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Oil price and the potential impacts to the global economy

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It seems one cannot go a day without seeing a headline about the low price of oil and the potential impacts to the US and global economy and the oil and gas industry. In order to help make sense of the myriad of information available, we have broken down the issue into the following fundamental questions.

Why did oil prices correct so suddenly? Is the current low price environment due to lower demand or increased supply or a combination of both?

The answer is a combination of both. The correction is a net result of lower-than-projected demand growth and a remarkable increase in supply. On the demand side, in July 2014 the Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Energy Agency (IEA), and OPEC forecast 2015 global liquids growth to be 1.7 percent on average. However, these expectations declined to just 1.1 percent by December 2014, despite a low price environment that typically would have been conducive to boosting demand.i One reason for the muted demand response to the low price signal has been the increasing strength of the US dollar relative to other major world currencies. Notably, the US Dollar Index has risen nearly 15 percent to 97.4 since July 2014. A stronger dollar makes dollar-denominated crude more expensive for buyers using foreign currency. Consequently, while the United States is enjoying the full benefit of low prices, many other countries are only experiencing a portion of the price decline, giving them less reason to consume more petroleum products.

On the supply side, several years of $100/bbl oil drove tremendous production growth in many countries. US crude output, including lease condensate production, increased by over 2 MMbbl/d from 2012 to 2014. This domestic supply surge greatly offset US net crude oil imports, shrinking them from 8.5 MMbbl/d in 2012 to less than 7 MMbbl/d in 2014. Meanwhile, Brazil, Iraq, and Canada collectively added nearly 1 MMbbl/d over the same two-year period.

All told in 2014, production growth of 1.9 percent exceeded demand growth of 1 percent, leading to an inventory build-up of 500 thousand bbl/d with another 400 thousand bbl/d projected for 2015.

Is OPEC content to wait it out until high-cost producers fall by the wayside? Or, will OPEC cut production?

When oil prices first started to fall, many thought OPEC members might agree to cut production to support prices. However, members rejected that idea during their regularly scheduled meeting in November 2014, leaving OPEC’s official crude production target unchanged at 30 MMbbl/d. In light of the news, the market responded with an immediate 10 percent decline in the price of WTI crude.

Why couldn’t OPEC members agree on a strategic response despite the urgency of the situation? The opposing concerns of two different factions split the camp.

The fiscal breakeven cost is the price that OPEC producers need to receive for their oil in order to balance their government budgets, which are heavily reliant on oil revenue. When prices fall below the fiscal breakeven cost, oil-exporting economies must make up for the shortfall by drawing on cash reserves or reducing expenditures. Countries such as Iran, Venezuela, and Nigeria have high social costs and low cash reserves. The collapse in oil prices not only puts them under financial pressure but also potentially threatens the stability of their governments if transfer payments cannot be made. These fears make them more amenable to crying “uncle” and cutting production to boost prices.

Meanwhile, other OPEC members, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the U.A.E., have cash reserves to finance the shortfall for many months. Their biggest fear is not near-term financial collapse, but instead long-term loss of market share. Here, the strong oil prices over the last few years have worked against them in some ways. Prices in the neighborhood of $100/bbl have facilitated significant growth in global crude production, particularly in North America. Today, the increasing volume of unconventional production in the US and Canada is changing import/export dynamics and decreasing western reliance on OPEC producers.

Rather than acting to defend prices, the Gulf producers within the organization, led by Saudi Arabia, are working to defend their global market share. In doing so, they are gambling that as the lower cost producers, OPEC members will ultimately prevail over more costly unconventional operators. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister Ali al-Naimi has stated directly that the kingdom will not intervene to support prices. “Whether it goes down to $20, $40, $50, $60, it is irrelevant … it is not in the interest of OPEC producers to cut their production, whatever the price is”.

However, conventional oil field development generally requires years of planning and construction before the first barrels of oil are produced. Today’s low prices may not be enough to curtail the numerous development projects already underway.

What is happening in China, the leading contributor to global growth? Is it rebalancing its economy or has it started a painful correction?

In 2014, the Chinese economy officially grew at a rate of 7.4 percent, down from 7.7 percent, which represented the slowest rate of growth in 24 years.ix In the fourth quarter of 2014, the economy was up 7.3 percent from a year earlier, a figure that was a bit better than what investors had expected, but still indicative of a continuing slowdown.x Moreover, the IMF now predicts that GDP growth will fall below the psychologically important 7.0 percent level in 2015.

This raises questions about China’s future oil demand. In the past, China’s focus on infrastructure and capital projects made it the second largest consumer of crude oil in the world, and it imported large volumes of it at market prices—however high. But its transition to a more consumer-oriented economy might make it more price-sensitive in the future. Regardless, industry stakeholders should stay abreast of economic developments in China, since the nation has been responsible for 55 percent of total growth in oil consumption worldwide between 2005 and 2013.

How much new supply is poised to come online in 2015 and 2016?

In 2014, new non-OPEC large-field projects (i.e., those producing over 25 thousand bbl/d each) collectively brought on 2.3 MMbbl/d in new supply. These efforts spanned diverse geographies and production methods, ranging from Brazil’s offshore projects in the Roncador, Parque, Iracema, and Sapinhoa fields to Mars B in the Gulf of Mexico, and to Russian and Canadian oil sands projects. Notably, these supply additions excluded the numerous shale oil fields being developed in the US. OPEC also contributed to the expanding large-field supply picture, adding another 1.4 MM bbl/d of new oil production capacity in 2014.

For 2015, a Deloitte MarketPoint analysis suggests large-field projects could bring on 1.835 MMbbl/d in new supply (i.e., 1.2 MMbbl/d from non-OPEC producers and 0.635 MMbbl/d from OPEC members). These projects are well underway and are unlikely to be halted, even in the current low-price environment. Taking this momentum into account, the analysis further forecasts large-field production additions of 2.676 – 3.434 MMbbl/d from non-OPEC producers and 0.759 MMbbl/d from OPEC members in 2016.

For the past two years, US tight oil production has grown at an annual rate of approximately 1 MMbbl/d. This growth is expected to continue in 2015, but at a slower rate.xvii While the recent drop in crude prices has squeezed the capex budgets of shale producers, some reportedly have been able to lower their operating costs to below $40/bbl through efficiency gains and better economics in the “sweet spots” of the shale plays. As a result, production growth is expected to continue in the short term despite low prices, albeit more slowly than in prior years. While there is no consensus on the extent to which growth will slow, many analysts expect declines of 300-500 thousand bbl/d off the 2014 pace.

It is important to note that the world experiences a four to five percent production loss per year just from normal depletion. So the added production has to equal this amount if we are to stay even with no additional growth.

Will the industry stabilize and balance after 2016?

Based on current data, demand should grow faster than supplies starting in 2016. Low prices over the next few years will likely inhibit investment in new projects—especially those in the early stages of discussion or in the engineering and design phases. It should also bolster demand, due to price elasticity,much faster than otherwise would be the case.

What does the future look like in 2020?

By simulating how the aforementioned variables could affect market conditions, the Deloitte MarketPoint World Oil Model (the Model) provides some insight into where prices might be headed. The findings from the Model’s output include the following:

•     Based on the EIA’s estimates, production is expected to continue to outpace demand in 2015 by approximately 400 thousand/bbd. This assumption is driven largely by continued production growth through the first half of 2015 as many producers strive to complete projects falling into the “too late to turn back” category and as yet-to-expire hedging contracts allow them to continue producing despite uneconomic market conditions.

•     On a half-cycle basis, oil prices could fall below $40 bbl. There have been several periods in the last 25 years where prices have dipped well below this level. However, in the current market environment, some of the very low prices witnessed in the past are unlikely to reappear, at least on a sustained basis. Since oil markets are self-correcting, market forces should trigger an adjustment, mainly through low prices that engender more demand, decrease marginal, high-cost supply, and encourage supply depletion. This suggests that historically low prices could not be sustained for more than 3 to 12 months, absent other drivers affecting demand.

•     If the low-price environment continues as expected through the first half of 2015, it should trigger a demand response that will likely be felt in the second half of the year. This is the same time period when cut-backs on the number of shale drilling rigs in operation, expiring hedging contracts, and other production-related belt-tightening should start to have a more prominent effect on production growth and market perception.

•     As a result, Deloitte MarketPoint forecasts crude prices to rise in the second half of 2015, elevating the average annual price above present levels. Additionally, the forecast expects the average 2015 WTI price to reach $62/bbl and then to rise gradually over the next few years until it reaches a new steady range of $75-$80/bbl (i.e., combined WTI and Brent world crude price) as early as 2018. This new equilibrium price is approximately $20/bbl lower than the steady state achieved in previous years, because it reflects two new circumstances in the marketplace:

Prior to the “shale revolution,” there was a scarcity premium of $10-$20/bbl in place. With the newfound abundance of tight oil in the US and potentially in other areas around the globe, that scarcity premium has been reduced.

Producers in high-cost regions, such as the Canadian oil sands and certain tight oil plays in the US, have continued to improve their margins through technological innovation. While their margins will be lower in the new equilibrium-price environment, they should still be able to operate profitably.

The Deloitte MarketPoint price forecast is only one possibility among a multitude of potential outcomes. Changes in key assumptions, such as the magnitude of the demand response as well as the trajectory of tight oil production growth, would greatly change this picture. With only negligible shifts in demand or production in the next 12 to 18 months, the average price could likely be lower, and the recovery would likely be “U” shaped, reinforcing the price signal to shale producers to decrease production.

Forces that could potentially make upside price scenarios more likely include any number of black swan events affecting supply or the perception of supply scarcity. However, since oil markets are highly cyclical, they tend to overshoot or undershoot most long-term outlooks. The current price environment has, or soon will, curb many development plans. These can be restarted in the future once the pricing environment becomes more favorable, but the lag could just be the catalyst for pushing the market back into a scarcity mindset sooner than expected.

History has demonstrated that the oil and gas industry is resilient. Oil prices are rarely stable for extended periods of time, and the industry has shown a remarkable ability to adapt and thrive as cycles change. Even after analyzing market fundamentals and other variables, the questions keep coming: Will demand continue to moderate or grow in the face of lower gasoline prices? Will companies become more efficient, leading to lower breakeven prices for US shale plays? How will global/political circumstances change?

While forecasts can be helpful for thinking about possibilities, the future is never entirely visible. However, one thing is clear: Many oil and gas companies will need to retrench and determine how they can best adapt and manage change in this challenging environment. Enlightened companies will use this time as an opportunity to improve their organizations by continuing to focus on:

•     Enhanced efficiency and performance through business process and/or supply chain optimization

•     Strategic and operational improvements

•     Reduced and/or refocused capital expenditures

•     Portfolio upgrades through acquisitions and/or divestitures

•     Talent acquisitions

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Nord Stream 2: To Gain or to Refrain? Why Germany Refuses to Bend under Sanctions Pressure

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pipeline nord stream

The chances of the sanctions war around Nord Stream 2 to rage on after the construction of the pipeline is finally over seem to be high. That said, we have to admit, with regret or with joy, that it will be completed, and for the following reasons:

Germany, like any other European country, has set itself the task of abandoning coal and nuclear energy within the next few decades. In reality, however, there is no alternative to coal and nuclear energy. Simultaneously forsaking gasoline and diesel cars, which is something Europe dreams about, will inevitably increase the EU’s demand for electricity. However, green energy is unlikely to satisfy Europe’s energy needs any time soon. Hopes for cheap thermonuclear energy are unlikely to come true until 2050 at best. Therefore, in the coming decades, natural gas, Russian and other, will obviously remain the most convenient and cheapest fuel. At the same time, regardless of where the pipelines run, Russian natural gas will account for a significant share of the European and world markets. This is not politics – just a simple economic reality.

Despite the attributed environmental benefits of Nord Stream 2 and the Russian natural gas, the positive impact of replacing coal with natural gas remains largely unclear as it depends on the volume of methane leaking from the processes of gas extraction and transportation. Nonetheless, Nord Stream 2 presents itself as an attractive alternative for the EU as it would help decrease gas prices because Russia will be able to supply the EU with higher amounts of gas, thus, decreasing demand for expensive imported liquified natural gas (LNG).

Nord Stream 2, although a privately-financed commercial project, has political implications. Politics and economics are too closely intertwined, and in the short term at that. The abandonment of Nord Stream 2 will hardly weaken Russia and force the Kremlin to introduce democratic reforms. This will only result in Europe losing a good opportunity to effectively ensure its energy independence, as well as that of its Baltic and Eastern European allies, many of whom, unable to fully integrate themselves into European energy systems, continue to buy electricity from Russia.

At the same time, Nord Stream 2 will help make Germany a guarantor of the EU’s energy security. More and more people now feel that the sanctions against the Russian-German project are essentially meant to undermine Germany’s growing influence. However, even this abnormally cold winter has shown that political problems and competition for influence in the EU are taking a back seat to energy security issues. The disruption in LNG supplies from the United States has only underscored Europe’s need for the Nord Stream. Besides, when completed and controlled by Germany, Nord Stream 2 could be used as a means of pressure against Russia and Russian supplies which is exactly what Brussels and Washington want.

Yet, the United States continues to oppose the Nord Stream 2 project and, thus, trans-Atlantic tensions between Germany and the United States are on the rise. Like the Obama and Trump Administrations which opposed Nord Stream 2 and introduced tangible steps to halt its progress, the Biden Administration is too faced with a lot of pressure by American lobbyists and members of the Congress in order to push back and halt Nord Stream 2 progress and efforts. However, until this very day, US President Biden and his administration did not sanction the project, which could be understood in lights of Biden’s struggling efforts to repair relations with Germany after the Trump Administration’s accusations towards and troop withdrawals from Germany. Thus, although the current administration under Biden still opposes Nord Stream 2, it is reluctant to impose any sanctions because its priorities lie with repairing US-German ties in the Post-Trump era.

The United States is not the only opposing International player to Nord Stream 2, but even many Eastern European countries, including Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland are against the pipeline project in fear of geo-economic insecurity. For instance, it is believed that Nord Stream 2 would cost Ukraine approximately $2 to $3 billion in losses as the transit volumes shift from Ukraine to Nord Stream 2. Another argument put forth by European opposition to Nord Stream 2 is that it would undermine the EU’s energy solidarity or even a potential “Energy Union”; however, Germany and supporters of Nord Stream 2 often highlight that the imported Russian gas would not only benefit Germany, but rather all of Europe. The pipeline is expected upon completion to be able to transport 55 billion cubic meters of Russian Natural Gas to Germany and other clients in Europe!

Despite oppositions, threats of sanctioning and the earlier construction halt in December 2019, it seems that the Gazprom-Pipeline Nord Stream 2 will be completed and will go online soon as the Biden Administration continues to refrain from imposing sanctions.

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How Azerbaijan changed the energy map of the Caspian Sea

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image source: azertag.az

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, crude oil and natural gas have been playing a key role in the geopolitics of the Caspian region. Hydrocarbon revenues became an important source of economic growth for the Caspian Basin countries such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Shortly after gaining independence in the early 1990s, the Caspian states implemented energy policies that protect their national interests. According to the BP 2020Statistical Review of World Energy total proved energy reserves of the Caspian states are: Kazakhstan has30.00 billion barrels of oil and 2.7 trillion cubic meters of gas, Azerbaijan 7.00billion barrels of oil and 2.8 trillion cubic meters of gas, and Turkmenistan 0.6billion barrels of oil and 19.5 trillion cubic meters of gas.

Such rich hydrocodone reserves allowed the Caspian states to contribute significantly to the global energy markets. Today, the Caspian states are supplying oil and natural gas to various energy markets, and they are interested in increasing export volume and diversification of export routes. In comparison with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, which supply energy sources mainly to China and Russia, Azerbaijan established a backbone to export energy sources to Europe and Transatlantic space. As the Caspian Sea is landlocked, and its hydrocarbon resources located at a great distance from the world’s major energy consumers, building up energy infrastructure was very important to export oil and gas.

To this end, Azerbaijan created the milestone for delivery of the first Caspian oil and natural gas by implementing mega energy projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline and Southern Gas Corridor (SGC).Now, one can say that both energy projects resulted from successful energy policy implemented by Azerbaijan. Despite the COVID-19 recession, the supply of the Azerbaijani oil to the world energy markets continued. In general, the BTC pipeline carries mainly Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) crude oil and Shah Deniz condensate from Azerbaijan. Also, other volumes of crude oil and condensate continue to be transported via BTC, including volumes from Turkmenistan, Russia and Kazakhstan. As it is clear, the BTC pipeline linked directly the Caspian oil resources to the Western energy markets. The BTC pipeline exported over 27.8 million tons of crude oil loaded on 278 tankers at Ceyhan terminal in 2020. The European and the Asian countries became the major buyers of the Azerbaijani oil, and Italy (26.2%) and China (14%) became two major oil importers from Azerbaijan.

The successful completion of the SGC also strengthened Azerbaijani position in the Caspian region. The first Caspian natural gas to the European energy markets has been already supplied via Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) in December 2020, which is the European segment of the SGC. According to TAP AG consortium,a total of one billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas from Azerbaijan has now entered Europe via the Greek interconnection point of Kipoi, where TAP connects to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP). The TAP project contributes significantly to diversification of supply sources and routes in Europe.

Another historical event that affected the Caspian region was the rapprochement between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. The MoU on joint exploration of “Dostluk/Friendship” (previously called Kapaz in Azerbaijani and Sardar in Turkmen) offshore field between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan was an important event that will cause positive changes in the energy map of the Caspian Sea.

The Assembly of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan Parliament have already approved the agreed Memorandumon joint exploration, development, and deployment of hydrocarbon resources at the “Dostluq” field. It should be noted that for the first time two Caspian states agreed to cooperate in the energy sector, which opens a window for the future Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. Such cooperation and the future transit of Turkmen oil and gas via the existing energy infrastructure of Azerbaijan will be a milestone for trans-regional cooperation.

The supply of the Caspian and Central Asian natural gas to European energy markets was always attractive. Therefore, the TCP is a strategic energy project for the US and EU. After the signing of the Caspian Convention, the EU officials resumed talks with Turkmenistan regarding the TCP. The May 2019 visit of the Turkmen delegation headed by the Advisor of the President of Turkmenistan on oil and gas issues was aimed at holding technical consultations between Turkmenistan and the EU. Turkmen delegation met with the representatives of the General Directorate on Energy of the European Commission and with the representatives of “British Petroleum,” “Shell” and “Total” companies. TCP is a project which supports diversification of gas sources and routes for the EU, and the gas pipeline to the EU from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan via Georgia and Turkey, known as the combination of “Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline” (TCP), “South-Caucasus Pipeline Future Expansion” (SCPFX) became the “Project of Common Interest” for the EU.

Conclusively, Azerbaijan is a key energy player in the region. Mega energy projects of the country play an important role to deliver Caspian oil and gas to global energy markets. However, the Second Karabakh War has revealed the importance of peace and security in the region. The BTC pipeline and the Southern Gas Corridor linking directly the Caspian energy to Western energy markets were under Armenian constant threat. As noted by Hikmat Hajiyev, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the President, “Armenia fired cluster rocket to BTC pipeline in Yevlak region”. Fortunately, during the Second Karabakh War, Azerbaijan protected its strategic infrastructure, and there was no energy disruption. But attacks on critical energy infrastructure revealed that instability in the region would cause damages to the interests of many states.

In the end, Azerbaijan changed the energy map of the Caspian Sea by completing mega energy projects, as well as creating the milestone for energy cooperation in the Caspian region. After Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War, the country supports full regional economic integration by opening all transport and communication links. Now, the importance of the Caspian region became much more important, and Azerbaijan supports the idea of the exportation of natural gas from Turkmenistan and the Mediterranean via SGC. Such cooperation will further increase the geostrategic importance of the SGC, as well as Azerbaijan’s role as a transit country.

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The Silk Road of Gas: Energy Business from Central Asia to Europe

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Central Asia possesses a significant role within the global geopolitical balance since it comprises numerous trade channels that link many businesses with millions of target customers from China to Portugal and vice-versa. Withal, by having abundant hydrocarbon potentials, the region offers tremendous opportunities to the global and local players.

Throughout the recent period, the preponderance of the energy-based plans and policies triggered the emergence of mega projects in the region, such as the Southern Gas Corridor, Central Asia–China gas pipeline, TAPI, and a possible Trans-Caspian pipeline in the upcoming years. Albeit these intense investment activities are foreshadowing new regional perspectives for economic development, it also generates additional alternatives and realities for the European policymakers.

The new business in the traditional routes

Anciently, the region was home to the legendary Silk Road, which was shaping the vivid economic landscape of the planet. Today, the region’s erstwhile role in trade seems to be revitalized to some extent by the projects such as the Road and Belt Initiative. In contradistinction to the past, energy forms the backbone of modern trade in Central Asia despite some cardinal difficulties of marketing and transportation.

In the last decade, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan had some attempts to increase their presence in the sector via their involvement in Central Asia–China gas pipeline. Notwithstanding, none of them was able to establish a comprehensive framework of cooperation with the EU as Azerbaijan. Through its unique Southern Gas Corridor project, which enables the transfer of the natural gas from the Shah Deniz field of the Caspian Sea to South Europe, Azerbaijan had radically transformed the pipeline mappings at the Caspian region. Concomitantly this channel provides a tremendous chance to the other landlocked Central Asian countries to be able to meet the rising demand in the European market.

Europe’s apprehension

From the European Union perspective, energy can be categorized as a strategic sector since the European economy increasingly relies on international suppliers. Currently, 54% of the energy consumption within the EU is imported mainly from Russia. More specifically, in 2019, Russian stake in the EU’s natural gas import was 44%, and the dependency of EU countries on Russian gas in 2013 as follows: Estonia 100%, Finland 100%, Latvia 100%, Lithuania 100%, Slovakia 100%, Bulgaria 97%, Hungary 83%, Slovenia 72%, Greece 66%, Czech Republic 63%, Austria 62%, Poland 57%, and Germany 46%. These substantial factors are forming the backdrop of the EU’s diversification policy in the concerning field through the establishment of intense diplomatic and economic ties to ensure the sustainability of energy security.

During the anticipated turbulent periods, especially considering the latest exacerbation between Russia and the Western bloc over the Ukraine dispute, the European economy might inevitably face some severe hurdles. Since there is a possibility that the process might be accompanied by the risk of the blockage of the Russian gas by the transit countries.

The viable solution

Geopolitical escalations undoubtedly hasten the energy diversification process within the European Union. Therefore, the essence of the energy policy of the EU can be categorized as a combination of liberal and realist approaches. Although the union intends to achieve its economic goals via the market mechanisms, it also adopts a realist standpoint in International Relations, specifically in the energy context.

As stated by the British Petroleum data published in 2019, proved gas reserves of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan totaled26,2 trillion cubic meters or 13,1% of the world’s known reserve. Undoubtedly, such an enormous potential would significantly contribute to the energy security of the EU.

Given the current situation in the European energy market and the global political climate, the EU cannot ignore its energy security concept, which is the fundamental aim of energy policy. In this sense, Southern Gas Corridor appears like the most convenient alternative by considering the future possibility of the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline that would dramatically facilitate the direct transfer of the Central Asian gas to South Europe.

As long as the EU is dependent on the imports of fossil fuels, the necessity of the balance in the energy sector will remain topical. Hence the formulation of a rational approach towards cooperation with potential suppliers, particularly key countries such as Azerbaijan, is essential. Otherwise, the energy notion will remain a risky and problematic political and economic instrument.

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