Mexico will likely halt oil auctions for at least two years, dealing a blow to its oil industry.
Mexico’s president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) will reportedly suspend oil auctions for at least two years, according to the Wall Street Journal, with some experts believing that his administration won’t hold any new oil auctions at all during his six-year term. He has also vowed to review the 107 contracts already awarded to companies through auctions over the last few years to check for corruption, although he has said he would not try to invalidate them so long as they check out.
Also, AMLO wants to revise some of the energy laws that govern the oil and gas sector, which could dramatically alter the landscape for foreign oil and gas companies. He long opposed the historic reforms that ended seven decades of state control over the energy sector, although he moderated his position during this year’s presidential campaign. Rolling back the reforms would be exceedingly difficult, requiring a change to the country’s constitution.
Instead, AMLO wants more modest, though still significant, legislative changes. The WSJ reports that he will pursue legislative tweaks that bolster the power of state-owned Pemex, while weakening the regulatory body that has pursued a technocratic approach and presided over the oil auctions over the last three years.
AMLO’s desired changes include allowing Pemex to choose its own private-sector partners, without needing the approval from regulators. Current rules require Pemex to partner with the highest bidder for blocks put up for a farm-out. He wants the government to be able to award Pemex with oil blocks directly. And he wants to make Pemex the sole marketer of oil produced by private firms, the WSJ reports.
These changes would amount to a partial rollback of the energy reforms, re-empowering Pemex and government control over the oil sector. Moreover, as president, AMLO chooses the head of Pemex, granting him a lot of leverage over the company.
“If licensing rounds are canceled and joint ventures are the only vehicle for entry to the country, it reflects a consolidation of power within” Pemex, Maria Cortez, Latin America Upstream Senior Research Manager at Wood Mackenzie, told Bloomberg in an email. ”That could be viewed negatively by outside investors.”
On top of that, the WSJ says AMLO will push to raise local content rules, which would require a higher percentage of domestic involvement in oil projects. That means that if a company like ExxonMobil or Chevron or some other outside entity wants to drill for oil in Mexico, it would need to source a certain percentage of equipment and services from within Mexico. The idea is to capture a greater portion of the benefits of oil and gas development for the country, while also building up expertise for local industries.
However, many of these changes will be loathsome to the international oil companies, who will view them as onerous burdens that inject higher levels of uncertainty into their investments. Oil companies have repeatedly blamed strict local content rules in Brazil for years of cost inflation and delays.
“If all of this is confirmed, it would send a signal that the continuity of the oil opening may be in doubt,” Pablo Medina, an analyst with Welligence Energy Analytics, a research firm based in Houston, told the WSJ in an interview.
Meanwhile, in addition to the legislative changes to the energy reforms, AMLO’s core energy plan consists of pouring billions of dollars back into Pemex for oil exploration, with a particular focus on revitalizing the downstream sector. He wants $2.6 billion to rehabilitate Mexico’s six aging oil refineries, plus more than $8 billion to build a new refinery from scratch. The idea is to cut down or even eliminate gasoline imports from the United States.
Mexico’s oil production has been declining for over a decade, falling to 1.9 million barrels per day recently, down from 3.4 mb/d in the mid-2000s. The IEA sees output falling by another 130,000 bpd this year, due to the aging offshore oil fields, although that is a narrower decline compared to the 235,000 bpd the country lost last year.
AMLO is aiming to boost production by 600,000 bpd over the next two years, which will be a monumental task. If he is to succeed, AMLO is betting that Pemex will lead the way.
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Two acquisitions in the energy sector were announced in the last week that illustrate the growing divergence in approaching the future of oil and gas between Europe and the USA. In France, Total announced that it had bought Fonroche Biogaz, the market leader in the production of renewable gas in France. In North America, ConocoPhillips completed its acquisition of Concho Resources, deepening the upstream major’s foothold into the lucrative Permian Basin and its shale riches. One is heading towards renewables, and the other is doubling down on conventional oil and gas.
What does this say about the direction of the energy industry?
Total’s move is unsurprising. Like almost all of its European peers operating in the oil and gas sector, Total has announced ambitious targets to become carbon-neutral by 2050. It is an ambition supported by the European population and pushed for by European governments, so in that sense, Total is following the wishes of its investors and stakeholders – just like BP, Shell, Repsol, Eni and others are doing. Fonroche Biogaz is therefore a canny acquisition. The company designs, builds and operates anaerobic digestion units that convert organic waste such as farming manure into biomethane to serve a gas feedstock for power generation. Fonroche Biogaz already has close to 500 GWh of installed capacity through seven power generation units with four in the pipeline. This feeds into Total’s recent moves to expand its renewable power generation capacity, with the stated intention of increasing the group’s biomethane capacity to 1.5 terawatts per hour (TWh) by 2025. Through this, Total vaults into a leading position within the renewable gas market in Europe, which is already active through affiliates such as Méthanergy, PitPoint and Clean Energy.
In parallel to this move, Total also announced that it has decided not to renew its membership in the American Petroleum Institute for 2021. Citing that it is only ‘partially aligned’ with the API on climate change issues in the past, Total has now decided that those positions have now ‘diverged’ particularly on rolling back methane emission regulations, carbon pricing and decarbonising transport. The French supermajor is not alone in its stance. BP, which has ditched the supermajor moniker in favour of turning itself into a clean energy giant, has also expressed reservations over the API’s stance over climate issues, and may very well choose to resign from the trade group as well. Other European upstream players might follow suit.
However, the core of the API will remain American energy firms. And the stance among these companies remains pro-oil and gas, despite shareholder pressure to bring climate issues and clean energy to the forefront. While the likes of ExxonMobil and Chevron have balanced significant investments into prolific shale patches in North America with public overtures to embrace renewables, no major US firm has made a public commitment to a carbon-neutral future as their European counterparts have. And so ConocoPhillips acquisition of Concho Resources, which boosts its value to some US$60 billion is not an outlier, but a preview of the ongoing consolidation happening in US shale as the free-for-all days give way to big boy acquisitions following the price-upheaval there since 2019.
That could change. In fact, it will change. The incoming Biden administration marks a significant break from the Trump administration’s embrace of oil and gas. Instead of opening of protected federal lands to exploration, especially in Alaska and sensitive coastal areas and loosening environmental regulations, the US will now pivot to putting climate change at the top of the agenda. Although political realities may water it down, the progressive faction of the Democrats are pushing for a Green New Deal embracing sustainability as the future for the US. Biden has already hinted that he may cancel the controversial and long-running Keystone XL pipeline via executive order on his first day in the office. His nominees for key positions including the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and Council on Environmental Quality suggest that there will be a major push on low-carbon and renewable initiatives, at least for the next 4 years. A pledge to reach net zero fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035 has been mooted. More will come.
The landscape is changing. But the two approaches still apply, the aggressive acceleration adopted by European majors, and the slower movement favoured by US firms. Political changes in the USA might hasten the change, but it is unlikely that convergence will happen anytime soon. There is room in the world for both approaches for now, but the future seems inevitable. It just depends on how energy companies want to get there.
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In its January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects global demand for petroleum liquids will be greater than global supply in 2021, especially during the first quarter, leading to inventory draws. As a result, EIA expects the price of Brent crude oil to increase from its December 2020 average of $50 per barrel (b) to an average of $56/b in the first quarter of 2021. The Brent price is then expected to average between $51/b and $54/b on a quarterly basis through 2022.
EIA expects that growth in crude oil production from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) will be limited because of a multilateral agreement to limit production. Saudi Arabia announced that it would voluntarily cut production by an additional 1.0 million b/d during February and March. Even with this cut, EIA expects OPEC to produce more oil than it did last year, forecasting that crude oil production from OPEC will average 27.2 million b/d in 2021, up from an estimated 25.6 million b/d in 2020.
EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production in the Lower 48 states—excluding the Gulf of Mexico—will decline in the first quarter of 2021 before increasing through the end of 2022. In 2021, EIA expects crude oil production in this region will average 8.9 million b/d and total U.S. crude oil production will average 11.1 million b/d, which is less than 2020 production.
EIA expects that responses to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases will continue to limit global oil demand in the first half of 2021. Based on global macroeconomic forecasts from Oxford Economics, however, EIA forecasts that global gross domestic product will grow by 5.4% in 2021 and by 4.3% in 2022, leading to energy consumption growth. EIA forecasts that global consumption of liquid fuels will average 97.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2021 and 101.1 million b/d in 2022, only slightly less than the 2019 average of 101.2 million b/d.
EIA expects global inventory draws will contribute to forecast rising crude oil prices in the first quarter of 2021. Despite rising forecast crude oil prices in early 2021, EIA expects upward price pressure will be limited through the forecast period because of high global oil inventory, surplus crude oil production capacity, and stock draws decreasing after the first quarter of 2021. EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $53/b in both 2021 and 2022.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
You can find more information on EIA’s expectations for changes in global petroleum liquids production, consumption, and crude oil prices in EIA’s latest This Week in Petroleum article and its January STEO.