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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Recent headlines on the oil industry have focused squarely on the upstream side: the amount of crude oil that is being produced and the resulting effect on oil prices, against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that is just one part of the supply chain. To be sold as final products, crude oil needs to be refined into its constituent fuels, each of which is facing its own crisis because of the overall demand destruction caused by the virus. And once the dust settles, the global refining industry will look very different.
Because even before the pandemic broke out, there was a surplus of refining capacity worldwide. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, global oil demand was some 99.85 mmb/d. However, this consumption figure includes substitute fuels – ethanol blended into US gasoline and biodiesel in Europe and parts of Asia – as well as chemical additives added on to fuels. While by no means an exact science, extrapolating oil demand to exclude this results in a global oil demand figure of some 95.44 mmb/d. In comparison, global refining capacity was just over 100 mmb/d. This overcapacity is intentional; since most refineries do not run at 100% utilisation all the time and many will shut down for scheduled maintenance periodically, global refining utilisation rates stand at about 85%.
Based on this, even accounting for differences in definitions and calculations, global oil demand and global oil refining supply is relatively evenly matched. However, demand is a fluid beast, while refineries are static. With the Covid-19 pandemic entering into its sixth month, the impact on fuels demand has been dramatic. Estimates suggest that global oil demand fell by as much as 20 mmb/d at its peak. In the early days of the crisis, refiners responded by slashing the production of jet fuel towards gasoline and diesel, as international air travel was one of the first victims of the virus. As national and sub-national lockdowns were introduced, demand destruction extended to transport fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil), petrochemicals (naphtha, LPG) and power generation (gasoil, fuel oil). Just as shutting down an oil rig can take weeks to complete, shutting down an entire oil refinery can take a similar timeframe – while still producing fuels that there is no demand for.
Refineries responded by slashing utilisation rates, and prioritising certain fuel types. In China, state oil refiners moved from running their sites at 90% to 40-50% at the peak of the Chinese outbreak; similar moves were made by key refiners in South Korea and Japan. With the lockdowns easing across most of Asia, refining runs have now increased, stimulating demand for crude oil. In Europe, where the virus hit hard and fast, refinery utilisation rates dropped as low as 10% in some cases, with some countries (Portugal, Italy) halting refining activities altogether. In the USA, now the hardest-hit country in the world, several refineries have been shuttered, with no timeline on if and when production will resume. But with lockdowns easing, and the summer driving season up ahead, refinery production is gradually increasing.
But even if the end of the Covid-19 crisis is near, it still doesn’t change the fundamental issue facing the refining industry – there is still too much capacity. The supply/demand balance shows that most regions are quite even in terms of consumption and refining capacity, with the exception of overcapacity in Europe and the former Soviet Union bloc. The regional balances do hide some interesting stories; Chinese refining capacity exceeds its consumption by over 2 mmb/d, and with the addition of 3 new mega-refineries in 2019, that gap increases even further. The only reason why the balance in Asia looks relatively even is because of oil demand ‘sinks’ such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Even in the US, the wealth of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast makes smaller refineries on the East and West coasts increasingly redundant.
Given this, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis will be the inevitable hastening of the current trend in the refining industry, the closure of small, simpler refineries in favour of large, complex and more modern refineries. On the chopping block will be many of the sub-50 kb/d refineries in Europe; because why run a loss-making refinery when the product can be imported for cheaper, even accounting for shipping costs from the Middle East or Asia? Smaller US refineries are at risk as well, along with legacy sites in the Middle East and Russia. Based on current trends, Europe alone could lose some 2 mmb/d of refining capacity by 2025. Rising oil prices and improvements in refining margins could ensure the continued survival of some vulnerable refineries, but that will only be a temporary measure. The trend is clear; out with the small, in with the big. Covid-19 will only amplify that. It may be a painful process, but in the grand scheme of things, it is also a necessary one.
Infographic: Global oil consumption and refining capacity (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019)
|Region||Consumption (mmb/d)*||Refining Capacity (mmb/d)|
*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)
End of Article
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.
The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.
Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.
Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.
Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.
Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.
Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett