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Last Updated: June 21, 2018
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Oil company proved reserves additions in 2017 were most since 2013 while expenditures were about half


In 2017, a group of the world’s largest publicly traded oil and natural gas producers added more hydrocarbons to their resource base than in any year since 2013, according to the annual reports of 83 exploration and production companies. Collectively, these companies added a net 8.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) to their proved reserves during 2017, which totaled 277 billion BOE at the end of the year. Exploration and development (E&D) spending in 2017 increased 11% from 2016 levels, but remained 47% lower than 2013 levels.


Of the 83 companies, 18 held more than 80% of the 277 billion BOE in proved reserves at the end of 2017. While many of these companies have global operations, some are national oil companies with reserves concentrated in their home countries including Russia, China, and Brazil. Proved reserves change from year to year because of revisions to existing reserves, extensions and discoveries of new resources, purchases and sales of proved reserves, and production. Figure 1 illustrates the 83 companies’ combined proved reserves changes during 2017.

Figure 1. Regional proved reserves


Organic additions to proved reserves, or reserves added through improved recovery and extensions and discoveries, are linked directly with capital expenditures in E&D. Proved reserves acquired through purchases do not represent E&D capital investment, but rather reflect transfers of assets between companies. Revisions to proved reserves are usually more significantly influenced by changes in crude oil and natural gas prices than by E&D investment.


Of the 17.7 billion BOE in organic proved reserves added in 2017, slightly less than half (8.5 billion BOE) were in the United States, while Russia, Central Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 24% (4.3 billion BOE). Canada (which includes oil sands and synthetic crude oil), Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa regions each added more than 1.1 billion BOE. Regionally, Europe accounted for the fewest organically added proved reserves for the sixth consecutive year, adding 0.3 billion BOE of proved reserves in 2017, 2% of the world total (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Regional organic  proved reserves


Global E&D spending by region was similarly distributed. Of the $285 billion companies spent on E&D in 2017, 33% ($95 billion) was in the United States, with the Russia, Central Asia, and Asia-Pacific region accounting for 30% ($85 billion) and all other regions each accounting for 10% or less. Changes in nominal year-over-year E&D spending varied across regions, increasing by 36% in the United States and by 15% each in Canada and the Russia, Central Asia, and Asia-Pacific region. Spending declined by 24% in Europe, 16% in the Middle East and Africa, and 15% in Latin America (Figure 3). Because significant cost deflation has occurred in the oil and natural gas industry since 2014, nominal spending values in different years may not be directly comparable.

Figure 3. Regional exploration and production


Because of a disparity between the timing of companies’ capital expenditures and the formal reporting of changes to their proved reserves, standard practice is to average the results over several years. Analyzed this way, E&D costs declined significantly on a per BOE basis from the 2012–2014 average to the 2015–2017 average (Figure 4). Three-year average E&D capital expenditures per BOE of organic proved reserves additions decreased in all regions except Latin America. On an annual basis, 2017 represented the lowest E&D capital expenditures per additional BOE to proved reserves during the 2012–2017 period at $16.12/BOE.

Figure 4. Finding costs for 83 publicly traded


First quarter 2018 capital expenditures for this set of companies were 16% higher than the first quarter of 2017, suggesting that many of these companies have increased their E&D budgets, which will likely contribute to further organic proved reserves additions in 2018.


U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices decrease


The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price decreased 3 cents from last week to $2.88 per gallon on June 18, 2018, up 56 cents from the same time last year. Gulf Coast and East Coast prices each decreased over four cents to $2.65 per gallon and $2.80, respectively, Midwest prices decreased nearly three cents to $2.79 per gallon, West Coast prices decreased nearly two cents to $3.43 per gallon, and Rocky Mountain prices decreased over one penny to $2.98.


The U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased over 2 cents from last week to $3.24 per gallon on June 18, 2018, 76 cents higher than a year ago. Midwest prices declined nearly three cents to $3.17 per gallon, East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each declined over two cents to $3.24 per gallon and $3.02 per gallon, respectively, West Coast prices declined nearly two cents to $3.75 per gallon, and Rocky Mountain prices decreased less than one cent to $3.34 per gallon.


Propane/propylene inventories rise


U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 3.2 million barrels last week to 54.1 million barrels as of June 15, 2018, 9.5 million barrels (14.9%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Midwest, Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased by 1.2 million barrels, 1.1 million barrels, 0.7 million barrels, and 0.2 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.0% of total propane/propylene inventories.

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Saudi Aramco Moves Into Russia’s Backyard

International expansions for Saudi Aramco – the largest oil company in the world – are not uncommon. But up to this point, those expansions have followed a certain logic: to create entrenched demand for Saudi crude in the world’s largest consuming markets. But Saudi champion’s latest expansion move defies, or perhaps, changes that logic, as Aramco returns to Europe. And not just any part of Europe, but Eastern Europe – an area of the world dominated by Russia – as Saudi Aramco acquires downstream assets from Poland’s PKN Orlen and signs quite a significant crude supply deal. How is this important? Let us examine.

First, the deal itself and its history. As part of the current Polish government’s plan to strengthen its national ‘crown jewels’ in line with its more nationalistic stance, state energy firm PKN Orlen announced plans to purchase its fellow Polish rival (and also state-owned) Grupa Lotos. The outright purchase fell afoul of EU anti-competition rules, which meant that PKN Orlen had to divest some Lotos assets in order to win approval of the deal. Some of the Lotos assets – including 417 fuel stations – are being sold to Hungary’s MOL, which will also sign a long-term fuel supply agreement with PKN Orlen for the newly-acquired sites, while PKN Orlen will gain fuel retail assets in Hungary and Slovakia as part of the deal. But, more interestingly, PKN Orlen has chosen to sell a 30% stake in the Lotos Gdansk refinery in Poland (with a crude processing capacity of 210,000 bd) to Saudi Aramco, alongside a stake in a fuel logistic subsidiary and jet fuel joint venture supply arrangement between Lotos and BP. In return, PKN Orlen will also sign a long-term contract to purchase between 200,000-337,000 b/d of crude from Aramco, which is an addition to the current contract for 100,000 b/d of Saudi crude that already exists. At a maximum, that figure will cover more than half of Poland’s crude oil requirements, but PKN Orlen has also said that it plans to direct some of that new supply to several of its other refineries elsewhere in Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

For Saudi Aramco, this is very interesting. While Aramco has always been a presence in Europe as a major crude supplier, its expansion plans over the past decade have been focused elsewhere. In the US, where it acquired full ownership of the Motiva joint venture from Shell in 2017. In doing so, it acquired control of Port Arthur, the largest refinery in North America, and has been on a petrochemicals-focused expansion since. In Asia, where Aramco has been busy creating significant nodes for its crude – in China, in India and in Malaysia (to serve the Southeast Asia and facilitate trade). And at home, where the focus has on expanding refining and petrochemical capacity, and strengthen its natural gas position. So this expansion in Europe – a mature market with a low ceiling for growth, even in Eastern Europe, is interesting. Why Poland, and not East or southern Africa? The answer seems fairly obvious: Russia.

The current era of relatively peaceful cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Russia in the oil sphere is recent. Very recent. It was not too long ago that Saudi Arabia and Russia were locked in a crude price war, which had devastating consequences, and ultimately led to the détente through OPEC+ that presaged an unprecedented supply control deal. That was through necessity, as the world faced the far ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But remove that lens of cooperation, and Saudi Arabia and Russia are actual rivals. With the current supply easing strategy through OPEC+ gradually coming to an end, this could remove the need for the that club (by say 2H 2022). And with Russia not being part of OPEC itself – where Saudi Arabia is the kingpin – cooperation is no longer necessary once the world returns to normality.

So the Polish deal is canny. In a statement, Aramco stated that ‘the investments will widen (our) presence in the European downstream sector and further expand (our) crude imports into Poland, which aligns with PKN Orlen’s strategy of diversifying its energy supplies’. Which hints at the other geopolitical aspect in play. Europe’s major reliance on Russia for its crude and natural gas has been a minefield – see the recent price chaos in the European natural gas markets – and countries that were formally under the Soviet sphere of influence have been trying to wean themselves off reliance from a politically unpredictable neighbour. Poland’s current disillusion with EU membership (at least from the ruling party) are well-documented, but its entanglement with Russia is existential. The Cold War is not more than 30 years gone.

For Saudi Aramco, the move aligns with its desire to optimise export sales from its Red Sea-facing terminals Yanbu, Jeddah, Shuqaiq and Rabigh, which have closer access to Europe through the Suez Canal. It is for the same reason that Aramco’s trading subsidiary ATC recently signed a deal with German refiner/trader Klesch Group for a 3-year supply of 110,000 b/d crude. It would seem that Saudi Arabia is anticipating an eventual end to the OPEC+ era of cooperative and a return to rivalry. And in a rivalry, that means having to make power moves. The PKN Orlen deal is a power move, since it brings Aramco squarely in Russia’s backyard, directly displacing Russian market share. Not just in Poland, but in other markets as well. And with a geopolitical situation that is fragile – see the recent tensions about Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian borders – that plays into Aramco’s hands. European sales make up only a fraction of the daily flotilla of Saudi crude to enters international markets, but even though European consumption is in structural decline, there are still volumes required.

How will Russia react? Politically, it is on the backfoot, but its entrenched positions in Europe allows it to hold plenty of sway. European reservations about the Putin administration and climate change goals do not detract from commercial reality that Europe needs energy now. The debate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is proof of that. Russian crude freed up from being directed to Eastern Europe means a surplus to sell elsewhere. Which means that Russia will be looking at deals with other countries and refiners, possibly in markets with Aramco is dominant. That level of tension won’t be seen for a while – these deals takes months and years to complete – but we can certainly expect that agitation to be reflected in upcoming OPEC+ discussions. The club recently endorsed another expected 400,000 b/d of supply easing for January. Reading the tea leaves – of which the PKN Orlen is one – makes it sound like there will not be much more cooperation beyond April, once the supply deal is anticipated to end.

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Market Outlook:

-       Crude price trading range: Brent – US$86-88/b, WTI – US$84-86/b

-       Crude oil benchmarks globally continue their gain streak for a fifth week, as the market bounces back from the lows seen in early December as the threat of the Omicron virus variant fades and signs point to tightening balances on strong consumption

-       This could set the stage for US$100/b oil by midyear – as predicted by several key analysts – as consumption rebounds ahead of summer travel and OPEC+ remains locked into its gradual consumption easing schedule 

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