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Last Updated: January 18, 2019
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 14 January 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$51/b

  • After a rally, crude oil prices took a breather at the start of this week, as the market moved from a bullish mood to a cautious one as slowing Chinese trade data spooked the market
  • The US government shutdown – now the longest ever in history – continues with no end in sight, with Republicans and President Donald Trump at a stalemate with energised Democrats
  • That ended a week-long rally that allowed crude oil to bounce back from sub-US$50/b levels in December over OPEC+’s implementation of a new deal to shrink supplies and Saudi Arabia’s promise to ‘do more if needed’
  • Even Russia, which showed some reluctance in implementing a speedy cut, has made strides in reducing output, releasing data that showed that production fell by 30,000 b/d in December and is on track for a decrease of 50,000 b/d in January relative to October levels
  • However, the OPEC+ group is now reportedly struggling to set a date for their next meeting, where the supply deal will be reviewed; the review is set for April, ahead of OPEC’s usual Vienna meeting in June/July, but an April review is necessary to assess the expiration of American waivers on Iranian crude
  • Some downside to price trends is that the waivers on Iranian crude exports have nullified the impact of American sanctions; both Turkey and India have recently resumed imports of Iranian crude after a brief hiatus, with India electing to pay for all its crude in rupees
  • Although WTI prices have improved, American drillers are still reticent to add sites, wary of changing market conditions; Baker Hughes indicates that the active American drill count was flat last week, with the loss of 4 oil rigs offset by a gain of 4 gas ones
  • Crude price outlook: Upward momentum should continue with crude price this week, but at a more gradual pace, as fears of a slowing global economy weigh on the market. Brent should stay in the US$61-63/b range and WTI in the US$52-54/b range


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • BP is proceeding with a major US$1.3 billion expansion of the Atlantis Phase 3 in the Gulf of Mexico, aimed at adding 38,000 b/d of additional output
  • Venezuela has announced plans to remap its Caribbean oil and gas prospects, a move that potentially puts it on collision course with ExxonMobil over the country’s long-disputed borders with the now oil-rich Guyana
  • New seismic studies at BP have identified a billion more barrels of oil in place at the deepwater Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Saudi Arabia has published an updated figure of its oil reserves – its first in 40 years – pegging total volumes at 268.5 billion barrels
  • Norway has cut its crude production forecast, predicting the output will be 1.42 mmb/d in 2019, the lowest level since 1988
  • BP is reportedly looking to sell its 28% stake in the North Sea Shearwater assets to offset its recent US$10.6 billion acquisition of US shale fields
  • The Unity fields in South Sudan have resumed production, after being halted for five years over a civil war, with initial production targeted at 20,000 b/d
  • Eni and Thailand’s PTTEP have secured exploration rights to an oil and gas concession in Abu Dhabi, with Adnoc participating at 60% if oil is struck
  • TransCanada Corp – ahead of name change to TC Energy – is planning to start construction on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline in June, even in the face of continued social and legal setbacks
  • Spirit Energy’s Oda field in the Norwegian North Sea has received permission from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate to start up
  • Aker Energy has completed successful appraisal of the offshore Pecan field in Ghana, estimating some 450-550 mmboe of resources in place
  • Shell and BP have submitted plans to begin exploratory drilling in Brazil’s Pau Brasil and Saturno pre-salt areas in early 2020

Downstream

  • Saudi Arabia has reiterated plans to build a US$10 billion oil refinery in Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar, part of the larger China-Pakistan Economic Corridor plan that is part of the Belt and Road initiative
  • Shell Chemicals has started up its fourth alpha olefins unit at in Geismar, Louisiana, adding 425,000 tpa of capacity to a new total of 1.3 mtpa
  • After being idled over the paralysis between PDVSA and ConocoPhillips, the 335,000 b/d Isla refinery in Curacao has restarted, with operations likely to shift from PDVSA to Saudi Aramco’s Motiva US refining subsidiary

Natural Gas/LNG

  • After seemingly receiving official go-ahead from all levels of government and even indigenous groups, Shell’s US$31 billion Kitimat LNG project in Canada has now been blockaded by a group of protesting First Nation holdouts
  • Completion of major LNG projects in Australia’s west coast have allowed its LNG exports to increase by 23% in 2018, with greater growth expected in 2019
  • The NordStream 2, long championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, now faces new opposition in Germany over Russian global political interference – which could result in the controversial pipeline being delayed or cancelled
  • Shell has completed its acquisition of a 26% stake in the Hazira LNG and port venture in India from Total, bringing its equity interest to full ownership
  • BP has announced plans to drill six new exploration wells in Azerbaijan by 2020, hoping to strike a new natural gas play to rival its giant Shah Deniz field

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The Growing Divergence In Energy

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.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$54-56/b, WTI – US$51-53/b
  • Global crude oil benchmarks retreated slightly, as concerns of rising supplies and coronavirus spread impact consumption anticipations; in particular, new Covid-19 outbreaks in key countries such as Japan and China are menacing demand
  • Mapped against the new OPEC+ supply quotas, there is a risk that demand will retreat more than anticipated, weakening prices; however, a leaking pipeline in Libya has reduced oil output there by about 200,000 b/d, which could provide some price support
  • However, the longer-term prognosis remains healthier for oil prices factoring out these short-term concerns; the US EIA has raised its predicted average prices for Brent and WTI to US$52.70 and US$49.70 for the whole of 2021

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January, 22 2021
EIA expects crude oil prices to average near $50 per barrel through 2022

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.

quarterly global liquid fuels production and consumption

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.

January, 22 2021
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January, 21 2021