Thursday, October 18, 2018

Kerfuffle over fracking in the UK

Earlier this week the Oilholic noted plenty of predictable commotion as the UK finally got fracking following years of legal limbo. On Monday (October 15), Cuadrilla confirmed it had started fracking at its natural gas prospection site in Little Plumpton, Lancashire, after the failure of a legal challenge the previous week.

Here's the Oilholic's take on the development via Forbes, but amid the pro and anti-fracking hot air, shouty crackers and genteel debaters, statements and counter-statements, an interesting report from the pro-shale 'Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF)' found its way into this blogger's mailbox.

Having done a review of UK media coverage about fracking, it concludes that major outlets have been "hyping claims of environmentalists while playing down the benefits" of shale gas. GWPF's Andrew Montford is particularly scathing about the output of the Guardian and the BBC. 

"They tend to recount wild stories and then move on without correcting the record. The public should therefore be very cautious about what they read on the subject in the next few weeks, as shale gas fracking begins in the UK."

Here is Montford's review (PDF download); you be the judge of it! That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

To RDSA or RDSB - that's the question?

A number of readers - with interest in Royal Dutch Shell shares - often write to the Oilholic asking which of its listings, RDSA or RDSB, should they opt for? Short answer, if you are based in the UK, is RDSB, as the A listing carries an exposure to the Dutch taxman. It will eat into you dividend earnings unless you happened to be based in the EU27. 

That matters because the Anglo-Dutch oil giant is a reliable dividend stock, and has not failed to pay an annual dividend since World War II. Here is the Oilholic's more detailed explanation on Forbes outlining which listing you should buy in to depending on where you are based, once you have made your mind up about investing in Shell. Just a quick quip, more later! Keep reading, keep it crude!

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Friday, October 05, 2018

Mixing it with the ‘crude’ technologists at HUG

As the oil price hit a four-year high, the Oilholic found himself in Madrid, Spain, mixing it with the technologists driving process optimisation, Artificial Intelligence, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and all the rest of it in the oil and gas industry, at the Honeywell Users' Group conference.

The event was the annual jamboree of global software-industrial giant's automation outfit – Honeywell Process Solution (HPS). The 2018 round, held in Madrid, Spain, carried additional significance for more than one reason. It was the event's 30th edition, and while the first one back in 1989 would have been as much about software as it would have been about nuts, bolts and consoles, the latest instalment turned out to be anything but. 

Additionally, it was also recently appointed HPS President John Rudolph's (above left) first meaningful interaction with analysts and media outside of the Americas, having taken over in May from Vimal Kapur, who led the outfit in the oil and gas downturn of 2015, as a bit of an optimisation and efficiencies evangelist in trying times. 

And Rudolph told this blogger the efficiency and throughput gains made by HPS clients under his predecessor (who has moved on internally within Honeywell), are only going to be notched up further. "That applies equally to upgrades of legacy estate, as well as starting from scratch with clients' new builds. Efficiency is a one way street. If you are impacting efficiencies, you are also impacting waste; opportunities are a lot greater than we imagine."

The new HPS boss added the company is just starting out with its connected plant solution (more info here), which as the name suggests, is its plant operating platform predicated on big data and IIoT. That's so true, because as recently as 2010, gatherings of this nature were as much about software as they were about hardware. Now software dominates, to quote Jason Urso, HPS' Chief Technology Officer (below right). 

"We've effectively decoupled software from hardware," Urso added. That means the TDC 3000 – that old industry work-horse of a plant control system Honeywell introduced in the 1990s – can now have its digital twin for oil and gas customers hosted on Honeywell servers with no need for additional physical equipment, enabling applications, controls, displays, upgrades and performance monitoring via digital avenues. 

"The world we are heading for is about software driven automation with infinite industry and outcome focussed upgrades. The TDC 3000 is no exception," Urso told the Oilholic. 

Improved plant control, means digital is proliferating to enhance productivity, in some cases "by as much as 10 times" mitigating unplanned downtime and equipment underutilisation. All sorts of kit, sensors and drones are turning data into knowledge that business analysts can interpret to bring about further improvements.

The most visible example of this was offered at HUG by Honeywell's drone (see below) – a star attraction of the conference's exhibition floor (minus its rotors for health and safety reasons of course). 

The drone is being deployed by oil and gas downstream, midstream players, and utilities to inspect anything ranging from power-lines to pipelines. Not only does it carry out safety inspections and monitoring, the drone also gathers performance data, as programmed by the site manager for fixed inspection distances. 

Additionally, the related sphere of health, safety and training – a billion dollar business by Rudolph's own admission – is benefitting from digital as well via augmented reality and intelligent wearables.

Basically, Honeywell and its peers are bringing immersive competency to industry training via virtual reality into the process, making trainees partake in a procedure virtually before actually doing it, and digitising instruction manuals via "active worker assist solutions" embedded into wearable equipment. Sum it all up, and you can get an idea of the kind process efficiencies we are talking about, not just in the oil and gas sector, but the wider manufacturing complex to be honest. 

Invariably, the key issue of industrial cybersecurity matters, especially as research suggests attacks are on the rise. So Honeywell also used the opportune moment of HUG to announce the launch of its new industrial cybersecurity consulting service, an area of its business where it has been investing millions of dollars to service clients. Here is the Oilholic's full report on the launch for Forbes should it interest you.

Away from HUG, and back to oil futures, the market is turning bullish. In fact, too bullish for this blogger's liking! Brent is currently lurking either side of $85 per barrel. There is, at least in this blogger's eyes, a very real danger of the market overshooting. 

If, as many are only too keen to predict, the oil price hits three figures, then there is a real risk of the level being unsustainable given the hit it would have on global demand. Here's the Oilholic's take from HUG on TRT World. But that's about it from Madrid folks, it's time for the big flying bus home! Keeping reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 1: John Rudolph, President of Honeywell Process Solutions (HPS) addresses HUG 2018, in Madrid, Spain. Photo 2: Jason Urso, CTO of HPS. Photo 3: Honeywell's Industrial Drone on display at HUG 2018. © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Gulf Intelligence’s EMF 2018 and $80/bbl oil

The Oilholic is back in the UAE for Gulf Intelligence's 2018 Energy Markets Forum with the great and good of the Port of Fujairah and 'crude' shores beyond in attendance. The event, as this blogger has previously noted, continues to grow bigger by the year. 

The latest edition was graced by none other than OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo who, in a nutshell, told gathered delegates the OPEC and non-OPEC association - that has taken 1.8 million barrels per day of oil production out of the market - was "here to stay."

Of course, most most analysts here in Fujairah reckon the upcoming Algiers meeting would be a testy affair to say the least, and well test the relationship. It would be surprising if Iran versus US President Donald Trump doesn't appear on the agenda, along with the whole kit and caboodle of the Iranian delegation in tow. However, for his part Barkindo said Iran remains an "integral" part of OPEC as a founding partner but ventured to say little beyond a show of solidarity.

Right after the Secretary General's quotes came a regular feature of the event – a spot of poll of delegates on a variety of issues dominating the crude market – hosted this year by yours truly. Gulf Intelligence would be publishing the details shortly.

But to give the readers of this blog a snippet - invariably the direction of the oil price came up. While some kindred souls were in agreement with the Oilholic of an average $70-75 per barrel Brent price over the short-term, EMF 2018 attendees, in the main, sounded incredibly bullish predicting $80+ prices for 2019. 

This blogger's issue is that there are just too many variables to be that bullish – Trumpet politics, US-China tussles, plenty of crude in the global pool, geopolitics, you name it. Not all variables are bullish and are tugging each other. Guess time will tell! But that's all from Fujairah folks! Keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo talks to John Defterios of CNN at Gulf Intelligence's 2018 Energy Markets Forum in Fujairah, UAE © Gaurav Sharma, September 2018.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Just boring variation not a crude rally or slump

Week-on-week, the picture remains one of a crude oil market in which benchmark prices are firming up, yet both Brent and WTI futures remain within that very predictable range of $60-80 per barrel (see chart left, click to enlarge). 

A fortnight ago, bolstered largely by the tightening of US sanctions on Iran or rather the perception of tightening, Brent began a two-week climb towards $80 per barrel, as the WTI strengthened above $70. 

Yet again, bullish prophets hit the airwaves suggesting a $90 per barrel Brent price in light of tightening of a crude market with "very little spare capacity." In some market quarters it is being debated that global spare capacity is now less than 1 million barrels per day (bpd). 

The Oilholic thinks the bulls ought to calm down a bit. Agreed, US President Donald Trump's squeeze on Iranian oil exports is making buyers nervous, particularly India and Japan. And in 2019, it would be reasonable to expect Tehran's production to be well below its current 3.6 million bpd+ production mark to around 2.4 million bpd. 

However, Saudi attempts to compensate (or over-compensate) for a decline in Iranian output would not go unnoticed in Moscow. Russia has already indicated that it would like to raise production, and amicable as things might be with OPEC, if they want to, they would increase production. 

The market's problem right now is that it is missing strong breakout factors - both bearish and bullish ones. Bearish threats of global trade wars, direction of emerging markets, and an unraveling of the OPEC and non-OPEC agreement continue to lurk around. Similarly, bullish factors such as the industry under-investing (a very visible concern) and running out of spare capacity to mitigate supply shocks also persist. 

So price positive as well as negative sentiments are still not strong enough to decisively pull oil futures one way or another, with US turning less and less to the global supply pool courtesy of rising domestic production. Therefore smart money says what we've seen over the last two weeks was not a rally and nor has there been any noticeable slump. All that has transpired is variation within a predictable floor and ceiling. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Graph: © Gaurav Sharma, September 2018.

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For comments or for professional queries, please email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

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