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Deal, No Deal

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It has been a topsy-turvy story for the most traded and (politically and economically) significant commodity in the world. Welcome to the world of Crude Oil. Back in 2014 when the war between Sheikhs and Shale begun, Saudi Arabia deliberately balked to play the role of, what has been called, Swing Producer of the world. By refusing to turn off the taps Saudis envisaged a future that will, acting out of the principle of survival of the fittest, drive out high-cost producers (most importantly US Shale).

But the strategy went awry. To their, and everyone surprise, even opposite. After a year in 2015 it was Kingdom burning through their cash reserves at a precarious rate. Subsidies were cut, holidays curtailed, salaries slashed. Government largesse, of which the Saudi masses are acquainted with, were shrunk at an uncomfortable rate. There was an imminent chance of a social unrest, if things had continue to be so. Fortunately, they didn’t. After much ado, OPEC was able to strike a last minute deal with Non-OPEC producers. Oil prices, after touching a nadir of $26, climbed up, gradually smashing through the $50 psychological mark. Articles and opinions were replete with positivity and that the act of rebalancing has begun. But across the pacific matters were quite different.

US Shale boom, Fracking 2.0. It has been called many names. The technological innovations in drilling and fracking coupled with certain softwares rendered the US shale industry a chance to stand in the face of low oil prices. The world saw how costs in US plunged almost 30-40%. In some areas such as Permian Basin it is even low. Instead of ousting the Shale producers, the days after the Vienna oil accord (signed 30th November 2016) saw an utterly different phenomena: rise in Shale production. Let us have a look at fundamentals. Right now the inventories stand at 527.8 million barrels down from the historic high of 535 million-not at all a bullish level, indeed. The rig count is also high: 697, highest since August 2015. The US shale production increased by 17,000 barrels per day this month. Total production has risen from 8 million barrels per day to 9.2 million barrels. Expected to touch 9.7mbpd by 2018. Bearishness spread all over! We are back at square one: oil prices are back to the pre-deal level and there has been a deluge of selling in the markets. Bloomberg reported today (5th May, 2017) “The number of contracts traded in a minute — usually in the hundreds early in the trading day — surged above 7,000 on WTI at 4:28am London time”.

Now coming back to Middle-East. The KSA, after the prices stabilized has become stable as well. Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman is trying to ease things up. In a gerontocracy which doesn’t likes the idea of a young man getting hold of the bridles of the country, it is no doubt an achievement for the young scion that he has been able to kick-start projects that will diversify the Saudi economy disconnecting, to a great extent, its dependence on oil. About 90% of Saudi revenue comes from Oil exports. But now The Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Plan, attempts to wean itself from oil, calls for a bright future, provided both the plans are implemented in letter and spirit. But why are we talking about these projects and plans? Because they lead us to what is being dubbed as the creation of the largest sovereign fund in the world. Behold, Aramco. According to some estimates it is the largest company on earth big enough to swallow Alphabet Inc., Berkshire Hathaway, Microsoft and still leaving some room for Apple Inc! Albeit its history has been shrouded in controversy due to the absence of any proper documentation and transparency now it is going public. There will be an IPO, late 2018, in which 5% shares of Saudi Aramco will be floated which is supposed to create a $1trillion sovereign fund. Once again, why Aramco? That is because it takes us to the deal. To the question that whether, on 25th May when the OPEC and NOPEC oil producers meet, the deal that was originally decided to be implemented for first six months of the year, will be extended or not? It takes us to the nuances that why KSA in the first place not only convinced OPEC and NOPEC producers to reach an entente but also went an extra mile cutting production more than what it had initially promised. It was because KSA needs oil prices more than $50 not only for the impending IPO but also for maintaining their economic health. It has reduced its tax from 85% to 50% to make Aramco more lucrative. Moreover, other Middle Eastern producers also need a stable oil as their revenue mostly depends upon oil, no surprise! Libya and Nigeria were exempted from the deal but they are in doldrums partially because of security issues and partially, economically. See what is happening in Venezuela. In a single phrase it is ripping apart, all because of low oil prices. With a war engulfed Syria a fuming refugee crisis, Middle East cannot afford another tumult as the consequence of low oil prices. Hence, my guesstimate is that there will be an extension, may be it is not for whole 6 months. Although, Saudi Oil Minister admonished the ‘free-riders’ at CERAweek and recently echoed that it is too early to decide, I think the Kingdom has to succumb to ground realities. This will give a support to oil prices for the remaining year.

I will conclude with a catch-22 situation: Suppose there is an extension and that the oil prices rise. What this augurs for the Shale producers (Read USA)? Euphoria! With cries of hurray their derricks are going to ooze out more black gold as higher prices makes it feasible to do so. Subsequently the rising prices will start to feel downward pressure and either come down or, in the best case, become stagnant.

A question to the readers: What is then the fun in extending the deal? Bitter, yet a reality.

Independent Economic Analyst, Writer and Editor. Contributes columns to different newspapers. He is a columnist for Oilprice.com, where he analyzes Crude Oil and markets. Also a sub-editor of an online business magazine and a Guest Editor in Modern Diplomacy. His interests range from Economic history to Classical literature.

Energy

China, biomarine energy and its players

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In the future, China and Europe will compete and cooperate in the field of ocean energy and green hydrogen energy production. This is why this aspect is crucial in building a bridge of cooperation and friendship between China and Europe.

Wave energy in China is generally low and accounts for only one seventh of wave energy in Europe. Fujian Smart Energy Technology Co., Ltd. has a new patented technology that can increase wave energy in the operating area by over 10 times, causing negligible changes to the environment. It is an environmentally friendly technology that does not affect the free movement of marine life, and can increase wave power generation by over 100 MW. It is certainly innovative, ingenious and daring. It will require strong support from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

The “National Independent Contributions” are non-binding national plans outlining climate actions, including climate-related targets, policies and measures that governments intend to implement in response to climate change and as a contribution to achieving the global goals set out in the Paris Agreement of December 12, 2015.

In these projects China has proposed that carbon dioxide emissions should peak around 2030, striving – as a stakeholder – to achieve this target as soon as possible. In 2030, carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 60-65% compared to 2005 and primary energy consumption will focus on non-fossil energy.

The percentage has reached about 20% and the volume of forest stock has increased by about 4.5 billion cubic metres compared to 2005. Support for this project may enable China to reach this target earlier.

Shenzhen (a sub-provincial centre of the People’s Republic of China belonging to the Guangdong Province) is positioned as a global oceanic central city. China plans to initiate wave hydrogen production projects in Shenzhen and establish headquarters there.

In this regard, the European Union will invest 470 billion euros in clean energy over the next 25 years, with a focus on the hydrogen energy sector. The European Union has already launched its Hydrogen Energy Strategy in summer 2020. By the end of 2024, the European Union will build a batch of renewable hydrogen electrolysis equipment with a single capacity of 100 megawatts and annual production across Europe will exceed one million tonnes.

The aim is to promote this technology in Europe and later in the world through the Belt and Road Initiative, i.e. the New Silk Road called for by President Xi Jinping. There are plans to build one hundred 600-MW wave power plants and one hundred wave hydrogen production projects with an annual output of 100,000 tonnes over the next 15 years.

China’s Roadmap 2.0 for Energy Saving Technology and New Energy Vehicles foresees that by the end of 2035 the number of fuel cell vehicles will amount to one million and the demand for hydrogen will reach two million tonnes. The International World Group’s 600-MW wave power project will produce 103,000 tonnes of green hydrogen per year.

The project can meet China’s hydrogen demand until 2035 and will provide energy from green and renewable hydrogen.

The China Hydrogen Energy Industry Development Report 2020 forecasts that, by the end of 2050, hydrogen energy will account for 10 per cent of final energy consumption, the number of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be 30 million and hydrogen demand will be equal to 60 million tonnes.

The International World Group’s project can provide a steady flow of green hydrogen energy for 30 million vehicles. The related Sino-European Strategic Cooperation Agreement for Ocean Energy Development has a first and a second phase. The first will see the establishment of a global ocean energy technology research and development centre and then a Sino-European ocean energy technology research and development centre in Shenzhen.

At the same time, the ocean energy technology will be focused on its generation: from wave motion, from tidal power without dams, from offshore wind systems and also from offshore solar energy.

The cost of producing hydrogen from non-fresh seawater is lower than the cost of producing hydrogen from oceans and pertains to an advanced technology.

Zhisheng Energy currently holds invention patents for 100-MW wave power generation, as well as for environmentally friendly tidal power generation, and 10-MW wind power generation.

On the afternoon of April 16, President Xi Jinping held a video-conference-in Beijing with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel. The leaders of the three countries held an in-depth exchange of views on cooperation for tackling climate change, China-EU relations, anti-epidemic cooperation and major international and regional issues.

President Xi Jinping stated that China would strive to achieve peak carbon emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. This means that China, as the largest developing country on the planet, will complete the world’s highest carbon intensity reduction in a shorter timeframe than any third party. This stands in contrast to other powers that in Presidential candidates’ election speeches promise respect for the environment, but in fact do nothing more than confirm old energy production systems.

The President said China decided to accept the Kigali Amendment of October 15, 2016 to the Montreal Protocol of August 26, 1987 to strengthen the control of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide such as HFCs (refrigerant gases containing hydrofluorocarbons).

He argued that responding to climate change should be the common cause of all mankind and should not be a bargaining chip for geopolitics, a target to attack other countries or an excuse to erect trade barriers.

During the video-conference the President also said China would adhere to the principles of equity, common responsibilities and responsibilities differentiated by the respective capabilities, as well as promote the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of June 4, 1992 and the Paris Agreement and actively carry out South-South cooperation on climate change.

He added he hoped that developed economies would lead by example in reducing emissions and take the lead in meeting their climate financial commitments, so as to provide adequate technical and capacity-building support to developing countries to tackle these epoch-making energy changes.

A few words are now appropriate about Xi Jingping’s most important collaborator on environmental issues: Ministers Lu Hao and Huang Runqiu.

The Minister of Natural Resources, Lu Hao (born in 1967), was the youngest provincial Governor in China, ruling Heilongjiang Province (population: 38,312,224 inhabitants in 2010) from 2013 to 2018. Lu Hao also served as First Secretary of the Communist Youth League and vice-mayor of Beijing. At the age of 20, he was elected Head of the University Students’ Union, becoming the first student union President, elected by popular vote since the Cultural Revolution. He holds a degree in Economics and Business from Peking University.

Lu Hao became Head of the Zhongguancun Administrative Office in 1999, thus beginning his career in the Public Administration. The area is known as China’s Silicon Valley, rich in technology start-ups.

He also served ex officio as President of the China Youth University for Political Sciences. Prior to Lu Hao, several political heavyweights, including former party leaders Hu Yaobang and Hu Jintao, as well as Premier Li Keqiang, had served in that position.

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Energy

East Mediterranean Gas Forum and Turkish expansion

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Image source: Greek Environment and Energy Ministry

The East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) is a unique regional organization in the eastern Mediterranean region. The establishment of the organization was announced when Turkey was seeking to expand in the Mediterranean region, as well as some eastern Mediterranean countries, such as Libya. Libya’s national security is an integral part of Egypt’s national security. In 2020, President Al-Sisi stated that: “Sirte and al-Jafra are a red line.” It is worth noting that Egypt has played an essential role in achieving a ceasefire in Libya. Egypt does not seek to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs but seeks to preserve its national security. Egypt supports the negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and calls on all the disputing parties in Libya to negotiate and end the dispute in Libya in order to restore Libya’s stability and security. Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean causes concern to both Cyprus and Greece, as Turkey is drilling for gas near the Greek island of Crete, which has led to an escalation of tension between Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. That led to the international community’s intervention to support Greece against the Turkish expansion, France pledged military aid to Greece, and Germany called on all parties to calm the conflict over gas in the Mediterranean. Turkey began the exploration process in 2019, and Turkey sees that it has many natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean and seeks to exploit it. However, there is still a problem of demarcating borders between Turkey and some eastern Mediterranean countries, which made the exploration process illegal. The demarcation of the borders between Libya and Turkey has led to the intensity of the conflict between Turkey and Greece. It is possible to say that Turkey did so in response to establishing the East Mediterranean Forum.

The East Mediterranean Forum is a regional organization, which includes six countries: Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Italy, and Israel. Its headquarters are located in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The East Mediterranean Gas Forum organization was a forum. This forum was co-founded by Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Cyprus, Palestine, and Israel. The international community welcomed the idea of the forum. France requested to join the forum, and the United States of America attended the forum meeting as an international observer. Although Palestine is one of the founders of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2019, it didn’t sign the protocol of the organization. Palestinian News and Information Agency reported that Palestine did not participate in the signing ceremony. And as a co-founding country of the forum, it will not retreat from the membership of any international organization that affirms its national and sovereign rights. The transformation of the Gas Forum into an international organization is an important and historic step in the region. It allows the countries of the region to cooperate in the eastern Mediterranean region. It’s worth mentioning that the eastern Mediterranean region includes nine countries, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Turkey, and Israel. And now only four countries from eastern Mediterranean region joined the organization.

The forum is an economic and political organization, which its primary goal is the economic exploitation of natural gas and the interest in strengthening cooperation and developing dialogue between the states of the organization; in addition to that, the organization works to protect the wealth of its members in the eastern Mediterranean region against Turkish expansion and it also puts an end to Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in the region. As we can see, the organization attempts to reshape the balance of power in the region. Although the clear objectives of the organization, there are many challenges face it, including challenges related to the organization as an institution, such as the mechanisms of the institution, decision-making, conflict resolution, and protection of the region’s gas wealth. In addition to that, border problems between some organization members and other countries, such as the problem of borders between Palestine and Israel and the dispute over the demarcation of the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel.

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Pakistan’s water-and-energy crisis

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The Indus Water Treaty talks between India and Pakistan had been in limbo since India abrogated special status  (Article 370) of the occupied Kashmir and usurped  hereditary rights(Article 35-A) of its permanent citizens. Following peace on the line of control, the two countries, water commissioners of the two countries held a meeting in March 2021 (though supposed to be held in 2019) to resolve outstanding issues. The main focus was on Pakistan’s objections to design of Indian hydropower projects on the Chenab River. India is building the 1,000 MW Pakal Dul Hydro Electric Project on river Marusudar, a tributary of the Chenab. The project is located in Kishtwar district of Jammu & Kashmir. The second project, Lower Kalnai, is being developed on the Chenab River.

The meeting was delayed because of India’s pugnacious attitude (surgical strikes, cartographic aggression on Kashmir, etc.).

The Indus Waters Treaty is a water-sharing treaty between India and Pakistan, facilitated by the World Bank, to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. The treaty allocated the waters of the western rivers that are the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab to Pakistan and those of the eastern rivers, namely the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej, to India. According to provisions of the Indus Waters Treaty, all the waters of the Eastern Rivers (Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi), amounting to around 33 million acre feet (MAF) annually, is allocated to India for unrestricted use and the waters of the Western rivers (Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab) amounting to around 135 MAF annually largely to Pakistan. Under the treaty, India has been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river projects on the western rivers, subject to specific criteria for design and operation.

The treaty also envisaged funding and building of dams, link canals, barrages, and tube wells like the Tarbela Dam on the Indus River and the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River.

Since time immemorial, the Indus-river system has been used for irrigation in undivided India. However modern irrigation- engineering work was initiated dating 1850s during the British rule. The treaty was necessitated by partition of India into the dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.

The fruition of the treaty is attributed to David Lilienthal, former head of both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

After six years of talks, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani President Mohammad Ayub Khan signed the Indus Waters Treaty in September 1960. The Indus-water treaty required the creation of a Permanent Indus Commission, with a commissioner from each country, to resolve e any difference of opinion on architecture, design, and other aspects of the dams that the two countries may build on the allocated rivers. Aside from bellicose statements to scrap the treaty, the Indus treaty remained intact though the two countries fought many wars.

In 2017, India completed the building of the Kishanganga dam in occupied Kashmir and continued work on the Ratle hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River despite Pakistan’s objections.

In post-Ayub era, Pakistan was not able to make progress on making new dams particularly the Kalabagh Dam. The construction of the dam was delayed owing to frivolous objections raised by the three provinces that are Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Instead of trying to evolve consensus on the vital water projects, Pakistan’s politicians remained engrossed in pettifoggery or machinations to pull down whichever government happened to be in power. 

Necessity of the Kalabagh Dam

This project was approved by the Technical Committee on Water Resources during 2003-2005. However, the feasibility report has not been implemented for over 15 years.  Now three of the four provinces (excluding the Punjab) are at daggers drawn over it. The fact however remains that the inter-provincial committee was composed of eight technical experts, two from each province.

The Committee also looked into all aspects including the effect of dilution of seawater with fresh water, seawater intrusion into the groundwater, riverine irrigation, and forests fisheries (Pala fish, shrimp, kharif and rabi cultivation), besides growth of Mangrove forests. The project had already been  approved by the World Bank Indus Special Study Group in its report titled Development of Water and Power Resources of Pakistan: A Sectoral Analysis (1967). The estimated cost, then, was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982.

After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units, the KBD hydel electricity was Rs1.5 as compared to Rs16.5 per unit from thermal sources.

The dam was to serve as a receptacle to store monsoon flows of the upper reaches of the mighty Indus.

Our power shortage then was 4000-5000 MW. The estimated cost of constructing the dam was US$6.12 billion, over six years from 1977 to 1982. After commissioning of Tarbela Dam in 1976, the dam could have been built in six years by 1982. The cost per unit of 12 billion units the hydel electricity was Rs.1.5 as compared to Rs. 16.5 per unit from thermal sources. We are losing Rs. 180 billion per year due to ten time costlier production (12billion xRs.15 billion). Add to it loss of US$ 6.12 billion per annum from due to the superfluous flow of 30 million Acre Feet at of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea (one MAF valued at US$1-1.5 billion).

Our water resources reserves have not risen pari passu with growth in population, 32.4 million in 1948 to 154.6 million in 2005, and 207.8 million in 2017. In  kharif season, rivers flow at 84 percent while only 40 percent during the rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77million acres per feet (MAF) that is about only eight percent of the annual flow.

Factors of water crisis

Three provincial assemblies resolved against building the KBD. A politician alleged the dam would convert Sind into a desert. Apprehensions against the dam could be allayed by reviewing Water Apportionment Accord (as directed by Lahore High Court also vide its Order dated November 29, 2012, case no. WP 8777). No justification to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Losses due to delay

The losses due to the delays in the project have soared up to Rs180 billion a year due to its 10-time costlier construction (1990 estimate).  Added to it is the loss of $6.12 billion per annum due to superfluous flow of 30 million acre feet of water from Kotri Barrage into the Arabian Sea. In mangrove season, rivers flow at 84 per cent while only at 40 per cent during Rabi season. The present water storage capacity in Pakistan is hardly 11.77MAF that is only about eight per cent of the annual flow.

Legislative assemblies of three of our provinces, barring the Punjab province, have been bitterly opposing construction of the Kala Bagh Dam. Are they justified? To answer the question we have to look into various aspects of the construction of the dam, particularly feasibility and repercussions of constructing the dam. After enactment of the Eighteenth amendment, building of dams is now a provincial subject. The fact however remains that water security is more a national subject than a provincial one.

Debate about pros and cons

 The construction of Kalabagh dam is predicted to supply over 4 million acre-feet additional water to Sindh. While explaining benefits of Kalabagh Dam, WAPDA engineer Shamsul Mulk stated that China would be generating around 30,000 megawatts of electricity from dams. “Even India has more than 4,000 dams,” he said. “We lose billions due to the non-construction of dams.”

Concluding remarks

The opposition to the Kalabagh Dam is whimsical rooted in political rhetoric. According to the United Nations’ forecast, water scarcity would be Pakistan’s greatest problem in current century.

The country has been in the grip of a severe energy crisis for several years. No one even talks about Kalabagh Dam. Towards the end of the 1980s, Pakistan met 70 percent of its energy needs from hydel (hydroelectric) power and 30 percent from thermal energy. By 2012-13, Pakistan became dependent on thermal energy generated from costly furnace oil and diesel by up to 44 percent, with the remaining 56 percent being generated from other, mainly thermal, sources. This change had a cascading effect on prices and the consumers’ bills skyrocketed.

Hydel energy remains largely neglected, despite its low production cost. Many public sector electricity generation plants have outlived their utility. Without cheaper electricity, circular debt will continue to mount. Circular debt, accumulated in the power sector, is a handy excuse for the energy crisis. This debt piles up when downstream customers fail to pay their bills to upstream suppliers (or producers) in time. Who are the defaulters? They include not only ordinary citizens, but also the provinces, the public sector, influential corporations and powerful individuals (including political tycoons). To continue supplying power, the thermal producer has to borrow (and later pay interest charges and repay the contracted loan) and find alternative financial sources, unless the government makes the bounteous payment. The solution is simple: power distribution companies should promptly pay their dues to the generation companies.

However, circular debt is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other factors blighting the energy scenario. The government needs to evolve a policy in which the power sector is prioritized.

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