January 1st 2020 won’t just be the start of a new year or a new decade; it is a significant date for the international shipping industry as the most radical new rules for shipping fuels in decades are implemented. From New Year’s Day onwards, a 0.5% sulphur cap (or 500ppm) in fuel will be imposed globally, part of the International Maritime Organization’s aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50% through 2050. Adopted in October 2016, the cap was already in discussion and debate long before it was codified. So there has been plenty of time to prepare. The question now is: is the shipping industry prepared for the new change?
But first, a little history. The first enforcement of global shipping emissions came through the IMO – a United Nations agency – in May 2005, when Annex VI of the MARPOL environmental convention came into effect. Earlier annexes of MARPOL dealt with other polluting factors, but Annex VI specifically addressed air pollution – including Nitrogen Oxides and Sulphur Oxides. Prior to this, shipping fuels and emissions were largely unregulated globally (although national and regional standards did apply). In 2008, the IMO set the global upper limit for sulphur in shipping fuels at 3.5% (or 3500 ppm), which came into effect 2012; the new 2020 cap is another great leap – possibly the greatest leap so far.
There are major challenges in meeting this new rules. For decades, ships plying international waters ran on heavy, high sulphur fuel oil. This itself was a change from the previous paradigm, where ships ran on coal. Why did the switch happen? Simple economics. As the world’s oil refining industries developed post-World War II, the focus was on producing high-value fuels such as gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel for the transportation revolution. If the crude oil processed was light and sweet, there wouldn’t be much left after refining. But if the crude was heavier and more sour, then there was a lot left over. This heavy fuel oil was embraced by the shipping industry as a more efficient (operationally and economically) fuel for ships. What was an unwanted by-product now had value. It was a boon for refiners, as they did not have to bother refining the HFO further. And it was a boon for shippers, a ready source of cheap fuel.
Heavy fuel oil – some with sulphur levels exceeding 15000 ppm – was used by shippers worldwide, especially in international waters where national emission standards would not apply. The IMO MARPOL Annex VI has changed that. There are two avenues to meeting the new 2020 standard –invest in an exhaust gas cleaning system (also known as a scrubber) that would allow the ship to continue to burn HFO, or switch to cleaner fuels – principally marine gasoil (MGO) or low-sulphur fuel oil (LSFO). The former seems less attractive – a Lloyd’s survey suggests only 19% of shipowners would go for scrubbers – and the latter has some restrictions… both technical (compatibility with engine systems) and logistic (requiring new blending and storage facilities). There is a third category – running on LNG – but that applies mainly to new ships. The vast majority will have to buy and burn compliant marine fuels.
Several questions are still up in the air. LSFO and MGO currently carry a US$250/ton premium over HFO, a major increase that shippers will have to pass on to their clients – using a tool known as the Bunker Adjustment Factor (BAF). Refiners – particularly those near key ports such as Singapore, Shanghai and Amsterdam – have already invested in capacity to produce more MGO and LSFO, so supply isn’t that much of an issue, outside of pockets of unavailability in smaller ports. Asian refineries, in fact, are already running a surplus of IMO 2020-compliant LSFO. But some countries are showing resistance, including Indonesia that opted out of IMO 2020 for domestic marine usage, citing the age of its fleet. However, in existing Emission Control Areas like the Baltic Sea, North Sea and the Caribbean Sea, an ultra-low sulfur limit of 0.1% (100ppm) applies – presaging a future where a similar limit will apply globally through an upcoming IMO resolution. But, and this is crucial to the success of the new policy, the IMO has not set out concrete fines and sanctions for non-compliance, leaving enforcement and penalties to the individual port authorities – a delegation of responsibility that could dilute the effectiveness of the mandate.
Adjusting to the new IMO 2020 rule will involve an intricate matching of supply and demand. And money. Money is at the heart of this issue, as refiners, shippers and ports invest money into meeting the new requirements. Shipping is about to get a lot cleaner, and more expensive. At stake, however, is the health of the planet itself. And it’s hard to put a price on achieving that, no matter how much money needs to be spent.
IMO 2020 Marine Fuel/Engine Regulations:
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
This winter, natural gas prices have been at their lowest levels in decades. On Monday, February 10, the near-month natural gas futures price at the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) closed at $1.77 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). This price was the lowest February closing price for the near-month contract since at least 2001, in real terms, and the lowest near-month futures price in any month since March 8, 2016, according to Bloomberg, L.P. and FRED data.
In addition, according to Natural Gas Intelligence data, the daily spot price at the Henry Hub national benchmark was $1.81/MMBtu on February 10, 2020, the lowest price in real terms since March 9, 2016. Henry Hub spot prices have ranged between $1.81/MMBtu and $2.84/MMBtu this winter heating season (since November 1, 2019), generally because relatively warm winter weather has reduced demand for natural gas for heating. Natural gas production growth has outpaced demand growth, reducing the need to withdraw natural gas from underground storage.
Dry natural gas production in January 2020 averaged about 95.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), according to IHS Markit data. IHS Markit also estimates that in January 2020 the United States saw the third-highest monthly U.S. natural gas production on record, down slightly from the previous two months.
IHS Markit estimates that U.S. natural gas consumption by residential, commercial, industrial, and electric power sectors averaged 96 Bcf/d for January, which was about 4.4 Bcf/d less than the average for January 2019, largely because of decreases in residential and commercial consumption as a result of warmer temperatures.
However, IHS Markit estimates that overall consumption of natural gas (including feed gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, pipeline fuel losses, and net exports by pipeline to Mexico) averaged about 117.5 Bcf/d in January 2020, an increase of about 0.2 Bcf/d from last year. This overall increase is largely a result of an almost doubling of LNG feed gas to about 8.5 Bcf/d.
Because supply growth has outpaced demand growth, less natural gas has been withdrawn from storage withdrawals this winter. Despite starting the 2019–20 heating season with the third-lowest level of natural gas inventory since 2009, by January 17, 2020, working natural gas inventories reached relatively high levels for mid-winter. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) data on natural gas inventories for the Lower 48 states as of February 7, 2020, reflect a 215 Bcf surplus to the five-year average. In EIA’s latest short-term forecast, more natural gas remains in storage levels than the previous five-year average through the remainder of the winter.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), January 2020 was the fifth-warmest in its 126-year climate record. Heating degree days (HDDs), a temperature-based metric for heating demand, have been relatively low this winter, which is consistent with a warmer winter. During some weeks in late December and early January, the United States saw 25% to 30% fewer HDDs than the 30-year average. This winter, through February 8, residential natural gas customers in the United States have seen 11% fewer HDDs than the 30-year average.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center data
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 February 2020 – Brent: US$53/b; WTI: US$49/b
Headlines of the week
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions