Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of PetroEdge
Last Updated: February 22, 2019
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Business Trends
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In the last week, global crude oil price benchmarks have leapt up by some US$5/b. Brent is now in the US$66/b range, while WTI maintains its preferred US$10/b discount at US$56/b. On the surface, it would seem that the new OPEC+ supply deal – scheduled to last until April – is working. But the drivers pushing on the current rally are a bit more complicated.

Pledges by OPEC members are the main force behind the rise. After displaying some reticence over the timeline of cuts, Russia has now promised to ‘speed up cuts’ to its oil production in line with other key members of OPEC. Saudi Arabia, along with main allies the UAE and Kuwait, have been at the forefront of this – having made deeper-than-promised cuts in January with plans to go a bit further in February. After looking a bit shaky – a joint Saudi Arabia-Russia meeting was called off at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos in January – the bromance of world’s two oil superpowers looks to have resumed. And with it, confidence in the OPEC+ club’s abilities.

Russia and Saudi Arabia both making new pledges on supply cuts comes despite supply issues elsewhere in OPEC, which could have provided some cushion for smaller cuts. Iranian production remains constrained by new American sanctions; targeted waivers have provided some relief – and indeed Iranian crude exports have grown slightly over January and February – but the waivers expire in May and there is uncertainty over their extension. Meanwhile, the implosion in Venezuela continues, with the USA slapping new sanctions on the Venezuelan crude complex in hopes of spurring regime change. The situation in Libya – with the Sharara field swinging between closure and operation due to ongoing militant action – is dicey. And in Saudi Arabia, a damaged power repair cable has curbed output at the giant 1.2 mmb/d Safaniuyah field.

So the supply situation is supportive of a rally, from both planned and unplanned actions. But crude prices are also reacting to developments in the wider geopolitical world. The USA and China are still locked in an impasse over trade, with a March 1 deadline looming, after which doubled US tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports would kick in. Continued escalation in the trade war could lead to a global recession, or at least a severe slowdown. But the market is taking relief that an agreement could be made. First, US President Donald Trump alluded to the possibility of pushing the deadline by 2 months to allow for more talks. And now, chatter suggests that despite reservations, American and Chinese negotiators are now ‘approaching a consensus’. The threat of the R-word – recession – could be avoided and this is pumping some confidence back in the market. But there are more risks on the horizon. The UK is set to exit the European Union at the end of March, and there is still no deal in sight. A measured Brexit would be messy, but a no-deal Brexit would be chaotic – and that chaos would have a knock-on effect on global economies and markets.

But for now, the market assumes that there must be progress in US-China trade talks and the UK must fall in line with an orderly Brexit. If that holds – and if OPEC’s supply commitments stand – the rally in crude prices will continue. And it must. Because the alternative is frightening for all.

Factors driving the current crude rally:

  • Renewed supply cut pledges from Russia and Saudi Arabia
  • Unplanned supply outages in Saudi Arabia
  • Supply issues in Venezuela, Iran and Libya
  • Optimism over a new US-China trade deal

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Crude oil prices brent wti iran sanctions trump USA
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Your Weekly Update: 20 -24 May 2019

Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 20 May 2019 – Brent: US$73/b; WTI: US$63/b

  • As the OPEC+ group signals its intentions to continue its supply deal through to the end of 2019 and US President Donald Trump increases pressure on Iran, crude prices have kept their strength
  • The OPEC+ group met in Jeddah last weekend to lay the groundwork for the upcoming OPEC meeting in Vienna on June 25, with Saudi Arabia and Russia committing to keep oil supplies constrained over the rest of the year but avoiding any ‘genuine shortage’
  • There appears to be some reticence on the part of Russia to sign up to extending the supply deal, with Energy Minister Alexander Novak recently dropping hints about relaxing curbs and the country barely fulfilling its current pledge
  • But more worrisome than Russian reluctance is the issue of Iran; the risk of full-blown military conflict has escalated with America offering barbed words after attacks on a key Saudi pipeline spooked the market while the UAE said it is committed to ‘de-escalation’ after attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf
  • While these geopolitical issues have been driving prices up, the ever-present issue of surging American production remains – with US shale set oil for a 16% growth in 2019, and 470 million barrels of US crude finding home in 38 countries over the six-month period between October 2018 and March 2019, up from 359 million barrels across 31 countries in the previous period
  • While US crude production continues to rise, the active US rig count continues to moderate; three oil rigs were dropped and two gas rigs were gained in the last week, leading to a net decline of one rig – the third consecutive week of losses
  • OPEC+’s definitive statement on their strategy for the remainder of 2019 will calm the markets, but the boiling US-China trade conflict now threatens global growth, as the US fired a major salvo by introducing harsh restrictions on Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei; crude prices will trend downwards, with Brent at US$68-70/b and WTI at US$59-61/b


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Eni has struck oil at Block 15/06 offshore Angola in the Ndungu exploration prospect, estimated to contain up to 250 million barrels of light oil in place
  • Norway’s Equinor has exercised preferential rights to acquire an additional 22.45% in the Caesar Tonga oil field in the US Gulf of Mexico from Shell for US$965 million, increasing its stake in the field to 46%
  • The main cross-country pipeline network in Saudi Arabia, which connects the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, has been restarted after a drone attack on two pumping stations by Iranian-backed rebels halted operations for a week
  • Uganda has launched its second licensing round, with the Avivi, Omuka, Kasuruban, Turaco and Ngaji blocks in the oil-rich Albertine Graben on offer
  • Kuwait’s Kufpec has signed a deal to explore and potentially develop the onshore Block 3371-19 in Pakistan
  • Eni has begun drilling and exploration activities at Block 114 in the Song Hong basin offshore central Vietnam
  • Eni and Total picked up a joint 4 offshore blocks at Cote d’Ivoire’s latest block sale, with the state aiming to generate US$275 million from the sale

Midstream & Downstream

  • China has issued a second batch of fuel export quotas for 2019 that was 30% higher than the first batch in January, allowing 23.79 million tons of products to be shipped overseas just as Hengli’s 400 kb/d Dalian refinery starts up
  • The UAE’s Brooge Petroleum and Gas Investment Co has announced plans for a 250 kb/d refinery in Fujairah to produce clean IMO-compliant bunker fuels
  • The fallout from tainted Russian crude exports through the Druzhba pipeline and Ust-Luga port continues as Russia admits that clean-up will take longer than expected, as Kazakhstan seeks damages for its tainted crude and Total halts operations at its 230 kb/d Leuna refinery in Germany over contamination
  • Sinopec’s 200 kb/d Qingdao refinery is set to shut down for an extended period for a planned major overhaul to upgrade fuel quality
  • PDVSA’s 310 kb/d Cardon refinery in Venezuela has been shut down due to damages at some units, exacerbating the country’s ongoing fuel crisis

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Santos has struck a deal to acquire a 14.3% stake in the PRL3 licence in Papua New Guinea, which includes the 4.4 tcf P’nyang natural gas field, which will underpin the planned expansion of PNG LNG with the a new 2.7 mtpa train
  • First LNG has been produced at the Cameron LNG project in Louisiana as Train 1 begins output, the first of three 4.5 mtpa trains to start up in Phase 1
  • The US state of New York has denied a permit for the US$1 billion Williams Co shale gas pipeline, scuppering plans to deliver shale gas from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to New York City and the US Northeast
  • Saudi Aramco’s march into the LNG space continues as it is set to take a ‘sizeable’ stake in Sempra Energy’s proposed Port Arthur LNG export project
  • Petronas’ PFLNG Satu has started first LNG production within three days of being relocated to the Kebabangan Cluster gas field offshore Sabah
  • Freeport LNG has now received federal approval to add a fourth train to its Texas LNG export terminal, bringing total capacity to over 20 mtpa
May, 24 2019
The Battle for Anadarko

At first, it seemed like a done deal. Chevron made a US$33 billion offer to take over US-based upstream independent Anadarko Petroleum. It was a 39% premium to Anadarko’s last traded price at the time and would have been the largest industry deal since Shell’s US$61 billion takeover of the BG Group in 2015. The deal would have given Chevron significant and synergistic acreage in the Permian Basin along with new potential in US midstream, as well as Anadarko’s high potential projects in Africa. Then Occidental Petroleum swooped in at the eleventh hour, making the delicious new bid and pulling the carpet out from under Chevron.

We can thank Warren Buffet for this. Occidental Petroleum, or Oxy, had previously made several quiet approaches to purchase Anadarko. These were rebuffed in favour of Chevron’s. Then Oxy’s CEO Vicki Hollub took the company jet to meet with Buffet. Playing to his reported desire to buy into shale, Hollub returned with a US$10 billion cash infusion from Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway – which was contingent on Oxy’s successful purchase of Anadarko. Hollub also secured a US$8.8 billion commitment from France’s Total to sell off Anadarko’s African assets. With these aces, she then re-approached Anadarko with a new deal – for US$38 billion.

This could have sparked off a price war. After all, the Chevron-Anadarko deal made a lot of sense – securing premium spots in the prolific Permian, creating a 120 sq.km corridor in the sweet spot of the shale basin, the Delaware. But the risk-adverse appetite of Chevron’s CEO Michael Wirth returned, and Chevron declined to increase its offer. By bowing out of the bid, Wirth said ‘Cost and capital discipline always matters…. winning in any environment doesn’t mean winning at any cost… for the sake for doing a deal.” Chevron walks away with a termination fee of US$1 billion and the scuppered dreams of matching ExxonMobil in size.

And so Oxy was victorious, capping off a two-year pursuit by Hollub for Anadarko – which only went public after the Chevron bid. This new ‘global energy leader’ has a combined 1.3 mmb/d boe production, but instead of leveraging Anadarko’s more international spread of operations, Oxy is looking for a future that is significantly more domestic.

The Oxy-Anadarko marriage will make Occidental the undisputed top producer in the Permian Basin, the hottest of all current oil and gas hotspots. Oxy was once a more international player, under former CEO Armand Hammer, who took Occidental to Libya, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, the Congo and other developing markets. A downturn in the 1990s led to a refocusing of operations on the US, with Oxy being one of the first companies to research extracting shale oil. And so, as the deal was done, Anadarko’s promising projects in Africa – Area 1 and the Mozambique LNG project, as well as interest in Ghana, Algeria and South Africa – go to Total, which has plenty of synergies to exploit. The retreat back to the US makes sense; Anadarko’s 600,000 acres in the Permian are reportedly the most ‘potentially profitable’ and it also has a major presence in Gulf of Mexico deepwater. Occidental has already identified 10,000 drilling locations in Anadarko areas that are near existing Oxy operations.

While Chevron licks its wounds, it can comfort itself with the fact that it is still the largest current supermajor presence in the Permian, with output there surging 70% in 2018 y-o-y. There could be other targets for acquisitions – Pioneer Natural Resources, Concho Resources or Diamondback Energy – but Chevron’s hunger for takeover seems to have diminished. And with it, the promises of an M&A bonanza in the Permian over 2019.

The Occidental-Anadarko deal:

  • US$38 billion cash-and-stock
  • Oxy will received a US$10 billion injection from Berkshire Hathaway
  • Oxy will sell US$8.8 billion of assets in Africa to Total
  • Chevron receives a US$1 billion break-up fee
May, 23 2019
Venezuelan crude oil production falls to lowest level since January 2003

monthly venezueal crude oil production

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook

In April 2019, Venezuela's crude oil production averaged 830,000 barrels per day (b/d), down from 1.2 million b/d at the beginning of the year, according to EIA’s May 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook. This average is the lowest level since January 2003, when a nationwide strike and civil unrest largely brought the operations of Venezuela's state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), to a halt. Widespread power outages, mismanagement of the country's oil industry, and U.S. sanctions directed at Venezuela's energy sector and PdVSA have all contributed to the recent declines.

monthly venezuela crude oil rig count

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Baker Hughes

Venezuela’s oil production has decreased significantly over the last three years. Production declines accelerated in 2018, decreasing by an average of 33,000 b/d each month in 2018, and the rate of decline increased to an average of over 135,000 b/d per month in the first quarter of 2019. The number of active oil rigs—an indicator of future oil production—also fell from nearly 70 rigs in the first quarter of 2016 to 24 rigs in the first quarter of 2019. The declines in Venezuelan crude oil production will have limited effects on the United States, as U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil have decreased over the last several years. EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in 2018 averaged 505,000 b/d and were the lowest since 1989.

EIA expects Venezuela's crude oil production to continue decreasing in 2019, and declines may accelerate as sanctions-related deadlines pass. These deadlines include provisions that third-party entities using the U.S. financial system stop transactions with PdVSA by April 28 and that U.S. companies, including oil service companies, involved in the oil sector must cease operations in Venezuela by July 27. Venezuela's chronic shortage of workers across the industry and the departure of U.S. oilfield service companies, among other factors, will contribute to a further decrease in production.

Additionally, U.S. sanctions, as outlined in the January 25, 2019 Executive Order 13857, immediately banned U.S. exports of petroleum products—including unfinished oils that are blended with Venezuela's heavy crude oil for processing—to Venezuela. The Executive Order also required payments for PdVSA-owned petroleum and petroleum products to be placed into an escrow account inaccessible by the company. Preliminary weekly estimates indicate a significant decline in U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in February and March, as without direct access to cash payments, PdVSA had little reason to export crude oil to the United States.

India, China, and some European countries continued to receive Venezuela's crude oil, according to data published by ClipperData Inc. Venezuela is likely keeping some crude oil cargoes intended for exports in floating storageuntil it finds buyers for the cargoes.

monthly venezuela crude oil exports by destinatoin

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, and Clipper Data Inc.

A series of ongoing nationwide power outages in Venezuela that began on March 7 cut electricity to the country's oil-producing areas, likely damaging the reservoirs and associated infrastructure. In the Orinoco Oil Belt area, Venezuela produces extra-heavy crude oil that requires dilution with condensate or other light oils before the oil is sent by pipeline to domestic refineries or export terminals. Venezuela’s upgraders, complex processing units that upgrade the extra-heavy crude oil to help facilitate transport, were shut down in March during the power outages.

If Venezuelan crude or upgraded oil cannot flow as a result of a lack of power to the pumping infrastructure, heavier molecules sink and form a tar-like layer in the pipelines that can hinder the flow from resuming even after the power outages are resolved. However, according to tanker tracking data, Venezuela's main export terminal at Puerto José was apparently able to load crude oil onto vessels between power outages, possibly indicating that the loaded crude oil was taken from onshore storage. For this reason, EIA estimates that Venezuela's production fell at a faster rate than its exports.

EIA forecasts that Venezuela's crude oil production will continue to fall through at least the end of 2020, reflecting further declines in crude oil production capacity. Although EIA does not publish forecasts for individual OPEC countries, it does publish total OPEC crude oil and other liquids production. Further disruptions to Venezuela's production beyond what EIA currently assumes would change this forecast.

May, 21 2019