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Last Updated: June 17, 2019
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Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 June 2019 – Brent: US$62/b; WTI: US$53/b

  • With US’s trade and tariff assault abating for the moment, crude oil prices have consolidated their trends to steady up as OPEC+ nations signal their desire to continue stabilising the oil market ahead of a June 25 meeting in Vienna
  • Despite some background squabbles between Russia and Saudi Arabia – with Russia at pains to emphasise its position regarding lower oil prices – the group has seemingly come together
  • Saudi Arabia has reportedly corralled the OPEC group to agreeing to extending the current supply deal to December, even Iran, but convincing Russia has been a harder task and adherence may continue to be an issue
  • Meanwhile, the US continues to tighten the screws on Venezuela and Iran, announcing sanctions on Iranian petrochemicals exports and targeting Venezuela’s trade in diluents that are used to blend heavy crude down
  • With reports that Iranian crude exports were down to an estimated 400 kb/d in May, tensions in the Persian Gulf continue with the latest incident being attacks on tankers; this risk factor will lift the floor for oil prices for now
  • After a brief rise last week, American drillers dropped 11 oil rigs but added 2 gas rigs according to Baker Hughes for a net loss of 9 active sites, bringing the total active rig count down to 975
  • As OPEC prepares to meet, the market has seemingly locked in an extension of the supply deal into projections, which will leave little room for gains; expect Brent to fall to the US$60-62/b range and WTI to trade at US$51-53/b

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • BP is selling its stakes in its Egyptian concessions in the Gulf of Suez to Dubai-based Dragon Oil (a subsidiary of ENOC), which do not include BP’s core production assets in the West Nile Delta production area
  • Eni’s African streak continues with its fifth oil discovery in Angola’s Block 15/06 at the Agidigbo prospect, bringing total resources to 1.8 billion barrels
  • Also in Angola, ExxonMobil and its partners are looking to invest further in offshore Block 15 that will see Sonangol take a 10% interest in the PSA
  • Russia’s Lukoil has inked a deal with New Age M12 Holding to acquire a 25% interest in the offshore Marine XII licence in the Republic of Congo for US$800 million, covering the producing Nene and Litchendjili fields
  • Buoyed by recent discoveries in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is launching its first licensing round in July, offering 14 blocks in the onshore Cibao, Enriquillo and Azua basins and the offshore San Pedro basin
  • W&T Offshore and Kosmos Energy have struck oil in the Gladden Deep well in the US Gulf of Mexico, the first of a four-well programme that includes the Moneypenny, Oldfield and Resolution prospects with estimates of 7 mmboe

Midstream & Downstream

  • Shell is increasing storage capacity at its Pulau Bukom refinery in Singapore, adding two new crude oil tanks to increase capacity by nearly 1.3 million barrels
  • A new swathe of American sanctions against Iran is now targeting Iranian petrochemical exports, clipping a major regional revenue source for Iran
  • Angola is looking overhaul its refining sector, by attracting investment o overhaul facilities and building a new refinery in Soyo that will be the third ongoing refining project after the 200 kb/d Lobito and Cabinda plants
  • BP and Mexico’s IEnova have signed a deal allowing BP to use IEnova’s new gasoline and diesel storage and distribution facilities in Manzanillo and Guadalajara, allowing access to over 1 million barrels of storage
  • British petrochemicals firm INEOS has announced plans to invest US$2 billion in building three new petchem plants in Saudi Arabia that would form part of the wider Saudi Aramco-Total Project Amiral petrochemicals complex
  • The saga of Russia’s bankrupt 180 kb/d Antipinsky refinery continues, with SOCAR Energoresurs (a JV including Sberbank) acquiring an 80% stake in the refinery with the aim of restarting operations
  • Mexico has kicked off construction of its US$7.7 billion oil refinery, aimed to overhauling the Mexican refining industry after years of underperformance

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Toshiba is exiting the Freeport LNG project in Texas, paying Total US$815 million and handing over its 20-year liquefaction rights by March 2020
  • China’s CNOOC has officially acquired a 10% stake in the Arctic LNG 2 project by Novatek, solidifying natural gas ties between Russia and China
  • Cheniere has taken FID to add a sixth liquefaction train to its Sabine Pass export project in Lousiaina, which would add 4.5 mtpa of capacity to the plant
  • Novatek, Sinopec and Gazprombank have created a China-focused joint venture to market LNG and natural gas from Novatek’s Arctic projects in China

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Royal Dutch Shell Poised To Become Just Shell

On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.

But why this and why now?

There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.

There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.

As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.

The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.

So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.

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