
  • Petrobras announced that it has been making ‘interesting discoveries’ in mature Campos basins blocks as it drills deeper in the pre-salt fields, without elaborating on what those discoveries entail.
  • ExxobMobil announced plans to triple its daily production in the Permian basin to 600,000 boe/d by 2025, and also intends to quintuple tight oil production at its assets in the Delaware and Midland basins.
  • First oil is expected from the giant Johan Sverdrup field in Norway as early as October 2019, within the official estimate of Q419.
  • China’s CNOOC announced plans to ramp up capital spending by at least 40% in 2018 to raise production, thanks to a ‘more suitable oil price.’
  • Kuwait Petroleum Corp announced a long-term plan to boost crude production to 4.75 mmb/d by 2040, earmarking US$500 billion in spending, including US$114 billion through 2023 and US$394 beyond.

Downstream

  • Iraq says that it has agreed to build a 300 kb/d oil refinery in the port of Fao with two (yet unidentified) Chinese companies. It has also launched a campaign to seek investors for two 150 kb/d plants in Nasiriya and Anbar, and a 100 kb/d site in Qayara, near Mosul.
  • Indian Oil Corp will be increasing the Panipat refinery’s capacity by 65% to 500 kb/d, as it attempts to keep pace with fuel consumption growth.
  • Pemex is reportedly closing in on a US$2.6 billion deal with Japan’s Mitsui & Co to revamp the flagging Tula refinery and increase capacity by 40%.
  • Thailand’s Bangchak Petroleum announced a US$3.5 billion plan to boost capacity at its Bangkok refinery to as much as 140 kb/d from a current 120 kb/d, with a renewed focus on clean fuels and biofuels.

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Shell has sold its stake in Thailand’s Bongkot gas field, along with adjoining acreage, to PTTEP for US$750 million, as the Thai upstream state firm continues in its quest to beef up domestic gas production.
  • Statoil has aborted its attempt to take a 25.5% stake in the A5-A gas block in Mozambique, citing a lack of progress in negotiations with its partners.
  • Novatek has sold its first gas condensate cargo from the Yamal LNG project via tender, and confirmed that the second Yamal LNG line would launch in September 2018.
  • OMW is ramping up geological survey view in Austria in hopes of finding onshore gas in a 600 sq.km area northeast of Vienna.
  • Lebanon’s decision to place a gas field on auction near the Lebanon-Israel maritime border has been described by Israel as ‘very provocative’, raising fears that Block 9 could become mired in geopolitical tensions.
  • Croatia has passed a special law aimed at speeding up the construction of an LNG import terminal in the northern Adriatic Sea.

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U.S. refineries running at near-record highs

U.S. gross refinery inputs

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Petroleum Status Report

For the week ending July 6, 2018, the four-week average of U.S. gross refinery inputs surpassed 18 million barrels per day (b/d) for the first time on record. U.S. refineries are running at record levels in response to robust domestic and international demand for motor gasoline and distillate fuel oil.

Before the most recent increases in refinery runs, the last time the four-week average of U.S. gross refinery inputs approached 18 million b/d was the week of August 25, 2017. Hurricane Harvey made landfall the following week, resulting in widespread refinery closures and shutdowns along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Despite record-high inputs, refinery utilization as a percentage of capacity has not surpassed the record set in 1998. Rather than higher utilization, refinery runs have increased with increased refinery capacity. U.S. refinery capacity increased by 862,000 barrels per calendar day (b/cd) between January 1, 2011, and January 1, 2018.

The record-high U.S. input levels are driven in large part by refinery operations in the Gulf Coast and Midwest regions, the Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADDs) with the most refinery capacity in the country. The Gulf Coast (PADD 3) has more than half of all U.S. refinery capacity and reached a new record input level the same week as the record-high overall U.S. capacity, with four-week average gross refinery inputs of 9.5 million b/d for the week ending July 6. The Midwest (PADD 2) has the second-highest refinery capacity, and the four-week average gross refinery inputs reached a record-high 4.1 million b/d for the week ending June 1.

Gulf Coast and Midwest gross refinery inputs


U.S. refineries are responding currently to high demand for petroleum products, specifically motor gasoline and distillate. The four-week average of finished motor gasoline product supplied—EIA’s proxy measure of U.S. consumption—typically hits the highest level of the year in August. Weekly data for this summer to date suggest that this year’s peak in finished motor gasoline product supplied is likely to match that of 2016 and 2017, the two highest years on record, at 9.8 million b/d. The four-week average of finished motor gasoline product supplied for the week ending August 3, 2018, was at 9.7 million b/d.

U.S. distillate consumption, again measured as product supplied, is also relatively high, averaging 4.0 million b/d for the past four weeks, 64,000 b/d lower than the five-year average level for this time of year. In addition to relatively strong domestic distillate consumption, U.S. exports of distillate have continued to increase, reaching a four-week average of 1.2 million b/d as of August 3, 2018. For the week ending August 3, 2018, the four-week average of U.S. distillate product supplied plus exports reached 5.2 million b/d.

In its August Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. refinery runs will average 16.9 million b/d and 17.0 million b/d in 2018 and 2019, respectively. If achieved, both would be new record highs, surpassing the 2017 annual average of 16.6 million b/d.

August, 14 2018
Offshore discoveries in the Mediterranean could increase Egypt’s natural gas production


Egypt natural gas fields and select infrastructure

Natural gas production in Egypt has been in decline, falling from a 2009 peak of 5.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) to 3.9 Bcf/d in 2016, based on estimates in BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy. The startup of a number of natural gas development projects located offshore in the eastern Mediterranean Sea near Egypt’s northern coast has significantly altered the outlook for the region’s natural gas markets. Production from these projects could offset the growing need for natural gas imports to meet domestic demand, according to the Egyptian government.

The West Nile Delta, Nooros, Atoll, and Zohr fields were fast-tracked for development by the Egyptian government and have begun production, providing a substantial increase to Egypt’s natural gas supply. The Zohr field’s estimated recoverable natural gas reserves of up to 22 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) would make it the largest natural gas field in the Mediterranean, based on company reports gathered by IHS Markit. The Zohr field is currently producing 1.1 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day and is expected to increase to 2.7 Bcf per day by the end of 2019.

Natural gas production in Egypt has declined largely as a result of relatively low investment, according to Business Monitor International research. Meanwhile, domestic demand for energy has grown, driven by economic growth, increased natural gas use for power generation, and energy subsidies. With the exception of small declines in 2013 and 2014, natural gas consumption has increased every year since at least 1990, and it is up 19% from 2009, when domestic production peaked.

Faced with growing demand and declining supply, Egypt had to close its liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to divert supply to domestic consumption. Egypt became a net natural gas importer in 2015, and although LNG exports resumed in 2016, Egypt’s net imports of natural gas continued to increase.

Egypt dry natural gas production, consumption, and trade

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy

The Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) indicated that Egypt will still need to import small volumes of natural gas in the coming years, particularly for the power sector. MEES reported that the state-owned Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (EEHC) awarded contracts that would add 25 gigawatts (GW) to total generation capacity, 70% of which would come from natural gas-fired projects. Three combined-cycle natural gas turbine power plants with a total capacity of 14.4 GW will collectively require as much as 2.0 Bcf/d of natural gas when they become fully operational in 2020.

August, 15 2018
US Energy Exports Spared the Wrath of the Middle Kingdom

A threat. And then a backing off. As the trade war between the US and China escalates, both countries are moving into politically sensitive areas as they ratchet up the scale of the standoff. When the US first introduced tariffs earlier this year, they were limited to washing machines and solar panels. Then as President Trump moved into a broader range of goods, China responded with tariffs that were designed to maximise impact on Trump’s voter base. That meant the agriculture heartlands of the US in the Midwest where soybeans are grown and shipped in record numbers to China last year to feed its massive demand for animal feed and edible oils. Last week, the US imposed tariffs on an additional US$16 billion worth of Chinese imports, targeting technological sectors, and of course, China replied. The list included for the first time US crude exports, demonstrating China’s willingness to hit one of America’s most vibrant industries. And then, a few days later, it backed down, removing crude oil from the list. 

What happened?

Chatter among the industry suggests that Sinopec had lobbied for the removal. Even though growth has slowed down nominally, China’s fuel demand is still growing massively on an absolute level. In a year where Iranian crude exports are being squeezed by new American sanctions, China needs oil. It may have defied a request by the US to completely halt Iranian exports, but it has also promised not to ramp up orders as well. China imported some 650,000 b/d of crude from Iran last year. To replace even some of that will be challenging without tapping into growing American production, particularly since Sinopec and Petrochina are in a tiff with Saudi Aramco over prices, and the government wants to diversify its crude sources away from overreliance on Russia.

So crude was removed from the tariff list. Leaving only refined fuels and petrochemical feedstocks – tiny in demand except for propane, which has become a key feedstock for China’s petrochemicals producers through PDH plants. But since President Trump has mooted more tariffs, this time on US$200 billion worth of imports, China may have backpedalled for strategic reasons this time – Sinopec’s trading arm had suspended all US purchases until the ‘uncertainty passed’- but can still wield its potent weapon in the future. And not just on crude, but tariffs on LNG as well. The latter is more sensitive, given that many of the LNG projects springing up along the Gulf Coast are depending on projected Chinese demand. Cheniere just signed a 25-year LNG deal with CNPC and is hoping for more to come. That hope burns bright for now, but if the trade war continues escalating at its current pace, the forecast could get a lot cloudier. For now, US energy exports have been spared from the wrath of the Middle Kingdom. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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August, 14 2018