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Last Updated: November 9, 2018
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 5 November 2018 – Brent: US$72/b; WTI: US$62/b

  • It’s down, down, down for crude oil prices as the impact of American sanctions on Iranian crude exports was muted by increased supply from OPEC+ nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and Russia
  • America granted waivers to eight nations – including India, Japan, South Korea and possibly China – which would allow them to continue importing Iranian crude after November 3, though the exact terms of the waivers are still in discussion
  • The number of waivers issued was larger than the market expected, but traders also remain worried about the growing trade spat between the US and China, although President Donald Trump has struck a more conciliatory tone recently
  • However, the midterm elections in the US resulted in the Democrats seizing the House but losing ground in the Senate – an imperfect result that could nonetheless still frustrate Trump’s economic and trade agenda
  • With the impact of Iranian sanctions proving to be less dramatic than expected – although fireworks should be expected at the upcoming OPEC meeting Vienna next month – crude prices have lost much of the supply-risk premium it gained over the past three months
  • With crude prices abated, American drillers are following suit, reducing the active American rig count by one with the closure of one oil rig
  • Crude price outlook: Prices should continue to head downwards as the risk of a supply crunch abates; Brent will test the US$70/b level again, with WTI likely to maintain its US$10/b discount to Brent

 

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • BP has completed its US$10.5 billion acquisition of BHP Billiton’s US unconventional assets, which will add some 190,000 boe/d of production and 4.6 billion oil equivalent barrels in reserves to BP’s coffers
  • Total reports that its upstream production in the Republic of Congo has exceeded expectations, with current production at some 200,000 b/d
  • ConocoPhillips has completed the sales of its Barnett shale assets in North Texas to Lime Rock Resources for US$230 million
  • Apache is accelerating plans from its Garten discovery in the UK North Sea, bringing it forward from Q119 to Q418, with 1 million barrels recoverable
  • Also in the North Sea, the UK Oil and Gas Authority has approve Senrica Energy’s Field Development Plan for the Columbus Development, with target start-up aimed at mid-2021 with peak output at 7,800 boe/d
  • Total has received consent from Petroleum Safety Authority Norway to extend the operational life of the Skirne and Byggve fields to March 2024
  • Equinor has made a ‘significant new oil discovery’ at the Barents Sea Skruis well in the Johan Castberg licence, with 12-25 million recoverable barrels of oil
  • Algeria’s Sonatrach has signed two new agreements – with Total and Eni – in an exclusive partnership for offshore exploration in Algeria
  • Argentina has launched its first-ever offshore licensing round, putting up 38 blocks in the Austral Marine, West Malvinas and Argentina basins

Downstream

  • As Saudi Aramco prepares to buy a controlling stake in SABIC, the two Saudi Arabian giants have announced the development of an integrated 400 kb/d crude-to-chemicals project, to be located at Yanbu on the Red Sea
  • A spat of fuel thefts in Mexico has curtailed gasoline and diesel supply in Mexico, with BP, Total and Pemex all reporting shortages across the country
  • ExxonMobil has started up a new coker unit at its Antwerp refinery in Belgium, expanding capacity for heavy conversion by some 50,000 b/d
  • BASF has signed a new MoU with China’s Sinopec to build a steam cracker in Nanjing, the chemical giant’s second major Chinese investment in four months

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Yet another US LNG facility has received its environmental impact statement from the US FERC, with Texas LNG’s Brownsville site receiving it just days after Venture Global LNG’s Calcasieu Pass LNG received theirs
  • The Cameron LNG project has begun the commissioning Phase 1 of its LNG export site in Hackberry, Louisiana, the first of a planned five phases that would have an eventual capacity of up to 24.92 mtpa
  • TransCanada Corporation has greenlit the US$1.5 billion NOVA Gas Transmission expansion, which will connect markets in North America to natural gas production sites in Alberta and British Columbia
  • Noble Energy announced that the Leviathan project is at 67% completion, and first gas from the Israeli gas project is expected by the end of 2019
  • India’s Petronet LNG and ONGC Videsh are reportedly in talks to buy a stake in the proposed Driftwood LNG project by Tellurian in Louisiana
  • Japan’s Osaka Gas says it will begin evaluating expanding its operations to developing markets in Southeast Asia like Vietnam, where shrinking demand supply and growing demand is creating a huge potential market for LNG

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The Impact of COVID 19 In The Downstream Oil & Gas Sector

Recent headlines on the oil industry have focused squarely on the upstream side: the amount of crude oil that is being produced and the resulting effect on oil prices, against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that is just one part of the supply chain. To be sold as final products, crude oil needs to be refined into its constituent fuels, each of which is facing its own crisis because of the overall demand destruction caused by the virus. And once the dust settles, the global refining industry will look very different.

Because even before the pandemic broke out, there was a surplus of refining capacity worldwide. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, global oil demand was some 99.85 mmb/d. However, this consumption figure includes substitute fuels – ethanol blended into US gasoline and biodiesel in Europe and parts of Asia – as well as chemical additives added on to fuels. While by no means an exact science, extrapolating oil demand to exclude this results in a global oil demand figure of some 95.44 mmb/d. In comparison, global refining capacity was just over 100 mmb/d. This overcapacity is intentional; since most refineries do not run at 100% utilisation all the time and many will shut down for scheduled maintenance periodically, global refining utilisation rates stand at about 85%.

Based on this, even accounting for differences in definitions and calculations, global oil demand and global oil refining supply is relatively evenly matched. However, demand is a fluid beast, while refineries are static. With the Covid-19 pandemic entering into its sixth month, the impact on fuels demand has been dramatic. Estimates suggest that global oil demand fell by as much as 20 mmb/d at its peak. In the early days of the crisis, refiners responded by slashing the production of jet fuel towards gasoline and diesel, as international air travel was one of the first victims of the virus. As national and sub-national lockdowns were introduced, demand destruction extended to transport fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil), petrochemicals (naphtha, LPG) and  power generation (gasoil, fuel oil). Just as shutting down an oil rig can take weeks to complete, shutting down an entire oil refinery can take a similar timeframe – while still producing fuels that there is no demand for.

Refineries responded by slashing utilisation rates, and prioritising certain fuel types. In China, state oil refiners moved from running their sites at 90% to 40-50% at the peak of the Chinese outbreak; similar moves were made by key refiners in South Korea and Japan. With the lockdowns easing across most of Asia, refining runs have now increased, stimulating demand for crude oil. In Europe, where the virus hit hard and fast, refinery utilisation rates dropped as low as 10% in some cases, with some countries (Portugal, Italy) halting refining activities altogether. In the USA, now the hardest-hit country in the world, several refineries have been shuttered, with no timeline on if and when production will resume. But with lockdowns easing, and the summer driving season up ahead, refinery production is gradually increasing.

But even if the end of the Covid-19 crisis is near, it still doesn’t change the fundamental issue facing the refining industry – there is still too much capacity. The supply/demand balance shows that most regions are quite even in terms of consumption and refining capacity, with the exception of overcapacity in Europe and the former Soviet Union bloc. The regional balances do hide some interesting stories; Chinese refining capacity exceeds its consumption by over 2 mmb/d, and with the addition of 3 new mega-refineries in 2019, that gap increases even further. The only reason why the balance in Asia looks relatively even is because of oil demand ‘sinks’ such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Even in the US, the wealth of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast makes smaller refineries on the East and West coasts increasingly redundant.

Given this, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis will be the inevitable hastening of the current trend in the refining industry, the closure of small, simpler refineries in favour of large, complex and more modern refineries. On the chopping block will be many of the sub-50 kb/d refineries in Europe; because why run a loss-making refinery when the product can be imported for cheaper, even accounting for shipping costs from the Middle East or Asia? Smaller US refineries are at risk as well, along with legacy sites in the Middle East and Russia. Based on current trends, Europe alone could lose some 2 mmb/d of refining capacity by 2025. Rising oil prices and improvements in refining margins could ensure the continued survival of some vulnerable refineries, but that will only be a temporary measure. The trend is clear; out with the small, in with the big. Covid-19 will only amplify that. It may be a painful process, but in the grand scheme of things, it is also a necessary one.

Infographic: Global oil consumption and refining capacity (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019)

Region
Consumption (mmb/d)*
Refining Capacity (mmb/d)
North America

22.71

22.33

Latin America

6.5

5.98

Europe

14.27

15.68

CIS

4.0

8.16

Middle East

9.0

9.7

Africa

3.96

3.4

Asia-Pacific

35

34.75

Total

95.44

100.05

*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$33-37/b, WTI – US$30-33/b
  • Crude oil prices hold their recent gains, staying rangebound with demand gradually improving as lockdown slowly ease
  • Worries that global oil supply would increase after June - when the OPEC+ supply deal eases and higher prices bring back some free-market production - kept prices in check
  • Russia has signalled that it intends to ease back immediately in line with the supply deal, but Saudi Arabia and its allies are pushing for the 9.7 mmb/d cut to be extended to end-2020, putting the two oil producers on another collision course that previously resulted in a price war
  • Morgan Stanley expects Brent prices to rise to US$40/b by 4Q 2020, but cautioned that a full recovery was only likely to materialise in 2021

End of Article

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May, 31 2020
North American crude oil prices are closely, but not perfectly, connected

selected North American crude oil prices

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.

The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.

Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.

pricing locations of selected North American crudes

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.

Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.

Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.

Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.

Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett

May, 28 2020
Financial Review: 2019

Key findings

  • Brent crude oil daily average prices were $64.16 per barrel in 2019—11% lower than 2018 levels
  • The 102 companies analyzed in this study increased their combined liquids and natural gas production 2% from 2018 to 2019
  • Proved reserves additions in 2019 were about the same as the 2010–18 annual average
  • Finding plus lifting costs increased 13% from 2018 to 2019
  • Occidental Petroleum’s acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum contributed to the largest reserve acquisition costs incurred for the group of companies since 2016
  • Refiners’ earnings per barrel declined slightly from 2018 to 2019

See entire annual review

May, 26 2020