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Last Updated: April 26, 2019
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 22 April 2019 – Brent: US$75/b; WTI: US$65/b

  • A chill ran through the oil market Monday as the US announced that it was eliminating sanction waivers on Iranian crude, causing crude oil futures to leap to its highest level in six months as traders worried about a supply shortfall
  • The US move, which will negate waivers granted to eight large oil importers back in November, was partially expected as a winding down instead of a hard-stop, although the US said it would announce crude supply offsets through Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • Most of the importers – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Taiwan – had stopped or wound down their purchase of Iranian crude ahead of the expiry in early May; with key importer India turning to Iraq, Mexico and the US to attempt to offset the loss
  • This will place the current OPEC supply deal under pressure ahead of the upcoming Vienna meeting, with key supporters like Russia or Iraq likely to flout the quotas, along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • Also supporting prices is a surprising loss streak in the active US rig count, which fell again by a net 10 rigs last week – 8 oil, 2 gas – despite rising WTI prices; the active rig count is now merely 1 above the total this time last year
  • The wind is in the sales for crude prices, with the end of Iranian waivers and troubles in Venezuela and Libya likely to push Brent up to a trading range of US$74-75/b and WTI to US$65-66/b


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • The hit don’t seem to stop coming from Guyana, with ExxonMobil announcing a new oil discovery at the Yellowtail-1 well, the 13th discovery in the prolific Stabroek Block and the fifth in its Turbot area
  • The young nation of South Sudan is aiming to reach crude output levels of 200,000 b/d – up from a current 168,000 b/d – by restarting blocks left dormant over the past five years due to its civil war
  • While discoveries are piling up in Guyana, international majors are also betting on Brazil’s massive pre-salt Santos Basin, with Total being the latest, announcing a four well drilling campaign in its Campo de Lapa asset
  • Eni has signed an agreement with UAE emirate Ras al Khaimah over the offshore Block A, covering an E&P sharing agreement with RAK GAS
  • BP and its partners have officially sanctioned the 100,000 b/d Azeri Central East (ACE) project in Azerbaijan, the next stage of the giant ACG oilfield
  • In Argentina’s recently concluded first offshore bid round, ExxonMobil and its partner Qatar Petroleum have won three blocks in the Malvinas Basin offshore Tierra del Fuego, adding 2.6 million net acres to ExxonMobil’s holdings
  • In the same Argentine bid round, Equinor won 7 blocks – five as a sole operator and two with partners, one with Total and one with YPF
  • ConocoPhillips has finalised the sale of its two UK upstream subsidiaries to Chrysaor E&P for a reported US$2.68 billion
  • Gazprom is exploiting oil-bearing tracts in the Western Siberia, tasking two of its subsidiaries to access the Yamburg, Pestsovoye and En-Yakhinskoye field

Midstream & Downstream

  • In a major move, Saudi Aramco is in ‘serious discussions’ to acquire up to a 25% stake in Reliance’s massive Jamnagar refining complex in India, which could be worth up to US$10-15 billion
  • After India, Saudi Arabia continues on its downstream investment spree, signing an agreement to acquire 17% in South Korean refinery Hyundai Oilbank
  • After buying out Shell from its US refining venture Motiva, Saudi Aramco is now reportedly aiming to acquire Shell’s 50% stake in the 305 kb/d SASREF refinery in Saudi Arabia’s Jubail Industrial City
  • Iraq has announced that it plans to construct a 150 kb/d oil refinery in its northern oil-rich province of Kirkuk
  • Chinese refiner Shandong Tianhong Chemical has signed a 3-year crude deal with BP for annual delivery of 8 mmb of crude beginning this year

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Israeli player Energean Oil and Gas announced a ‘significant gas discovery’ at its Karish North exploration well, with initial estimates of natural gas flowing at some 1-1.5 trillion cubic feet
  • In Australia, Santos has struck new gas at the Corvus appraisal well in the offshore Carnarvon Basin in Western Australia, with estimates suggesting a 2.5 tcf natural gas and 25-million-barrel condensate asset
  • Eagle LNG Partners has received approval from the US government to begin construction of the 3-train, 1 mtpa Jacksonville LNG project in Florida
  • Qatar is preparing for its massive North Field expansion project by issuing tenders for four mega-LNG trains with total capacity of some 33 mtpa
  • The US LNG rush continues, with Venture Global LNG now planning to add a third LNG train to its Delta LNG export project in Louisiana

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Pricing-in The Covid 19 Vaccine

In a few days, the bi-annual OPEC meeting will take place on November 30, leading into a wider OPEC+ meeting on December 30. This is what all the political jostling and negotiations currently taking place is leading up to, as the coalition of major oil producers under the OPEC+ banner decide on the next step of its historic and ambitious supply control plan. Designed to prop up global oil prices by managing supply, a postponement of the next phase in the supply deal is widely expected. But there are many cracks appearing beneath the headline.

A quick recap. After Saudi Arabia and Russia triggered a price war in March 2020 that led to a collapse in oil prices (with US crude prices briefly falling into negative territory due to the technical quirk), OPEC and its non-OPEC allies (known collectively as OPEC+) agreed to a massive supply quota deal that would throttle their production for 2 years. The initial figure was 10 mmb/d, until Mexico’s reticence brought that down to 9.7 mmb/d. This was due to fall to 7.7 mmb/d by July 2020, but soft demand forced a delay, while Saudi Arabia led the charge to ensure full compliance from laggards, which included Iraq, Nigeria and (unusually) the UAE. The next tranche will bring the supply control ceiling down to 5.7 mmb/d. But given that Covid-19 is still raging globally (despite promising vaccine results), this might be too much too soon. Yes, prices have recovered, but at US$40/b crude, this is still not sufficient to cover the oil-dependent budgets of many OPEC+ nations. So a delay is very likely.

But for how long? The OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee panel has suggested that the next step of the plan (which will effectively boost global supply by 2 mmb/d) be postponed by 3-6 months. This move, if adopted, will have been presaged by several public statements by OPEC+ leaders, including a pointed comment from OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo that producers must be ready to respond to ‘shifts in market fundamentals’.

On the surface, this is a necessary move. Crude prices have rallied recently – to as high as US$45/b – on positive news of Covid-19 vaccines. Treatments from Pfizer, Moderna and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca have touted 90%+ effectiveness in various forms, with countries such as the US, Germany and the UK ordering billions of doses and setting the stage for mass vaccinations beginning December. Life returning to a semblance of normality would lift demand, particularly in key products such as gasoline (as driving rates increase) and jet fuel (allowing a crippled aviation sector to return to life). Underpinning the rally is the understanding that OPEC+ will always act in the market’s favour, carefully supporting the price recovery. But there are already grouses among OPEC members that they are doing ‘too much’. Led by Saudi Arabia, the draconian dictates of meeting full compliance to previous quotas have ruffled feathers, although most members have reluctantly attempt to abide by them. But there is a wider existential issue that OPEC+ is merely allowing its rivals to resuscitate and leapfrog them once again; the US active oil rig count by Baker Hughes has reversed a chronic decline trend, as WTI prices are at levels above breakeven for US shale.

Complaints from Iran, Iraq and Nigeria are to be expected, as is from Libya as it seeks continued exemption from quotas due to the legacy of civil war even though it has recently returned to almost full production following a truce. But grievance is also coming from an unexpected quarter: the UAE. A major supporter in the Saudi Arabia faction of OPEC, reports suggest that the UAE (led by the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi) are privately questioning the benefit of remaining in OPEC. Beset by shrivelling oil revenue, the Emiratis have been grumbling about the fairness of their allocated quota as they seek to rebuild their trade-dependent economy. There has been suggestion that the Emiratis could even leave OPEC if decisions led to a net negative outcome for them. Unlike the Qatar exit, this will not just be a blow to OPEC as a whole, questioning its market relevance but to Saudi Arabia’s lead position, as it loses one of its main allies, reducing its negotiation power. And if the UAE leaves, Kuwait could follow, which would leave the Saudis even more isolated.

This could be a tactic to increase the volume of the UAE’s voice in OPEC+, which has been dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia. But it could also be a genuine policy shift. Either way, it throws even more conundrums onto a delicate situation that could undermine an already fragile market. Despite the positive market news led by Covid-19 vaccines and demand recovery in Asia, American crude oil inventories in Cushing are now approaching similar high levels last seen in April (just before the WTI crash) while OPEC itself has lowered its global demand forecast for 2020 by 300,000 b/d. That’s dangerous territory to be treading in, especially if members of the OPEC+ club are threatening to exit and undermine the pack. A postponement of the plan seems inevitable on December 1 at this point, but it is what lies beyond the immediate horizon that is the true threat to OPEC+.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$44-46/b, WTI – US$42-44/b
  • More positive news on Covid-19 vaccines have underpinned a crude price rally despite worrying signs of continued soft demand and inventory build-ups
  • Pfizer’s application for emergency approval of its vaccine is paving the way for mass vaccinations to begin soon, with some experts predicting that the global economy could return to normality in Q2 2021
  • Market observers are predicting a delay in the OPEC+ supply quota schedule, but the longer timeline for the club’s plan – which is set to last until April 2022 – may have to be brought forward to appease current dissent in the group

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November, 25 2020
EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to remain relatively flat through 2021

In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) November Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will remain near its current level through the end of 2021.

A record 12.9 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil was produced in the United States in November 2019 and was at 12.7 million b/d in March 2020, when the President declared a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Crude oil production then fell to 10.0 million b/d in May 2020, the lowest level since January 2018.

By August, the latest monthly data available in EIA’s series, production of crude oil had risen to 10.6 million b/d in the United States, and the U.S. benchmark price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil had increased from a monthly average of $17 per barrel (b) in April to $42/b in August. EIA forecasts that the WTI price will average $43/b in the first half of 2021, up from our forecast of $40/b during the second half of 2020.

The U.S. crude oil production forecast reflects EIA’s expectations that annual global petroleum demand will not recover to pre-pandemic levels (101.5 million b/d in 2019) through at least 2021. EIA forecasts that global consumption of petroleum will average 92.9 million b/d in 2020 and 98.8 million b/d in 2021.

The gradual recovery in global demand for petroleum contributes to EIA’s forecast of higher crude oil prices in 2021. EIA expects that the Brent crude oil price will increase from its 2020 average of $41/b to $47/b in 2021.

EIA’s crude oil price forecast depends on many factors, especially changes in global production of crude oil. As of early November, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) were considering plans to keep production at current levels, which could result in higher crude oil prices. OPEC+ had previously planned to ease production cuts in January 2021.

Other factors could result in lower-than-forecast prices, especially a slower recovery in global petroleum demand. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, some parts of the United States are adding restrictions such as curfews and limitations on gatherings and some European countries are re-instituting lockdown measures.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of U.S. crude oil production in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 19 2020
OPEC members' net oil export revenue in 2020 expected to drop to lowest level since 2002

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will earn about $323 billion in net oil export revenues in 2020. If realized, this forecast revenue would be the lowest in 18 years. Lower crude oil prices and lower export volumes drive this expected decrease in export revenues.

Crude oil prices have fallen as a result of lower global demand for petroleum products because of responses to COVID-19. Export volumes have also decreased under OPEC agreements limiting crude oil output that were made in response to low crude oil prices and record-high production disruptions in Libya, Iran, and to a lesser extent, Venezuela.

OPEC earned an estimated $595 billion in net oil export revenues in 2019, less than half of the estimated record high of $1.2 trillion, which was earned in 2012. Continued declines in revenue in 2020 could be detrimental to member countries’ fiscal budgets, which rely heavily on revenues from oil sales to import goods, fund social programs, and support public services. EIA expects a decline in net oil export revenue for OPEC in 2020 because of continued voluntary curtailments and low crude oil prices.

The benchmark Brent crude oil spot price fell from an annual average of $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 to $64/b in 2019. EIA expects Brent to average $41/b in 2020, based on forecasts in EIA’s October 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). OPEC petroleum production averaged 36.6 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018 and fell to 34.5 million b/d in 2019; EIA expects OPEC production to decline a further 3.9 million b/d to average 30.7 million b/d in 2020.

EIA based its OPEC revenues estimate on forecast petroleum liquids production—including crude oil, condensate, and natural gas plant liquids—and forecast values of OPEC petroleum consumption and crude oil prices.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of OPEC revenue in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 16 2020