“Despite oil price downturns, the shale revolution and OPEC market share wars, offshore continues to thrive and has much to offer the future,” Audun Martinsen, head of oilfield services research at Rystad Energy, said in May, commenting on the independent energy research and consultancy’s findings that the offshore oil and gas sector has tremendous room for further growth.
Offshore exploration, greenfield and brownfield development, decommissioning, and maintenance and operations are all set to create trillions of U.S. dollars of opportunities for the services sector in the future, according to Rystad Energy.
Following a muted offshore market in 2015 and 2016 after the 2014 oil price crash, offshore project sanctioning has recently started to pick up, and may be on track for a bumper year this year, Rystad said in an analysis in January. Back then, the consultancy forecast that offshore sanctioning could reach US$123 billion in project commitments in 2019, with the Middle East leading in shallow-water project sanctioning and South America leading in deepwater projects.
More recently, in July, Rystad Energy said that this year’s offshore oil and gas project sanctioning had already exceeded US$50 billion in commitments, signalling that the industry has the potential to reach US$123 billion in project commitments, surpassing the US$78-billion worth of projects sanctioned in 2014, when the price of oil started to crumble.
“With offshore free cash flows at nearly record highs, E&P’s are betting big on new projects. Offshore project sanctioning in 2019 looks ready to reach heights not seen since the $100 barrel of oil,” Matthew Fitzsimmons, VP of Oilfield Service Research at Rystad Energy, said in July.
The consultancy ranked the top ten offshore projects in terms of capital commitments sanctioned between 2014—when oil prices were still at US$100 a barrel in the first half of that year—and 2019. Here they are ranked in descending order:1. Saudi Aramco’s Marjan expansion offshore Saudi Arabia
The Marjan increment programme is an integrated development project for oil, associated gas, non-associated gas, and cap gas from the Marjan offshore field, worth a total of US$12 billion. The development aims to boost the Marjan Field production by 300,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) of Arabian Medium Crude Oil, process 2.5 BSCFD of gas, and produce an additional 360 MBCD of C2+NGL. The development will entail a new offshore gas oil separation plant and 24 offshore oil, gas, and water injection platforms.2. Equinor’s Johan Sverdrup Phase 1 offshore Norway
Next on Rystad’s rankings comes the Johan Sverdrup Phase 1 development project in Norway’s section of the North Sea. Johan Sverdrup is one of the five largest oil fields ever to be discovered on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). The project—with expected resources estimated at 2.7 billion barrels of oil equivalent—is also one of the most important industrial projects in Norway for the next 50 years.
Production start-up is scheduled for November 2019, and daily production during Phase 1 is estimated at 440,000 bpd, with peak production expected to reach 660,000 bpd. Investment in Phase 1 is estimated at 86 billion Norwegian crowns, according to Equinor, or around US$11 billion as estimated by Rystad.3. BP’s Argos (Mad Dog Phase 2) in the US Gulf of Mexico
The operator BP and co-owners BHP and Union Oil Company of California, an affiliate of Chevron, approved the US$9 billion final investment decision on the Mad Dog 2 Phase offshore project in early 2017. BP has worked with co-owners and contractors to bring down the originally estimated cost of US$20 billion and slashed costs by 60 percent. The Mad Dog 2 project includes the Argos platform with the capacity to produce up to 140,000 gross barrels of crude oil per day through a subsea production system from up to 14 production wells and eight water injection wells. Oil production from the new floating production platform is expected to begin in late 2021.4. Equinor’s Johan Castberg in the Barents Sea
Equinor’s development plan for the Johan Castberg field in the Barents Sea was approved in 2018. The US$6-billion project has recoverable resources estimated at 450-650 million barrels of oil equivalent, while Equinor and partners have changed the concept to halve expenditures and make it a profitable development.
The field—currently the largest subsea field under development in the world, according to Equinor—consists of a production vessel and a comprehensive subsea system, including a total of 30 wells distributed on 10 templates and 2 satellite structures. Johan Castberg is scheduled for first oil in 2022 and it’s profitable even at an oil price below US$35 a barrel, Equinor says.5. Saudi Aramco’s Berri expansion project offshore Saudi Arabia
Aramco’s Berri increment programme worth around US$6 billion aims to raise the offshore field’s production by 250,000 barrels of Arabian Light Crude per day. Once completed, the planned facilities will include a new gas oil separation plant in Abu Ali Island to process 500,000 bpd of Arabian Light Crude Oil, and additional gas processing facilities at the Khursaniyah gas plant to process 40,000 barrels of associated hydrocarbon condensate. The expansion project includes a new water injection facility, two drilling islands, 11 oil and water offshore platforms, and nine onshore oil production and water supply drill sites.
In early July, Saudi Aramco awarded 34 contracts worth a total of US$18 billion for the engineering, procurement and construction of the Marjan and Berri increment programmes.6. Equinor’s Johan Sverdrup Phase 2 in the North Sea
Norwegian authorities approved in May 2019 Equinor and partners’ development plan for the second phase of the Johan Sverdrup field development. Capital expenditure is around US$5 billion and start-up is planned for the fourth quarter of 2022. In addition to the construction of a new processing platform (P2), phase 2 development will also include modifications of the riser platform, five subsea systems, and preparations for power supply from shore to the Utsira High in 2022.7. Shell’s Appomatox in the US Gulf of Mexico
Shell’s Appomatox development in the Norphlet formation in deepwater Gulf of Mexico was not only sanctioned but also brought to production between 2014 and 2019. The estimated US$5-billion development was the first-ever Jurassic play to start production in the US Gulf of Mexico in May this year, with an expected production of 175,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed).
The Shell-operated Appomattox floating production system opens a new frontier in the deepwater US Gulf of Mexico, Shell says, adding that Appomattox has realised cost reductions of more than 40 percent since taking FID in 2015. “Appomattox creates a core long-term hub for Shell in the Norphlet through which we can tie back several already discovered fields as well as future discoveries,” said Andy Brown, Upstream Director, Royal Dutch Shell.
The next two offshore projects in Rystad Energy’s rankings are located offshore the United Arab Emirates (UAE), each worth some US$5 billion for development of sour gas, and expected to take FID in 2019.8. ADNOC’s Hail (Sour Gas) project offshore the UAE
At the beginning of 2019, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) awarded work for the dredging, land reclamation, and marine construction to build multiple artificial islands in the first phase of development of the Ghasha Concession. The Ghasha Concession consists of the Hail, Ghasha, Dalma, Nasr, and Mubarraz offshore sour gas fields. The project is expected to take 38 months to complete and will provide the infrastructure required to further develop, drill, and produce gas from the sour gas fields in the Ghasha Concession.9. ADNOC’s Ghasha (Sour Gas) project offshore the UAE
Commenting on the initial work on the projects, UAE Minister of State and ADNOC Group CEO, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, said:
“This award accelerates the development of the Hail, Ghasha and Dalma sour gas offshore mega-project, which is an integral part of ADNOC’s 2030 smart growth strategy. As one of the world’s largest sour gas projects it will make a significant contribution to the UAE’s objective to become gas self-sufficient and transition to a potential net gas exporter.”10. Total’s Gindungo offshore Angola
Total, operator of Kaombo, currently the biggest deep offshore development in Angola, started up in July 2018 production from Kaombo Norte, the first Floating Production Storage, and Offloading (FPSO) unit. Kaombo Norte and the other FPSO, Kaombo Sul, are developing the resources from six different fields—Gengibre, Gindungo, Caril, Canela, Mostarda, and Louro—offshore Angola.
In April 2019, Total started up production from Kaombo Sul, bringing the overall production capacity to 230,000 bopd, equivalent to 15 percent of Angola’s production. The associated gas from Kaombo Sul will be exported to the Angola LNG plant as part of Total’s commitment to stop routine flaring.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 23 March 2020 – Brent: US$27/b; WTI: US$23/b
Headlines of the week
Crude oil prices have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by the economic contraction caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID19) and a sudden increase in crude oil supply following the suspension of agreed production cuts among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries. With falling demand and increasing supply, the front-month price of the U.S. benchmark crude oil West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell from a year-to-date high closing price of $63.27 per barrel (b) on January 6 to a year-to-date low of $20.37/b on March 18 (Figure 1), the lowest nominal crude oil price since February 2002.
WTI crude oil prices have also fallen significantly along the futures curve, which charts monthly price settlements for WTI crude oil delivery over the next several years. For example, the WTI price for December 2020 delivery declined from $56.90/b on January 2, 2020, to $32.21/b as of March 24. In addition to the sharp price decline, the shape of the futures curve has shifted from backwardation—when near-term futures prices are higher than longer-dated ones—to contango, when near-term futures prices are lower than longer-dated ones. The WTI 1st-13th spread (the difference between the WTI price in the nearest month and the price for WTI 13 months away) settled at -$10.34/b on March 18, the lowest since February 2016, exhibiting high contango. The shift from backwardation to contango reflects the significant increase in petroleum inventories. In its March 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on March 11, 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) commercial petroleum inventories will rise to 2.9 billion barrels in March, an increase of 20 million barrels over the previous month and 68 million barrels over March 2019 (Figure 2). Since the release of the March STEO, changes in various oil market and macroeconomic indicators suggest that inventory builds are likely to be even greater than EIA’s March forecast.
Significant price volatility has accompanied both price declines and price increases. Since 1999, 69% of the time, daily WTI crude oil prices increased or decreased by less than 2% relative to the previous trading day. Daily oil price changes during March 2020 have exceeded 2% 13 times (76% of the month’s traded days) as of March 24. For example, the 10.1% decline on March 6 after the OPEC meeting was larger than 99.8% of the daily percentage price decreases since 1999. The 24.6% decline on March 9 and the 24.4% decline on March 18 were the largest and second largest percent declines, respectively, since at least 1999 (Figure 3).
On March 10, a series of government announcements indicated that emergency fiscal and monetary policy were likely to be forthcoming in various countries, which contributed to a 10.4% increase in the WTI price, the 12th-largest daily increase since 1999. During other highly volatile time periods, such as the 2008 financial crisis, both large price increases and decreases occurred in quick succession. During the 2008 financial crisis, the largest single-day increase—a 17.8% rise on September 22, 2008—was followed the next day by the largest single-day decrease, a 12.0% fall on September 23, 2008.
Market price volatility during the first quarter of 2020 has not been limited to oil markets (Figure 4). The recent volatility in oil markets has also coincided with increased volatility in equity markets because the products refined from crude oil are used in many parts of the economy and because the COVID-19-related economic slowdown affects a broad array of economic activities. This can be measured through implied volatility—an estimate of a security’s expected range of near-term price changes—which can be calculated using price movements of financial options and measured by the VIX index for the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 index and the OVX index for WTI prices. Implied volatility for both the S&P 500 index and WTI are higher than the levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis, which peaked on November 20, 2008, at 80.9 and on December 11, 2008, at 100.4, respectively, compared with 61.7 for the VIX and 170.9 for the OVX as of March 24.
Comparing implied volatility for the S&P 500 index with WTI’s suggests that although recent volatility is not limited to oil markets, oil markets are likely more volatile than equity markets at this point. The oil market’s relative volatility is not, however, in and of itself unusual. Oil markets are almost always more volatile than equity markets because crude oil demand is price inelastic—whereby price changes have relatively little effect on the quantity of crude oil demanded—and because of the relative diversity of the companies constituting the S&P 500 index. But recent oil market volatility is still historically high, even in comparison to the volatility of the larger equity market. As denoted by the red line in the bottom of Figure 4, the difference between the OVX and VIX reached an all-time high of 124.1 on March 23, compared with an average difference of 16.8 between May 2007 (the date the OVX was launched) and March 24, 2020.
Markets currently appear to expect continued and increasing market volatility, and, by extension, increasing uncertainty in the pricing of crude oil. Oil’s current level of implied volatility—a forward-looking measure for the next 30 days—is also high relative to its historical, or realized, volatility. Historical volatility can influence the market’s expectations for future price uncertainty, which contributes to higher implied volatility. Some of this difference is a structural part of the market, and implied volatility typically exceeds historical volatility as sellers of options demand a volatility risk premium to compensate them for the risk of holding a volatile security. But as the yellow line in Figure 4 shows, the current implied volatility of WTI prices is still higher than normal. The difference between implied and historical volatility reached an all-time high of 44.7 on March 20, compared with an average difference of 2.3 between 2007 and March 2020. This trend could suggest that options (prices for which increase with volatility) are relatively expensive and, by extension, that demand for financial instruments to limit oil price exposure are relatively elevated.
Increased price correlation among several asset classes also suggests that similar economic factors are driving prices in a variety of markets. For example, both the correlation between changes in the price of WTI and changes in the S&P 500 and the correlation between WTI and other non-energy commodities (as measured by the S&P Commodity Index (GSCI)) increased significantly in March. Typically, when correlations between WTI and other asset classes increase, it suggests that expectations of future economic growth—rather than issues specific to crude oil markets— tend to be the primary drivers of price formation. In this case, price declines for oil, equities, and non-energy commodities all indicate that concerns over global economic growth are likely the primary force driving price formation (Figure 5).
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 13 cents from the previous week to $2.12 per gallon on March 23, 50 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 16 cents to $1.87 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 15 cents to $2.88 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 11 cents to $2.08 per gallon and $1.86 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price declined more than 8 cents to $2.24 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell more than 7 cents from the previous week to $2.66 per gallon on March 23, 42 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 9 cents to $2.50 per gallon, the West Coast price fell more than 7 cents to $3.25 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 7 cents to $2.72 per gallon and $2.44 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell more than 6 cents to $2.68 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 64.9 million barrels as of March 20, 2020, 15.5 million barrels (31.3%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 1.3 million barrels, East Coast inventories decreased by 0.3 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decrease by 0.2 million barrels. Midwest inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 8.5% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of March 23, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.45 per gallon, almost 15 cents per gallon below last week’s price and nearly 77 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged more than $1.11 per gallon, almost 14 cents per gallon below last week’s price and 98 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.91 per gallon, nearly 2 cents per gallon below last week’s price and almost 49 cents per gallon below last year’s price. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.42 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 36 cents per gallon below last year’s price.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 16 March 2020 – Brent: US$30/b; WTI: US$28/b
Headlines of the week