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U.S. Fracking Will Continue Its Forward March

Todd Royal

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The Abqaiq attack in Saudi Arabia by Iran, or one of its proxies is the largest oil and petrochemical disruption in over fifty years. Over 5.7 mb/d was lost, and estimates believe it will take months or weeks to return to full production. The interruption highlights Saudi Aramco’s vulnerabilities, and how energy infrastructure can be shut down via military forces or environmental demonstrations that recently occurred in Houston, Texas (U.S.).

The world needs U.S. fracking to continue unabated. No other country has the stability, and proven reserves like the U.S. Russia. Iran, and Saudi Arabia want higher oil prices to balance their budgets. However, the U.S. shale revolution that has upended global oil supplies and geopolitics is the deterrent to energy attacks. American fracking has changed the world, and the U.S. led, liberal order in place for over seventy-five years for the better.

U.S. fracking’s forward march will have negative and positive consequences. The geopolitical risk premium and international tensions now affect supplies in a way that we haven’t seen since the 1973 OPEC embargo. The International Energy Agency (IEA) perceives oil being tight now (even before Iranian hostilities), but considers a huge surplus is in the offering for 2020. OPEC’s ability to stabilize oil prices will be offset by unabated drilling coming from U.S. states such as Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. An oil glut could crash prices in 2020 unless war breaks out in the Middle East.

Even before the oil field and infrastructure bombings, the new Saudi oil minister wants to rebuild trust within OPEC, and the Russian relationship from OPEC + take a lower priority. A source told Reuters, “The new minister likes decisions to be unanimous instead of being presented as just Saudi-Russian agreements. He wants a united front.” This realignment has caused member OPEC states to seek further compliance in cuts to boost prices. It will be difficult for markets to decide if the minister is hawkish or diplomatic in his bid to protect the Kingdom and prepare for the Saudi Aramco IPO.

An interesting decision came from the Netherlands when the Dutch government announced stopping all exploration and production (E&P) to their massive Groningen field by 2022. Earthquake severity is the reason, and there hasn’t been an announcement as to what replaces this large source of energy and electricity.

Will the controversial Nord Stream 2 step in to fill the void since this is Europe’s largest onshore gas field? U.S. LNG from fracking will likely displace Russian natural gas. European allies who dismiss America over political differences will need natural gas to heat their countries during brutal, winter months, and power their economies.

Columbia’s high court newly upheld a temporary ban on fracking; environmentalists cheer, and the oil industry is upset. According to Argus Media and Ecopetrol data, Columbia’s Middle Magdalena Valley basin, “hold between 4 and 7 billion barrels of oil equivalent.” U.S. fracking canfill that void. Additional political influence in a volatile region of the world using soft power of fracked fossil fuels is an added bonus for U.S. frackers.

U.S. natural gas production hit a new production record by rising to 9.1 Bcf/d in August. This is an all-time monthly high, and surprisingly the increase despite low prices, squeezing profit margins. IHS Markit issued a report in mid-September stating, “natural gas prices could average below $2/MMBtu in 2020,” making it the lower price point since the 1970s.”

Whatever natural gas is lost from shutdowns, or trade wars, it doesn’t seem to matter to U.S. energy companies. They gain efficiency, and seek new production ways. “Electric fracking” is now the new cause du jour for U.S. shale companies, “which uses natural gas to power fracking operations rather than costly diesel.” E-frac, as the technology is called, can reduce the cost of $6-8 million shale well by over $350,000. Oilfield service companies such as Halliburton who have billions tied up in traditional producer technologies will be deeply affected if E-frac is the new norm.

Political issues are the largest variables against U.S. fracking displacing OPEC, Russia, Iran, and China off the world energy stage. British Petroleum is giving in to the deeply flawed flawed Paris Climate Agreement (PCA), and selling oil projects to align with an agreement without enforcement mechanisms. This thinking has led to approximately 45 global financial institutions and banks signing up for “voluntary commitments to lower their emissions profiles in their lending.”

Oil majors are also under pressure from white men like renewable tycoon Al Gore, and coal investment billionaire turned California environmentalist Tom Steyer to make unprofitable decisions based upon a low-carbon or carbon-free society. No individual, environmental organization, or government has given the specifics of how this future will be achieved, or how to eliminate the over 6,000 products that come from a barrel of crude oil.

They are betting on a renewable future, which is harder on the environment than fossil fuels or nuclear, and still isn’t close to having reliable energy battery storage systems at a scalable level for sale on global markets. Renewable energy to electricity led by solar panels and wind turbines are chaotically intermittent, and they don’t work to bring reliable, affordable, scalable, and flexible energy to our planet. Renewables will not save our planet – only natural gas and nuclear have that ability – to power nations and lower emissions simultaneously.

U.S. fracking brings stability and counters Russian geopolitical meddling since the Russians are now aggressively excavating, exporting and using coal to power their military and economy. Basing energy policies, and national security on climate change is dangerous, and upends the global, political order to placate faux-environmentalists whose motives are suspect. Cynicism abounds in the global-warming-consensus movement that seemingly is more about gaining political and economic power instead of saving the climate.

Understanding U.S. fracking movements will be decided as much by environmentalists, as it will geological reports from shale basins. Global economic prosperity is riding on oilfield roughnecks defeating elite, environmentalists, and uninformed global warming advocates. Otherwise China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are waiting to bring a new order to our budding, prosperous, stable planet.

Todd Royal, MPP, is a geopolitical energy consultant and author based in Los Angeles, California. Todd has written for National Interest, OilPrice.com, EurasiaReview.com and had his works picked up Yahoo Finance, USA Today and Business Insider. His upcoming book, "Energy Made Easy," will be released this summer. Todd can be reached on Twitter @TCR_Consulting

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MBS Outmaneuvers Russia’s Oil Politicking

Saad Khoury

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In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, one of the major economic consequences has been the substantial hit to the energy industry.

Ever since the virus began to spread in January, global markets have been tumbling. This set the price of oil in a downward spiral, reversing many gains  that had accumulated over the last several months. Demand for oil dropped for the first time in over a decade and forecasters at the International Energy Agency assess the decline will continue. While natural gas and coal markets have also been hit, oil demand has dropped more pronouncedly given it supports the freight and logistics sectors that have ground to a halt in recent weeks. The lack of demand for oil in China alone has had a devastating impact – Beijing’s newfound hunger for the commodity was responsible for most of the price increases recently.

However, these unique phenomena have had effects far beyond the purely economic. Politically speaking, the oil market crisis has pitted two global energy giants against each other, producing very intriguing results.

In early March, a meeting took place between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and ten other oil-producing countries, known as “OPEC+”. During the conference ending on March 6, Saudi Arabia’s leader, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud (MBS) reportedly pushed the idea of coordinating a reduction of output between Saudi Arabia and Russia. MBS planned to reduce output by over 1 million barrels per day, offsetting the major decrease in demand that had been triggered by the corona crisis to stabilize the market. The plan seemed like it was ready to go through until Moscow announced at the last minute that it would refuse. The Kremlin’s about-face came as a shock to OPEC and the international community who saw the move as an attempt to torpedo and politicize the oil sector.

Indeed, oil prices plunged by nearly 10% following the surprise move. It had been widely expected that the Russians would go along with the plan, simply because the alternative, i.e. leaving oil markets in a high-supply-low-demand frenzy, seemed much worse.

So what was at the heart of Russia’s bizarre decision? Revenge.

Washington imposed sanctions on Russia’s oil giant, Rosneft, a month ago over the company’s continued support in selling Venezuela’s oil. In an effort to retaliate, and perhaps prevent future American sanctions, Moscow was hoping to get Riyadh on its side in a plan to inflict economic pain on US shale producers. Moscow has for long felt American shale has been getting a free ride on the back of OPEC+ production cuts. For Moscow’s plan to work, it would still need the support of OPEC+ to ensure that price drops remained temporary and sustainable, since Russia’s oil economy cannot support its country playing oil politics for too long or for too much.

MSB on his part refused to take Russia’s actions lying down.

Almost immediately after Russia’s decision, Riyadh cut its official selling price for April down to $8, from a previous $14, in an effort to pressure Russia back into a deal. Days later, the Saudi government said it would begin increasing oil output to reach a record 13 million barrels per day. The decision came after authorities had already announced they were planning to increase output to 12.3 million. In a statement, Saudi Aramco, the largest energy producer in the world, stated, “it received a directive from the Ministry of Energy to increase its maximum sustainable capacity from 12 million barrels per day to 13 million.”

In essence, MBS has outmaneuvered the Russians in their attempt to hurt the global market and circumvent the effects of sanctions. In other words, MBS called Russia’s bluff by lowering prices even further so that the Kremlin could not dictate terms to OPEC. An impressive example of standing up to Russian manipulation, something that Western powers have been struggling to do for years. 

Russia on its part has been reeling from the effects of the Prince’s decision. 

On March 10, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak sought to project confidence, but acknowledged there was a decrease in prices and an increase in volatility. Novak also seemed to have admitted that his government made a mistake and had sought to reach out to the Saudis to “scheduled further meetings to estimate the situation.”

It is important to highlight that Russia was very likely thrown off balance by the Saudi reaction here. Moscow is not used to having its highhanded moves being responded to in kind, and almost certainly did not expect MBS to respond the way he did.  

While the future of this fallout is still unknown, one thing is certain: MBS has demonstrated his country will not be another pushover to Russian aggression.  

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Saudis’ price war or a Russian plot against U.S. shale?

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Since early Monday, the announcement of a “price war” between Saudi Arabia and Russia, two biggest OPEC+ allies, hit the headlines of almost all of the world’s news agencies and outlets and released a wave of panic across the markets all around the world.

Following the two sides’ bitter break up on Friday, oil markets started the week with a free fall; prices plunged nearly 30 percent on Monday to record the sharpest one-day fall in the past 29 years when the first Persian Gulf War was started in 1991.

Brent crude futures fell to nearly $30 on early Monday, the prices, however, bounced back later that day as the impacts of the event faded.

Energy experts and analysts are suggesting two completely different scenarios to explain the series of events that led to the Friday decision.

In one scenario, the one that is broadcasted globally, Saudi Arabia which wanted higher prices or at least wanted to maintain the current price levels asked for more cuts but Russia was OK with the current prices and even was ready for lower ranges so they didn’t agree and the OPEC+ deal ended.

The second scenario, which is more intriguing and more controversial, says that there is no “price war” between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and what we are witnessing is, in fact, Russia declaring war against the U.S.’s “global energy dominance”!

To learn more about the issue, the Tehran Times conducted an interview with Mahmoud Khaqani, an international energy expert. What follows is a summary of the expert’s views on the matter.

Saudis and Russia

Obviously, these days Saudi Arabia is not experiencing its best days. The Kingdom is under pressure both economically and politically.

According to Khaqani, the plunge in oil prices due to the sharp decline in global demand following the spread of coronavirus and its impact on the global economy and transportation has added significantly to the crown prince’s problems causing the young prince to call for deepening of the current 1.8 million cuts.

When faced with disagreement from its biggest non-OPEC allay Russia, the angry Saudi immediately lashed back by offering huge discounts for their oil prices and announcing that they would boost their production to more than 12 million barrels per day (bpd).

Russia, on the other hand, has maintained a calm attitude, saying that its oil industry is resilient enough to keep its market share and withstand even higher price downturns, he said.

Russia and the U.S.

Khaqani believes that the Russians are in fact at war with the U.S. oil industry, and Washington’s use of oil as a strategic asset.

What they call “price war” has already hit the U.S. oil industry hard since Friday and the persistence of the situation could damage the U.S oil industry and dethrone the U.S. from its position as the world’s largest oil producer.

Russia has targeted not only the U.S. oil industry but also the country’s bigger strategic programs for using oil and energy as leverage for applying corrective sanction policies, which Kremlin is already under.

Analysts believe that Russia is trying to thwart the U.S. sanctions that have been intervening with the completion of the country’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would take natural gas to Europe, making Russia one of the biggest energy players in the world.

The U.S.

In response to the mentioned scenarios, The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has said that the U.S. will take all necessary measures to maintain its role as the world’s top energy producer and in fact, the country is not going to step back from its “global energy dominance” strategy.

Khaqani believes that the U.S. is seeking to take Saudi Arabia’s role in the oil market becoming the new swing producer capable of regulating production levels to control oil prices.

“These attempts by state actors to manipulate and shock oil markets reinforce the importance of the role of the United States as a reliable energy supplier to partners and allies around the world. The United States, as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, can and will withstand this volatility,” the DOE said in a statement.

Final thoughts

Whatever the real reason for the rift between Saudi and Russia is, its impacts on the oil market are undeniable.

If the “war” is just between the kingdom and Russia many believe that the impacts will be short-lived and in the near future, we would witness the markets getting back to a more stable status.

The fact is that now after the break-up Saudi Arabia is going to flood the already oversupplied market with oil and eventually Russia which is not able to increase its production as much as the kingdom will have to step back.

If the second scenario is correct, however, we should expect more complications.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Oil Wars: Russia and Saudi Arabia in the forefront

Sisir Devkota

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Recent developments in Italy and the stock market have things in common. Both came as an alarming surprise; while Italian authorities took stringent measures to lock down the entire nation due to Covid-19 fears, oil prices plunged remarkably in the past week. Rather shamelessly, Russia and Saudi Arabia are exploiting the international epidemic; in order to eclipse a once in a lifetime opportunity. As Saudi Arabia and Russia fought against each other to increase production, oil prices spiraled down in years. The oil giants are looking to consolidate losses from the past. Primarily, both the nations are looking to keep American oil supply arrested, amidst the pandemic uncertainty. As OPEC nations agreed to limit production in order to maintain oil prices, Russia disagreed, prompting the kingdom to counter a bizarre monopoly. The virus has kindled new age energy wars; at the epicenter, are two nations, displaying dreadful nature of international responsibility.

History is key here. Saudi Arabia is sluggishly recovering from an oil field disaster while Russia is eyeing years of forfeited trade advantage caused by western sanctions. International effort is concentrated towards containing the virus, whereas handful of interest agencies along with both nations are seeking an unlikely triumph. A true windfall has caught Russia by surprise, a rare opportunity that will not slip from Putin’s hand. On the other hand, Saudis, rather egoistically are pursuing their godsend place in the international energy market. The scuff is undoubtedly interesting, however; consequentially, it will also determine fortunes for some and famine for others. OPEC’s decision to lower production in order to maintain current oil price is not a samaritan effort; nevertheless, it would have saved capital over-indulgence that could have instead concealed humanitarian efforts to contain the pandemic. For now, management is key and stock market health can prove to be momentous. A lively market is key to ward off unprecedented economic stress.

Russia and Saudi Arabia’s naivety has led to extreme stock market resistance. The world is watching the fight closely, waiting and hoping for the standoff to deflate. It is not the stalemate that is most worrying; unusual market activity is quietly manufacturing an enormous bubble waiting to crack. Market resistance is tipping at a dangerous degree; world markets are sincerely counting on each other for support. For instance, consider how markets would plunge lower than they otherwise would, as oil prices keep decreasing uncommonly. A sinking ship is resisting, waiting for water levels that can only drown by all rationality. Hence, the analogue.It would have taken Russia and Saudi Arabia a great deal of conscience to withdraw national interests for the sake of global welfare. Just in case the virus does not cease to pare, we are in for a truly global disaster. As more nations will testify infected population, the stock market will increasingly face nervous breakdowns. Then after, it will be impossible to guess directions.

Reduced oil prices will complement some and destroy others; the relationship is so disturbing that daily economics might just have to re-invent itself in the face of unpredictability. Imagine the aviation industry exhausting oil demands, in the face of historic low prices. Russia and Saudi Arabia understand the tradeoffs, yet national interests have blindfolded competing energy giants. In the long run, Russia and Saudi Arabia would have stored enough barrels to dictate oligopoly. Alluringly, the case does not rest there. Both the nations will also be hoping for which now looks like a miraculous recovery from the pandemic; future profits will uncharacteristically depend on a healthy market. The risk has been taken despite of all uncertainties. For a change, both Putin and Bin Salman will also be praying, nevertheless.

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