Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of PetroEdge
Last Updated: April 4, 2019
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Business Trends
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Founded in 1944 in El Dorado, Arkansas, Murphy Oil isn’t quite an international major but the American oil company managed to boost itself up the ranks of the world’s independent oil companies to become a successful player. Part of this has comes from Murphy Oil’s decision to branch out overseas in the 1990s, venturing east to strike oil and gas in the states of Sarawak and Sabah in 1999.

Last week, Murphy Oil announced that it would be selling its stakes in both its Malaysian subsidiaries – covering five upstream projects including Sabah K, SK309 & SK311, Sabah H, SK314A and SK405B – to Thailand’s PTTEP for US$2.13 billion. Effectively ending the era for Murphy Oil in Malaysia. It is the largest M&A deal in Southeast Asian upstream in over five years, and could be an indication of an upcoming trend for the region’s players in general.

For Murphy Oil, the sale is a philosophical change. Of the company’s proven reserves of 816 million boe in 2018, some 16% - or 129 million boe – are in Malaysia. Murphy Oil’s Malaysian fields produced over 48,000 boe/d over the same period, which is a large volume to lose particularly for one that is publicly-traded in the NYSE. But it makes sense. Malaysia was Murphy’s only bright spot internationally. Its forays into other developing markets like Australia, Brunei, Vietnam, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea and Spain have not been as successful. On its home turf, the shale revolution is re-invigorating and re-inventing American upstream. High-yielding and low-cost, it has presented Murphy Oil with a question – why spend money on riskier overseas projects when there is so much potential available at home? This PTTEP deal is Murphy’s answer; and the money raised will be used to pay down debt, buy back shares and (crucially) fund new deals and acquisitions in the US. This won’t just be focused on shale – although Eagle Ford has been named as a focus area – but also more traditional assets in the Gulf of Mexico.

Market chatter suggests that Murphy Oil will be selling off most of its non-Western Hemisphere assets. So while Murphy Oil prepares to go back home, the sale kicks off what could be a major year of M&A in Southeast Asia. When rumours of the sale emerged last year, it was Repsol that was thought to be the preferred buyer – fresh from its massive gas find in Indonesia. Together with Eni, Repsol has been one of the more aggressive European players expanding in Asia – galvanised by declining assets elsewhere. Meanwhile, players who have the capability to swing into the shale oil patch – Chevron, for example – are slowly refocusing there, possibly to the risk of putting eggs into a single basket. And regional players – like PTTEP – are looking to make inroads. That PTTEP won the sale is interesting. Like many Asian state-linked oil firms, PTTEP suffers from a maturing portfolio and needs to find new fields to plumb. Its Thai fields are declining and new discoveries aren’t keeping pace to keep the numbers up. Having ventured into Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar and even Africa, PTTEP’s relevance as an upstream player depends on making strategic acquisitions like this. And Murphy Oil’s Malaysian assets are valuable. Murphy Oil will receive up to US$100 million as a bonus payout if certain exploration projects are completed and sold results before October 2020. Also, Murphy Oil had a close relationship with Petronas; with PTTEP, there may be more opportunities for both state firms to collaborate on other regional assets.

This recalibration will continue. As players capable to focusing on shale divest out of Southeast Asia, there will be plenty other eager players to take their place. Attractive assets always draw interest, whether it is in the Permian Basin or in the South China Sea.

Murphy Oil Malaysian Assets and Projects: 

  • The Kikeh field, the first deepwater development in Malaysia, has been in production since 2007.
  • The Kakap field is unitized with the Gumusut field. The field has been in production since 2012 via interim tie-back to the Kikeh production facility. The main field production facility was completed and started up in October 2014.
  • The Siakap North field is unitized with the Petai field and first production was in the first quarter of 2014.
  • The West Patricia field was Murphy’s first development in Malaysia and first production was in 2003.
  • The Sarawak Gas Project is multi-phase development for several natural gas discoveries in blocks SK309 and SK311, and started producing in 2009. Murphy provides gas to the Malaysia LNG complex via our gas sales contract with PETRONAS, the Malaysian state-owned oil company, for gross sales volumes up to 250 mmcfd.
  • The Sarawak Oil Project comprises several oil discoveries in SK309 and SK311, and production came on-stream in the second half of 2013 through a series of new offshore platforms and pipelines tying back to West Patricia infrastructure.
  • The Block H Floating LNG project has been sanctioned by both Murphy and PETRONAS with first production targeted in 2020.
  • Murphy was awarded this Block SK 314A in May 2013. The first two exploration wells were drilled in 2015 and a third was drilled in 2016.

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In 2018, the United States consumed more energy than ever before

U.S. total energy consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Primary energy consumption in the United States reached a record high of 101.3 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2018, up 4% from 2017 and 0.3% above the previous record set in 2007. The increase in 2018 was the largest increase in energy consumption, in both absolute and percentage terms, since 2010.

Consumption of fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—grew by 4% in 2018 and accounted for 80% of U.S. total energy consumption. Natural gas consumption reached a record high, rising by 10% from 2017. This increase in natural gas, along with relatively smaller increases in the consumption of petroleum fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear electric power, more than offset a 4% decline in coal consumption.

U.S. total energy consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Petroleum consumption in the United States increased to 20.5 million barrels per day (b/d), or 37 quadrillion Btu in 2018, up nearly 500,000 b/d from 2017 and the highest level since 2007. Growth was driven primarily by increased use in the industrial sector, which grew by about 200,000 b/d in 2018. The transportation sector grew by about 140,000 b/d in 2018 as a result of increased demand for fuels such as petroleum diesel and jet fuel.

Natural gas consumption in the United States reached a record high 83.1 billion cubic feet/day (Bcf/d), the equivalent of 31 quadrillion Btu, in 2018. Natural gas use rose across all sectors in 2018, primarily driven by weather-related factors that increased demand for space heating during the winter and for air conditioning during the summer. As more natural gas-fired power plants came online and existing natural gas-fired power plants were used more often, natural gas consumption in the electric power sector increased 15% from 2017 levels to 29.1 Bcf/d. Natural gas consumption also grew in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors in 2018, increasing 13%, 10%, and 4% compared with 2017 levels, respectively.

Coal consumption in the United States fell to 688 million short tons (13 quadrillion Btu) in 2018, the fifth consecutive year of decline. Almost all of the reduction came from the electric power sector, which fell 4% from 2017 levels. Coal-fired power plants continued to be displaced by newer, more efficient natural gas and renewable power generation sources. In 2018, 12.9 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity were retired, while 14.6 GW of net natural gas-fired capacity were added.

U.S. fossil fuel energy consumption by sector

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Renewable energy consumption in the United States reached a record high 11.5 quadrillion Btu in 2018, rising 3% from 2017, largely driven by the addition of new wind and solar power plants. Wind electricity consumption increased by 8% while solar consumption rose 22%. Biomass consumption, primarily in the form of transportation fuels such as fuel ethanol and biodiesel, accounted for 45% of all renewable consumption in 2018, up 1% from 2017 levels. Increases in wind, solar, and biomass consumption were partially offset by a 3% decrease in hydroelectricity consumption.

U.S. energy consumption of selected fuels

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Nuclear consumption in the United States increased less than 1% compared with 2017 levels but still set a record for electricity generation in 2018. The number of total operable nuclear generating units decreased to 98 in September 2018 when the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey was retired. Annual average nuclear capacity factors, which reflect the use of power plants, were slightly higher at 92.6% in 2018 compared with 92.2% in 2017.

More information about total energy consumption, production, trade, and emissions is available in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review.

April, 17 2019
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April, 17 2019
A New Frontier for LNG Pricing and Contracts

How’s this for a first? As the world’s demand for LNG continues to grow, the world’s largest LNG supplier (Shell) has inked an innovative new deal with one of the world’s largest LNG buyers (Tokyo Gas), including a coal pricing formula link for the first time in a large-scale LNG contract. It’s a notable change in an industry that has long depended on pricing gas off crude, but could this be a sign of new things to come?

Both parties have named the deal an ‘innovative solution’, with Tokyo Gas hailing it as a ‘further diversification of price indexation’ and Shell calling it a ‘tailored solutions including flexible contract terms under a variety of pricing indices.’ Beneath the rhetoric, the actual nuts and bolts is slightly more mundane. The pricing formula link to coal indexation will only be used for part of the supply, with the remainder priced off the conventional oil & gas-linked indexation ie. Brent and Henry Hub pricing. This makes sense, since Tokyo Gas will be sourcing LNG from Shell’s global portfolio – which includes upcoming projects in Canada and the US Gulf Coast. Neither party provided the split of volumes under each pricing method, meaning that the coal-linked portion could be small, acting as a hedge.

However, it is likely that the push for this came from Tokyo Gas. As one of the world’s largest LNG buyers, Tokyo Gas has been at the forefront of redefining the strict traditions of LNG contracts. Reading between the lines, this deal most likely does not include any destination restriction clauses, a change that Tokyo Gas has been particularly pushing for. With the trajectory for Brent crude prices uncertain – owing to a difficult-to-predict balance between OPEC+ and US shale – creating a third link in the pricing formula might be a good move. Particularly since in Japan, LNG faces off directly with coal in power generation. With the general retreat from nuclear power in the country, the coal-LNG battle will intensify.

What does this mean for the rest of the industry? Could coal-linked contracts become the norm? The industry has been discussing new innovations in LNG contracts at the recent LNG2019 conference in Shanghai, while the influx of new American LNG players hungry to seal deals has unleashed a new sense of flexibility. But will there be takers?

I am not a pricing expert but the answer is maybe. While Tokyo Gas predominantly uses natural gas as its power generation fuel (hence the name), it is competing with other players using cheaper coal-based generation. So in Japan, LNG and coal are direct competitors. This is also true in South Korea and much of Southeast Asia. In the two rising Asian LNG powerhouses, however, the situation is different. In China – on track to become the world’s largest LNG buyer in the next two decades – LNG is rarely used in power generation, consumed instead by residential heating. In India – where LNG imports are also rising sharply – LNG is primarily aimed at petrochemicals and fertiliser. LNG based power generation in China and India could see a surge, of course, but that will take plenty of infrastructure, and time, to build. It is far more likely that their contracts will be based off existing LNG or natural gas benchmarks, several of which are being developed in Asia alone.

If it takes off  the coal-link LNG formula is likely to remain a Asian-based development. But with the huge volumes demanded by countries in this region, that’s still a very big niche. Enough perhaps for the innovation to slowly gain traction elsewhere, next stop -  Europe?

The Shell-Tokyo Gas Deal:

Contract – April 2020-March 2030 (10 Years)

Volume – 500,000 metric tons per year

Source – Shell global portfolio

Pricing – Formula based on coal and oil & gas-linked indexes

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April, 15 2019