The sale of a mere 5% stake in the oil world’s crown jewel, Saudi Aramco had captured the attention of the entire investment community last year. Pushing through after years of debate and delays, the sale on the Tadawul stock exchange valued Aramco at a whopping initial US$1.6 trillion. Investors were mainly connected Saudi individuals and wealthy families, with international buy-in limited as a planned parallel listing on the London or New York Stock Exchange fell through. Still, the deal was enough to unleash several thousand pages of speculation and opinion over potential liberalisation of the oil and gas complex in the Middle East, especially the upcoming post-oil and carbon-neutral environment.
Aramco may have captured all the main headlines, especially with its huge acquisition of fellow Saudi jewel SABIC but the true entity pushing the boundaries of privatisation and deregulation in the Middle East is elsewhere. Specifically, just east of Saudi Arabia, in Abu Dhabi – the largest and most influential of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.
The latest headline involving ADNOC, Abu Dhabi’s state oil firm, hasn’t really made the rounds beyond the industry’s eyes but it is crucial to understanding how the Middle East oil sector could adapt to the changing industry over the next few decades. Partnering with a consortium of six investors, ADNOC has sold a 49% stake in its ADNOC Gas Pipeline Assets subsidiary, retaining a 51% majority stake and control. The sale had been bandied around for over a year, seen as a sign of a gradual opening of a tightly controlled oil and gas region, and follows three other significant sales involving ADNOC. The first was in 2017, when ADNOC raised nearly a billion US dollars through an IPO of its fuels distribution unit on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, offering up 10% of its shares. Then late 2019, ADNOC partnered with Italy’s Eni and Austria’s OMV to nearly double oil refining capacity in Abu Dhabi to 1.5 mmb/d – the largest foreign participation in the Middle East downstream industry since the Shell Pearl GTL project in Qatar and Total’s Jubail refining and petrochemicals push over a decade ago. Around the same time, ADNOC also pocketed US$4 billion from US investment giants BlackRock and KKR through the sale of a 40% stake in its ADNOC Oil Pipelines subsidiary. And now it is the turn of ADNOC’s gas pipelines.
The chronology and regional aspect of ADNOC’s moves is interesting. While Aramco looks local, Abu Dhabi went abroad. The refining expansion involved established oil market players, Eni and OMV – and parallels a gradual unbundling of Abu Dhabi’s upstream concessions, where stakes have been offered to Total, PetroChina, Eni, Cepsa and India’s ONGC over the past five years. But the choice of new investors are now not from the industry. After the deep-pocketed BlackRock and KKR, ADNOC has once against turned to institutional investors for its latest, and largest, sale, with the US$20.7 billion gas pipeline and infrastructure deal going to a consortium consisting of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), Brookfield Asset Management, Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan Board, Singapore’s GIC sovereign wealth fund, NH Investment and Securities and Italy’s infrastructure operator SNAM. ADNOC called the deal a ‘landmark investment (that) signals continued strong interest in ADNOC’s low-risk, income-generating assets’. But it also illustrates two other points: institutional interest in strategic Middle East assets and the challenging environment within the industry because of Covid-19 that has led investment interest expanding to new capital that is currently reluctant to make risky bets in an unstable economic environment. So the choice of ADNOC’s safe assets and a captive domestic market is rather attractive.
ADNOC’s strategy differs from Aramco’s fundamentally. Where Aramco sold a stake of itself, ADNOC has parcelled out different parts of itself while keeping control of the main body intact. This is what Malaysia’s Petronas has done to a great degree of success, listing subsidiaries through IPOs and partnering with foreign investors on upstream/downstream projects, using the proceeds to finance a global expansion that now stretches across all continents. Replicating this strategy, as ADNOC looks to be doing, could pay dividends, particularly since ADNOC has a wider domestic base, as well as stronger export markets, than Petronas. Between Saudi Aramco and ADNOC, the OPEC duo seems to have kickstarted a liberalisation drive within the Middle East energy complex. Kuwait Petroleum and Bahrain’s BAPCO are already reported to be considering similar moves. Which model could this second wave follow: Aramco’s or ADNOC’s? Aramco’s is a shock-and-awe move, a potential wow factor at the size of any possible deal. But ADNOC’s more piecemeal approach could actually be far more stable and sustainable over time.
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In 2020, renewable energy sources (including wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity, or about 21% of all the electricity generated in the United States. Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than renewables in the United States in 2020. Renewables surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time on record. This outcome in 2020 was due mostly to significantly less coal use in U.S. electricity generation and steadily increased use of wind and solar.
In 2020, U.S. electricity generation from coal in all sectors declined 20% from 2019, while renewables, including small-scale solar, increased 9%. Wind, currently the most prevalent source of renewable electricity in the United States, grew 14% in 2020 from 2019. Utility-scale solar generation (from projects greater than 1 megawatt) increased 26%, and small-scale solar, such as grid-connected rooftop solar panels, increased 19%.
Coal-fired electricity generation in the United States peaked at 2,016 billion kWh in 2007 and much of that capacity has been replaced by or converted to natural gas-fired generation since then. Coal was the largest source of electricity in the United States until 2016, and 2020 was the first year that more electricity was generated by renewables and by nuclear power than by coal (according to our data series that dates back to 1949). Nuclear electric power declined 2% from 2019 to 2020 because several nuclear power plants retired and other nuclear plants experienced slightly more maintenance-related outages.
We expect coal-fired electricity generation to increase in the United States during 2021 as natural gas prices continue to rise and as coal becomes more economically competitive. Based on forecasts in our Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), we expect coal-fired electricity generation in all sectors in 2021 to increase 18% from 2020 levels before falling 2% in 2022. We expect U.S. renewable generation across all sectors to increase 7% in 2021 and 10% in 2022. As a result, we forecast coal will be the second-most prevalent electricity source in 2021, and renewables will be the second-most prevalent source in 2022. We expect nuclear electric power to decline 2% in 2021 and 3% in 2022 as operators retire several generators.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review and Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
Note: This graph shows electricity net generation in all sectors (electric power, industrial, commercial, and residential) and includes both utility-scale and small-scale (customer-sited, less than 1 megawatt) solar.
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The tizzy that OPEC+ threw the world into in early July has been settled, with a confirmed pathway forward to restore production for the rest of 2021 and an extension of the deal further into 2022. The lone holdout from the early July meetings – the UAE – appears to have been satisfied with the concessions offered, paving the way for the crude oil producer group to begin increasing its crude oil production in monthly increments from August onwards. However, this deal comes at another difficult time; where the market had been fretting about a shortage of oil a month ago due to resurgent demand, a new blast of Covid-19 infections driven by the delta variant threatens to upend the equation once again. And so Brent crude futures settled below US$70/b for the first time since late May even as the argument at OPEC+ appeared to be settled.
How the argument settled? Well, on the surface, Riyadh and Moscow capitulated to Abu Dhabi’s demands that its baseline quota be adjusted in order to extend the deal. But since that demand would result in all other members asking for a similar adjustment, Saudi Arabia and Russia worked in a rise for all, and in the process, awarded themselves the largest increases.
The net result of this won’t be that apparent in the short- and mid-term. The original proposal at the early July meetings, backed by OPEC+’s technical committee was to raise crude production collectively by 400,000 b/d per month from August through December. The resulting 2 mmb/d increase in crude oil, it was predicted, would still lag behind expected gains in consumption, but would be sufficient to keep prices steady around the US$70/b range, especially when factoring in production increases from non-OPEC+ countries. The longer term view was that the supply deal needed to be extended from its initial expiration in April 2022, since global recovery was still ‘fragile’ and the bloc needed to exercise some control over supply to prevent ‘wild market fluctuations’. All members agreed to this, but the UAE had a caveat – that the extension must be accompanied by a review of its ‘unfair’ baseline quota.
The fix to this issue that was engineered by OPEC+’s twin giants Saudi Arabia and Russia was to raise quotas for all members from May 2022 through to the new expiration date for the supply deal in September 2022. So the UAE will see its baseline quota, the number by which its output compliance is calculated, rise by 330,000 b/d to 3.5 mmb/d. That’s a 10% increase, which will assuage Abu Dhabi’s itchiness to put the expensive crude output infrastructure it has invested billions in since 2016 to good use. But while the UAE’s hike was greater than some others, Saudi Arabia and Russia took the opportunity to award themselves (at least in terms of absolute numbers) by raising their own quotas by 500,000 b/d to 11.5 mmb/d each.
On the surface, that seems academic. Saudi Arabia has only pumped that much oil on a handful of occasions, while Russia’s true capacity is pegged at some 10.4 mmb/d. But the additional generous headroom offered by these larger numbers means that Riyadh and Moscow will have more leeway to react to market fluctuations in 2022, which at this point remains murky. Because while there is consensus that more crude oil will be needed in 2022, there is no consensus on what that number should be. The US EIA is predicting that OPEC+ should be pumping an additional 4 million barrels collectively from June 2021 levels in order to meet demand in the first half of 2022. However, OPEC itself is looking at a figure of some 3 mmb/d, forecasting a period of relative weakness that could possibly require a brief tightening of quotas if the new delta-driven Covid surge erupts into another series of crippling lockdowns. The IEA forecast is aligned with OPEC’s, with an even more cautious bent.
But at some point with the supply pathway from August to December set in stone, although OPEC+ has been careful to say that it may continue to make adjustments to this as the market develops, the issues of headline quota numbers fades away, while compliance rises to prominence. Because the success of the OPEC+ deal was not just based on its huge scale, but also the willingness of its 23 members to comply to their quotas. And that compliance, which has been the source of major frustrations in the past, has been surprisingly high throughout the pandemic. Even in May 2021, the average OPEC+ compliance was 85%. Only a handful of countries – Malaysia, Bahrain, Mexico and Equatorial Guinea – were estimated to have exceeded their quotas, and even then not by much. But compliance is easier to achieve in an environment where demand is weak. You can’t pump what you can’t sell after all. But as crude balances rapidly shift from glut to gluttony, the imperative to maintain compliance dissipates.
For now, OPEC+ has managed to placate the market with its ability to corral its members together to set some certainty for the immediate future of crude. Brent crude prices have now been restored above US$70/b, with WTI also climbing. The spat between Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have surprised and shocked market observers, but there is still unity in the club. However, that unity is set to be tested. By the end of 2021, the focus of the OPEC+ supply deal will have shifted from theoretical quotas to actual compliance. Abu Dhabi has managed to lift the tide for all OPEC+ members, offering them more room to manoeuvre in a recovering market, but discipline will not be uniform. And that’s when the fireworks will really begin.
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