1. Oil and the Global Economy
World oil prices continued to climb higher last week with London prices moving faster than those in New York where oil futures have remained relatively flat for the last 10 days, trading around $106-$107 a barrel. London futures continued to move higher this week, topping $115 on Thursday before closing out the week at $114.81.
US traders seem largely unconcerned about the dangers of the worsening Iraqi situation. Dozens of stories in the last week have emphasized that the turmoil in Iraq is all taking place north of Baghdad and that the southern oil fields and export facilities which ship some 2.5 million barrels per day to world markets are unlikely to be seriously affected by the troubles – at least for now. Even the US government, the IEA, and OPEC are holding to this position as no one wants to be seen as predicting a sharp, economically devastating, increase in oil prices. How long this optimism continues, remains to be seen. While average US retail gasoline prices are only up about 4 cents a gallon in the last month, the NY futures markets have climbed about 20 cents a gallon in the last three weeks.
Part of the optimism is due to the drumbeat of “good news” stories about US domestic oil production which has now passed 1 million b/d in North Dakota. US “crude” production in May was up 14.7 percent over May of 2013, leading many observers, including the IEA and British Petroleum, to forecast that spectacular increases in US oil production will continue for the rest of the decade and perhaps on into the future.
A closer look at US oil production reveals a different story. California has now been eliminated as a future source of large quantities of domestic shale oil production, thereby eliminating 60 percent of what was previously thought of as US shale oil reserves. Recent data from Texas is showing an increasing discrepancy between what Washington’s EIA says is being produced in the state and what the Texas Railroad Commission, which actually collects the data, says is happening. The EIA has been showing Texas’s oil and gas production increasing steadily for most of the last two years at a steady pace of close of 50,000 additional barrels per day every month, and now has Texas approaching 3 million b/d. The Railroad Commission’s data, which lags by some months, seems to be saying that production is leveling off at around 2.5 million b/d. While the EIA’s protocol of estimating current production based on past growth may work well during periods of increasing and flat production, it does not do well at catching the start of trend changes.
In North Dakota, where there are now 10,317 producing wells, production has rebounded from the harsh winter weather and production in April was higher than last November. County data shows major increases in new production are now taking place in only one and possibly two counties and that the rate of production increases actually fell slightly between March and April. Despite the optimism, several outside analysts are saying that production in North Dakota will level off and start what is likely to be a rapid decline sometime within the next three years.
The IEA and BP released reports concerning the glowing prospects for US oil production in coming years. The IEA emphasized the growing US role in the oil products market. As we can’t use all the crude ourselves, the US is making money by refining the oil and exporting the products in ever-increasing volumes. A point of interest is that US crude exports to Canada, which are exempt from the export ban, rose in April to the highest level in 15 years, registering a six fold increase in the last two years. The IMF cut the US’s growth outlook last week, saying that “full employment” won’t be reached for at least another four years.
US natural gas prices fell last week on reports of milder weather ahead and the EIA report that 113 billion cubic feet of natural gas was injected in storage the week before last. Milder weather and increasing natural gas production has allowed the US to move more than 100 billion cubic feet into storage for a record six straight weeks.
2. The Middle East & North Africa
Iraq: Over the weekend the Sunni insurgents took over several towns in northern and western Iraq in addition to the major oil refinery at Baiji. The government now controls little in the northern and western parts of the country except the giant Haditha dam which contributes 350 MW to the national grid. There is fighting going on in towns north and west of Baghdad. The ISIS insurgents are now so deeply imbedded into the local population that airpower cannot be used without endangering civilians, so the government is counting on tens of thousands of newly armed Shiite militiamen to defend the capital and the southern part of the country.
Where Iraq’s oil production goes in all this is a key question. At the minute all reporting says that production and exports in the south remain normal, despite announcements that foreign oil companies are moving or pulling out “non-essential” personnel. At a minimum, this bodes ill for the anticipated increases in Iraqi oil exports. While the loss of the 300,000 b/d Baiji refinery is being downplayed by the government, it is clearly serious. Most of the oil products for northern Iraq, including Baghdad, came from this facility. The refinery has been closed for several days now and gasoline shortages already are appearing in Mosel, Baghdad, and Kurdistan. If the government is unable to retake the facility in short order, they may want to bomb it to keep the product from the ISIS insurgents.
There is much optimism that the loss of the Baiji refinery can easily be mitigated by importing oil products from the Gulf Arab states which of course back the Sunni insurgents. Iran really can’t help much since it lacks the refining capacity. The loss of this refinery is likely to have a major impact in coming weeks as Baghdad scrambles to make up for its loss.
Predicting the future of all this is impossible. For now Iran and the US are sending only a small numbers of advisors to shore up Baghdad’s armed forces. US airpower appears to be of limited value in this situation. Most observers are saying that Iran is unlikely to send in organized military units unless the situation gets worse.
For the next few weeks the issue is what happens to Baghdad and whether thousands of Shiite militia and the sheer size of Baghdad will be enough to keep the insurgents from threatening the government. The Sunni insurgents are currently trying to take predominantly Sunni towns close to Baghdad, including Abu Ghraib which is only seven miles from Baghdad’s airport. Should the airport be threatened or closed and easy access to the outside world cut off, the situation would change markedly and calls for intervention would increase. Beijing says it has already started moving some of its 10,000 citizens working in Iraq to safer places.
Should a siege develop around Baghdad, the Sunni’s have many advantages, including control of the city’s water and likely much of its electricity. At some point attacks on southern oil and other facilities would be stepped up to deprive the Shiites of their major source of revenue.
Whether Iraqi oil exports can survive all this is now the question of the year. If Baghdad’s 2.5 million b/d of exports are closed down, it would add to the 3.5 million b/d already out of production in Libya, Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Nigeria. There is not enough oil in North Dakota to make up for all this. Beijing, alone, has been importing an extra 1.2 million b/d to add to its strategic reserves in case of shortages.
There are many other facets to the successful Sunni offensive. The Kurds have moved to take over Kirkuk and so far the ISIS is leaving them alone. There is much talk that the Kurds may declare independence. The ISIS now controls the border so it can move men and material freely between the Syrian and Iraqi fronts. It now has control of four division’s worth of US military equipment, including artillery that was abandoned by fleeing Iraqi troops and the aid of experienced Sunni officers left over from the Hussein era. Can Baghdad form a new unity government in the midst of a civil war?
Beyond all this we have the glimmerings of a threat to Gulf Arab states and their oil production. Even though they are supporting the Sunni insurgents against the Iranian-backed Shiites, monarchies have never been particularly popular in extremist circles – Al Qaeda has been after the Saudi government for years.
It is clear that none of this is going away soon and that there will be higher oil prices stemming from this turmoil.
Libya: Some oil is starting to move again. Over the weekend, two tankers holding 1.3 million barrels of oil were loaded after the port’s guards were paid their March and April salaries. They currently are holding off on allowing a third tanker to load until Tripoli pays them for May. The El Feel oilfield is also operating normally and could be producing as much as 80,000 b/d. The oil from this field is likely going for domestic consumption. The 1.3 million barrels which left over the weekend is all that has been exported recently and is a far cry from the 1.6 million b/d that the country is capable of producing.
There is no sign of any political settlement in sight. Last week’s preoccupation was denouncing the US for kidnapping the Libyan citizen allegedly responsible for the Benghazi attack. With no border guards left, the number of people trudging across Libya in hopes of making their way to the EU has doubled in the past year. The Italians say they have already detained some 50,000 who have crossed from North Africa this year.
Iran: The nuclear talks which resumed last week have become complicated as Iran and the US have the joint goal of trying to keep the Sunnis out of Baghdad. With only a month to go before the July 20th deadline for signing a new treaty, the talks have entered what the NY Times terms the “brinkmanship” phase. Iran says the US must recognize that Iran will always enrich lots of uranium and Washington says Tehran must be willing to prove beyond a doubt that it is not secretly developing nuclear weapons. A first tentative draft of a treaty was said to have been agreed upon last week, but some diplomats are still warning that the remaining gaps are too wide to close.
In one of the more interesting developments of the week, China and the UK have agreed to increase their cooperation to control carbon emissions through a China-Britain Working Group on Climate Change. The two countries note that climate change and air pollution, which is Beijing’s main concern, “share many of the same root causes.”
Beijing is finishing work on the world’s biggest nuclear power station some 100 miles from Hong Kong which contains two large state-of-the-art European pressurized water reactors. The plant will produce four times as much power as the average nuclear reactor worldwide. The French, who designed the reactors and are overseeing the construction of the station, are becoming increasingly concerned about the safety aspects of the project and fear that the Chinese nuclear safety authorities are being overwhelmed by the size and pace of construction. Beijing currently has 28 nuclear reactors under construction and has never reported an accident in the 22 years they have operated nuclear plants. Three years ago, China’s State Council Research Office warned that the pace of building nuclear power stations may be too fast.
The new gas pipeline from Russia to China is expected to begin construction this summer. Beijing will make a $25 billion payment to Gazprom as a down payment on the pipeline and Russia will start delivering pipe sections to China soon. The contract is to last 30 years and calls for 1.3 trillion cubic feet of gas to be delivered each year. The price that China will pay for the gas which was the major stumbling block to the deal for ten years has never been announced. This has raised suspicions that the Ukrainian crisis and the possible loss to gas sales to the EU resulted in a political rather than an economic price for the gas.
Despite the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Ukrainian government last week, reports of clashes between separatists and government forces continue. The separatists have rejected several offers from the new Ukrainian President to lay down their arms and start peace talks. Russia halted natural gas shipments to Ukraine last week for failure to pay the prices demanded by Moscow, but gas transiting the country on the way to Europe seems to be flowing.
Moscow welcomed the unilateral ceasefire, but rejected the broader peace plan as not having enough specifics about the nature of the peace talks and how much autonomy Kyiv would grant the Russian speaking east Ukrainians. NATO announced last week that it had detected a new buildup of military forces along the Russian-Ukrainian border and Moscow announced it was holding military exercises in the Urals.
As neither Russia nor the West wants to endanger the mutually beneficial oil and gas sales, the sanctions being imposed on Russia and its friends are largely meaningless. This could go on for a long time. The Ukrainians have enough gas in storage to last through the summer, but next winter is another matter.
The heart of the issue is the fear in Moscow that, given their druthers, most Ukrainians would leave Moscow’s orbit and ally with the EU or even NATO – a major blow to Russia’s self-image. For now the dispute is getting lost in the much more serious Iraqi problem.
5. Quote of the Week
- “While the news is full of how the US is setting new oil production records, the U.S. consumer faces the highest average nominal prices in history [$3.61 year-to-date, and climbing, just short of the record of $3.68 in 2012]. In addition U.S. [gasoline] consumption is rebounding back towards the 9 million barrel-per-day level that many expert forecasters had predicted would never be seen again.”
— Jim Hansen, KMS Financial
6. The Briefs
- OPEC said at the end of its latest meeting last week that it would keep its production ceiling for 2014 at 30 million barrels of oil a day and would next meet on Nov. 27. But that plan could change if the oil supply from Iraq is disrupted. Iraqi oil exports currently run at around 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. (6/19)
- Landmark UK court ruling regarding Nigeria: In a judgment delivered by Mr. Justice Akenhead, the London Technological and Construction Court found that short of providing policing or military defense of its pipelines, Shell was responsible for taking reasonable steps to protect them. This would include measures such as installing leak detection systems, surveillance equipment and anti-tamper equipment. (6/21)
- Nigeria last month handed down a long prison term, in absentia, to the Indian owner of a vessel suspected of carrying stolen crude—increasing its efforts to cut oil smuggling to target foreign players increasingly implicated in the trade. (6/19)
- India’s heavy reliance on imported oil, especially from Iraq, makes it more vulnerable than most countries to the conflict there, with surging oil prices threatening to derail the new prime minister’s plans to resuscitate the economy. Crude-oil prices have shot up to a nine-month high of about $115 per barrel. India imports most of its oil and subsidizes fuel so higher oil prices are particularly painful for Asia’s third-largest economy. (6/21)
- India has replaced the USA as the largest importer of Nigeria’s crude, with China and Malaysia following closely behind. (6/20)
- China said Thursday it is moving a second oil rig closer to Vietnam’s coast, showing its determination to press its territorial claims and continue searching for resources in disputed waters despite a tense confrontation with Vietnam over another oil rig to the south. (6/19)
- Russian energy company Gazprom Neft said it plans to conduct drilling operations in the northern Pechora Sea during the ice-free months of 2014. The company said a drilling platform was delivered to the Dolginskoye field in the arctic waters of the Pechora Sea. (6/18)
- In eastern Russia, major investments in oil operations will boost export potential by 2035, Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich said Monday. Dkorkovich said investments in the oil industry in eastern Russia are expected to grow by more than $1 trillion, and the eastern direction in the total exports of oil and petroleum products will increase from 12 percent to 23 percent. (6/16)
- Venezuela’s PDVSA annual net income rose more than three-fold as the state-owned oil producer spent less on social programs, reduced costs after currency devaluation and sold assets. (6/21)
- The Canadian government approved Enbridge’s $6 billion Northern Gateway pipeline, eliminating the final major regulatory obstacle for the conduit that would move Alberta oil to the Pacific coast for shipment to Asia. Canada’s petroleum producers are seeking ways to get land-locked and price-depressed Alberta crude to world markets, especially after delays to TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. (6/18)
- US drilling rigs targeting oil gained to a record this week as crude prices surged and energy producers ramped up drilling by three to 1,545, the highest level since Baker Hughes separated its oil and gas counts in 1987. Gas rigs climbed by one to 311, and the total count, including miscellaneous rigs, rose to 1,858. (6/21)
- US gasoline prices are climbing due to violence in Iraq, depriving drivers of the usual price break between Memorial Day and July Fourth. The national average price of $3.67 per gallon is the highest price for this time of year since 2008, the year gasoline hit its all-time high. (6/19)
- Oil exports from the U.S. in April rose to 280,000 barrels a day, the highest level in 15 years, as Canadian refineries replaced more expensive imports from Europe and West Africa with shale oil from North Dakota and Texas. Federal law allows exports of unrefined crude to Canada and restricts them to most other destinations. (6/16)
- North Dakota, home to the Bakken shale formation, became the fourth state in U.S. history to produce more than 1 million barrels of oil a day in April. Output increased by 2.5 percent from March to 1,001,149 barrels a day. Texas, California and Alaska have crossed the million-barrel mark. Only Texas remains above it, at almost 3 million barrels a day. (6/18)
- Italy’s Eni reported Thursday that it has achieved 25,000 barrels of oil per day at its Nikaitchuq field, offshore the North Slope of Alaska. The field, which is located under shallow water, holds reserves that are estimated at 200 million barrels of crude oil. (6/19)
- The three-year rally in LNG is cooling as Asia-Pacific supplies jump and demand slows from Japanese utilities preparing to restart nuclear reactors. LNG shipped to northeast Asia next winter may be sold at the lowest price since 2012 for that time of year, when demand typically peaks. (6/20)
- Australian energy company Santos said Thursday it was mulling its options after finding the Bonaparte LNG project doesn’t meet its commercial interests. Santos said it would consider other development options for the Petrel, Tern and Frigate natural gas fields, including the possibility of building a pipeline from the fields in the Timor Sea. (6/20)
- The European Investment Bank said a Polish natural gas pipeline project will add a layer of diversity to the European gas corridor. EIB said it was lending $132 million to Polish natural gas transmission company Gaz-System for the expansion of a pipeline that could bring gas, including domestically sourced liquefied natural gas, to the border of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine. (6/18)
- BP and China will sign a $20 billion long-term contract with state-owned Cnooc to supply LNG to southeast China. BP will likely supply LNG from its global portfolio, using its own LNG tanker fleet and chartered ships delivering gas to a number of terminals in China. (6/18)
- Offshore Tanzania, Statoil and coventurer ExxonMobil have made what the companies are calling a “high-impact” gas discovery in the Piri prospect, marking the sixth discovery on Block 2 by the firms. Piri-1 is in 2,360 m of water. Statoil says discovery of an additional 2-3 tcf of gas in place in the Piri-1 well brings to 20 tcf the total of in-place volumes on the block. (6/19)
- US LNG exports: The FERC authorized Cameron LNG, a unit of San Diego-based Sempra Energy, to construct and operate a liquefied-natural-gas export facility in Hackberry, La., just east of the Texas border. It was the last major regulatory hurdle Cameron had to overcome and mostly clears the way for the nearly $10 billion project to begin construction later this year. (6/20)
- Industry officials at the Natural Gas Vehicles USA conference say despite their hopes for natural gas, converting fleets to run on the fuel isn’t always easy. Though the fuel has its advantages, the finances of making it work for fleets don’t always add up. (6/16)
- Leaks from abandoned oil and gas wellbores pose not only a risk to groundwater, but represent a growing threat to the climate, according to a recent Princeton University study. Between 200,000 and 970,000 abandoned wells in the state of Pennsylvania likely account for four to seven per cent of estimated man-made methane emissions in that jurisdiction. (6/19)
- Wave energy: Researchers at Oregon State University aim to design, build and operate a project that could generate much as 20 megawatts of electricity from waves. The energy could be sent to the mainland through a subsea cable from a site four nautical miles off the coast of Newport. (6/21)
- Putin advisor Sergey Glazyev was the first to suggest, back in March, that Russia dump US bonds and abandon the dollar in retaliation to US sanctions. He now proposes the creation of a “broad anti-dollar alliance” of countries willing and able to drop the dollar from their international trade.(6/19)
- American Airlines said Tuesday that it will cut nearly 80 percent of its flights to Venezuela, from 48 to 10, in a dispute over revenue being held by the South American country. And it will only fly to Venezuela from Miami, scrapping flights from New York, Dallas and San Juan, Puerto Rico. (6/18)
- Water-energy nexus: The US Department of Energy released a new report that frames an integrated challenge and opportunity space around the water-energy nexus for DOE and its partners and lays the foundation for future efforts. The recent boom in domestic unconventional oil and gas development has added complexity to the national dialogue on the relationship between energy and water resources. (6/19)
- Saudi Arabia has reassured the world since 2012 that it was paying close attention to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in the kingdom, known as Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. There is no known antiviral or vaccine for the MERS virus. It has infected 701 people and killed 287 in Saudi Arabia. Public health experts have been puzzled and frustrated about why so little information about the virus and the outbreak was coming out of Saudi Arabia, governed as a closed society by rulers who do not permit — and often punish — dissent. (6/16)