Editors: Tom Whipple, Steve Andrews
Quote of the Week
“OPEC may regard America’s frackers as its nemesis, but the true enemy of the oil exporters’ club has been US capital markets. The latter’s willingness to adopt a venture-like role of financing an enormous, and largely loss-making, grab for market share in global oil and gas has been the critical force of the past 10 years.” Liam Denning, Bloomberg News
Graphic of the Week
1. Energy prices and production
Crude futures climbed by over $3 a barrel in the first four days of last week but settled lower Friday as unease over the status of US-China trade talks increased at the end of a week that saw prices reach their highest level since September. The higher prices came on signs of a tighter physical market and more rumors that OPEC+ would extend the production cuts. But the market is still awaiting direction from the U.S.-China trade war – every utterance in either direction regarding tariffs has an immediate price impact. ICE Brent January futures settled 58 cents lower day on day Friday at $63.39, while the NYMEX January light sweet crude futures contract settled down 81 cents at $57.77.
Chinese President Xi said Friday his country wanted to conclude a phase one trade agreement with the US, based on “mutual respect and equality.” Xi told an audience of international visitors the world’s second-largest economy would “when necessary, fight back” in a trade war that he said had been initiated by the US and was unwanted by China. However, the US Chamber of Commerce said Friday afternoon, the phase one deal might not be signed before December 15, when the next round of tariffs on Chinese goods is scheduled to debut.
OPEC and its Russia-led non-OPEC partners in the production cut deal may roll over in early December the current cuts into June 2020, as Russia will likely support the cartel’s efforts to raise the price of oil, Reuters reported on Thursday. Currently, the partners in the deal have two main scenarios to discuss—either roll over the cuts, when they meet early next month, through June next year or postpone a decision on the deal until early 2020. Russia says it needs to discuss with its OPEC partners the exclusion of gas condensate from its cap under the OPEC+ production cut pact. Condensate isn’t exported but is still included in Russia’s oil production statistics.
The IEA raised its estimate of non-OPEC oil output growth next year to 2.3 million b/d while dropping its estimate of the “call” on OPEC crude, warning of a “major challenge” for the producer group and its partners ahead of their next meeting. In its monthly oil market report, the agency highlighted continued production growth from the US, despite falling onshore rig numbers, as well as new production from Brazil, Norway, and Guyana. Its previous report had estimated non-OPEC output growth next year of 2.2 million b/d.
The course of US shale oil output remains the top issue for oil prices in the next few years. For the US shale industry, the third quarter was more of the same: new record highs in oil production, but another quarter of negative cash flow. A sample of 38 publicly traded oil and gas companies posted $1.26 billion in negative cash flow in the third quarter, according to a study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. The performance was a deterioration from the previous quarter, which saw a marginal positive cash flow.
In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the EIA revised up its forecast of US crude production by 30,000 b/d, or by 0.2 percent, from the October STEO. Estimates for next year’s production are increased by 119,000 b/d, or by 0.9 percent, compared to the projections in the October outlook.
Growth in the US shale industry is dramatically slowing down, but at the same time, the oil majors are moving forward with aggressive drilling plans. The business model for small and medium-sized companies is unworkable since it depends on a steady diet of capital even as constant drilling fails to produce profits. The oil majors have promised to succeed where the rest of the industry has mostly failed, using economies of scale, better technology, and larger contiguous plots of land to cut costs.
We are starting to see signs that things are not going well for the majors. ExxonMobil recently redefined its strategy in the US shale, characterizing its operations as one of long-term value creation instead of the “short-cycle” cash generation, as it previously described its shale venture. The rephrasing amounts to an admission that the oil major’s shale operations are taking longer than previously thought to become a financial success. In the latest quarter, Exxon only took in $39 million from its US business, despite spending $3 billion, or 39 percent of the company’s global spending, IEEFA calculated.
In the meantime, the EIA boosted its November shale oil output forecast to over 9.08 million b/d, up 113,000 b/d from last month’s forecast. In its Drilling Productivity Report, EIA said it expects US shale oil output to climb to more than 9.13 million b/d in December, up 49,000 b/d from November, and an increase of 967,000 b/d from December 2018. US shale oil growth continues to take place mostly in the Permian Basin, where output is forecast to average nearly 4.73 million b/d in December, up 57,000 b/d from November.
Earlier this summer, it seemed that US shale oil growth was beginning to slow. But then production growth picked back up headed into the fall and is presently at 12.6 million b/d – equal to its all-time high. But a new market outlook from data provider IHS Markit projects that shale oil growth will slow in 2020, and then flatten in 2021, with US shale production growth of 480,000 BPD in 2020 – less than half this year’s rate – and then no growth in 2021.
Other shale industry leaders are echoing
HIS IHS Markit’s assessment. Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield recently said that shale producers are heeding investor calls to stop burning through cash. He also expects growth to slow next year, which should help boost oil prices. In a call with analysts, Sheffield said “I don’t think OPEC has to worry that much more about US shale growth long term.”
Former EOG Resources CEO Mark Papa recently lowered a forecast he made just nine weeks ago. Papa lowered his 2020 shale growth forecast to 400,000 b/d from the 700,000 b/d estimate he made in early September. Papa added, “This is likely not just a 2020 event. I believe US shale production on a year-over-year growth basis will be considerably less powerful in 2021 and later years than most people currently expect.”
2. Geopolitical instability
Political demonstrations continued in Iran and Iraq last week. The anti-government protests began on October 15th after fuel price increases of at least 50 percent were announced. An Iranian official said the demonstrations had subsided on Tuesday, a day after the Revolutionary Guards warned of “decisive” action if they did not cease. Amnesty International said that at least 106 protesters in 21 cities had been killed. The dramatic scenes of unrest prompted Iranian authorities to switch off the Internet. Protests and demonstrations took place in some 100 cities and towns in Iran, an astonishing development that comes on the heels of mass protests elsewhere in the Middle East. At least 100 banks and 57 shops were set on fire, and about 1,000 people were arrested.
Iranian troops and members of the elite Revolutionary Guards helped police quell violent unrest in Kermanshah province last week. At least 30 people were killed in the western province, making it the worst-hit by days of protests. The disorder appears to be the worst violence since Iran stamped out a “Green Revolution” in 2009 when dozens of protesters were killed over several months. As could be expected, Iranian officials said on Saturday “US agents” were among the armed protesters. Iranian Vice President Jahangiri warned regional countries of consequences if it is proven that they meddled to stoke recent unrest in Iran.
Security forces opened fire on protesters in southern Iraq over the weekend, killing at least five people and wounding dozens of others, police and medical sources said. On Friday, security forces dispersed by force protesters who had been blocking the entrance to the port and reopened it, port officials said. Umm Qasr is Iraq’s largest commodities port, and it receives imports of grain, vegetable oils, and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
At least 330 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare, or education.
Elsewhere in southern Iraq, hundreds of protesters burned tires and blocked roads on Sunday in Basra, preventing government employees from reaching offices. Iraqi security forces also wounded at least 24 people in the Shi’ite holy city of Karbala overnight after opening fire on demonstrators to prevent them from entering the local government headquarters, medical and security sources said.
Iraq’s crude production and exports continue to be normal despite the recent violent demonstrations in the country, but analysts said the situation bears close watching as oil fields and ports could be vulnerable to escalating protests. Crude exports from Iraq’s southern terminal on the Persian Gulf stand at 3.6 million b/d so far this month. That is up from 3.45 million b/d in October, which saw two days of bad weather.
Should foreign oil and gas companies begin withdrawing non-essential personnel, oil and gas operations will have to rely predominately on local engineers and their teams, who, according to local sources, are increasingly joining the protest movement. ExxonMobil, which operates the West Qurna 1 field and temporarily evacuated some of its staff from Iraq due to heightened security concerns, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Israel said its aircraft struck dozens of Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria on Wednesday in retaliation for rockets fired toward Israel a day earlier. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said 11 people were killed, including seven who were not from Syria. An Israeli official who requested anonymity said a preliminary and yet unconfirmed tally put the number of fatalities at between 10 and 20 military personnel, “about two-thirds of them Iranian and a third Syrian.”
An Israeli military spokesman said warplanes attacked dozens of targets, including surface-to-air missiles, headquarters, weapons depots, and military bases. Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranians
targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there and against advanced weapons shipments to Tehran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
3. Climate change
Two weeks ago, the IEA released its World Energy Outlook for 2019. The assessment projects global energy supply and demand through 2040, under three different scenarios: The Current Policies Scenario (CPS) shows what happens if the world continues along its present path, without any additional changes in policy. The Stated Policies Scenario (SPS) incorporates today’s policy intentions and targets. The Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) maps out a way to meet sustainable energy goals in full, requiring rapid and widespread changes across all parts of the energy system. Under the CPS, which is the most likely scenario, energy demand rises by 1.3 percent each year to 2040. Increasing demand would result in a steady climb in energy-related emissions, and growing strains on almost all aspects of energy security.
China is set to add new coal-fired power plants equivalent to the EU’s entire capacity, as the world’s biggest energy consumer ignores global pressure to rein in carbon emissions to boost a slowing economy. Across the country, 148GW of coal-fired plants are either being built or are about to begin construction, according to a report from Global Energy Monitor, a non-profit group that monitors coal stations. The current capacity of the entire EU coal fleet is 149GW.
While the rest of the world has mainly been reducing coal-powered capacity over the past two years, China is building so much coal power that it more than offsets the decline elsewhere. Ted Nace, head of Global Energy Monitor, said the new coal plants would have a significant impact on China’s already-increasing carbon emissions.
California state agencies will stop buying gas-powered vehicles from several carmakers after the latter joined the White House in their opposition to the state’s new, stricter emissions rules. UPI reports that the ban will be effective immediately, and it will affect the local sales of makes including Toyota, GM, and Fiat Chrysler to state agencies. However, the ban will make an exception for public safety vehicles. “The state is finally making the smart move away from internal combustion engine sedans,” California Governor Gavin Newsom told CalMatters. “Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power.”
Governor Newsom also dealt a blow to the oil industry, placing a temporary moratorium on new fracking permits in the state until scientists complete an independent review of the practice. The action also included a temporary prohibition on new permits for steam-injected oil drilling, which comes in the wake of a significant oil spill at a Chevron-operated site in Kern County earlier this year.
People in Sydney woke up to a city shrouded in smoke on Tuesday, as scores of bushfires rage across the region. Strong winds overnight brought smoke from fires inland, pushing the air quality in Australia’s largest city to beyond “hazardous” levels at times.
4. The global economy and trade wars
Trade talks between the US and China are in danger of hitting an impasse, threatening to derail the Trump administration’s plan for a limited “phase-one” pact this year, according to former administration officials and others following the talks. Both sides remain divided over core issues—including Beijing’s demand for removing tariffs and Washington’s insistence on China buying farm products. Completion of a “phase one” US-China trade deal could slide into next year, trade experts and people close to the White House said, as Beijing presses for more extensive tariff rollbacks, and the Trump administration counters with heightened demands of its own.
However, the leaders of the US and China on Friday both underscored their desire to sign a first trade deal and defuse the 16-month tariff war that has lowered global growth. President Xi said Beijing wants to work out an interim or ‘phase one’ trade pact but is not afraid to retaliate when necessary. Later, President Trump said a trade accord with China is “potentially very close,” although he insisted that any deal would have to be weighted to favor the United States after years of trade imbalances with China.
The global economy is at risk of settling into a low-growth rut without urgent action to roll back recently erected obstacles to trade and greater investment in tackling climate change, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Thursday. In its quarterly report on the outlook for the global economy, the OECD said it continues to expect that world output of goods and services will increase this year at the slowest pace since the financial crisis.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cast doubt Thursday on whether Congress will be able to pass President Trump’s renegotiated North American trade agreement this year. “I’m not even sure if we agreed today that there would be enough time to finish—it just depends on how much agreement we come to,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at a briefing.
Business activity in the US is offering signs of a pickup in late 2019, contrasting with more sluggish economic performances in some of the world’s other largest economies. US business activity is muted compared with levels seen throughout the economic expansion that began in mid-2009. That, in part, reflects heightened trade uncertainty that has delayed investments, particularly among manufacturers. Meanwhile, leading sectors, such as automobiles and electronic components, have faced specific challenges.
In her first speech as head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde warned on Friday that fracturing of the global economic system means that robust rates of economic growth “are no longer an absolute certainty.” “Ongoing trade tensions and geopolitical uncertainties are contributing to a slowdown in world trade growth, which has more than halved since last year,” she said. “This has, in turn, depressed global growth to its lowest level since the great financial crisis.”
5. Renewables and new technologies
Heliogen, a company supported by Bill Gates, claimed it had achieved a breakthrough in concentrated solar energy that could replace the fossil fuels used in heavy-emissions processes such as making cement, steel, glass, and petrochemicals. Heliogen’s solar technology can now exceed temperatures higher than 1,000 degrees Celsius, and be sold commercially, the company says. One analysis called the development the first solar high-heat “oven” for these critical industrial purposes.
The technology, which directs mirrors to reflect the sun to a single point, is not new, but achieving such temperatures consistently, boosted by artificial intelligence in directing the mirrors, is a significant achievement. Previous commercial-sized concentrating solar thermal systems have been designed to reach temperatures of up to only 565 degrees Celsius, which is useful for power generation but insufficient for many industrial processes. Their required higher temperatures have traditionally been reached only through burning fossil fuels, including oil and natural gas.
The last few weeks saw several announcements of new electric pickups that are expected to reach the market in the next 2-4 years, including models from GM, Ford, Tesla, Riven, and several smaller start-ups. These pickups are expected to sell for $40-80,000 or more depending on battery size, the number of motors, and accessories. Tesla debuted its electric pickup truck Cybertruck on Thursday, joining a list of established automakers and start-ups that have been working on electrifying pickup trucks – the heart of the Detroit automakers’ profits. While Tesla’s new pickup has some very impressive specifications, including a 500-mile electric range in the high-end model, its rather bizarre configuration may make it a tough sell.
Geothermal is an ideal energy source. It is carbon-free, renewable, and efficient. However, it is difficult to find except in seismically active places such as Iceland. There has recently been an important breakthrough in the field of geothermal energy exploration and finding those geothermal hotspots by a team of research scientists from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. The German scientists’ say they have solved the issue of finding underwater drilling sites by identifying a method that allows the mapping of submerged geological structures to determine inflow information essential for developing geothermal energy production.
The new approach combines bathymetry measurements with geochemical profiles. Bathymetry is used to map fault zones and geyser-like holes in a lake floor. Its most important feature is the echo sounder. The geochemical patterns from data on temperature, salinity, density, and pH at different depths show areas in the lake with inflows from the surrounding geothermal reservoir. The combination allows for the distinction between permeable and non-permeable structures, which was previously not possible. With this method, promising locations for drilling can be located more precisely.
The new methodology has already resulted in two successful geothermal discoveries in Nevada’s Great Basin, where there was no detectable hot water at the surface level.
In May 2018, Bridgestone Corporation announced the development of the world’s first polymer to bond rubber and resins at the molecular level. The new polymer features unprecedented durability with crack resistance that is more than five times higher, abrasion resistance that is more than 2.5 times higher, and tensile strength that is more than 1.5 times higher than natural rubber. Bridgestone named its novel polymer SUSYM. It features the high levels of durability and resistance found in conventional rubber coupled with substantially higher levels of performance.
Should this polymer make it to market and prove to have much greater longevity than conventional vehicle tires, it could have a significant impact on the operating costs of the roughly 1 billion+ motor vehicles in the world.
6. The Briefs (selections from the press – date of article in Peak Oil News is in parentheses – see more here: news.peak-oil.org)
Shortages of low-sulfur fuel oil could appear at some ports in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia next year, but most major ports around the world will have adequate supplies, according to panelists at a shipping industry conference. Shortages in some places could force vessels to detour to ports with ample supplies. Any diversions would be costly for fuel sellers and ship owners. (11/22)
Transportation energy demand is expected to increase by 25% over the next 20 years, mostly driven by an increase in commerce and trade, an ExxonMobil manager said at a conference in Houston on Thursday. Innovations are needed in the marine fuel mix to meet this new transportation energy demand. (11/18)
Brexit oil pickle: What would a “hard Brexit” mean for British oil? The answer to this question, in a nutshell, was (and is) that the taxes on international trade that will be brought in swiftly by a “no-deal” Brexit will be a huge blow to the region’s oilfield services exporters in particular, as well as to industrial exports in Scotland and the rest of the UK to a slightly lesser degree.
Ireland will ban offshore oil drilling: Ireland was going through a period of reassessing its energy priorities. By October 2019 it became clear that the offshore oil ban is unavoidable, as attested by Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s pledge not to award any further licenses at the UN Climate Action Summit this Autumn. Offshore gas will not be banned as it remains “integral to Ireland’s energy security” for the upcoming decades. Essentially, gas will be the base for Ireland’s planned transition towards a renewables-based energy matrix, a backstop for any adverse trend in the renewables segment. The Corrib gas field, expected to peak in 2019, currently feeds roughly 40-45 percent of Ireland’s gas needs. (11/18)
Norway’s giant Johan Sverdrup oil field is producing at rates “well above” 300,000 b/d, state-controlled Equinor said Tuesday, as official data showed the country’s oil output starting to recover. In emailed comments, Equinor said all eight of the production wells drilled before the 2.7-billion-barrel field started producing on October 5 were now on stream, ahead of schedule. The field is due to reach its first-phase production capacity of 440,000 b/d next summer, but Tuesday’s statement implied it was getting close to that level already. (11/20)
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline directly linking Russia and Germany via the Baltic will come online in the middle of 2020, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak was quoted as saying Thursday by the Prime news agency. (11/22)
Russia expects to increase its crude oil exports by around 400,000 b/d-500,000 b/d to more than 5.6 million b/d within five years, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in an article in Russian-language magazine Energy Policy. (11/18)
LNG-fired ships: Volkswagen Group Logistics is the first to use two car freighters powered by liquefied natural gas in overseas traffic. The two charter ships of Siem Car Carriers were launched last Friday in Xiamen, China. (11/21)
In Egypt, Royal Dutch Shell has appointed investment bank Citi to run the $1 billion sale of its oil and gas assets in its Western Desert. Shell announced plans for the sale, which includes a portfolio of 19 oil and gas leases with production of 100,000 barrels of oil per day, in October. The company said that it was getting rid of the onshore assets so it could focus instead on developing its offshore footprint in the country.
China’s Sinopec, the country’s largest refiner, is building a 200,000-b/d refinery in southern China, which will use Kuwaiti crude as feedstock, unnamed sources told Reuters. The refining and petrochemical complex will cost some $5.7 billion and will boost Kuwait’s exports to China to 600,000 bpd. (11/21)
In Nigeria, the Customs Services has ramped up efforts to curtail smuggling with a directive to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency and all relevant agencies to suspend fuel supply to petrol stations within 20 kilometers of Nigeria’s borders with neighboring West African countries. The directive is in furtherance of the ongoing bid by the federal government to drastically curb smuggling that led to the closure of the country’s land borders with its neighboring West African countries. (11/18)
Brazil’s Petrobras is on track to become the world’s largest oil producer among publicly listed companies by 2030, based on Rystad Energy’s latest data and forecasts. Through Brazil’s recent lease auctions, the world’s fastest growing oil producer gained nearly full control of more than eight billion barrels of oil in the Buzios field, where a sixth floater is being planned. To develop these and other resources off the coast of the South American country, Brazil is set for a whopping $70 billion offshore capital investment spree between 2020 and 2025, solely on field development. (11/20)
In Argentina, three leading oil companies, buoyed by the quality of the shale resources, are ready to ramp up oil and natural gas production in Vaca Muerta, but they are holding back until the economic and energy policies of the incoming government are more clear, senior executives said Wednesday. Argentinian President-elect Alberto Fernandez has yet to spell out his energy policy since winning the October 27 election. (11/21)
In Canada, crude-by-rail shipments from oil-rich province Alberta have nearly halted, while other provinces face critical shortages of propane, as the strike at Canadian National Railway drags on for a fourth day on Friday, threatening to dent Canada’s economy by billions of dollars. (11/23)
The US oil rig count dropped by another 3 rigs to 671, according to Baker Hughes. The gas rig count stayed flat at 129 for the week. The total rig count, at 803, is down 276 from this time last year. The last time oil rigs were this low was in March of 2017. (11/23)
In the Gulf of Mexico, oil production is expected to reach a record 1.9 million b/d, according to Rystad Energy. Production has grown every year since 2013, with an average of 104,000 b/d added annually. An essential contribution has come from infill drilling in legacy producing fields such as Mars, Thunder Horse and Tahiti. (11/23)
Shallow water GOM rate relief? The US federal agencies regulating offshore leases are considering granting royalty relief to new oil and gas drilling in shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico, in a bid to avoid the stranding of what they estimate could be $20 billion worth of American oil and gas resources. (11/22)
CA oil industry takes big hit: California intensified its battle against fossil fuels by halting new permits for a key production technique following leaks at a Chevron Corp. facility in an area that has pumped crude for more than a century. In his latest salvo against the petroleum industry, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered regulators to assess the safety of high-pressure steam-flooding, according to a Department of Conservation statement on Tuesday. Hydraulic fracturing and other oil-production methods also will be examined. (11/20)
Oil hit #2: The Trump administration’s relentless push to expand fossil fuel production on federal lands is hitting a new snag: its own refusal to consider the climate impacts of development. The federal Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office in September voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases after advocacy groups sued, arguing that BLM hadn’t adequately assessed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and extraction on those leases as required by law. (11/20)
Exxon Mobil plans to sell up to $25 billion of oil and gas fields in Europe, Asia and Africa in its biggest asset sales for decades, seeking to free up cash to focus on a handful of mega-projects, according to three banking sources. The sell-off would represent an ambitious attempt by CEO Darren Woods to catch up with competitors who carried out sweeping portfolio reviews and sold swathes of assets following the 2014 market crash. (11/22)
New coal: China is set to add an army of new coal-fired power plants nearly equivalent to the EU’s entire capacity of 149 GW. While the rest of the world has been largely reducing coal generating capacity over the last two years, China is building so much more coal that it more than offsets the declines elsewhere. (11/22)
Half of India’s power generation capacity using coal and nuclear power is being shut down because of lackluster demand, the Indian Express reports, adding that some of the shutdowns have been temporary, lasting just a few days, but other power plants have been closed for months. Some 65.13 GW in generation capacity has been shut down at one point or another, with the earlier shutdown made in July. There seems to be simply not enough demand for electricity, which is worrying as a lot of this demand comes from the industrial and commercial sectors. (11/18)
Germans push back at wind: Construction of new wind parks in Germany has collapsed over the past year, not least in response to growing resistance from local activists. In the first nine months of 2019, developers put up 150 new wind turbines across the country with a total capacity of 514MW – more than 80 percent below the average build rate in the past five years and the lowest increase in capacity for two decades. (11/18)
Australia’s battery leadership: The world’s biggest lithium-ion battery is about to get even bigger after its Australian operators decided to expand in a bid to stabilize the nation’s fragile electricity grid. French renewables company Neoen said on Tuesday that it had contracted Tesla to expand capacity at its Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia by 50 per cent to 150 megawatts.
Virginia Beach, squeezed between the clamor for new housing and the relentlessness of flooding worsened by climate change, decided to draw a line in the mud. The city last year became one of a small but growing number of communities willing to say no to developers — despite their political and economic clout — when it rejected a proposal to build a few dozen homes on a soggy parcel of 50 acres, arguing that those homes would be unsafe. (11/20)