After years of sinking under the weight of the global oil downturn, the market for FPSOs or Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessels, is rising once again. As global deepwater activity regains favour, with blockbuster discoveries such as Guyana’s Liza discovery in 2015, the need for versatile FPSOs that can go where new oil is has been rising. And that activity seems to be concentrated in the western part of the Atlantic, in the waters of Latin America.
There are currently nearly 200 FPSOs in operation worldwide, forming the majority of all types of Floating Production Units (which include storage-only FSOs, expanded drilling capabilities FDPSOs and FLNG units). Between now and 2025, data from market intelligence firms GlobalData and Rystad Energy show that an additional 67 FPSOs are likely to start operations, with 33 in the short-term through 2021. The spread of projects is global, covering Africa, Asia and Europe, but is led by Latin America with 27. The kingpin in this arena remains Brazil, which has 21 planned and announced projects, coinciding with a revival in its upstream fortunes.
Brazil, through Petrobras, is already the world’s largest operator of FPSOs, with almost 50 vessels plying the deep Atlantic waters off its vast coast. These vessels, which formed part of Petrobras’s drive in the early 2000s to exploit the vast deepwater crude volumes in the pre-salt Campos and Espirito Santo Basins, are key to Brazil’s upstream industry. However, corruption scandals and the global oil downturn led to Petrobras’ fall from grace. The market for FPSOs shrank in response. Petrobras is only just beginning to pick up the pieces by transforming itself into a leaner, meaner upstream-focused player (selling off much of its downstream assets), while the enforced opening of the Brazilian upstream sector to foreign investment has removed much of the pressure on Petrobras to shoulder the burden of the industry alone.
So, with a reviving Petrobras, the FPSO market is heating up in tandem. Last week, Petrobras signed letters of intent with Japan’s Modec Inc and Malaysia’s Yinson Holdings to charter two new FPSOs with processing capacity of 80,000 b/d (Modec’s Marlim 1) and 70,000 b/d (Yinson’s Marlim 2). Looking further ahead, Petrobras has also hinted that it may return to its older strategy of commissioning and owning its own FPSO vessels, instead of using chartered units as it sees the market for leased units shifting in power balance.
And Petrobras won’t be alone. Brazil’s latest upstream auction round that focused on deepwater acreage was a resounding success, attracting the interest of supermajors and upstream heavyweights. With the country’s Car Wash corruption scandal blown over and substantial pre-salt discoveries to be made, FPSOs remain the most cost-efficient way to exploit Brazil’s offshore riches. Which is why Brazil is expected to account for a third of all new FPSO projects through 2025. There will also be heavy activity further up the South American coast, where the nature of the blockbuster offshore discoveries in Guyana also lend themselves well to FPSO deployment. Couple that with new FPSO demand elsewhere in the world and the next few years will be healthy for FPSO shipyards. Hope floats and after a long while, the FPSO market is regaining its buoyancy.
Expected FPSO additions (2019-2015):
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The amount of natural gas held in storage in 2019 went from a relatively low value of 1,155 billion cubic feet (Bcf) at the beginning of April to 3,724 Bcf at the end of October because of near-record injection activity during the natural gas injection, or refill, season (April 1–October 31). Inventories as of October 31 were 37 Bcf higher than the previous five-year end-of-October average, according to interpolated values in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report.
Although the end of the natural gas storage injection season is traditionally defined as October 31, injections often occur in November. Working natural gas stocks ended the previous heating season at 1,155 Bcf on March 31, 2019—the second-lowest level for that time of year since 2004. The 2019 injection season included several weeks with relatively high injections: weekly changes exceeded 100 Bcf nine times in 2019. Certain weeks in April, June, and September were the highest weekly net injections in those months since at least 2010.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report
From April 1 through October 31, 2019, more than 2,569 Bcf of natural gas was placed into storage in the Lower 48 states. This volume was the second-highest net injected volume for the injection season, falling short of the record 2,727 Bcf injected during the 2014 injection season. In 2014, a particularly cold winter left natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states at 837 Bcf—the lowest level for that time of year since 2003.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 4 November 2019 – Brent: US$62/b; WTI: US$56/b
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