As of June 1, the spread between Brent and WTI – the two major world oil benchmarks – has widened to US$11/b. This is essentially the widest level in 3 years, and although it pales in comparison to the peak spreads of US$26/b in 2012, it also points to some fundamentals issues within crude supply and demand at the moment.
At least until three months ago, the Brent-WTI spread was within the US$4-5/b region. Now it has doubled. What happened? Brent prices have risen some 14% over the past three months, while WTI is up just 7.5%. The last time this happened – in the 2011-2013 period – it was because the US was still maintaining its ban on crude oil exports, which meant that soaring shale oil production was trapped within continental US, and with US refineries geared towards producing heavier, sourer crude grade, the domestic refining industry was not able to convert them into exportable products. Too much oil sloshing around in the US that was trapped, while crudes based on Brent pricing were free to move around the world. The lifting of the crude export ban in 2015 seemed to solve that issue, but now something else has risen its head.
A different bottleneck seems to have emerged – a shortage of pipeline capacity to bring shale supplies to the benchmark delivery point in Cushing, Oklahoma, and then a further shortage of pipeline and port capacity to send US crude to a hungry world market. That’s been depressing WTI prices, but it is also accurate to say that Brent crude is facing issues that are inflating its price levels – causing the growing gap.
With Iran and Venezuela facing new sanctions designed to punish their crude exports, Brent – as the global benchmark – has been spooked into higher levels due to this. Which explains why Russia and Saudi Arabia have made very recent public statements that they are willing to reverse their course of maintaining the OPEC-NOPEC supply freeze levels, in order to keep a lid on soaring prices. Rosneft is already testing for increased crude output capacity and Saudi Arabia seems happy to corral the rest of its OPEC allies into ‘turning the tap of spare capacity on.’ This should help plug any potential gap caused by the departure of Iranian and Venezuelan volumes – which could reach up to 500-600,000 bd. It is almost amusing to see how Saudi Arabia, which only a few weeks ago was championing higher prices while the rest of OPEC was content to have prices stabilise at US$70/b, reversing its position. WTI prices may be depressed now because of infrastructure constraints, but once those are solved – though it may take years – Saudi Arabia does not want to run the risk of encouraging more US shale production that necessary, leading to another oil price crash in the near future. A dramatically widening Brent-WTI is an issue that presages problems in the future; tackling it is a prudent way of mitigating potential threats to the future stability of oil prices.
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According to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria has the world’s 9th largest natural gas reserves (192 TCF of gas reserves). As at 2018, Nigeria exported over 1tcf of gas as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to several countries. However domestically, we produce less than 4,000MW of power for over 180million people.
Think about this – imagine every Nigerian holding a 20W light bulb, that’s how much power we generate in Nigeria. In comparison, South Africa generates 42,000MW of power for a population of 57 million. We have the capacity to produce over 2 million Metric Tonnes of fertilizer (primarily urea) per year but we still import fertilizer. The Federal Government’s initiative to rejuvenate the agriculture sector is definitely the right thing to do for our economy, but fertilizer must be readily available to support the industry. Why do we import fertilizer when we have so much gas?
I could go on and on with these statistics, but you can see where I’m going with this so I won’t belabor the point. I will leave you with this mental image: imagine a man that lives with his family on the banks of a river that has fresh, clean water. Rather than collect and use this water directly from the river, he treks over 20km each day to buy bottled water from a company that collects the same water, bottles it and sells to him at a profit. This is the tragedy on Nigeria and it should make us all very sad.
Several indigenous companies like Nestoil were born and grown by the opportunities created by the local and international oil majors – NNPC and its subsidiaries – NGC, NAPIMS, Shell, Mobil, Agip, NDPHC. Nestoil’s main focus is the Engineering Procurement Construction and Commissioning of oil and gas pipelines and flowstations, essentially, infrastructure that supports upstream companies to produce and transport oil and natural gas, as well as and downstream companies to store and move their product. In our 28 years of doing business, we have built over 300km of pipelines of various sizes through the harshest terrain, ranging from dry land to seasonal swamp, to pure swamps, as well as some of the toughest and most volatile and hostile communities in Nigeria. I would be remiss if I do not use this opportunity to say a big thank you to those companies that gave us the opportunity to serve you. The over 2,000 direct staff and over 50,000 indirect staff we employ thank you. We are very grateful for the past opportunities given to us, and look forward to future opportunities that we can get.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 15 July 2019 – Brent: US$66/b; WTI: US$59/b
Headlines of the week
Unplanned crude oil production outages for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) averaged 2.5 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first half of 2019, the highest six-month average since the end of 2015. EIA estimates that in June, Iran alone accounted for more than 60% (1.7 million b/d) of all OPEC unplanned outages.
EIA differentiates among declines in production resulting from unplanned production outages, permanent losses of production capacity, and voluntary production cutbacks for OPEC members. Only the first of those categories is included in the historical unplanned production outage estimates that EIA publishes in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO).
Unplanned production outages include, but are not limited to, sanctions, armed conflicts, political disputes, labor actions, natural disasters, and unplanned maintenance. Unplanned outages can be short-lived or last for a number of years, but as long as the production capacity is not lost, EIA tracks these disruptions as outages rather than lost capacity.
Loss of production capacity includes natural capacity declines and declines resulting from irreparable damage that are unlikely to return within one year. This lost capacity cannot contribute to global supply without significant investment and lead time.
Voluntary cutbacks are associated with OPEC production agreements and only apply to OPEC members. Voluntary cutbacks count toward the country’s spare capacity but are not counted as unplanned production outages.
EIA defines spare crude oil production capacity—which only applies to OPEC members adhering to OPEC production agreements—as potential oil production that could be brought online within 30 days and sustained for at least 90 days, consistent with sound business practices. EIA does not include unplanned crude oil production outages in its assessment of spare production capacity.
As an example, EIA considers Iranian production declines that result from U.S. sanctions to be unplanned production outages, making Iran a significant contributor to the total OPEC unplanned crude oil production outages. During the fourth quarter of 2015, before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action became effective in January 2016, EIA estimated that an average 800,000 b/d of Iranian production was disrupted. In the first quarter of 2019, the first full quarter since U.S. sanctions on Iran were re-imposed in November 2018, Iranian disruptions averaged 1.2 million b/d.
Another long-term contributor to EIA’s estimate of OPEC unplanned crude oil production outages is the Partitioned Neutral Zone (PNZ) between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Production halted there in 2014 because of a political dispute between the two countries. EIA attributes half of the PNZ’s estimated 500,000 b/d production capacity to each country.
In the July 2019 STEO, EIA only considered about 100,000 b/d of Venezuela’s 130,000 b/d production decline from January to February as an unplanned crude oil production outage. After a series of ongoing nationwide power outages in Venezuela that began on March 7 and cut electricity to the country's oil-producing areas, EIA estimates that PdVSA, Venezuela’s national oil company, could not restart the disrupted production because of deteriorating infrastructure, and the previously disrupted 100,000 b/d became lost capacity.