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Last Updated: January 17, 2020
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 13 January 2020 – Brent: US$64/b; WTI: US$59/b

  • Tensions in the Persian Gulf have abated, but not disappeared, as both the US and Iran stepped back from going to war; the buck, so far, has stopped with Tehran’s retaliation to the US assassination of its top general with a barrage of missile strikes at US bases in Iraq
  • The underlying situation is still fragile, with the Iranian population swinging from supporting the government to protesting its accidental downing of a commercial Ukraine Airlines plane; with the risk of war easing, crude prices have fallen back to their pre-crisis levels
  • However, American and foreign oil companies have pulled their staff from crude fields in northern Iraq and Kurdistan, including Chevron, as the oil industry in Iraq monitors the risk – and consequences – of military action
  • In precaution, oil tankers have begun boosting their rates once again to haul crude through the Persian Gulf, with quoted rates now at their highest level since the 2019 attacks on ships passing through the narrow straight
  • Although political tensions remain fresh, Saudi Arabia said that OPEC and the OPEC+ club were instead focused on using their window of production cuts to reduce excess oil stockpiles to levels ‘within the contours of 2010-2014’
  • In the US, not only is shale output staying strong, but production in the US Gulf of Mexico also made history, exceeding 2 mmb/d for the first time ever in 2019, beating the previous high recorded in 2018
  • Worries about the health of global oil demand persist… although the US and China signed a Phase 1 trade deal, the agreement is more about halting escalation of the trade war than repairing inflicted damage; a slowdown in Chinese economic growth could lead to oil demand growth halving in 2020 in China according to CNPC
  • The US active rig count fell for a second consecutive week, losing 15 rigs – 11 oil and 4 gas – for the 17th weekly decline of the past 20 weeks; losses in the Permian were once again high, shedding a total of 6 rigs
  • Crude oil prices should remain rangebound with Brent at US$63-65/b and WTI at US$57-59/b, as the market retreats back to its ever-present worries about demand while geopolitical risk premiums scale back


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Guyana’s success is now extending to its neighbours, with Total and Apache announcing a ‘significant’ oil discovery at their Maka Central-1 well in Suriname’s Block 58, which lies adjacent to the prolific Stabroek Block
  • BP has agreed to sell its operating interest in the UK North Sea’s Andrew assets – including the Andrew platform as well as the Andrew, Arundel, Cyrus, Farragon, and Kinnoull fields – along with its 27.5% non-operating interest in the Shearwater field to Premier Oil for some US$625 million
  • Liberia will kick start its next offshore licensing round in April 2020, offering nine blocks in the Harper basin, one of the few offshore regions in West Africa that remains unexplored and undrilled
  • Equinor has extended the life of its Statfjord assets beyond 2030, with plans to commission up to 100 new wells over the next decade, deferring decommissioning with a goal of maintaining current output levels beyond 2025
  • After Murphy Oil, Petrofac and ExxonMobil, Repsol is the latest major considering an upstream exit from Malaysia, covering assets that include six development blocks and the major Kinabalu oilfield in Sabah
  • Senegal’s government has approved Woodside’s offshore Sangomar Field Development, which will involve the drilling of 23 subsea wells and a FPSO with the capacity to process up to 100,000 b/d of crude
  • Equinor has announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its offshore fields and onshore plants in Norway by 40% by 2030, 70% by 2040 and to near zero by 2050 from 2019 levels

Midstream/Downstream

  • Shell is reportedly seeking buyers for its 144 kb/d Anacortes refinery in Washington state, which would be its third North American sale in two years after divesting its Martinez refinery in California and Sarnia refinery in Ontario
  • Shell has announced plans to increase its share of the Mexican fuel market to 15%, which would require considerable growth in its network of 200 fuel stations in 12 states that currently represent 1% of the market
  • Occidental Petroleum plans to reduce its holdings in Western Midstream Partners – acquired as part of its controversial takeover of Anadarko – to less than 50%, potentially removing up to US$7.8 billion of debt

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Sempra Energy and Saudi Aramco have signed an agreement that will see the Saudi giant play a bigger part in the planned 22 million tpa Port Arthurt LNG project, following an existing agreement to purchase 5 mtpa signed in May 2019
  • Kuwait Petroleum Corp has agreed to purchase 3 million tpa of LNG from Qatar Petroleum for 15 years beginning 2022, with Kuwait remaining one of the few countries in the Middle East that remain neutral to the Saudi-Qatar standoff
  • ExxonMobil has signed an agreement with midstream company Outrigger Energy II to build a 250 mmscf/d cryogenic gas processing, gathering and pipeline system in the Bakken’s Williston Basin in North Dakota
  • The Larak gas field in Sarawak has achieved first gas, operated by SapuraOMV Upstream as part of the SK408 PSC that includes the Gorek and Bakong fields, with output planned to be processed into LNG at Petronas’ Bintulu complex
  • Russia’s TurkStream natural gas pipeline – connecting Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria and eventually Serbia and Hungary - has officially begun operations, delivering up to 13 bcm of Russian gas that can be rerouted from the Ukraine route

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December, 01 2021
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.

End of Article 

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