It’s been a quiet past few years in Kitimat, the town of just over 8,000 in Canada’s British Columbia that is closer to Alaska than it is to Vancouver. Boasting a natural harbour in a deep inlet, Kitimat has geographical promise. It is the closest launch point in North America to deliver LNG volumes to the ravenous markets of East Asia. Eight years ago, when the Asian wave of demand first began cresting and Canada’s ambitious LNG ambitions took shape, Kitimat was a hub of activity. Then hopes were dashed as energy prices crashed. It was a return to sleepiness for the town, nestled by stunning mountainous terrain.
But over the past six months, activity has crept back in. Empty parking lots are now full again. Landlords are raising rents. Workers at the nearby Rio Tinto smelter are considering switching jobs. As Shell and its partners rumble towards a Final Investment Decision on the US$40 billion Kitimat LNG project, the town is hoping that this will finally be its time to shine.
It’s been a rough few years for Canadian LNG. There is plenty of natural gas in British Columbia but not many local markets that it can be piped to. So it stayed in the ground until the rise of Asian LNG demand spurred Canada into considering using its proximity to Japan, South Korea and China to its full advantage. Between 2011 and 2014, some 20 LNG projects were announced in British Columbia alone. Some were speculative, but some were also concrete. Fast forward to 2018, and there is still no LNG terminal operational, let alone being built. In contrast, Australia is on the verge is completing the last of its LNG megaprojects when Ichthys begins operations this year.
The problem here is government redtape and environmental sensitivity. Last year, Malaysia’s Petronas – the world’s third largest exporter of LNG – walked away from the Pacific Northwest LNG project. At that point, it was the furthest along of all Canadian LNG projects, but intense debate over the environmental impact of its location and political hostility from the National Democratic Party (which took over the state government in 2017) along with the Green Party scuppered that. At the time Petronas expressed ‘major disappointment’ with the cancellation, but went on to purchase 25% in the Kitimat project.
So with Shell, Petronas , PetroChina, Mitsubishi and Korea Gas all on board as partners, Kitimat has become the nexus for BC’s previous LNG ambition failures. Crucially, it has backing from the new NDP-led government as well as endorsement from First Nations indigenous groups, something that Pacific Northwest LNG lacked. Shell has claimed that Kitimat is ‘very promising’ but stopped short of full endorsement, choosing to wait (until the end of 2018?) to sanction the project. The reason is that the market has changed.
The world is still hungry for LNG, but with Australia now already fully mobilised and the US surging ahead with Gulf Coast infrastructure, there is concern that the market may not be able to support another mammoth LNG project. If sanctioned, Kitimat will only come onstream by 2022 at the earliest, by which time the opportunity for Canadian LNG may already be running late in the game. But the people of Kitimat will be hoping that their catalytic LNG project will be able to find a place in this new cleaner energy world.
LNG Canada, Kitimat Project
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When it was first announced in 2012, there was scepticism about whether or not Petronas’ RAPID refinery in Johor was destined for reality or cancellation. It came at a time when the refining industry saw multiple ambitious, sometimes unpractical, projects announced. At that point, Petronas – though one of the most respected state oil firms – was still seen as more of an upstream player internationally. Its downstream forays were largely confined to its home base Malaysia and specialty chemicals, as well as a surprising venture into South African through Engen. Its refineries, too, were relatively small. So the announcement that Petronas was planning essentially, its own Jamnagar, promoted some pessimism. Could it succeed?
It has. The RAPID refinery – part of a larger plan to turn the Pengerang district in southern Johor into an oil refining and storage hub capitalising on linkages with Singapore – received its first cargo of crude oil for testing in September 2018. Mechanical completion was achieved on November 29 and all critical units have begun commissioning ahead of the expected firing up of RAPID’s 300 kb/d CDU later this month. A second cargo of 2 million barrels of Saudi crude arrived at RAPID last week. It seems like it’s all systems go for RAPID. But it wasn’t always so clear cut. Financing difficulties – and the 2015 crude oil price crash – put the US$27 billion project on shaky ground for a while, and it was only when Saudi Aramco swooped in to purchase a US$7 billion stake in the project that it started coalescing. Petronas had been courting Aramco since the start of the project, mainly as a crude provider, but having the Saudi giant on board was the final step towards FID. It guaranteed a stable supply of crude for Petronas; and for Aramco, RAPID gave it a foothold in a major global refining hub area as part of its strategy to expand downstream.
But RAPID will be entering into a market quite different than when it was first announced. In 2012, demand for fuel products was concentrated on light distillates; in 2019, that focus has changed. Impending new International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations are requiring shippers to switch from burning cheap (and dirty) fuel oil to using cleaner middle distillate gasoils. This plays well into complex refineries like RAPID, specialising in cracking heavy and medium Arabian crude into valuable products. But the issue is that Asia and the rest of the world is currently swamped with gasoline. A whole host of new Asian refineries – the latest being the 200 kb/d Nghi Son in Vietnam – have contributed to growing volumes of gasoline with no home in Asia. Gasoline refining margins in Singapore have taken a hit, falling into negative territory for the first time in seven years. Adding RAPID to the equation places more pressure on gasoline margins, even though margins for middle distillates are still very healthy. And with three other large Asian refinery projects scheduled to come online in 2019 – one in Brunei and two in China – that glut will only grow.
The safety valve for RAPID (and indeed the other refineries due this year) is that they have been planned with deep petrochemicals integration, using naphtha produced from the refinery portion. RAPID itself is planned to have capacity of 3 million tpa of ethylene, propylene and other olefins – still a lucrative market that justifies the mega-investment. But it will be at least two years before RAPID’s petrochemicals portion will be ready to start up, and when it does, it’ll face the same set of challenging circumstances as refineries like Hengli’s 400 kb/d Dalian Changxing plant also bring online their petchem operations. But that is a problem for the future and for now, RAPID is first out of the gate into reality. It won’t be entering in a bonanza fuels market as predicted in 2012, but there is still space in the market for RAPID – and a few other like in – at least for now.
RAPID Refinery Factsheet:
Tyre market in Bangladesh is forecasted to grow at over 9% until 2020 on the back of growth in automobile sales, advancements in public infrastructure, and development-seeking government policies.
The government has emphasized on the road infrastructure of the country, which has been instrumental in driving vehicle sales in the country.
The tyre market reached Tk 4,750 crore last year, up from about Tk 4,000 crore in 2017, according to market insiders.
The commercial vehicle tyre segment dominates this industry with around 80% of the market share. At least 1.5 lakh pieces of tyres in the segment were sold in 2018.
In the commercial vehicle tyre segment, the MRF's market share is 30%. Apollo controls 5% of the segment, Birla 10%, CEAT 3%, and Hankook 1%. The rest 51% is controlled by non-branded Chinese tyres.
However, Bangladesh mostly lacks in tyre manufacturing setups, which leads to tyre imports from other countries as the only feasible option to meet the demand. The company largely imports tyre from China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.
Automobile and tyre sales in Bangladesh are expected to grow with the rising in purchasing power of people as well as growing investments and joint ventures of foreign market players. The country might become the exporting destination for global tyre manufacturers.
Several global tyre giants have also expressed interest in making significant investments by setting up their manufacturing units in the country.
This reflects an opportunity for local companies to set up an indigenous manufacturing base in Bangladesh and also enables foreign players to set up their localized production facilities to capture a significant market.
It can be said that, the rise in automobile sales, improvement in public infrastructure, and growth in purchasing power to drive the tyre market over the next five years.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 14 January 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$51/b
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