Due to shortage or limited availability of oil and gas, companies today are evaluating how they can harness alternative energy sources. The alternate fuel market is targeting hydro and thermal power plants, however solar and wind are catching up fast as preferred energy sources. There are still reservations about nuclear energy considering the risk of nuclear waste or manufacturing of nuclear weapons. However, strategies are shaping up to minimize the risk and maximize the profitability potential. Until then, sources such as solar and wind are being focused upon more and new sources like biofuels are explored extensively.
How will the shift towards alternate energy impact traditional oil and gas market?
There have been huge investments in the different alternate energy avenues by most of the big oil majors. These heavy investments on various alternate technologies by big oil majors and other oil companies around the world indicates a positive outlook towards the scope of clean fuel energy. However, the feasibility of its application is still questionable. Whether or not it will be able to meet the energy needs of the world while upholding its profitability is a question that is bothering the world.
Let us understand what the shift means for the companies in the energy sector.
Rate of employment
Among all renewable energy sources that have been studied, bio energy has been most influential. The fuel is created and transported within a confined space. The work is extremely labor-intensive and hence scope of employment increases. Hydropower and wind power will generate job opportunities during construction and project development phase. However, once the unit is commissioned only few operational staff will be required to perform the operational work.
Traditional energy is more expensive than renewable energy. If renewable energy can be produced on large scale, it can eliminate the gas shortage. Even other forms of renewable energy are much cheaper in comparison to traditional oil and gas sector. The cost benefits will be transferred to the consumers and they’ll be able save considerable amount on utility bills.
Improved Brand Image
It makes good business sense to make a move from traditional energy resources to renewable ones. The environmentalists have been arguing about the negative impacts of using and overusing the non-renewable source of energy. The shift towards alternate energy will boost the brand image of the traditional oil and gas company.
Higher market penetration and Mass access to energy
Due to dependence on fossil fuels which are non-renewable sources and expensive, a significant number of people in the world have no access to power. A chunk of people in Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa area are still using traditional biomass for cooking. However, if the alternate energy can completely replace the traditional oil and gas then it will have a deeper penetration into the market and majority of people will have access to it.
Ethical Investment Avenue
Renewable sector is considered as an attractive and ethical investment avenue for the ones who wish to invest outside traditional channels and are futuristic in outlook. The rising investment on alternate energy is impacting the job creation and community cohesion, which is again a positive move.
How the alternate energy is transitioning the oil and gas?
Big oil companies and other oil companies are making practical, well-researched, and steady approach towards renewable energy spanning from solar panels to genetically engineered algae. However, there are still many companies which are in research/experimentation phase and do have a concrete plan in place.
The pathway to clean fuel technology that operates with efficiency and profitability is getting paved. More than 100 countries in developing as well as developed nations have set a clean fuel target and are working towards it. The European Union has set a goal to meet its 20% energy requirements via renewable sources by 2020.
The world has acknowledged climate change and are working together to shift from carbon-intensive to carbon-neutral environment which might pave the way for generations to come.
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Two acquisitions in the energy sector were announced in the last week that illustrate the growing divergence in approaching the future of oil and gas between Europe and the USA. In France, Total announced that it had bought Fonroche Biogaz, the market leader in the production of renewable gas in France. In North America, ConocoPhillips completed its acquisition of Concho Resources, deepening the upstream major’s foothold into the lucrative Permian Basin and its shale riches. One is heading towards renewables, and the other is doubling down on conventional oil and gas.
What does this say about the direction of the energy industry?
Total’s move is unsurprising. Like almost all of its European peers operating in the oil and gas sector, Total has announced ambitious targets to become carbon-neutral by 2050. It is an ambition supported by the European population and pushed for by European governments, so in that sense, Total is following the wishes of its investors and stakeholders – just like BP, Shell, Repsol, Eni and others are doing. Fonroche Biogaz is therefore a canny acquisition. The company designs, builds and operates anaerobic digestion units that convert organic waste such as farming manure into biomethane to serve a gas feedstock for power generation. Fonroche Biogaz already has close to 500 GWh of installed capacity through seven power generation units with four in the pipeline. This feeds into Total’s recent moves to expand its renewable power generation capacity, with the stated intention of increasing the group’s biomethane capacity to 1.5 terawatts per hour (TWh) by 2025. Through this, Total vaults into a leading position within the renewable gas market in Europe, which is already active through affiliates such as Méthanergy, PitPoint and Clean Energy.
In parallel to this move, Total also announced that it has decided not to renew its membership in the American Petroleum Institute for 2021. Citing that it is only ‘partially aligned’ with the API on climate change issues in the past, Total has now decided that those positions have now ‘diverged’ particularly on rolling back methane emission regulations, carbon pricing and decarbonising transport. The French supermajor is not alone in its stance. BP, which has ditched the supermajor moniker in favour of turning itself into a clean energy giant, has also expressed reservations over the API’s stance over climate issues, and may very well choose to resign from the trade group as well. Other European upstream players might follow suit.
However, the core of the API will remain American energy firms. And the stance among these companies remains pro-oil and gas, despite shareholder pressure to bring climate issues and clean energy to the forefront. While the likes of ExxonMobil and Chevron have balanced significant investments into prolific shale patches in North America with public overtures to embrace renewables, no major US firm has made a public commitment to a carbon-neutral future as their European counterparts have. And so ConocoPhillips acquisition of Concho Resources, which boosts its value to some US$60 billion is not an outlier, but a preview of the ongoing consolidation happening in US shale as the free-for-all days give way to big boy acquisitions following the price-upheaval there since 2019.
That could change. In fact, it will change. The incoming Biden administration marks a significant break from the Trump administration’s embrace of oil and gas. Instead of opening of protected federal lands to exploration, especially in Alaska and sensitive coastal areas and loosening environmental regulations, the US will now pivot to putting climate change at the top of the agenda. Although political realities may water it down, the progressive faction of the Democrats are pushing for a Green New Deal embracing sustainability as the future for the US. Biden has already hinted that he may cancel the controversial and long-running Keystone XL pipeline via executive order on his first day in the office. His nominees for key positions including the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and Council on Environmental Quality suggest that there will be a major push on low-carbon and renewable initiatives, at least for the next 4 years. A pledge to reach net zero fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035 has been mooted. More will come.
The landscape is changing. But the two approaches still apply, the aggressive acceleration adopted by European majors, and the slower movement favoured by US firms. Political changes in the USA might hasten the change, but it is unlikely that convergence will happen anytime soon. There is room in the world for both approaches for now, but the future seems inevitable. It just depends on how energy companies want to get there.
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In its January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects global demand for petroleum liquids will be greater than global supply in 2021, especially during the first quarter, leading to inventory draws. As a result, EIA expects the price of Brent crude oil to increase from its December 2020 average of $50 per barrel (b) to an average of $56/b in the first quarter of 2021. The Brent price is then expected to average between $51/b and $54/b on a quarterly basis through 2022.
EIA expects that growth in crude oil production from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) will be limited because of a multilateral agreement to limit production. Saudi Arabia announced that it would voluntarily cut production by an additional 1.0 million b/d during February and March. Even with this cut, EIA expects OPEC to produce more oil than it did last year, forecasting that crude oil production from OPEC will average 27.2 million b/d in 2021, up from an estimated 25.6 million b/d in 2020.
EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production in the Lower 48 states—excluding the Gulf of Mexico—will decline in the first quarter of 2021 before increasing through the end of 2022. In 2021, EIA expects crude oil production in this region will average 8.9 million b/d and total U.S. crude oil production will average 11.1 million b/d, which is less than 2020 production.
EIA expects that responses to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases will continue to limit global oil demand in the first half of 2021. Based on global macroeconomic forecasts from Oxford Economics, however, EIA forecasts that global gross domestic product will grow by 5.4% in 2021 and by 4.3% in 2022, leading to energy consumption growth. EIA forecasts that global consumption of liquid fuels will average 97.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2021 and 101.1 million b/d in 2022, only slightly less than the 2019 average of 101.2 million b/d.
EIA expects global inventory draws will contribute to forecast rising crude oil prices in the first quarter of 2021. Despite rising forecast crude oil prices in early 2021, EIA expects upward price pressure will be limited through the forecast period because of high global oil inventory, surplus crude oil production capacity, and stock draws decreasing after the first quarter of 2021. EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $53/b in both 2021 and 2022.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
You can find more information on EIA’s expectations for changes in global petroleum liquids production, consumption, and crude oil prices in EIA’s latest This Week in Petroleum article and its January STEO.
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