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Last Updated: April 26, 2018
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 23 April 2017 – Brent: US$74/b; WTI: US$68/b

  • Geopolitical tensions continue to price crude oil at a premium; after US-led military action in Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks and missile attacks from Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen towards Saudi Arabia boosted prices to their highest level since December 2014.
  • Reports of explosions and gunshots outside Saudi Arabian King Salman’s palace over the weekend also spooked talk of attacks and coups, contributing to a fragile atmosphere in the Middle East.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron is attempting to coax US President Donald Trump into preserving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which mollified the market slightly, but Trump continues to show exasperation.
  • Additional positive sentiment came from OPEC, as a joint finding by OPEC and its NOPEC allies states that the global oil glut has been virtually eliminated, with the original target of the pact in sight.
  • There are signs that the successful OPEC-NOPEC cooperation has fuelled the desire of OPEC to expand cooperation, with UAE Oil Minister Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei stating ‘more countries were needed in the pact’ to ensure the burden is spread more evenly.
  • Even as OPEC mulled further cooperation and an extension of the supply cuts, President Trump slammed the cartel for inflating oil prices – an unusual response given that higher prices have been benefited American shale industry.
  • American stockpiles of crude and oil products declined across-the-board according to the EIA, while US crude production inched up by 15,000 barrels/day to 10.5 mmb/d.
  • Five new oil rigs entered service in the US last week, bringing the total active rig count up to 1013, one of many oil industry metrics that are returning to pre-2014 crisis levels.
  • Crude price outlook: OPEC’s seeming willingness to continue its supply pact might signal to the market that higher prices are acceptable, but the real variable is geopolitical sentiment. We expect Brent to move down to US$72/b and WTI/Shanghai to US$66/b.


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • The Indonesian government has transferred rights to eight oil field blocks scheduled to expire to Pertamina, meant to ‘compensate’ the firm for any profitability drag by the government’s fuels subsidy policy. The oil blocks in question were formerly held by Chevron, CNOOC, Total and Inpex.
  • The Philippines is aiming to have a framework for joint oil and gas cooperation with China in the South China Sea by the end of this year, as it faces the prospect of dwindling domestic production.

Downstream

  • The refining crunch at PDVSA is getting worse, as data from the Venezuelan state oil firm shows that its domestic refineries – including the Isla refiner in Curacao – operated at only 31% in Q118.
  • Zambia has reportedly shortlisted five companies, including Glencore and Sahara Energy Resources, to purchase a majority stake in the country’s sole 24 kb/d Indeni refinery.
  • Kazakhstan is looking to upgrade its refineries in a modernisation drive that will lower its fuel oil exports by 35% as it focuses on higher value products. Upgrades at the Pavlodar refinery have been completed, with the Atyrau and Shymkent refineries expected later this year.

Natural Gas/LNG

  • BP and Reliance has formally sanctioned development of the deepwater gas ‘Satellite cluster’ in India’s offshore Block KG D6, the second of three projects to be developed in the integrated KG D6 development.
  • LNG exports from PNG LNG has resumed after a devastating earthquake, with the first export cargo departing from Port Moresby.
  • Having found success elsewhere on the Mediterranean, Eni is now looking at spending ‘billions’ in Algeria over the next three years to expand gas production in partnership with Sonatrach.
  • Australia’s Northern Territory has lifted a two-year moratorium on fracking, potentially unlocking huge onshore shale gas reserves.
  • Eni is moving ahead with the offshore Merakes field in Indonesia after its development plan was approved by the country’s upstream watchdog.
  • Petronas has made its first LNG delivery to South Korea’s S-Oil under a 15-year, 700 mtpa contract.

Corporate

  • With Q1 earnings filtering in, Schlumberger’s reporting of an 88% rise in net profit points to a healthy season for the industry, particularly on the service side, with revenue also jumping by 52% to US$2.84 billion.
  • Indonesia has stepped into Pertamina affairs once again, removing Chief Executive Elia Massa Manik after a recent oil spill and slow progress on refinery development plans. Nicke Widyawati will assume temporary stewardship, as Manik leaves along with four other directors.
  • BP and Petrobras have signed an MoU to ‘explore areas of cooperation’, which will cover upstream, downstream, trading and low carbon plans both inside and outside of Brazil.
  • Total has purchased French power utility company Direct Energie, as it follows in Shell's footsteps to expand for an electric future.

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The Impact of COVID 19 In The Downstream Oil & Gas Sector

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)
North America

22.71

22.33

Latin America

6.5

5.98

Europe

14.27

15.68

CIS

4.0

8.16

Middle East

9.0

9.7

Africa

3.96

3.4

Asia-Pacific

35

34.75

Total

95.44

100.05

*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$33-37/b, WTI – US$30-33/b
  • Crude oil prices hold their recent gains, staying rangebound with demand gradually improving as lockdown slowly ease
  • Worries that global oil supply would increase after June - when the OPEC+ supply deal eases and higher prices bring back some free-market production - kept prices in check
  • Russia has signalled that it intends to ease back immediately in line with the supply deal, but Saudi Arabia and its allies are pushing for the 9.7 mmb/d cut to be extended to end-2020, putting the two oil producers on another collision course that previously resulted in a price war
  • Morgan Stanley expects Brent prices to rise to US$40/b by 4Q 2020, but cautioned that a full recovery was only likely to materialise in 2021

End of Article

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May, 31 2020
North American crude oil prices are closely, but not perfectly, connected

selected North American crude oil prices

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.

pricing locations of selected North American crudes

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

May, 28 2020
Financial Review: 2019

Key findings

  • Brent crude oil daily average prices were $64.16 per barrel in 2019—11% lower than 2018 levels
  • The 102 companies analyzed in this study increased their combined liquids and natural gas production 2% from 2018 to 2019
  • Proved reserves additions in 2019 were about the same as the 2010–18 annual average
  • Finding plus lifting costs increased 13% from 2018 to 2019
  • Occidental Petroleum’s acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum contributed to the largest reserve acquisition costs incurred for the group of companies since 2016
  • Refiners’ earnings per barrel declined slightly from 2018 to 2019

See entire annual review

May, 26 2020