Peak oil review - May 11
1. Production and Prices
Oil prices closed at a six-month high of $58.63 on Friday, capping a week of steady gains. The price surge continues to be tied to investor hopes that economic growth will resume in the second half of the year. Information suggesting that the rate of economic decline is slowing has added to the “accumulating evidence” that the recession is ending while information to the contrary is ignored.
A senior Chinese official indicated that, contrary to optimistic reports, Beijing’s economy has yet to see a bottom. In Washington, government officials are treading a fine line of carefully expressed optimism coupled with warnings that the worst may be yet to come.
Oil prices have been moving upwards so fast that technical analysts are starting to talk of prices climbing to over $70 a barrel in the next few months. Available evidence still indicates that demand for oil is continuing to drop and stockpiles continue to build. US gasoline prices have risen by 12 cents a gallon in the last month. While well below the $4 a gallon seen last summer, increasing prices in the midst of a recession are not contributing to any economic rebound.
OPEC production fell slightly in April while Russian production grew. OPEC oil ministers have been unusually quiet lately despite the growth in stockpiles. Presumably they are happy to see prices closer to $60 than $30 a barrel and don’t want to rock the boat. Only the Iranians continue to talk of another production cut at the May 28th meeting.
The Saudis say they will complete work on projects designed to increase their production capacity to 12.5 million b/d by June. After that they plan to reduce drilling and cut back on investment in their oil industry.
Natural gas futures prices surged 22 percent last week, the biggest gain in more than two years. Some of the gain was in sympathy with the jump in oil prices and the expectations of an economic recovery, but the number of active drilling rigs continues to drop, indicating that supplies will soon be curtailed. The likelihood that Congress will pass some type of carbon cap this year also improves the prospects for natural gas.
Tensions between the Chavez government and the oil service industry have been on the rise for many months over PdVSA’s failure to pay service companies. The total now owed to the companies is said to be over $14 billion. Last week matters came to a head when several firms threatened or actually ceased operations. These companies perform much of the work in the Venezuelan oil industry, from drilling the wells to maintaining pressure on the reservoirs. Without these services Venezuelan oil production would be seriously reduced.
In response to threats of desperation by service companies, Chavez rushed a nationalization bill through the National Assembly and on Friday sent troops to seize the assets of 60 local and foreign-owned firms employing some 8,000 people. The seizures appear to have been selective and some large foreign-owned drilling companies, presumably ones that continued to work without being paid, remain untouched. Some oil service workers will be taken into PdVSA’s 80,000 workforce, but union leaders are claiming that thousands will lose their jobs.
Many outside observers believe the nationalization will backfire and Venezuela will see a substantial drop in oil production from the current 2.1 million b/d. The seizures may also discourage foreign investors from participating in an upcoming auction of oil blocks. The companies whose assets were expropriated own patents to the technology and the equipment used to for gas injection and drilling as well as having much technical expertise.
The government is already trying to entice the expropriated firms to remain as junior partners, but unless some money is forthcoming, this seems unlikely. If production starts to slip badly, Chavez’s only alternative would be to seek Chinese or Russian aid.
3. EU Gas Deal
In recent years, the EU has become increasingly concerned about its precarious energy situation. Disputes between Russia and Ukraine have resulted in reduction of the flow of gas from Russia to the West; North Sea gas fields are going into decline; and there are concerns that Russia’s Gazprom is not making sufficient investments to insure that there will be adequate gas for Europe.
Although increased shipments of LNG or a pipeline under the Mediterranean from North Africa are possible solutions, the best option is seen as a pipeline across Turkey that could one day bring natural gas from Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and even the Gulf states directly into the European natural gas network.
Last week at a meeting in Prague, a preliminary agreement to build such a pipeline was signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Egypt. The Turks signed the agreement but say there will have to be progress on Turkey’s admission into the EU before a final agreement can be signed.
Representatives of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan attended the meeting, but refused to sign the agreement because of pressure from Moscow which sees the new pipeline as a challenge to its energy hegemony over Europe.
It is hoped that a new pipeline can be completed by 2014, but even then it will only be able to supply 5 percent of the EU’s demand for energy.
4. The Message sinks in
Last week, the Raymond James & Associates firm of financial advisors published a report discussing the possibility that world oil production has already peaked. The event was noted by no less an authority than the Wall Street Journal environmental blog who facetiously counseled that we should all brush off our survivalist manuals and prepare for dystopia (opposite of utopia).
The Raymond James analysts say they are convinced that global oil and natural gas liquids peaked in the first quarter of last year and that it represents a paradigm shift of historic proportions. The authors continue to say that “while some still fight the concept of ‘peak oil,’ we have been convinced that it is both inevitable and imminent since oil is a non-renewable, and hence finite, energy source.”
The arguments used to support the proposition that world oil production has peaked are well known – declining production from mature fields is offsetting those regions where production from new fields is increasing. When declining investment due to low oil prices and the spotty availability of credit are factored in, the most likely conclusion is that world production will never again reach the high seen last year. But it will be several years before this assessment is confirmed or disproved.
4. Briefs (clips from recent Peak Oil News dailies are indicated by date and item #)
- Chevron Corp. said its $4.7 billion Tahiti field in the Gulf of Mexico began pumping crude yesterday, almost two years after faulty parts delayed the project. The field, located 190 miles from New Orleans in 4,100 feet of water, is expected to produce 125,000 barrels of oil a day when output peaks. (5/7, #17)
- The US Minerals Management Service has cut its forecast for Gulf of Mexico oil output over the next 10 years by 300,000 b/d to between 1.6 million and 1.9 million. (5/5, #18)
- The number of oil and gas rigs fell to 928, down 17 from the previous week and down from the peak of 2032 last September, according to Baker Hughes. The number of gas rigs dropped 11 to 730 while the oil rig count dropped by six to 190. (5/9, #10)
- A cluster of deepwater Mexican oil fields near the Tamil discovery well could eventually produce up to 250,000 barrels a day of heavy crude according to a Pemex spokeswoman. Tamil is scheduled to enter commercial production around 2015. (5/9, #8)
- A 100,000-barrel-a-day expansion at Royal Dutch Shell Athabasca Oil Sands Project is expected to start up in 2011, slightly behind schedule. (5/9, #14)
- The United Arab Emirates will complete a pipeline for oil exports to bypass the Strait of Hormuz two years later than initially scheduled. The pipeline would allow the world's third-largest oil exporter to pump around 60 percent of its crude exports to a port on the Gulf of Oman, avoiding the strategic shipping chokepoint at the Strait of Hormuz. (5/6, #7)
- Heritage Oil, a U.K.-based explorer, said it has made a “major” oil discovery in the Miran West structure of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The estimated oil-in-place at Miran West is between 2.3 billion and 4.2 billion barrels. (5/6, #9)
- Transocean Ltd said it has set aside two shallow-water rigs that had been working in Angola and one from Egypt, with another in Egypt likely to be stacked due to a contract dispute. The announcement by the world's largest offshore drilling contractor comes amid a slump in worldwide demand for jackup rigs. (5/6, #10)
- Twenty-one percent of the global fleet of 2,067 oil tankers is anchored, compared with an average of 16 percent across all types of vessels, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Supertankers are moving at an average speed of 9.2 knots, from as fast as 10.6 knots in July, suggesting captains are slowing down to save on fuel. (5/9, #3)
- President Obama wants to end $26 billion in oil and gas industry tax breaks, calling them "unjustifiable loopholes" in the tax system that other companies do not get. Obama's proposed fiscal 2010 budget, details of which were released Thursday, also more clearly spells out his intention to shut down a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada and calls for ending a government subsidy that helps utilities license and plan for new nuclear power plants. (5/9, #11)
- The Obama administration is sticking with a plan to raise about $5 billion over 10 years through a new excise tax on oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico out of its proposed fiscal 2010 budget. (5,8, #13)
- Enacting new federal regulations, especially related to hydraulic fracturing, could have disastrous economic consequences and increase US dependence on foreign oil, a coalition of independent producers warned. That was the conclusion of a new research initiative, Project BRIEF (for Bringing Real Information on Energy Forward), which several regional independent producers' associations launched on May 6. (5/9, #13)
- US refiners may curb summer activity for the first time in at least 20 years to combat brimming inventories of key transportation and industrial fuels, distillates like diesel and jet fuel, as a slow economy hurts demand. (5/7, #4)
- Global liquefied natural gas sales grew at the slowest pace since the beginning of the decade because of project delays, plant disruptions and cost increases, a trade group said. (5/7, #5)
- In a recent analysis, a total of 1,966 horizontally-drilled wells in the Barnett Shale were evaluated to determine commercial gas reserves using standard decline methods. Based on this analysis, only 30% of Barnett Shale wells will realize revenues that meet or exceed drilling, completion and operating costs in the most-likely case based on assumptions incorporated into a 10% net present value economic model…Early analysis of 20 horizontally drilled wells in the Haynesville Shale play (Louisiana and East Texas) suggests a disappointing outcome because of extremely high decline rates. (5/7, #19)
- Rising shale gas production in the United States and Canada as well as potential natural gas supplies from Iraq could be pivotal in curbing Russia’s ability to organize an “energy weapon” against European consumers, according to a new study released Friday by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. (5/10, #16)
- Brazilian sugarcane ethanol accounts for almost 17 percent of total energy consumption by the automotive sector, according to Brazil’s energy ministry. But burning sugar cane or corn to make electricity for powering cars may be smarter than refining the crops into biofuels. A recent OECD report says that burning biomass to make electricity to power electric vehicles generates more transportation than converting it into ethanol (5/8, #18)
- The EPA plan for measuring a biofuel’s effects on land cultivation would “kill off” U.S. corn-based ethanol, according to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Peterson. (5/7, #14)
- Researchers report that ethanol derived from corn grown in Nebraska require 50 gallons of water per mile driven, when all the water needed in irrigation of crops and processing into ethanol is considered. (5/8, #19)
- Power generation in China dropped again in April—a fall of 3.6% year on year, and a decline of 3% over the previous month—indicating that the economic rebound the market is expecting has yet to appear. (5/7, #10)
- China is developing a new energy investment plan to stimulate economic growth and prepare for a round of energy shortages after economic rebound. The wind power industry looks to be the largest beneficiary of the plan. Nuclear power is also included. (5/8, #7)
- The Michigan coal-fired power plant that was cancelled May 1st is the 97th to be rejected since 2001, and the ninth this year. The number of planned coal plants across America has plummeted from 150 to 60 in the past five years…The Energy Information Administration reports that more than 600 coal-fired plants still produce about half of America’s power. (5/8, #16)
- The US has become the world's biggest wind-power generator. Of the electricity production added in the country last year, 42 percent came from wind turbines. But as more megawatts come on line, the problem of getting power from wind-swept plains to places where people actually live becomes more urgent. The wind industry group says it needs 19,000 miles of new high-voltage lines — at a cost of about $100 billion — for wind-farm developers to keep building. (5/9, #19)
- China, the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, is drafting a stimulus package to more than double the nation’s 2020 output of alternative energy from targets set in 2007. China wants to lead the world in wind power, with a goal of 100 GW of installed power capacity by 2020, and 40% of its energy coming from renewables by 2050. (5/5, #12, #22)
- A new report from ASPO Netherlands provides a focused view of the interplay between peak oil and climate change. The report indicates that while the peaking of oil production would by itself have a favorable impact on carbon dioxide emission, this beneficial effect may be mostly offset by increased emissions from unconventional oil production. (5/5, #20)
- The Obama administration risks "squandering" transportation investments included its economic stimulus plan because it failed to change a decades-long system favoring highways over mass transit, said the head of advocates for more transportation choices. (5/10, #13)
- Nissan says it could beat General Motors' highly publicized Chevrolet Volt to market, selling an electric car as soon as fall 2010 with an eye-popping fuel-economy rating equivalent to 367 miles per gallon and a range of 100 miles on a charge. (5/7, #21)
- China’s passenger-vehicle sales rose 37 percent last month, the most in three years, as government subsidies spurred demand for minivans and small cars. (5/9, #9)
- Even after receiving $15.4 billion in federal loans, General Motors is once again on the brink of financial collapse…The automaker on Thursday posted a quarterly net loss of $6 billion, compared with a loss of $3.3 billion a year earlier. (5/8, #14; 5/7, #13)
- “Shale plays represent a disturbing tendency in the E&P business away from critical thinking. The belief in reward without risk is irrational. Failure to acknowledge the marginal economics of the play is bewildering. Unless opinion leaders confront the underlying economic and geological risks of these plays, I fear that a financial crisis may develop that will discredit the E&P industry.”
Toyota reported a $6.9 billion loss for January-March. The global crisis has hit Toyota hard, reversing its rapid expansion into overcapacity almost overnight. Dozens of its factories stand half idle. Toyota said it expected its global sales, excluding cars sold by joint ventures in China, to fall about 14 percent in 2009/10 to 6.5 million vehicles. (5/8, #9)
Quote of the Week
-- Ellis Hugh; Shale News & Well Reports & The Geology of the Shale