East Timor and Australia are friends again. But a grudging friendship for mutual benefit that replaces the outright animosity that existed before. And like most fallouts, it revolved around money.
In 1974, the collective Greater Sunrise fields were discovered in the Timor Gap, an area of the Timor Sea that lies between Australia and then-Portuguese colony East Timor. With estimated reserves of some 5.13 tcf of natural gas – equivalent to about a third of current global LNG consumption – it is a jewel that is begging to be developed. However, Indonesia invaded East Timor – which had only enjoyed independence from Portugal for 9 days – and administered it until 2002; among the many things it conducted on ‘behalf’ of the Timorese was to agree on a maritime border with Australia.
As it finally became independent in 2002, the new East Timor (Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) needed new friends. Indonesia wasn’t the best option, so it turned to Australia, its largest international supporter. But the riches in the Timor Sea proved too vast. Although the young and naïve East Timor did agree on treaties governing joint development of the Timor Gap and Greater Sunrise, it also asserted that it did not recognise the maritime border agreed by Indonesia with Australia. Rather, it argued for a border that is equi-distance between East Timor and Australia; a move that would put Greater Sunrise within Timorese waters. Alarmed by this, Australia’s government sanctioned placing bugs within the Timorese cabinets to monitor discussions. And just as Greater Sunrise was on the verge of finally being developed, the scandal broke… followed by years of argument and accusations.
That has been put aside for now. East Timor dropped its suit against Australia at the Permanent Court of Arbitration last year, and last week signed a new treaty that redraws their maritime boundary*. This formally ends the dispute over the border. It, however, does not set out terms of the actual field development, preferring to leave that up to the Greater Sunrise consortium of Woodside, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Osaka Gas – East Timor will receive at least 70% of Greater Sunrise revenues, up to 80% depending on where the gas is processed. The decision is particularly pertinent for East Timor, as its Bayu Undan field – the only major gas production field in operation – is set to be depleted by 2022. From friends to enemies to friends again, Australia has sought to re-assure all parties that no clandestine shenanigans were involved this time.
*On 6 March 2018, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, and Timor-Leste’s Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister for the Delimitation of Borders and the Agent in the Conciliation, His Excellency Mr Hermenegildo Pereira, signed the Treaty Between Australia and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste Establishing Their Maritime Boundaries in the Timor Sea [PDF 592 KB]. The treaty was signed in New York at the United Nations Headquarters in the presence of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Chair of the Conciliation Commission.
"Frenemy" (less commonly spelled "frienemy") is an oxymoron and a portmanteau of "friend" and "enemy" that refers to "a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry" or "a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frenemy
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 February 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
2018 was a year that started with crude prices at US$62/b and ended at US$46/b. In between those two points, prices had gently risen up to peak of US$80/b as the oil world worried about the impact of new American sanctions on Iran in September before crashing down in the last two months on a rising tide of American production. What did that mean for the financial health of the industry over the last quarter and last year?
Nothing negative, it appears. With the last of the financial results from supermajors released, the world’s largest oil firms reported strong profits for Q418 and blockbuster profits for the full year 2018. Despite the blip in prices, the efforts of the supermajors – along with the rest of the industry – to keep costs in check after being burnt by the 2015 crash has paid off.
ExxonMobil, for example, may have missed analyst expectations for 4Q18 revenue at US$71.9 billion, but reported a better-than-expected net profit of US$6 billion. The latter was down 28% y-o-y, but the Q417 figure included a one-off benefit related to then-implemented US tax reform. Full year net profit was even better – up 5.7% to US$20.8 billion as upstream production rose to 4.01 mmboe/d – allowing ExxonMobil to come close to reclaiming its title of the world’s most profitable oil company.
But for now, that title is still held by Shell, which managed to eclipse ExxonMobil with full year net profits of US$21.4 billion. That’s the best annual results for the Anglo-Dutch firm since 2014; product of the deep and painful cost-cutting measures implemented after. Shell’s gamble in purchasing the BG Group for US$53 billion – which sparked a spat of asset sales to pare down debt – has paid off, with contributions from LNG trading named as a strong contributor to financial performance. Shell’s upstream output for 2018 came in at 3.78 mmb/d and the company is also looking to follow in the footsteps of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP in the Permian, where it admits its footprint is currently ‘a bit small’.
Shell’s fellow British firm BP also reported its highest profits since 2014, doubling its net profits for the full year 2018 on a 65% jump in 4Q18 profits. It completes a long recovery for the firm, which has struggled since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, allowing it to focus on the future – specifically US shale through the recent US$10.5 billion purchase of BHP’s Permian assets. Chevron, too, is focusing on onshore shale, as surging Permian output drove full year net profit up by 60.8% and 4Q18 net profit up by 19.9%. Chevron is also increasingly focusing on vertical integration again – to capture the full value of surging Texas crude by expanding its refining facilities in Texas, just as ExxonMobil is doing in Beaumont. French major Total’s figures may have been less impressive in percentage terms – but that it is coming from a higher 2017 base, when it outperformed its bigger supermajor cousins.
So, despite the year ending with crude prices in the doldrums, 2018 seems to be proof of Big Oil’s ability to better weather price downturns after years of discipline. Some of the control is loosening – major upstream investments have either been sanctioned or planned since 2018 – but there is still enough restraint left over to keep the oil industry in the black when trends turn sour.
Supermajor Net Profits for 4Q18 and 2018
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$6 billion (-28%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$20.8 (+5.7%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$5.69 billion (+32.3%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$21.4 billion (+36%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.73 billion (+19.9%);
- 2018 – Net profit US$14.8 billion (+60.8%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.48 billion (+65%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$12.7 billion (+105%)
- 4Q18 – Net profit US$3.88 billion (+16%);
- 2018 - Net profit US$13.6 billion (+28%)