Quote of the Week
“"The industry is under so much pressure that you need to have a clear plan. You need to balance capital expenditure against production. Our capex in 2015 will be around 30 percent lower than in 2014.”
BG Group CEO Helge Lund [Q: how will that impact production in 3-5 years?]
1.  Oil and the Global Economy
It was a volatile week with oil prices falling on Monday and Tuesday, surging 6 percent on Wednesday and then stabilizing on Thursday and Friday. When it was over, prices were up for the week about 4.5 percent to $46.59 in New York and 3.3 percent to $49.56 in London. Crude prices have been more volatile this year than anytime since the 2008 crisis. Some of the large percentage moves we are seeing, however, are due to the relatively low prices as compared to recent years. The move on Thursday was generally assessed as being caused by computer trading signals coupled with a slightly bullish weekly stocks report. The report showed decreases in oil product stocks and crude in storage at Cushing, Okla. while overall US crude inventories continued to climb.  On Friday another drop in the US oil-rig count was reported which led to a small price jump at the end of the day.
The general consensus among the analysts that markets are still oversupplied continues and that it will be at least another year before supply and demand come back into balance. Some brokers say the global build in oil stocks this year will be at an average rate of 1.7 million b/d. This may become smaller next year, but the oversupply will continue as the stocks awaiting consumption continue to reach all-time records.
Goldman Sachs continues to talk about the possibility of a major price drop in the next year as global capacity to store more crude and oil products runs out. There have been a number of analyses concluding that this will never happen, however, as there is still much storage space available. People with greater insight into this issue point out the problem is much too complex to be determined with a simple recitation of EIA tank capacity.  Serious storage problems could still arise due to the spare storage capacity being in the wrong place or being of the wrong type for the liquid needing to be stored.  The EIA says it really cannot calculate the amount of “swing space” necessary to keep operations flowing smoothly. There have already been reports of shortages of distillate storage in the New York area.
It is generally believed that US shale oil production will drop further in the coming year but that it will be offset by increased production overseas. Iran announced this week that it is preparing to increase its production by 500,000 b/d, which should be enough to offset a large part of the decline in US production we have seen in recent months. This assumes that Tehran can sell its additional barrels which may be difficult without substantial price discounts. The future of the Chinese and US economies remains the major unknown. Chinese crude imports have held up pretty well this year despite its economic slowdown. Much of this is due to low prices which have allowed Beijing to fill its newly built strategic stockpile tanks and to feed new refining capacity. These new refineries are simply dumping more oil products on the world markets rather than increasing domestic oil consumption.
Like the Chinese economy, that of the US seems to be slowing of late. While there has been much publicity about growing gasoline consumption in the US, this is obviously due to low prices which now average about $2.18 a gallon. The weak earnings reports from the oil industry and announcement that GDP growth fell to 1.5 percent in the third quarter from 3.9 percent in the second quarter raises questions about how long US demand for oil products will hold up. There are already tentative indications that the recent growth in gasoline consumption is starting to slip despite the falling prices.
Much of the oil news last week came from the quarterly financial reports that were released by publically traded oil and oil service companies. As could be expected with oil below $50 a barrel, the reports were universally bad. Earnings were down with many large companies suffering multi-billion dollar losses. Spending is being curtailed on almost everything, except dividends. Only Exxon, which has a large and profitable refining operation did better than average, buts earnings were still down 47 percent year over year to $4.2 billion. The company has managed to keep most of its workforce intact as industry-wide layoffs top 200,000 worldwide.
Given the size of the cutbacks currently taking place, it is clear that oil production is going to much lower three or four years from now and that it would be well into the next decade before high-cost deep sea and tar sands production could grow enough to offset depletion of conventional oil fields.  
US natural gas prices rallied last week on forecasts of colder weather, closing at $2.31 per million BTUs. Overall gas prices have been a disaster of late, falling for four straight months, the longest losing streak since 2011. Many are warning that warmer than usual weather this winter will send prices to new lows.
2.  The Middle East & North Africa
Iran: Tehran will officially notify OPEC next month that it plans to increase production by 500,000 b/d and that it expects other OPEC members to cut production by enough to keep the cartel’s production below the agreed-upon 30 million b/d ceiling.  OPEC has been producing about 1.7 million b/d above this ceiling lately.
Iran has proposed establishing an oil and gas swap with Russia as it has had in place with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan for over a decade. Under this arrangement, the Iranians would receive gas and oil along their northern border for domestic consumption and then ship a similar quantity from its Gulf ports to Russia’s customers. This presumably would save on transportation costs and difficulties in moving oil and gas produced in Central Asia to world markets.
In the wake of the nuclear agreement Tehran has been feeling its oats by announcing plans to become the largest oil and gas producer. At a conference last week, the Iranians said they will need about $250 billion in new investment in the next ten years. Given the massive cutbacks by nearly all the international oil companies in recent months, the possibility of foreign investment on such a scale is remote.
Tehran has made clear in recent weeks that it does not want better relations with the West. This was underscored by the arrest of an Iranian-American oil company executive last month – likely on trumped up charges of espionage, which has a very flexible definition in Iran these days. The Iranian theocracy still remembers the large scale riots protesting election results that took place a few years back and likely are concerned that a new generations of Iranians are not as inspired with revolutionary fervor.  All this says that there are still many problems ahead in developing Iran’s oil industry at the pace it would like.
Iran’s deep involvement in the confrontations in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen is also adding to its problems. Tehran, however, was given a seat at the latest round of Syrian peace talks last week, acknowledging that no settlement is possible without Iranian involvement.
Syria/Iraq: The war goes on with no end in sight despite a new round of peace talks and increased foreign involvement. The US and Russian continue to bomb ISIL military positions, and in the case of Russia other rebel forces and civilians opposing the Assad government. The US announced last week that it will be sending small numbers of special forces into Syria to assist local militias fight ISIL forces. It is apparent that the year-old US bombing campaign against ISIL is not achieving the hoped-for results.
There is little word on whether the Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah offensive to drive rebel forces out of Aleppo is making much progress. While the Russians likely found many lucrative rebel targets in the first few days of their aerial offensive, such targets are becoming harder to find so that Russian aircraft are reduced to more indiscriminate bombing of villages in the path of the offensive.  Despite the increased foreign involvement this civil war still has a long way to go. There will be little impact on the oil markets in the short term, but in the longer term the ever increasing animosities threaten still more disorder in the region and an increased flow of refugees into Europe.
Down in Iraq things are not much better. The cholera epidemic is spreading and the World Health Organization has announced plans to vaccinate some 255,000 Iraqis to contain the outbreak which was occasioned by the ever deteriorating sanitary and water situation.
Kurdistan’s decision to walk away from its oil deal with Baghdad in June and try to survive by selling its own oil and that produced from the northern Iraq oilfields is not going well. Recent reports say that the Kurds are not paying the companies producing the oil and are using all the revenue to run the government and feed the ever increasing numbers of refugees fleeing into their province.
Saudi Arabia/Yemen: To add to its troubles, Yemen is about to be hit by a hurricane, the first in recorded history, that could bring as much as eight years rain to parts of the country in one day. The indiscriminate Saudi bombing and coalition offensive against the Houthis continues. Yet another peace conference is scheduled for the middle of the month while the humanitarian crisis continues to get worse.
Standard and Poor’s has downgraded its credit rating of Saudi Arabia due to the low oil prices, the size of the national deficit, and the pace that it is burning through its currency reserves. A new analysis says that the Saudis now require $100 a barrel oil in order to sustain their current budget. This is up from the $69 dollars a barrel it took to sustain the budget in 2010. 
Riyadh is looking to reduce its budget expenditures. However, this comes at a time when the monarchy is expanding its involvement in regional affairs and is buying peace at home with generous subsidies. The gasoline subsidy that costs the government some $86 billion and results in 46 cents a gallon gasoline is under study as a candidate for the much needed belt tightening.  Although such a move would result in a backlash from a population that has become used to cheap gasoline, the government may have little choice left. As the situation now stands, the Saudis are on course to deplete their fiscal reserves by the end of the decade unless there is a substantial increase in oil prices or a reduction in government spending.
Concerns are rising about the slowly increasing average temperatures that are engulfing the region. A recent report says that much of the Middle East around the Gulf may not be inhabitable by the end of the century much less be capable of producing oil. Even this report may be too optimistic as last summer work in some cities around the gulf had to be suspended due to unbearable temperatures. The issue seems to be just how long it will take for temperatures and the lack of water to impact the oil industry.
3.  China
PetroChina announced last week that its net income for the third quarter has fallen by nearly 89 percent year over year while product sales were down about 2 percent.  As could be expected, the company attributed this decline to low oil prices, a weak global economy, and slow domestic economic growth. China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. (Sinopec) suffered a 92 percent drop in earnings.  Sinopec’s sales in the quarter declined by 3.4 percent as contrasted with 5.3 percent growth in the 1st half of the year. It is numbers like these that are raising concerns as to whether China’s GDP is really increasing at around 7 percent as the government is claiming.
Few realize that China’s steel industry has exploded in the last 15 years with production increasing from 128 million tons in 2000 to 823 million in 2014.  This boom led to large increases in imported iron ore which in turn led to mini-booms for key suppliers such as Australia. The increased steel production went to build the forest of new high-rise buildings that now dot China’s landscape. With the slowing of the building boom Chinese steel companies shifted to exports which hit 11 million tons a month or 80 percent of the steel production of the EU. President Xi recently told the British that China was committed to eliminating excess capacity and that more reductions are planned beyond the 78 million tons that have already been shut down.
Some say that China’s gross steel making capacity may be as high as 1.2 billion tons per annum and that at least 300 million tons is excess to the country’s needs even with the large exports. Here again we have evidence of deep-seated troubles in China’s economy which could curtail oil imports in coming years.
In the last two years, a combination of a slowing economy and efforts by the Communist Party to clean-up the life-threatening air which exists in parts of China has resulted in a 2.9 percent drop in coal consumption in contrast to a recent annual growth of about 9 percent. This change in policy could result in a more cooperative Chinese position at the December climate control talks. The decline in the growth in China’s demand for electricity to nearly flat this year and a estimated modest 4 percent growth rate between now and 2020 should allow renewables, natural gas and nuclear to satisfy the need for more electricity burning coal. As in the case of declining steel production, a 4 percent or less rate of growth in electrical power consumption is hard to square with claims of a circa 7 percent GDP growth. Beijing says that its economy is switching to more services and does not require as much electricity to grow.
4. Russia/Ukraine
In October Moscow’s oil production may have set a post-Soviet production record of 10.77 million b/d. The Russian oil industry has been able to withstand the low prices simply because export and oil-extraction tax rates fall along with prices and the devalued ruble has kept the ruble value of Russian oil exports roughly level. For Russian energy firms, the costs of extraction are paid in rubles. In short, Russian oil companies have been insulated from the immediate effects of the sanctions and the low prices. The Russian government has been bearing the brunt of the lower oil prices because of its tax policies and is considering a tax increase. In the meantime, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund is falling rapidly. Moscow’s finance minister said last week that after 2016 the fund will be depleted should it continue to be used to cover budget deficits.
Like its oil industry, Russia’s steel industry had been doing well on its exports due to the devaluation of the ruble. As the year rolled on however a 40 percent drop in steel prices eliminated the advantage Russian steelmakers had in competing with foreign producers. Russian demand for steel this year now is estimated to fall by 10 percent as compared with 2014.
The efficacy of Moscow’s intervention in Syria is starting to be questioned. Although the indiscriminate bombing of rebels and towns opposed to the Assad government has bought some time and certainly has jump started negotiations about the future of Syria, many are starting to say that Russia is getting itself in a quagmire. Should the downing of a Russian tourist plane over the Sinai last week turn out to be the result of a terrorist bomb, Moscow will start to appreciate just what it is getting into.
5.  The Briefs
LNG worries: When the International Energy Agency published a report four years ago heralding a “golden age of gas” it seemed little could derail a bright future for the energy source. Now, with prices slumping and demand in key consuming countries like China looking shaky, the energy industry’s optimism about gas seems to have fizzled out. Particular concern hovers around the market for liquefied natural gas. (10/30)
The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline Consortium planning to send more non-Russian gas to the European market said it was on pace to start construction by next year. TAP is slated to transport natural gas from the second phase of the Shah Deniz natural gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan as early as 2019. (10/30)
Turkmen pipeline: Roughly 15 years in the making, a multilateral agreement on the planned Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline was signed during meetings in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. (10/27)
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest thanks to its decades of oil exports, posted its biggest loss in four years, dragged down by Chinese stocks and Volkswagen AG, just as the Norwegian government prepares to make its first ever withdrawals to plug budget deficits. The $860 billion fund lost $32 billion in the third quarter, or 4.9 percent. (10/28)
Eni, Italy’s largest oil producer, reported a net loss in the third quarter after crude prices slumped. The adjusted net loss was 257 million euros compared with net income of 1.17 billion euros a year earlier. (10/29)
Royal Dutch Shell reported its biggest net loss in at least a decade as it wrote down the value of assets and lowered its oil-price expectations. The company, which is buying BG Group Plc in the industry’s largest deal this year, reported a third-quarter net loss of $7.42 billion, compared with a profit of $4.46 billion a year earlier. It took charges totaling $7.89 billion following its withdrawal from Alaskan offshore exploration and a Canadian oil-sands project. (10/29)
BP said that its capital spending, known as capex, for this year would now come in at close to $19 billion, down from a previous estimate of under $20 billion, and capex would fall to $17-19 billion a year through to 2017. This is the third time the company has reduced its 2015 capex target from an original goal of $24-$26 billion. (10/27)
In Saudi Arabia, government spending has increased substantially in recent years. Consequently, the breakeven oil price rose to $106 a barrel in 2014 from $69 a barrel in 2010. As a result, with the large decline in oil prices, the fiscal deficit has increased sharply and is likely to remain high over the medium-term. (10/27)
Iran has proposed to swap oil and gas with Russia.  According to the proposal, Iran would receive natural gas, oil and oil products from Russia through its northern terminals and would sell equivalent volumes of the same products to Russia’s clients through its southern terminals. (10/26)
China’s private energy company ENN Energy Holdings is in negotiations with several LNG suppliers to secure more than 1 million mt/year of LNG over a five- to 10-year period starting from 2018. (10/29)
A Chinese holding company signed a letter of intent to purchase oil and gas assets in the Permian basin of West Texas for $1.3 billion through a limited liability partnership. (10/27)
In Nepal, the ‘unofficial’ border blockade by India has hit the business sector hard. Many industries across the county are on the verge of closure while there is an acute shortage of essentials, especially petroleum products. (10/31)
Fuel-starved Nepal has signed an agreement with China to import gasoline, diesel and cooking gas, effectively ending a monopoly on supply from India, which has restricted fuel convoys as a result of political protests in the Himalayan nation. (10/31)
Offshore Mozambique, Statoil and Eni were among those winning bids to explore for potential reserves in waters where depths range from 650 feet to 5,900 feet. A Statoil official said Mozambique waters are among the more promising frontier basins in the area where the oil potential is said to be “significant.” (10/31)
In Africa, sliding commodity prices have put currencies from Ghana to Zambia under pressure, forcing governments to scale back spending as debt rises and prompting central banks to implement aggressive monetary policy tightening to curb inflation. Resisting currency pressure depletes foreign-exchange reserves and results in weaker imports and economic growth, The IMF recommends that Sub-Saharan African countries allow their currencies to weaken to absorb shocks to their economies. (10/27)
Angola is Africa’s second-largest oil producer and is one of the countries hardest hit by the fall in oil prices. The oil crash forced Angola to slash its 2015 budget by US$17 billion (a 25% reduction). Construction companies are having difficulties paying their workers, and the Angolan central bank has devalued the currency. (10/30)
Nigeria’s economy is growing at the slowest pace this decade as oil prices drop. Companies are complaining they can’t get the dollars they need to do business. And trading in the naira has long since dried up. While Nigeria has chosen currency stability, other oil exporters from Russia to Colombia and Malaysia have let their currencies slide.  The cost to Nigeria is slowing growth. (10/30)
Venezuela is running out of money fast and has started selling its gold. The cash-strapped country could default by next year when $15.8 billion of debt payments are due. Venezuela’s reserves, which are mostly made up of gold, have fallen sharply this year as the country needs cash to pay off debt and tries to maintain its social welfare programs. (10/30)
For Brazil’s pre-salt formations, oil majors had big plans, but you can’t tell by looking at the country’s offshore drilling these days. Nine years after the major discoveries, the promise remains unrealized: Spain’s Repsol SA and China Petrochemical Corp. are the only foreigners operating an offshore drilling rig. While the crude-price collapse and an ongoing graft probe are part of the story, Brazilian officials who failed to auction enough exploration licenses and slowed approvals with miles of red tape were also major contributors to the boom that never came to be. (10/29)
Suncor, the largest energy company in Canada, reported total production for the third quarter of 566,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up 9 percent year-on-year, because of strong results from British output and Canadian oil sands operations. (10/30)
In Western Canada, Royal Dutch Shell said Tuesday it would abandon the undertaking of a major oil-sands project and take a $2 billion write-down, a stark reflection of the challenging economics for unconventional oil projects amid a sharp slump in crude prices. (10/28)
In Canada, Justin Trudeau’s rise to power has met with anxiety in the oil patch, where the legacy of his father’s wildly unpopular energy policy still incites “riots at cocktail parties”. Oil executives face the end of nearly a decade of oil-friendly Conservative power under Stephen Harper. (10/28)
Keystone pipeline: Years of politicking has held up construction of the pipeline, but the political winds are shifting and the heavy crude is making its way to refineries by other means. After almost a decade, barrels of Canada’s heavy oil sands have made their way to the Gulf Coast by hook or by crook – or, more often by rail or by truck – while the KXL remains in limbo. (10/30)
US natural gas futures tumbled below $2 per million British thermal units Tuesday amid mild weather and surging output from shale basins. Supplies on the Gulf Coast, the biggest onshore producing region, are already breaking records, and U.S. inventories are poised to reach unprecedented levels before winter temperatures boost demand. If meteorologists’ predictions of a warmer-than-normal winter are correct, a stockpile glut to the five-year average will persist into next year. (10/30)
The US reported stocks of crude and refined fuels continue to climb. Most of the stock build has occurred in crude petroleum and the middle distillates used for road diesel and home heating oil, while gasoline stocks have remained relatively normal. The result has been a marked weakening of diesel prices relative to gasoline since the second quarter of the year which has spread from the United States to Europe. (10/27)
US exports nixed: Several US companies have sought permission from the Obama administration to export crude oil to European, Asian, African and Latin American countries, but have been rejected because they have failed to qualify for strict exemptions to long-standing crude export restrictions. Specifically, the companies could not prove the oil could not be remarketed in the US. (10/30)
Modest reset: A pipeline to America’s largest oil hub is about to find itself in an unfamiliar position: not full. The drop in supply this December coincides with the opening of a pipeline to Quebec, giving shippers the option of diverting some oil from the middle of the U.S. One analyst anticipates “some significant rebalancing of where oil flows in North America.” (10/27)
SPR sales: The U.S. plans to sell 58 million of barrels of crude oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve from 2018 through 2025 under a budget deal reached on Monday night by the White House and top lawmakers from both parties. The proposed sale equates to more than 8 percent of the 695 million barrels of reserves. (10/28)
The US oil rig count has now declined for nine consecutive weeks. There are now 64% fewer rigs from a peak of 1,609 in October 2014. According to Baker Hughes, the number of gas rigs rose by four to 197 while oil rigs declined by 16. (10/31)
Offshore Atlantic: Industry supporters have started an ad blitz in southern U.S. states, arguing offshore oil and gas exploration can exist side-by-side with the environment. They say opening Atlantic basins up to oil and gas drillers would bring net benefits to the region. (10/31)
Oil output angle: A year after the bear market in crude began, oil companies have cut workers, are using fewer rigs and have less money to spend. But they’re still pumping more oil. Total U.S. output is about 1.6 percent higher than at this time last year, even as drilling rigs have fallen by 63 percent. (10/31)
The Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s energy regulator, reports a preliminary estimate of crude oil production in August was about 2.41 million barrels per day. That’s an increase of nearly 8 percent year-on-year. (10/28)
Cost declines nearly over? In West Texas, Occidental said the cost for a 4,500-foot well has fallen 45 percent from a year earlier to $6.3 million now. The company said on a call with analysts it expects costs to come down more, but did not say by how much. Mark Hanson, an analyst for Morningstar in Chicago, said the days of huge price cuts are nearly over. "I don’t think there is going to be meaningful reduction from here," he said. "To use a baseball analogy, you are probably in the seventh or eighth inning." (10/31)
Oil executives of most large investor-owned companies are standing by promises to protect dividend payouts from the collapse in crude prices even as they fire workers, cancel drilling projects and sell everything from oil fields to aircraft to conserve cash. (10/30)
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order calling on all state agencies, boards and commissions to outline plans to cut non-essential expenses by 10 percent for the rest of the fiscal year and for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2016. Lower tax collections from oil and gas production in the state are cited as a key factor, given that the energy industry is the state’s largest private sector employer.  The state’s rig count is presently at 90, down 55% from last year at this time. (10/28)
In Alaska, lawmakers are wrestling with a stark reality: if they tap the state’s supply of natural gas in order to ship LNG, they’ll end up with less oil. That’s because the natural gas in fields like Prudhoe Bay is re-injected into wells to pressurize the oil field and increase oil production. Take away that gas and access to some of the 2.5 billion barrels of producible oil in Prudhoe Bay is lost. (10/28)
Macondo effect: The ripples of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster have been clearly felt by the industry. That experience informed the decision by US regulators to require Shell to have a containment dome on site in Alaska’s Chukohi Sea and to have a backup rig available to drill a relief well in the case of a blowout in the harsh Arctic. Shell, to its credit, complied with all that was asked. But as a result, it became economically impossible to carry out a robust exploration program offshore Alaska. That reality led the Interior Department to cancel the remaining lease sales. (10/27)
BP has been complaining for a long time that many claims filed after its April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico were phony. Now there’s more evidence to back that up, including a $46,000 claim filed on behalf of a dog named Lucy Lu. (10/31)
Marathon Oil becomes the first major shale producer to cut its quarterly dividend, reducing it by 76% in an effort to prop up cash holdings as oil prices hold below $50 a barrel. (10/30)
Marathon Petroleum Corp., citing “market conditions,” has canceled a major upgrade of its 522,000-b/d Garyville, La., refinery. The company referred to what would have been a $2.2-2.5-billion project as ROUX, for “residual oil upgrade expansion.” (10/31)
Occidental Petroleum Corp. reported a third-quarter loss on sliding crude prices, a slump in production tied to the spin-off of the company’s California business, and write-downs of the value of oil and natural gas fields. The company lost $2.61 billion, or $3.42 a share, compared with net income of $1.21 billion, or $1.55, a year earlier. (10/28)
ConocoPhillips’ good news/bad news: Conoco’s net production from the US, including struggling Alaska, increased over the last 12 months. From lucrative Texas and North Dakota shale basins, output increased by 10 percent from third quarter 2014. From Canada, production increased 14 percent and, from the Middle East and Asia, output increased by 10 percent from last year. However, Conoco also reported a third quarter net loss of $1.1 billion, compared with a net profit of $2.7 billion in third quarter 2014. Capital spending for 2015 was lowered by about 7 percent to $10.2 billion. (10/31)
Anadarko Petroleum reported an overall loss of $2.24 billion compared with a profit of $1.09 billion a year earlier. (10/28)
Batteries: A breakthrough in electrochemistry at Cambridge University could lead the way to rechargeable super-batteries that pack five times more energy into a given space than today’s best batteries, greatly extending the range of electric vehicles and potentially transforming the economics of electricity storage. Chemistry professor Clare Grey and her team have overcome technical challenges in the development of lithium-air batteries. (10/30)