Quote of the Week
If we are to believe Lux Research, Big Oil should use the cash it has, while it still has it, to enter the energy storage market. It has become abundantly clear that lying low and waiting for oil prices to reach former heights is useless since nobody can say with certainty whether or even if this will happen at all.
“If we are to believe Big Oil, all is well, and crude will soon jump back to $100 a barrel to the joy of shareholders all around. If it doesn’t, Big Oil will just continue cutting costs and maintaining dividends. The problem with this approach is that it’s unsustainable over the long term. This is just basic survival, while in the meantime, other leaner, more far-seeing companies [like France’s Total] bet on a future in renewable energy.”
Irina Slav, Oilprice.com
1. Oil and the Global Economy
Oil prices climbed a bit on Monday, fell on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then surged upwards on Thursday and Friday after the Saudi energy minister said his country would be willing to discuss rebalancing the oil market. The minister said Saudi Arabia would “take any action to help” the crude market and will discuss the issue at a meeting in September. Coupled with an EIA forecast that foresees a “sustained tightening” of the crude markets and a reduction in product stocks, New York futures prices now have climbed from below $40 a barrel early in the month to a close of $44.49 on Friday. The IEA says that a combination of falling production and increasing demand, which will be up by 1.4 million b/d in 2016, means that there will be no oversupply in the second half of this year. The Agency believes that refinery processing of crude is now down about 500,000 b/d year over year and projects that production in North and South America alone will be down by 700,000 b/d in the third quarter.
The EIA, however, reported that US stocks increased by 1 million barrels last week and total commercial crude inventories were up by 2.5 million barrels. The Saudis produced a record 10.6 million b/d in July. However, some of this went to support increased demand for air conditioning as record temperatures engulfed the Middle East. There is some reason for skepticism about the IEA’s forecast: the Chinese economy, which has been the mainstay of the 1 million+ b/d increase in global oil demand, is not doing well in recent reports; US shale oil drillers are trying hard to maintain production; and a jump in US offshore production is expected in 2017. There is also skepticism as to whether the Saudi/Iranian competition will allow a meaningful cap on, or reduction in OPEC production. In recent months, declines in OECD reports, which are the only countries with meaningful reporting, show that stocks of oil products are increasing faster than crude stocks are declining.
OPEC is not as optimistic as the IEA about the rebalancing of the markets this year. The cartel’s headquarters in Vienna says a new high in its production was reached last month. The cartel believes its members still are more interested in maintaining market share than raising prices as oil production from the major producers is still profitable even if it does not produce enough revenue to meet state budgets. Moscow’s energy minister restated last week that his country has no interest in freezing production at this time. The EIA has revised its estimate of how fast US crude production will drop this year from 820,000 b/d to 700,000. The recent increases in the US oil-rig count are expected to check the pace of the decline.
The problems of the oil industry continue. A report by Haynes and Boone shows that some 90 US oil and gas producers have declared bankruptcy in the last 19 months leaving behind approximately $66.5 billion in aggregate debt. Texas leads with 44 bankruptcies and $29.5 billion in declared debts. The big international oil companies are entering a period of unprecedented problems with limited options for survival. Most are no longer earning enough revenue to cover traditional dividends and to carry out enough drilling to maintain production in the next decade.
With conventional sources of oil that can be produced profitability at today’s oil prices nearly gone or under the control of national oil companies, the major companies have been forced to turn to very expensive sources of oil such as Arctic, Kashagan, and sub-salt deepwater oil. The cost and environmental restrictions on producing this oil are now so high that it seems unlikely much of it will ever be produced. Among the major oil companies, France’s Total is being hailed as the one that sees the writing on the wall and is making an effort to get ready for a world that will be dominated by renewable energy and not fossil fuels.
2. The Middle East & North Africa
Iran: Although the details of the cabinet-approved new petroleum contract which is supposed to attract billions of foreign dollars into Iran’s petroleum industry was announced last week, the situation is still unclear. To keep the hardliners and the Ayatollah happy, some 150 changes (mostly minor) were made to the original contract. While the new contract provides a framework, details such as who gets how much will be negotiated separately with each international oil company seeking to do business with Iran. The bottom line is that it may be a year before any of these agreements are negotiated. Iran’s next presidential election is scheduled for May 2017. Some believe there will be little or no progress on signing oil contracts with foreigners until after this election. Many oppose the initiatives of the Rouhani government and, should he lose, the new government may want to halt the foreign investment program – a move which would be much easier if there were no contracts to break.
While Iran may have made a surprising comeback from the sanctions, it may be some time before it reaches its self-proclaimed goal of producing 5 million b/d from its aging oil fields. Doing business in Iran is still risky as hard-liners there have stepped up arrests of mostly dual citizenship foreign nationals living there and is using them as pawns in international negotiations. This atmosphere is something the international oil companies will have to think about before investing billions in Iranian oil even if it is still relatively cheap to produce.
Syria/Iraq: The seemingly endless battle for Aleppo continues in a war with no end in sight. Fighting is raging across the city with hundreds of thousands trapped without access to food and other supplies. Russian bombs continue to fall indiscriminately in the rebel areas of the city, and even government-controlled western Aleppo is running out of food and is not secure from rebel attacks. This situation is turning into a disaster not seen since the last days of World War II. Iran announced this week that some 400 of its “volunteer” fighters had been killed fighting in Syria. Recent rebel counterattacks have forced the Iranians to participate more in the fighting.
The city of Manbij on the supply route between Turkey and the Islamic States capital has fallen to US-backed rebel and Kurdish forces after two months of heavy fighting, cutting off a key communications line for ISIL. During the fighting, US and coalition forces launched 680 air strikes against ISIL fighting positions and vehicles. At the end, ISIL fighters took some 2000 civilians along with them as human shields so that they could escape the city.
The ISIL official who was chief of oil operations for the Islamic State was killed in fighting near the Iraqi border. ISIL is reported to be digging hundreds of small pits to store oil as coalition and Russian air strikes slowly destroy any other place to store the oil which is needed for ISIL’s military operations.
With much of the world aligned against it, ISIL is losing ground on all fronts in Syria and Iraq. The day when it is no longer able to hold and manage cities is coming soon. ISIL is already turning its efforts to terrorist bombings rather than conventional military operations which are becoming increasing difficult considering the array of foreign governments conducting military operations against them. Many fear that the fall of ISIL as a “state” will simply lead to more chaos as the assorted “victors” with widely different agendas turn on each other.
Oil majors Shell, BP, and Lukoil have agreed to resume investments in the projects they are already undertaking in Iraq. This move is expected to increase Iraq’s oil production by 250,000 to 350,000 b/d in 2017. If Iraq can increase production by this much in the next year, it will add more problems to those seeking a cutback in OPEC production to force higher prices. Iraq now produces some 4.6 million b/d, most of it from the southern oil fields which are not as yet subject to harassment by ISIL or involved in Baghdad’s dispute with the Kurds.
Libya: Most of Sirte has been liberated from Islamic State forces, but pockets of resistance remain and the fighting is far from over. With the major defended positions overrun with the help of US airstrikes, the rest of the fighting will be block by block. With nowhere to go, the Islamic State fighters will likely fight to the death rather than surrender. Many of those who joined the Islamic State were former supporters of Gadhafi who were ostracized after the uprising and turned to the Islamic State for safety.
Last week the National Oil Company said that it would need some $1 billion to repair the damage that has been inflicted on its facilities in the last three years of Islamic State attacks and militia blockades. The recently reunited National Oil Company says that it can increase production to 900,000 b/d by the end of the year and 1.2 million b/d next year if all the political obstacles are removed. Libya was producing some 1.6 million b/d before the uprising and over 1 million until various militia groups started interfering with oil production in hopes of gaining political leverage against the government in Tripoli.
Saudi Arabia: Despite the announcement last week that it is willing to consider production cuts in conjunction with other OPEC members to increase prices, many are skeptical that this is little more that talk to deflect criticism from the less-well-off members of OPEC. The Saudis have cut the price of their crude going to Asia which suggests they remain serious in maintaining their market share in the Far East against Iran, Iraq, and Russia. Saudi production hit a record last month, but many attribute this to the need to keep the air conditioners running in the midst of steadily increasing temperatures in the Middle East.
The daytime temperatures in Riyadh have been running around 111o F. this month. In the summer the Saudis pour raw crude into their power stations to keep up electricity production which is a major waste of a valuable resource. Most of the world’s oil burning power plants that use oil as a fuel use only the less valuable fractions of crude to make power rather than waste the far more valuable lighter fractions which are turned into gasoline and diesel.
The three-month ceasefire and peace talks on Yemen collapsed last week. The Saudis resumed bombing and immediately made headlines around the world by allegedly attacking a school and killing ten children. The Pentagon announced an additional $1 billion in weapons sales to the Saudis – much of which is going to prosecute the war in Yemen. There is no end to this war in sight either.
Last week saw a spate of reports indicating that China’s economic troubles continue and that hopes Beijing will soon mop-up the global oil and oil product glut may come to fruition. Last month the Chinese economy missed a number of analyst projections. Industrial production was up by only 6 percent year over year; retail sales were up by 10.2 percent vs. the 10.5 projected and fixed-asset investment in the first seven months was up by 8.1 percent as compared to the 8.9 percent projected.
Export and Import numbers were equally dismal with exports down 4.4 percent and imports down 12.5 percent both year over year – suggesting that demand remains sluggish despite a variety of measures to stimulate the economy. Domestic oil and coal production during the first seven months of this year were down 5.1 percent and 10 percent respectively. Crude production in July was down 8.1 percent year over year to 3.95 million barrels a day. The major Chinese oil companies are believed to have cut capital spending by 10 percent year over year in the first half of the year.
Oil and coal imports were down too with crude imports at 7.35 million b/d last month, the slowest since January. Coal imports were down 2.5 percent and natural gas down more than 13 percent. This contrasts with the first half of the year when crude imports were up 14 percent and coal 8.2 percent as the Chinese turned to cheaper imported coal and oil to replace higher cost domestic production.
On Friday, the International Monetary Fund warned that China’s real GDP growth could sink below 6 percent by 2020. Some analysts hold that its GDP is already below that number and some even believe it is below 5 percent. The IMF also warned that China’s corporate debt is “high” by any measure, but manageable.
Thanks to the decline of the ruble and large foreign oil sales, Russia’s oil companies have been able to afford to increase their drilling at a time when most of the world’s oil companies are reducing capital spending. Last week Rosneft announced that its production in the second quarter was 4.1 million b/d, up 0.5 percent from the previous period. The total footage drilled by Rosneft in the first half was up 48 percent from the first half of 2015. In June 2016 the company set a new daily record for footage drilled. Thanks to the price drop, Russia has been able to slowly increase its oil production despite the burden of many very old fields – some of which date back to the early days of the 20th century.
Moscow reports that a subsidiary of Gazprom Neft is making progress in its Arctic drilling program in the Pechora Sea. Four wells out of a planned 32 are now in production and production is now at 44,000 b/d. Some 10 million barrels of oil have been produced already from special ice-resistant offshore rigs.
The announcement that Turkey and Russia have agreed to resuscitate the Russian natural gas pipeline across Turkey to the EU has upset thinking about the future of natural gas supplies to Europe. The project was sidelined after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter plan but has been revived in the wake of the rapprochement following the Turkish coup attempt. The pipeline will bring Siberian gas under the Black Sea and into Turkey. The project has the capacity to supply more gas to Turkey than it can consume leaving the door open to exports to Europe.
Gazprom announced last week that it expects to sell more gas to the EU due to lower production from the Netherlands and limited shipments of LNG from the US. Poland is making an effort to stop importing Russian oil and getting its supplies from Iran instead. The Poles are quite upset with Moscow over its behavior in Ukraine.
A new militant group, the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate (NDGM), has vowed to blow up more oil installations if government does not meet its demand for inclusion in negotiations along with the other groups, some of which are already being paid not to attack pipelines. The group has already blown up one major pipeline as part of its “operation zero” plan and is ready to blow up more until no oil is being produced in the Niger Delta.
As the government does not allow oil companies operating in the country to tell the whole truth about the damage done and loss of production from insurgent attacks, outsiders have a hard time coming up with just how much of Nigeria’s oil production has been curtailed. Companies are contract bound to declare force majeure when unable to meet delivery schedules, but outside of this details are lacking. The best guess is that oil production is now below 1.3 million b/d and possibly lower due to the insurgent attacks.
The government has been trying to open negotiations with the insurgents, which in reality seems to mean paying them off to leave the oil infrastructure alone rather than coming up with some equitable means of revenue sharing between the central government and the provinces. For now, it is unclear just where this situation is going. New research into the distribution of Nigeria’s oil revenues shows that only 14 percent of the N96 trillion earned during the last 58 years of crude oil sales has gone to the producing provinces instead of the 50 percent that was originally agreed on but was jettisoned after the central government found out how much money was coming from oil sales. This is the issue at the heart of the insurgency.
The Nigerian government is under considerable pressure these days. Not only is the selling price of oil less than half of what it was a few years ago, but production is down on the order of 70 percent and the Islamic insurgents are storming across the northern provinces. Nigeria is rapidly changing from a success story to a bankrupt failed state with little oil revenue.
As expected, the situation continues to deteriorate. A new study says nine out of ten Venezuelan families can not afford to eat. Food trucks need armed guards and food riots are a daily occurrence. The government just raised wages 50 percent to compensate for inflation which the IMF says will reach 480 percent this year and 1,600 percent in 2017. To top it all off there is major outbreak of malaria from unemployed men going into the southern swamps to search for gold at abandoned mines.
The government continues to clamp opposition leaders in jail and sentence them to long terms. It has also delayed action on a recall election for President Mauro into next year so that should the President lose, he would be replaced by his Vice President rather than by a member of the opposition.
Caracas is taking the lead in trying to talk OPEC into reducing its Middle Eastern production so that prices will rise again. President Maduro has already talked with the Saudi King and has sent ministers on a tour around OPEC to drum up support for a production freeze.
Despite its manifold problems, Venezuela so far has managed to scrounge up enough money to pay off it debts and avoid defaulting on its bonds. US bankers are saying that the country should be able to make payment or defer the $1.4 billion due in October and possibly even the $2.7 billion due in November. The country is currently in talks to refinance its debt and delay payments until better times.
7. The Briefs
The European Commission said it was allocating funding to end Finland’s energy isolation, one day after new life emerged for a Russian pipeline for Europe. The commission said it allocated roughly $210 million to support the construction of the first-ever natural gas pipeline linking Finland to Estonia, dubbed the Baltic-connector. (8/11)
Norway’s Statoil said it started drilling operations at a field above the Arctic Circle to prepare to rebuild area natural gas stocks. Statoil said it started drilling an injection well for carbon dioxide injection in the Snohvit field off the northern coast of Hammerfest. A production well will follow in order to replenish gas for an area liquefied natural gas facility. (8/10)
Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran said that projects meant to exploit the strategic position of the Caspian Sea and its oil and natural gas are national priorities. The Iranian and Russian presidents met with their Azeri counterpart in the nation’s capital, Baku, to review trilateral relations. All three are energy rich and positioned to take advantage of opportunities in the Caspian Sea. (8/10)
Russia and Turkey signaled that they would resuscitate the development of a natural-gas pipeline between them, potentially undermining European efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy with fuel piped in from Azerbaijan. (8/10)
Turkey wants to buy more natural gas from Iran and has discussed pricing issues, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday, adding that Ankara and Tehran should resolve a dispute on gas prices without arbitration. (8/12)
Israel is preparing to tender 24 offshore exploration blocks as it looks to bolster its oil and gas industry after a four-year lull sparked by regulatory uncertainty and stock-price volatility. Their proximity to a number of large and proven gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean should make the tenders attractive. (8/11)
In Basra, Iraq: for the second time in two months, residents of Iraq’s oil capital are suffering severe power outages because the government cannot pay its bills. (8/10)
Oman and Iran have agreed to change the route and design of a planned undersea natural gas pipeline to avoid waters controlled by the United Arab Emirates. The planned pipeline would connect Iran’s vast gas reserves to Omani consumers as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Oman that would re-export the gas. (8/11)
In China, British oil major BP is seeking buyers for its 50 percent stake in a petrochemicals joint venture, its single largest investment in China, in a deal that would fetch $2-$3 billion. (8/10)
China Inc. is looking to win a gold medal in deal making with a $13 billion takeover of a Brazilian electric company–CPFL Energia SA and a listed subsidiary. State Grid Corp. of China eventually expects to secure the entire company; its offer includes the assumption of debt. The deal would be China’s biggest-ever investment in Brazil and would provide a fresh dose of foreign capital for a country slogging through one of its deepest recessions ever. (8/10)
Australia opened 28 new areas for exploration of the coast of Western Australia, hoping the options can boost the prospects for the nation’s energy economy. (8/13)
The Latin American refinery bust has proved to be a boon for U.S. fuel makers. From Brazil’s Petrobras to Mexico’s Pemex, state oil companies have failed to complete nine projects worth at least $36.4 billion that would have supplied 1.2 million barrels of gasoline and diesel daily. U.S. refiners have stepped up to help fill the gap, with exports almost doubling in the past six years. (8/12)
In Colombia, Occidental Petroleum will have to wait at least a few more days to resume production at three fields (total production: 56,000 b/day) amid delays in fixing a pipeline attacked by guerrillas. The delays stem from rain plus the security situation. (8/8)
In Mexico, Pemex produced about 2.23 million b/day in February 2016, down from its peak of 3.4 million in 2004; 76 percent of current production comes from offshore fields. The Cantarell field, which reached its peak at 2.2 million b/d in 2004, had dropped to 256,000 b/d by 2015. Production from the Ku Maloob Zaap field was at 850,000 b/d in 2014, and Pemex expects to maintain this production until 2017, at which point it will enter decline. Tapping Mexico’s best remaining targets of opportunity—the deepwater plus shale oil just south of the Texas border—will require smart partnering with foreign companies. (8/10)
Mexico started quietly buying contracts to lock in 2017 oil prices when futures were near their $53 peak in June, signaling the start of what has in prior years been the world’s largest sovereign petroleum hedge, according to people familiar with the deal. (8/13)
Mexico: Ten months after the nation won special dispensation to import U.S. crude oil, it has yet to take in a single barrel. Pemex successfully petitioned the U.S. Commerce Department in October for permission to swap its own heavy oil for the lighter crude produced in shale formations. Pemex says it doesn’t make economic sense to bring in U.S. crude at current prices. (8/9)
The U.S. oil rig count increased for a seventh consecutive week—by 15 to 396—for the longest recovery streak in the rig count in over two years, even as analysts revise down rig count growth forecasts and energy firms become more cautious the longer crude holds below $50 a barrel. Since July 1, drillers have added 66 oil rigs. (8/13)
Oil major debt bomb: How do you ride out low oil prices and still pay dividends and CEO salaries? You double down on debt, apparently. Estimates by Bloomberg have shown that oil majors have doubled their combined debts to US$138 billion since 2014. That’s also a staggering tenfold jump from the 2008 total oil major debts. (8/9)
North Dakota’s oil production fell about 20,400 b/d month on month in June to 1.026 million b/d, and output is expected to fall below 1 million b/d “pretty soon,” likely before year-end, the state’s top oil and gas regulator said on Friday. And once that happens, production could linger at a level around 900,000 b/d for more than a year. (8/13)
Pipeline paradigm shift: Today, oil moving from North Dakota to “refinery row” along the US Gulf must travel a circuitous route through the Rocky Mountains or the Midwest and into Oklahoma, before heading south to the Gulf of Mexico. The 450,000 barrel-per-day Dakota Access line, when it opens in the fourth quarter, will change that by providing Gulf refiners another option for crude supply. Gulf Coast refiners and North Dakota oil producers will reap the benefits. Losers will include the struggling oil-by-rail industry. (8/12)
Ending the US crude oil export ban hasn’t led to impressive results. For the first five months of 2016, some 16 countries imported an average of 206,000 b/day of US oil, with nearly half of that going to two countries: Curacao and the Netherlands. Perhaps when the market changes, those 16 countries and more will expand their imports. (8/12) [Reminder: the US is still a net importer of crude oil and petroleum products, importing roughly 5 million b/day.]
Chevron wasn’t the only winner in Monday’s ruling by a federal appeals court over its long-running Ecuadorian pollution litigation. The victory, in which the court affirmed that a lawyer for victims engaged in wrongdoing to secure a $9.5 billion verdict in the South American country, may benefit other corporations seeking to avoid enforcement of foreign judgments they contend are based on corrupt proceedings. Or, if you’re an anti-corporate activist, you can put it this way: “The decision hands well-heeled corporations a template for avoiding legal accountability anywhere in the world,” said the lawyer for a plaintiff. (8/10)
Strippers are tough: There were a lot of predictions last year that 2016 would lead to the disappearance of many strippers – the oil well producers who take nearly depleted “stripper” wells and keep them running and producing a few barrels a day. This year is proving that strippers are much tougher than many analysts gave them credit for. (8/9)
The US national average gasoline price for a gallon of regular retail unleaded gasoline was $2.12, relatively unchanged from one week ago, according to the AAA motor club. For most of the summer, gasoline supplies have kept pace with consumer demand, though federal data last week show the steepest decline in those supplies since April as drivers take advantage of lower fuel prices. (8/10)
Colorado voters may see issues on the November ballot on oil and gas development, an issue both sides of the debate said is important for state interests. Initiative No. 75 would move authority over oil and gas operations out of the hands of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee and into the hands of local authorities. No. 78 would require a 2,500-foot buffer zone around oil and gas operations, compared with the current 500-foot limit. (8/10)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump promised Monday to repeal a host of energy and environmental regulations, save the coal industry and lift restrictions on energy sales. But many of those promises may be challenging to fulfill. A new president cannot easily cancel most regulations. (8/9)
Keystone redux: The Donald Trump campaign suggests that if elected president, he would ask TransCanada to try again on the Keystone XL pipeline. (8/9)
SoCal gas issue: During the summer, when storage operators are typically injecting natural gas into storage facilities to build up inventories before the winter months, natural gas inventories in Southern California have remained nearly flat. Underground natural gas storage wells at the Southern California Gas Company Aliso Canyon facility, by far the largest storage field in the region, are still undergoing testing. (8/10)
Record gas consumption at power plants this summer is accelerating the rebalancing of the US natural gas market. Unusually mild weather in February and March pushed the year-on-year surplus to 1,014 billion cubic feet by the middle of March. Since March, however, the year-over-year surplus has fallen consistently as excess stocks have been drawn down by a combination of static production and strong demand from power producers. The year-on-year surplus in gas stocks has declined every week since March 11 and was down to just 378 billion cubic feet on July 29. (8/8)
Coal cleanup collateral: U.S. states should force coal companies to set aside collateral to pay for future mine cleanups and protect taxpayers as the industry braces for further declines, a leading federal regulator said on Tuesday. (8/10)
The top two US solar manufacturers are shifting away from the biggest domestic market because utilities aren’t signing as many deals to buy electricity from their giant power plants. SunPower Corp. the No. 2 U.S. panel maker, said Tuesday it is turning its attention to rooftop power, while First Solar Inc., the biggest producer, now expects more of its growth to come from selling panels to other companies. (8/12)
The world’s population is topsy-turvy, and its exponential and uneven growth could have disastrous consequences if we aren’t ready for it. Humanity recently hit a benchmark, a population of 7.9 billion in 2013. It is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, and 9.6 billion by 2050. Most of the growth is supposed to come from nine specific countries: India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, the United States, and Indonesia. It isn’t fertility that is driving growth, but rather longer lifespans. Population growth in developed countries has slowed to a trickle. (8/8)
Hurricanes update: The Atlantic basin will see the most named storms since the 2012 season, the year Sandy crippled the US East Coast, with five to eight of those strengthening into hurricanes by Nov. 30, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. NOAA increased its outlook to 12 to 17 named storms. (8/12)
Climate change: Scientists have shown that both of the Earth’s major ice sheets have seen an accelerating rate of ice loss in recent years, which ought to help drive an accelerating rate of sea level rise. Climate modeling scientists have recently managed to factor out the impacts of the enormous volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 to more accurately gauge the underlying rate of accelerating climate change. (8/11)