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Last Updated: September 27, 2018
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 24 September 2018 – Brent: US$80/b; WTI: US$72/b

  • International crude oil prices are now at their highest levels in four years, as the market fret over tight supply following a declaration by OPEC that it was approaching the issue of raising output cautiously ahead of a meeting of OPEC oil ministers in Algeria this weekend
  • Despite President Trump’s demand that the group steps in to control oil prices, OPEC is taking a wait-and-see approach; Saudi Arabia signalled that it was comfortable with US$80/b oil and was in no rush to bring prices down from current levels
  • OPEC also is not guaranteeing that its members (and its NOPEC partners) will automatically replace lost Iranian barrels due to upcoming American sanctions; coupled with still-strong energy demand, this is leading traders to predict a very tight oil market over the next few months
  • Most financial institutions are maintaining that oil prices will stay at US$80/b, but some bullish traders, including Mercuria and Trafigura, are predicting a return to US$100/b oil by early 2019
  • Saudi Arabia’s new best (oil) friend Russia reported a surge in its crude production to a new post-Soviet record of 11.3 mmb/d, but the US has leapfrogged that to become the largest crude oil producer in the world
  • Caught in an American web of sanctions, Iran warned that it would veto any decision by OPEC that ‘harms the Islamic Republic’, setting the tone for a testy meeting in Algiers this Sunday and in Vienna this December
  • Iran also issued veiled threats about jeopardising international peace as the US and Iran butted heads at the annual International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna
  • As the noose closes on Iran, even neighbouring India is cutting down on purchases; Chennai Petroleum (partly owned by the National Iranian Oil Co’s trading arm) announced it would stop processing Iranian crude from October onwards to maintain its insurance coverage
  • Meanwhile, the imbroglio between China and the US has reached LNG, with China slapping a 10% tariff on US LNG imports in response to a new tranche of duties imposed on US$200 billion of Chinese imports by the US, threatening to upend the accelerating LNG terminal development in the US Gulf Coast
  • Despite prices tending upwards, the US active oil rig count fell by one last week as ongoing infrastructure bottlenecks in onshore shale basins, particularly the Permian, hamper the marketability of liquids
  • Crude price outlook: Prices sustaining at high levels seem inevitable for the moment, as sanctions against Iran kick in in six weeks and the full scale of its impact remains uncertain. With OPEC content to let prices rise, we see Brent trading towards US$82/b and WTI towards US$73/b this week.


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Shell is reportedly looking to sell its 22.5% stake in the Gulf of Mexico Caesar Tonga field to Focus Oil for some US$1.3 billion, as it continues an asset rationalisation process kickstarted by its purchase of the BG Group
  • Canada has decided to restart the approval process for the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, hoping to circumvent or rectify shortcomings that led to a court ruling quashing the project’s permits on insufficient environmental impact studies
  • North Africa-focused SDX Energy is reportedly in discussion with BP to purchase a ‘significant package of assets’, which would add to SDX’s current interests in the South Disouq, Meseda, NW Gemsa and South Ramadan areas
  • Mexico’s Pemex has signed a landmark pre-unitisation deal with the three-way Block 7 Consortium, which will focus on developing the JV’s Zama-1 ‘world class oil discovery’ containing 1.2-1.8 billion barrels of oil
  • CNOOC’s Penglai 19-3 oilfield project in the Bohai Sea has commenced production, with a peak of 58,700 b/d expected to be hit by 2020, which should soften the persistentn decline in Bohai Bay upstream production
  • First oil has been produced at the Tortue field, in the offshore Gabon Dussafu PSC, a major milestone for its operator Panoro Energy

Downstream

  • Eni and Pertamina have signed an MoU meant to deepen cooperation between the two firms, particularly in Indonesian downstream, leveraging Eni’s experience in developing bio-refineries
  • Uganda has delayed its planned 60 kb/d oil refinery startup to a still ambitious 2022 over delays in the design and engineering phase; the refinery is meant to take Ugandan crude from fields co-developed by Total, CNOOC and Tullow, with delays in the upstream output also contributing to the pushback
  • After years of delays, Vietnam’s Nghi Son refinery is finally entering full production mode, offering its first cargo of gasoline for export, although Nghi Son will eventually focus on supplying fuels to the domestic market
  • China is reportedly considering issuing a new tranche of fuel export permits of some 3-4 million tons to prevent state-owned refiners from having to cut runs
  • Russian petrochemical producer Sibur has been sending out feelers on a possible stock market flotation, having spoken to several banks about listing some 15% of its shares in Moscow or international bourses

Natural Gas/LNG

  • With Egypt’s giant Zohr gas field ramping out faster than expected, the country plans to revive its long-dormant Damietta LNG plant to resume LNG exports
  • Vitol has signed a long-term 15-year LNG agreement with Cheniere, with the trader taking in 700,000 tpa of LNG per year beginning end-2018
  • Trader Woodside has signed a mid-term deal with Germany’s Uniper to supply up to 600,000 tpa of LNG over a four-year period beginning 2019
  • Qatar Petroleum will be adding a fourth train to its North Field expansion project, which will expand its total capacity to 110 mtpa by 2024
  • French major Total has clarified that its LNG investment position will be to focus on what it calls the ‘Golden Triangle’ of the LNG market – cost-competitive projects in Qatar, Russia and the USA
  • Nigeria LNG expects to make a final investment decision on its planned US$7 billion, 8 million tpa Train 7 LNG expansion project by end-2018

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