With “Creating Value through Collaboration” as its theme, the Asia Petrochemical Industry Conference (APIC) 2018 puts the spotlight on the imperative of collaboration and cooperation in paving the way for a prosperous and robust petrochemical industry.
Rising optimism in the oil & gas industry
With 2017 deemed by many as the year of recovery, 2018 brings about a sense of optimism as the oil and gas industry continues its slow and steady recovery from the 2014 downturn. Global oil prices are rising gradually from around $30 per barrel in early 2016 to around $53 per barrel in 2017. There is also an increase in upstream and downstream activities which is a positive indicator of the health of the industry.
Robust global economic growth has led to a steady increase in oil and gas demand. In its latest report, International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasted that global oil demand will rise from 97.8 million barrels per day (bpd) to 104.7 million bpd from 2018 to 2023 with China and India contributing half of the increase in demand.
Non-OPEC countries is forecasted to dominate the global oil supply contributing 59.26 million bpd of crude oil this year, with the US contributing the largest supply growth amounting to 1.4 million bpd for 2018. Apart from the surging output from the US, rising production from Canada, Brazil and Norway is expected to support and drive global demand, while the Middle East continues to remain as Asia’s biggest supplier.
Asia as the key driver of global petrochemical industry
Asia’s robust economic growth supported by megatrends; rapid urbanisation, growing population and rising middle class income will lead to higher demand of petrochemicals. This will increase the potential for continuous growth of the industry in the region.
One of the bright stars in Asia is China. Availability of coal resources and imported LPG from the US, and the development of integrated refinery and petrochemical complexes have made the availability of feedstock for the development of the petrochemical industry.
India is also expanding its petrochemical capacities and increasing its flexibility in petrochemical production. The government is planning to develop petrochemical complexes around India to meet the increasing demand for polymers and speciality chemicals across the diverse industrial segments. In 2017, India’s Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has successfully commissioned the world’s largest ethane importing plant and has now begun to import ethane from the US for its crackers in Dahej and Hazira.
Growing capacity expansion in the US
The shale revolution brought about a robust petrochemical capacity expansion in the US. According to an analysis by Independent Chemical Information Service (ICIS) eight new ethane crackers are expected to commence production from 2017 to 2018, producing a total of 9.2 million tonnes/year of ethylene capacity.
The US polyethylene capacity is projected to rise by 6.5 million tonnes/year, accounting for about 42% of global polyethylene capacity expansion up till 2020. The US polyethylene production will mostly be meant for export to key regions such as Latin America and Europe. The increased expansion has opened arbitrage opportunities to Asia, competing with the regional producers as well as producers from the Middle East.
The need for collaboration for the sustainability of the industry
With intensifying competition from other regions, collaboration plays a prominent role in enhancing the robustness of the Asian petrochemical industry. Strong cooperation between manufacturer and consumer is needed to develop new markets for differentiated products. The focus on creating high-value specialty chemicals which are customised to cater for the niche market will help propel the industry further in positioning the Asian petrochemical producers as solution providers.
Akbar Md Thayoob, President, Malaysian Petrochemicals Association (MPA) said, “Today, Petrochemicals are regarded as the key engine of growth as we move into the future. Shaped by the megatrends of urbanisation, ageing population, rising middle income, energy efficiency, just to name a few. Against this backdrop, there is a need for the petrochemicals fraternity to come together and collaborate to offer sustainable solutions demanded by these megatrends.”
Malaysia’s petrochemical industry landscape
Malaysia’s petrochemical industry began in the early 1990s with the development of three major petrochemical facilities strategically located in Gebeng, Kertih and Pasir Gudang. Since then, Malaysia has been among the key petrochemical players in the region with a wide range of petrochemicals being produced and exported from the country such as olefins, aromatics, ethylene oxides and glycols, among many others. These world-scale plants have also contributed significantly to the production of the local plastic processing activities in the country by providing a steady supply of feedstock material for the plastic industry.
PETRONAS’ largest downstream project, Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC), is currently on track for overall start up by early 2019. This bold move by PETRONAS is expected to push the Malaysian Oil and Gas downstream sector into a new frontier of technology and economic development. During the construction period, PIC employed up to 60,000 workers and created spin-off from economic activities to its surrounding areas. Its proximity to the world’s busiest shipping lane and international trading hub makes it the most strategic regional downstream hub.
The Malaysian government’s support in providing a conducive ecosystem has also helped the petrochemical industry to thrive in the country. This includes the development of infrastructure and offering of incentives to attract foreign companies to invest in Malaysia and boost local manufacturing sector activities.
APIC 2018: Creating Value through Collaboration
Against the backdrop of these opportunities, APIC 2018 will gather key business players, leading market analysts and industry experts in Kuala Lumpur from 9th to 10th May to provide insights and critical analysis from across the chemical value chain to enhance the growth of the industry.
Notable speakers for the event includes Dave Witte, Senior Vice President, Division Head – Energy & Chemicals, IHS Markit, Clive Gibson, Vice President, Asia, Energy & Chemicals Advisory, Nexant, Vipul S Shah, COO – Petrochemicals, Reliance Industries Ltd and Dr Andrea Frenzel, President, South & East Asia, ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand, BASF.
For more information about Asia’s most premier petrochemical industry event, APIC 2018, visit www.apic2018.org.my
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
In its January 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that annual U.S. crude oil production will average 11.1 million b/d in 2021, down 0.2 million b/d from 2020 as result of a decline in drilling activity related to low oil prices. A production decline in 2021 would mark the second consecutive year of production declines. Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic led to supply and demand disruptions. EIA expects crude oil production to increase in 2022 by 0.4 million b/d because of increased drilling as prices remain at or near $50 per barrel (b).
The United States set annual natural gas production records in 2018 and 2019, largely because of increased drilling in shale and tight oil formations. The increase in production led to higher volumes of natural gas in storage and a decrease in natural gas prices. In 2020, marketed natural gas production fell by 2% from 2019 levels amid responses to COVID-19. EIA estimates that annual U.S. marketed natural gas production will decline another 2% to average 95.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2021. The fall in production will reverse in 2022, when EIA estimates that natural gas production will rise by 2% to 97.6 Bcf/d.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
EIA’s forecast for crude oil production is separated into three regions: the Lower 48 states excluding the Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) (81% of 2019 crude oil production), the GOM (15%), and Alaska (4%). EIA expects crude oil production in the U.S. Lower 48 states to decline through the first quarter of 2021 and then increase through the rest of the forecast period. As more new wells come online later in 2021, new well production will exceed the decline in legacy wells, driving the increase in overall crude oil production after the first quarter of 2021.
Associated natural gas production from oil-directed wells in the Permian Basin will fall because of lower West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices and reduced drilling activity in the first quarter of 2021. Natural gas production from dry regions such as Appalachia depends on the Henry Hub price. EIA forecasts the Henry Hub price will increase from $2.00 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2020 to $3.01/MMBtu in 2021 and to $3.27/MMBtu in 2022, which will likely prompt an increase in Appalachia's natural gas production. However, natural gas production in Appalachia may be limited by pipeline constraints in 2021 if the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is delayed. The MVP is scheduled to enter service in late 2021, delivering natural gas from producing regions in northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Natural gas takeaway capacity in the region is quickly filling up since the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was canceled in mid-2020.
Just when it seems that the drama of early December, when the nations of the OPEC+ club squabbled over how to implement and ease their collective supply quotas in 2021, would be repeated, a concession came from the most unlikely quarter of all. Saudi Arabia. OPEC’s swing producer and, especially in recent times, vocal judge, announced that it would voluntarily slash 1 million barrels per day of supply. The move took the oil markets by surprise, sending crude prices soaring but was also very unusual in that it was not even necessary at all.
After a day’s extension to the negotiations, the OPEC+ club had actually already agreed on the path forward for their supply deal through the remainder of Q1 2021. The nations of OPEC+ agreed to ease their overall supply quotas by 75,000 b/d in February and 120,000 b/d in March, bringing the total easing over three months to 695,000 b/d after the UAE spearheaded a revised increase of 500,000 b/d for January. The increases are actually very narrow ones; there were no adjustments for quotas for all OPEC+ members with the exception of Russia and Kazakshtan, who will be able to pump 195,000 additional barrels per day between them. That the increases for February and March were not higher or wider is a reflection of reality: despite Covid-19 vaccinations being rolled out globally, a new and more infectious variant of the coronavirus has started spreading across the world. In fact, there may even be at least of these mutations currently spreading, throwing into question the efficacy of vaccines and triggering new lockdowns. The original schedule of the April 2020 supply deal would have seen OPEC+ adding 2 million b/d of production from January 2021 onwards; the new tranches are far more measured and cognisant of the challenging market.
Then Saudi Arabia decides to shock the market by declaring that the Kingdom would slash an additional million barrels of crude supply above its current quota over February and March post-OPEC+ announcement. Which means that while countries such as Russia, the UAE and Nigeria are working to incrementally increase output, Saudi Arabia is actually subsidising those planned increases by making a massive additional voluntary cut. For a member that threw its weight around last year by unleashing taps to trigger a crude price war with Russia and has been emphasising the need for strict compliant by all members before allowing any collective increases to take place, this is uncharacteristic. Saudi Arabia may be OPEC’s swing producer, but it is certainly not that benevolent. Not least because it is expected to record a massive US$79 billion budget deficit for 2020 as low crude prices eat into the Kingdom’s finances.
So, why is Saudi Arabia doing this?
The last time the Saudis did this was in July 2020, when the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic was at devastating levels and crude prices needed some additional propping up. It succeeded. In January 2021, however, global crude prices are already at the US$50/b level and the market had already cheered the resolution of OPEC+’s positions for the next two months. There was no real urgent need to make voluntary cuts, especially since no other OPEC member would suit especially not the UAE with whom there has been a falling out.
The likeliest reason is leadership. Having failed to convince the rest of the OPEC+ gang to avoid any easing of quotas, Saudi Arabia could be wanting to prove its position by providing a measure of supply security at a time of major price sensitivity due to the Covid-19 resurgence. It will also provide some political ammunition for future negotiations when the group meets in March to decide plans for Q2 2021, turning this magnanimous move into an implicit threat. It could also be the case that Saudi Arabia is planning to pair its voluntary cut with field maintenance works, which would be a nice parallel to the usual refinery maintenance season in Asia where crude demand typically falls by 10-20% as units shut for routine inspections.
It could also be a projection of soft power. After isolating Qatar physically and economically since 2017 over accusations of terrorism support and proximity to Iran, four Middle Eastern states – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt – have agreed to restore and normalise ties with the peninsula. While acknowledging that a ‘trust deficit’ still remained, the accord avoids the awkward workarounds put in place to deal with the boycott and provides for road for cooperation ahead of a change on guard in the White House. Perhaps Qatar is even thinking of re-joining OPEC? As Saudi Arabia flexes its geopolitical muscle, it does need to pick its battles and re-assert its position. Showcasing political leadership as the world’s crude swing producer is as good a way of demonstrating that as any, even if it is planning to claim dues in the future.
It worked. It has successfully changed the market narrative from inter-OPEC+ squabbling to a more stabilised crude market. Saudi Arabia’s patience in prolonging this benevolent role is unknown, but for now, it has achieved what it wanted to achieve: return visibility to the Kingdom as the global oil leader, and having crude oil prices rise by nearly 10%.