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The Bigger Picture: Convergence of Geopolitics and Oil

Osama Rizvi

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The rising tensions in Middle-East and the rising oil prices only show how strong the link between oil prices and geopolitics is. There are many fronts: Israel and Gaza, Trump and Iran deal, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Then there are vested interests, wherein Trump, Saudi Arabia and Israel form one alliance and Russia, China and Iran another. All in all unrest in Middle-East is reshaping relationships and shaking markets. Understanding the bigger picture while delineating relevant factors can help provide us track the potential implications of matters in this region and thereof of oil prices in posterity.

Adding an influential voice to the chorus of energy analyst, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Daniel Yergin recently said that oil prices might hit $85 in July. Bank of America, last week, caused quite a stir saying that oil can hit $100 by next year. Not to mention an oil hedge fund manager who, see oil at $300, a possibility (he deleted his tweets afterwards). Over all the market sentiment is very bullish and rightly so.

What are the underlying reasons? Declining Venezuelan production, sanctions on Iran and of-course the geopolitical wildcards: war in the ever raging Middle East.

Production in Venezuela has been in decline, from 2.3 million bpd in 2016 to 1.5 mbpd in April 2018. However, it is only its combination with Trump’s decision to repudiate Iran deal (with it the fear of sanctions and a reduction in supply) that the oil prices haverallied up to levels not seen after 2014: $80 for Brent and $72 for WTI.

Few days back the inauguration of U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and the ensuing protests, wherein many people were killed, can have spectacular consequences in future and can trigger another rally. One can recall the time of intermittent Arab conflicts between Israel and Muslim countries. Below we dive into a complex geopolitical soup that can shape the future ofoil prices.

Taking Iran as the focal point, we can disentangle the present and future possibilities. Iran and Saudi Arabia have always been vying for the regional balance of power. Any move that is perceived to tilt that balance in either direction has caused protest from the other side. Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Action of Plan (JCPOA) commonly known as Iran deal, was probably one of the most important acts that Saudi Arabia perceived to be threatening to the existing balance of power and therefore, regional stability.Therefore, Trump’s move was welcomed by the Saudi’s. The consequences despite having a strong geopolitical and security dimension have a commensurately important economic side as well: Oil prices. The cancellation of the deal will ease the markets off by anywhere between 300,000bpd to 500, 000 bpd. It is instructive to note that it comes at a time when both Iran and Saudi Arabia are party to what is called the Vienna Agreement—the prime reason for the rebalancing of the markets.

As Saudi Arabia vows to use its spare capacity to offset the effects of sanctions on Iran this represents nothing short of a dilemma for the Kingdom. MbS’ plan to transform the Saudi economy into a diversified one rests on Aramco’s IPO scheduled for 2019. To get desired evaluation the country needs oil prices to rise. $80 is desirable. Now, the question arises why Saudi Arabia would stop oil prices from rising, which suits them, and that too without cutting further production? Also, doing so may hurt the Vienna agreement as other might protest. There is another factor, China, one of the largest buyer of Iranian crude, is exempt from any sanctions by U.S. hence free to do business with Iran. It’s record oil consumption which made headlines few days back, shows that it will not be difficult for Iran to sell those sanctioned barrels to China making the overall effect of supply zero or insignificant. Some have even said that this can threaten Petrodollar dominance in oil trade.

The next front is that of Israel. Further unrest in Gaza will lead to a heated rhetoric about Hamas which brings in Iran that further drags Saudi’s completing the picture for conflict. This can spill over to war in Yemen. All of this can make the geopolitical risk premium stay for a very long time hence, prospects of oil prices sky-rocketing ($100, may be?).

But here is the opposite scenario. One should remember (and expect), quite gleefully, that such tensions cannot go for good. Either they end in a military escalation, a war of sorts, or some agreement is reached. If the latter happens we can bring in another factor into the puzzle that is not temporary: rise in U.S. shale production. The number of rigs, 844, now stands at highest since 2015. The production has surpassed 10.7 mbpd. Shale drillers are exercising restraint and tackling some bottlenecks, but for how long?

We can pose the same question regarding Vienna agreement. How long can the oil producing countries continue cutting production? Can the pact afford a disgruntled Iran which might leave the oil pact? What about Russia’s commitment . . . if matters in Middle-east turn out ugly, Russia will evidently side with Iran rather than Saudi Arabia.

Also, if production is increased that would undermine or even jeopardize the deal and if it doesn’t that will, if on one side serve the Kingdom’s purpose of increasing oil prices (due to a fall in supply), on the other hand help U.S shale producers drill even more. Higher oil prices, if on one side reduce demand; at a certain point can also jeopardize the Vienna pact itself as the countries will have no incentive to continue it.

Lastly, if oil prices continue to rise then demand might slow down, at the same time when Shale production continues to rise. As an article in The Guardian noted, the oil prices might “come back to earth with a bump”. It is therefore quite early to call whether we’ll see a three digit oil price very soon. We are in the middle, prices can go both ways. All depends upon how events will unfold in Middle-East in the days to come.

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.

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Italy’s and EU’s natural gas imports from the United States

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Currently natural gas is one of the most important US assets in its relations with the European Union.

In fact, President Trump and President Jean Claude Juncker spoke at length about it during their last meeting at the White House at the end of July 2018.

Obviously the issue of the US natural gas sales is linked to a broader strategic theme for President Trump.

He wants to redesign – especially with the EU – the system of tariffs and rebalance world trade.

He also wants to recreate a commercial and economic hegemony between the United States and the EU – a hegemony that had tarnished over the last decade.

With the EU, the United States has already achieved a zero-tariff regime for most of the goods traded, also removing non-tariff barriers and all the subsidies to non-automotive goods.

Moreover, since late July last, both sides have decided to increase inter-Atlantic trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products and – as a central issue in their relations with China – soybeans.

What China no longer buys – since it has been burdened with tariffs and duties – is resold to the European Union.

In fact, soy was bought massively by European consumers, as Jean Claude Juncker later added.

The demand for natural gas, however, is on the rise all over the world.

Currently Europe is in difficulty for this specific energy sector, considering that the large gas extraction field in Groningen, Netherlands, suffered an earthquake at the beginning of January 2018.

The Dutch extraction area, however, is managed jointly by both Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon-Mobil.

The North American analysts think that, for the whole EU, the other natural gas sources are at their peak of exploitation.

Gas sources such as Russia, Turkey, Central Asia and the Maghreb region are supposed to be soon saturated as a result of the growth in EU gas consumption and, therefore, the United States is thinking to sell much of its LNG to Europe as well.

With an obvious strategic and geopolitical pendant.

This holds particularly true – at least for the time being – for the Algerian gas, while the United States is currently pressing for a diversification from the Russian pipelines, offering its liquefied natural gas (LNG) for ships to   Northern Europe’s terminals and, recently, also to the Italian ones.

Across the European Union, the natural gas terminals are 28, including Turkey.

There are also eight other small natural gas terminals in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Norway and Gibraltar.

Said terminals are 23 in the EU and 4 in Turkey; 23 are land-based and 4 are at sea for storage and regasification, and the Malta terminal includes both a ground base and a maritime unit.

Italy, one of the largest LNG consumers in Europe, produces a good share of natural gas internally, but it still imports 90% of the gas it consumes, while 60% of Italy’s LNG consumption is divided almost equally between two suppliers, Algeria and the Russian Federation.

By way of comparison, France extracts domestically only 1% of the natural gas it consumes every year.

Also Germany, like Italy, imports much gas from Russia – about 50% of its yearly consumption.

From where, however, does Italy import its natural gas? From Russia, as already seen, as well as from Algeria, Libya, Holland and Norway.

Then there is the Trans Austria Gas (TAG), a network which, again from Russia, brings gas to the Slovakian-Austrian border (precisely to Baumgarten an der March up to Arnoldstein in Southern Austria) with a maximum capacity of 107 million cubic meters per day.

There is also Transitgas, crossing Wallbach, Switzerland, up to Passo Gries, where it intersects with the SNAM network.

It is also connected to Gaz de France and has a maximum capacity of 59 million cubic meters per day.

A significant role is also played by the Trans Tunisian Pipeline Company (TTPC), a network with a capacity of 108 million cubic meters per day, stretching from Oued al Saf, between Tunisia and Algeria, to Cape Bon, where it connects with the Trans-Mediterranean Pipeline Company (TMPC). The network reaches Mazara del Vallo, where it enters the SNAM system.

The security of this line was a factor considered in the decision taken by the Italian intelligence services to participate actively in the struggle for succession in Tunisia, after Habib Bourghiba’s political end.

The Greenstream pipeline connects Libya to Italy, with a maximum capacity of 46.7 million cubic meters per day, with regasifiers located in Panigaglia and off Leghorn’s coast (OLT), as well as off Rovigo’s coast.

It should be recalled that, in July 2018, ENI opened production in the offshore plant of Bar Essalam, a site 120 kilometres off Tripoli’s coast, which could contain 260 billion cubic meters of gas, while the French company Total paid 450 million dollars to buy – from the United States -16% of the oil concession in Waha, Libya.

As is well known, the TAP is under construction.

With a maximum capacity of 24.6 million cubic meters per day, it stretches from Greece to Italy through Albania.

There is also the IGI Poseidon, again between Greece and Italy, as well as the regasification terminal of Porto Empedocle, and the other terminals of Gioia Tauro and Falconara Marittima.

Shortly the pipelines from Algeria to Sardinia could be operational, with a terminal in Piombino, as well as the one in Zaule, and the regasification plant in Monfalcone.

Hence if all these networks are already operational or will be so in the near future, Italy alone could shift the axis of the natural gas transport from the North (namely Great Britain and Holland) to the South (namely Italy and Greece).

If this operation is successful, Italy could become the future natural gas energy hub, thus making it turn from a mere consumer to an exporter of natural gas.

In 2020, SNAM plans to bring 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas from the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which transports Azerbaijan’s LNG, jointly with BP.

This is a further phase of reduction of the EU dependence on Russian gas.

But also the purchase of LNG from the United States could undermine the Italian plan of becoming the European natural gas hub, as against the Dutch-British system.

Obviously the liquefied natural gas is sold by the United States mainly as an operation against Russia.

Currently, the American LNG has prices that are approximately 50% lower than the Russian gas prices.

As pointed out by one of the major Italian energy experts, Davide tabarelli, the price is 8 euros per megawatt / hour as against 22 euros of the LNG coming from Russia.

For the time being, however, China is the world’s top LNG buyer, with a 40% increase in its consumption.

Nevertheless, while China’s gas consumption is booming, the ships carrying natural gas from the United States tend to go right to Asia, where, inter alia, a much higher price than the European average can be charged.

In the EU, however, the Russian gas can be bought at 3.5-4 dollars per Mega British Thermal Unit (MBtu) while the break-even price of the US gas, which is much more expensive to produce, is around 6-7.5 MBtu, including transport.

Competition, however, is still fierce, given that the EU regasifiers are used at 27% of their potential, and considering Qatar’s harsh competition with the United States. It is worth recalling that Qatar is a large producer of natural gas with the South Pars II field, in connection with Iran.

In the near future, the small Emirate plans to sell at least 100 million tons of LNG per year, opposed only by Saudi Arabia’s reaction. According to the usual rating agencies, at banking level Qatar is also expected to suffer the pressure of Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States.

Nevertheless, if the cost of the trans-Atlantic transport and the cost of regasification in our terminals are added to the 8 euros about which Tabarelli speaks, we can see that the US gas and the Russian LNG prices tend to become the same.

Russia has also much lower gas production costs than the United States, considering that most of the North American LNG is extracted with shale or fracking technologies, which are much more expensive than the Russian ones.

It should be recalled that in 2017 the Russian Federation was the world’s top natural gas exporter, with a record peak of 190 billion cubic meters, accounting for 40% of all EU consumption.

Moreover, thanks to fracking technologies, the United States has become the world’s largest crude oil producer, but also the largest consumer globally. Hence no additional room for its exports of non-gas hydrocarbons can be easily envisaged.

Certainly buying American gas would mean avoiding the US import tariffs for European cars in the future, which would lead many EU governments to willingly accept President Trump’s offer.

Furthermore, ENI is finding much oil and much natural gas in Egypt, which could lead to the building of a pipeline from the Egyptian coast to which also the Israeli natural gas could join.

This implies a significant weakening of both the Egyptian domestic crisis and the tensions between the “moderate” Arab world and the Jewish State.

In fact, in the concession of Obayed East, Egypt, ENI has found a natural gas reserve of 25 million cubic meters per day which, together with the recent discoveries of the Zohr, Norus and Atol deposits, is expected to make Egypt achieve energy autonomy and independence before early winter 2018-2019.

This, too, could be one of President Trump’s geo-energy goal, along with Israel’s expansion on this market. In all likelihood, however, Russia will remain one of the largest or still the largest LNG seller to the whole EU.

However, let us better analyse the situation: with the South Pars II field it shares with Qatar, also Iran could provide the EU with a large part of its yearly natural gas requirements.

Iran is a Russian ally although, in this case, strategic friendships are always less sound than economic interests.

Furthermore, the war in Syria resulted – and probably this is also one of its underlying causes – in a block of future Iranian pipelines to the Mediterranean.

Moreover, China has bought the shareholdings held by the French Total on the Iranian territory.

For the time being, however, the United States sells much of its LNG to Asia and Latin America, where currently prices are still higher than in Europe.

Hence, like all consumer countries, the EU is interested in diversifying its energy suppliers. Nevertheless, the war in Syria has blocked Iran and the war in Libya has made the Greenstream pipeline, which is essential for Italy, unusable.

It should be recalled that Greenstream is the 520-kilometre pipeline connecting Libya to Italy directly.

Almost all the Libyan gas, however, is currently consumed inside the country.

Moreover, at this stage, President Trump would like Germany to stop even the doubling of Nord Stream 2 from the Russian coast to the German Baltic Sea.

The Ukrainian leadership is also urging the EU to avoid doubling this project, considering the forthcoming expiry of the Ukrainian contracts for the Russian natural gas.

If this happens, as from 2022 Poland will buy a large share of its natural gas from the United States, thus avoiding the Russian LNG.

Nevertheless, the United States will also favour the Southern Gas Corridor in Azerbaijan and Turkey, with a view to transferring the Caspian natural gas to the EU through Apulia.

Hence Italy would be disadvantaged: instead of using its lines and routes with Libya and Algeria, or Russia, it should buy the Caucasian gas, which will be fully managed by US companies – and this holds true also for the US natural gas direct sales, which have recently started in some Italian ports.

A dangerous political calculation, as well as a risky commercial evaluation.

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Oil Market Report: Twin Peaks

MD Staff

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Both global oil demand and supply are now close to new, historically significant peaks at 100 mb/d, and neither show signs of ceasing to grow any time soon. Fifteen years ago, forecasts of peak supply were all the rage, with production from non-OPEC countries supposed to have started declining by now. In fact, production has surged, led by the US shale revolution, and supported by big increases in Brazil, Canada and elsewhere. In future, a lot of potential supply could come to the market from places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela, if their various challenges can be overcome. There is no peak in sight for demand either. The drivers of demand remain very powerful, with petrochemicals being a major factor. In a new IEA study “The Future of Petrochemicals”, the Agency points out that rising living standards, particularly in developing countries, are already underpinning strong demand growth for plastics and this will continue for many years to come.

As the oil market reaches the landmark 100 mb/d level, prices are rising steadily. Brent crude oil is now established above $80/bbl, with infrastructure constraints causing North American prices to lag somewhat. Nonetheless, our position is that expensive energy is back, with oil, gas and coal trading at multi-year highs, and it poses a threat to economic growth. For many developing countries, higher international prices coincide with currencies depreciating against the US dollar, so the threat of economic damage is more acute. The global economy is also at risk from trade disputes. In this Report, our revised demand outlook reflects these concerns: growth in both 2018 and 2019 will be 110 kb/d lower than our earlier forecast. As explained in the demand section of this Report, there is also an impact from methodological changes to Chinese estimates.

Today’s elevated oil prices partly reflect very high crude runs 100 during recent months and also supply fears as sanctions against Iran draw near. In fact, since May, when the US announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA and its decision to impose sanctions, the Vienna Agreement parties, plus Libya and Nigeria but excluding Iran, Mexico and Venezuela, have increased total oil production by a combined 1.6 mb/d. At the same time, total US supply has increased by 390 kb/d. Even China has seen the first year-on-year production growth in nearly three years in response to higher prices. Official statements from Saudi Arabia suggest that October exports are back to the high levels seen in June and that more oil is available for those who wish to buy it. Meanwhile, output in Iran, Mexico, and Venezuela has fallen by 575 kb/d. New data for OECD stocks show that in August they increased by a more- than-normal 16 mb and have been relatively stable for several months after falling significantly following the implementation of the original Vienna Agreement.

The increase in net production from key suppliers since May of approximately 1.4 mb/d, led by Saudi Arabia, and the fact that oil stocks built by 0.5 mb/d in 2Q18 and look likely to have done the same in 3Q18, lends weight to the argument that the oil market is adequately supplied for now. The IEA welcomes this boost to supply; however, with Iran’s exports likely to fall by significantly more than the 800 kb/d seen so far, and the ever-present threat of supply disruptions in Libya and a collapse in Venezuela, we cannot be complacent and the market is clearly signalling its concerns that more supply might be needed.

It is an extraordinary achievement for the global oil industry to meet the needs of a 100 mb/d market, but today, in 4Q18, we have reached new twin peaks for demand and supply by straining parts of the system to the limit. Recent production increases come at the expense of spare capacity, which is already down to only 2% of global demand, with further reductions likely to come. This strain could be with us for some time and it will likely be accompanied by higher prices, however much we regret them and their potential negative impact on the global economy.

IEA

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The Force of the Sun: Madagascar Embarks on Renewable Energy Production

MD Staff

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“JIRAMA: until when?”  “JIRAMA: it’s been 2 hours!” “JIRAMA: you’re destroying our equipment!” It is 11 a.m. Numerous complaints against the national water and electricity company, JIRAMA, are posted on social media by Internet users. The electricity supply has been cut in several neighborhoods in Antananarivo. Cue the familiar sounds of power generators in offices and a number of stores. The scene is nothing new. Over the past decade, JIRAMA’s customers, both household and industrial alike, have experienced repeated power outages.

A Crucial Resource for Economic and Social Development

In Madagascar, only 15% of the population has access to electricity. In 2017, the country had just 570 MW of mainly thermal (60%) and hydroelectric (40%) installed production capacity. Furthermore, only 60% of this energy is truly available owing to poor maintenance of power plants. Apart from the fact that these challenges in the energy sector undermine the quality of citizens’ daily lives, they also represent one of the major obstacles to the country’s development and to private sector expansion. In the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2018 report that assesses the business climate, Madagascar ranks 184 out of 190 countries for access to electricity.

Keenly aware of this challenge, in 2014, the Government of Madagascar decided to embark on intensive reforms to transform the sector. In March 2016, the country was granted $65 million in financial support from the World Bank through the  Electricity Sector Operations and Governance Improvement Project (ESOGIP) and in June 2018, $40 million in additional financing. The objective: increase production capacity and reduce energy loss, while helping the Government improve governance of the sector and JIRAMA’s operational performance. The ESOGIP also aims to expedite progress on renewable energies in order to provide a reliable, more affordable alternative to expensive and environmentally unfriendly diesel generators.

Betting on Solar Energy

With all regions of Madagascar enjoying over 2,800 hours of sunlight per year, the Grande Île is the perfect location for development of solar power, with a potential capacity of 2,000 kWh/m²/year. The Government is counting on this potential to fulfill its objective of providing energy access to 70% of Malagasy households by 2030.

“Our energy policy for 2015-2030 addresses several pressing economic, social, and environmental challenges. It supports the transition to the energy mix for electricity and lighting, which will include 80% of renewable resources. To achieve our goal of providing electricity to 70% of the population, we will have to produce 7,900 GWh by 2030, as opposed to the 1,500 GWh currently produced,” explains Lantoniaina Rasoloelison, Minister of Energy and Hydrocarbons.

An ambitious project, particularly if it is entirely dependent on public financing.

An Innovative Financing Mechanism to Support the State

To supplement public funds in order to finance large-scale construction of solar plants by promoting private investment, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, is helping the Government set up a public-private partnership (PPP).

Through the Scaling Solar initiative, in March 2016, IFC signed an agreement with the Malagasy Government to construct a plant of approximately 25 MW, connected to the Antananarivo network, through a transparent international competitive bidding process.

Madagascar is currently the fifth country in Africa in which a Scaling Solar tender process was launched, after two tender processes in Zambia, one in Senegal, and another in Ethiopia. It is also the first Scaling Solar project to include solar energy storage requirements by pairing solar with batteries.

The process began with feasibility studies conducted by IFC experts to determine the solar capacity that could be added to the existing network and to select a suitable location.

In October 2017, the Government of Madagascar invited private investors to participate in a prequalification process, based on strict eligibility criteria, to select potential candidates with the necessary experience, expertise, and financial resources to complete the project as expeditiously as possible.

Expertise of the Various World Bank Group Institutions

Over 100 companies from 28 countries expressed their interest. In February 2018, six companies and groups were selected to participate in the tender process and will be able to make use of the feasibility studies provided by IFC to prepare their technical bids and identify financial partners.  This last step will also be facilitated by the investment guarantees and credit enhancement tools provided by the World Bank and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which offers a number of protections, particularly against non-commercial risks (political, expropriation disputes, etc.).

“Scaling Solar Madagascar aims to propose an integrated solution that includes financing and the implementation of technical solutions in which the operating company chosen will benefit from coverage against political and financial risks, offered by the World Bank,” explains Satyam Ramnauth, IFC Country Manager for Madagascar. “This project will also set the operating standards that will serve as a reference for legitimate operators, as well as for the Government with respect to the implementation of its energy policy.”

World Bank

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