Friday, July 13, 2018

What to make of Chevron’s North Sea pullback?

What was widely rumoured is now official – oil major Chevron has commenced the divestment of a number of its oil and gas fields in North Sea.

For some in the UK, the San Ramon, California-based US company's retreat from the mature hydrocarbon exploration prospect is the end of an era. Chevron has had a presence in the region for decades and that about says it all, as the North Sea has been in decline since production peaked in 1998.

The company is by no means alone. Both BP and Royal Dutch Shell have sold assets in the North Sea in recent years, as has Chevron's US rival ConocoPhillips. But scale of the Chevron's assets up for sale is sizeable. In fact, the company has confirmed it would encompass "all of its UK Central North Sea assets."

That includes its Britannia platform and allied infrastructure, along with the Alba, Alder, Captain, Elgin/Franklin, Erskine, and Jade fields as well as the Britannia platform and its satellites. The assets collectively contributed 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and 155 million cubic feet of natural gas to its headline output. 

Company won't vanish from the North Sea just yet. It is currently considering the development of the Rosebank field west of the Shetland Islands. However, the oil major is now focussed on growing its shale production in the Permian basin in Texas as well as the giant Tengiz field in Kazakhstan.

All things considered, Chevron's moves points to a strategic move away from mature prospects by IOCs to those with a more viable higher production prospect. In the process, they are leaving these mature prospects behind to independent upstarts, or state operators who can maximise the asset's end of life potential. 

Take for instance, BP’s business in the North Sea, which is now centred around its major interests West of Shetland and in the Central North Sea. The company sold its Forties Pipeline system to billionaire Jim Ratcliffe's Ineos last year. 

The move put the 235-mile pipeline system, built in 1975, that links 85 North Sea oil and gas assets, belonging to 21 companies, to the UK mainland and Grangemouth refinery, which Ratcliffe bought from BP in 2005. 

In volume terms, the pipeline's average daily throughput was 445,000 bpd and around 3,500 tonnes of raw gas a day in 2016. The system has a capacity of 575,000 bpd.

The acquisition also made Ineos the only UK player with refinery and petrochemical assets directly integrated into the North Sea.

It is highly likely independents will queue up for Chevron's assets, and of course so will the state operators contingent upon pricing. Nexen, a subsidiary of China's CNOOC, and TAQA already have sizable operations in the North Sea and will be keeping an eye on proceedings. Expect more of the same! That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it crude! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Oil rig in the North Sea © Cairn Energy.

Friday, June 22, 2018

OPEC’s new deal: Fudgy math or fuzzy stats?

The deed is done and not a single Iranian appeared visibly riled in the end. Following the conclusion of OPEC's 174th Ministerial Meeting on Friday here in Vienna, Austria, the cartel announced a 'nominal' production hike of 1 million barrels per day (bpd).

But the futures market expected more and has gone into full bullish mode as the weekend approaches. At 18:32pm BST on Friday, the WTI front-month futures contract was at $68.77, up $3.23 or +4.93% and Brent was at $74.88, up $1.83 or +2.51%.

Both benchmarks more than recovered their overnight declines, as traders who – like the Oilholic – delved into the OPEC statement, encountered some real fudgy math or perhaps fuzzy stats. It seems all what OPEC has done is "insist" on 100% compliance with a 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) cut it put forward in November 2016. 

The cartel's claim is that some of its members 'overcut' due to their own enthusiasm, or due to circumstances, geopolitics or lack of investment (Latter cases to be read as Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela). 

According to OPEC, this meant that compliance with the cuts touched 152% in May, instead of 100% or 1.824 million bpd. So now all OPEC has asked its members to do is bring compliance down to 100%, or put 624,000 barrels back on to the market and not a million! 

Of course, as has become the norm for over a decade now, OPEC did not reveal which individual member will do what and who is or isn't partaking in the exercise. That's the compromise to keep Iran onside for the moment. Here is one's Forbes piece for a more detailed perspective; but it is a jolly old fudge here at Helferstorferstrasse 17.

And oh, by the way, Congo's request to join OPEC has been accepted. So, if there's an OPEC-Plus or a Super-OPEC, it'll have 25 members to begin with. That's all from Vienna for the moment folks! More tomorrow when OPEC chats to its 10 non-OPEC counterparts.Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Opec Secretariat, Vienna, Austria © Gaurav Sharma 2018

The prospect of ‘OPEC-plus’ or ‘Super-OPEC’?

With the OPEC International seminar done, half of the world's scribes and analysts, including yours truly, have now descended on OPEC HQ for the 174th Oil Ministers Summit, and the chatter about altering the global crude market order is all the rage here.

Its been helped in no small part by UAE Oil Minister and current OPEC President Suhail Al Mazroui. Following hints from various OPEC member delegates at the seminar, in his opening remarks to the ministers summit, Al Mazroui said he wanted to "institutionalise" the alliance between 14 OPEC oil producers and 10 non-OPEC producers leading to the creation of a much bigger crude cabal. Full report on Forbes here

Well we had what's dubbed as 'R-OPEC' dominating discourse back in November when the Russians last arrived to shake hands with OPEC, and brought other non-OPEC producers along for the ride. So, what would this new creation be called? The Oilholic's preference is for 'OPEC-plus'; afterall the johnny-come-lately(s) can only be described as additions to a decades old organisation. 

Of course, for dramatic effect, some have suggested 'Super-OPEC'. Chances are – should it happen – that neither of the two would be adopted, and that a designated policy wonk would come up with some bland name with a catchy acronym. That's all from OPEC for the moment folks. More later in the day. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Graph: UAE Oil Minister and OPEC President Suhail Al Mazroui (third from left) speaks at 174th OPEC Ministers Meeting in Vienna, Austria © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The oil price rally that wasn’t

We were led to believe that a $100 per barrel oil price was not a case of "if" but "when." Over April, and early on in May both Brent and WTI futures continued their upticks, primarily driven by hedge funds piling into the front end of the futures curve, and OPEC hinting at extending its production cut agreement.

Even six-month dated Brent contract's backwardation streak started to narrow, though it ultimately stayed in backwardation mode, as the Oilholic noted in a recent broadcast. And then it happened – information came out that the Saudis and Russians were no longer keen on extending the existing OPEC/non-OPEC production cut agreement, that has seen 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) taken out of the global supply pool by 14 OPEC and 10 non-OPEC producers. 

Furthermore, if a Reuters exclusive is to be believed, the US demanded that OPEC production be raised by 1 million bpd. The same story also claimed that President Donald Trump's unilateral slapping of sanctions on Iran only came after the Saudis allegedly promised to raise their output. 

Sidestepping all of this, the Oilholic has always maintained that the barrels OPEC and non-OPEC producers took out of the market to – in their words "balance the market" – had to return to the global supply pool at some point. That was the real "when not if" situation for the market.  

As market sentiment on that happening has gained traction, the predictable result is a visible correction in the futures market with OPEC set to meet on 22 June. Meanwhile, the $100 price remains a pipedream, with both benchmarks still oscillating in a very predictable $60-80 range, only occasionally flattering to deceive with bullish overtones only to slide backwards (see graph above, click to enlarge). 

Away from the crude price, here are one's Forbes posts on US oil producers maintaining their efficiencies drive despite relatively higher oil prices and the UK-France Channel Tunnel operator's latest sustainability initiative of using ozone friendly refrigerants for cooling it landmark tunnel. 

Finally, it's a pleasure to have the Oilholic mentioned and recognised by third parties. These include Feedspot who recently featured this blog in their ‘Top 60 oil and gas blogs to follow’ section. It comes after industry data provider Drillinginfo flagged this blog in its roundup of '10 great oil & gas blogs to follow', as did penny stocks expert Peter Leeds, and US-based Delphian Ballistics. A big thank you to all of the aforementioned. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Graph: Friday closes of oil prices year to 8 June 2018 © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Toyota Mirai ride to the 'Hydrogen Society'

Its official – the Oilholic is now a self-proclaimed part member of what some might describe as the evolving Hydrogen Society; that demure lot doing their bit to reach a low carbon Alamo premised on good old H2 as their alternative to fossil fuels. Of course, that’s alongside their – shall we say – more boisterous electric and hybrid mobility solutions counterparts. 

This new membership came courtesy of an 800 km-ride between 16-18 May from Salzgitter in Northern Germany to the Danish capital Copenhagen in a Toyota Mirai; the global automaker's sedan-sized bet on yet another alternative fuel solution, with hybrid and electric cars already on its portfolio.

And along the journey this blogger saw planes, trains and automobile concepts all premised on a hydrogen-powered future, and got views on a zero-emission journey from fossil fuel retailers to politicians, engineers to scientists (see earlier posts).  

Of course, the Oilholic assumes all what you lot want to know is – how was the Mirai ride and what about the perils of big, bad hydrogen spontaneously exploding! Well, the ride was pretty smooth, and the latter point – with 2018 technology in play – comes across as a bit silly (to ‘crudely’ quote none other than a Shell executive). Of course, it was perfectly safe! But more on all that later. 

The entry point should be what is Toyota’s motivation? Agreed, others are in too. For instance Hyundai, Audi, Honda, Indian heavy vehicle manufacturers and British forklift truck-makers are all attempting to harness hydrogen for mobility, but via the Mirai, Toyota is the only mass producer of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles attempting to take things to the next level.  

The company's answer, which this blogger accepts in good faith, is that via the Mirai project – Toyota is putting forward both "a new point of discussion" on alternative fuels as well as "an additional mobility option" in its own march to a low carbon future. 

The company is quite candid that in its backing of hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles, it is not making some utopian statement about the demise of the dominant internal combustion engine (at least not yet!). Rather, Toyota – the world’s second-largest automaker with its fingers in all modes of mobility fuels including some of the world's best selling petrol cars – says hydrogen fuel cell technology is not only an option, but a viable one. 

Moving on to the car itself – Mirai's chassis might somewhat resemble the latest Toyota Prius model – but riding in it is even quieter than a Prius. Yup, apparently that is possible! 

The front wheel drive vehicle uses Toyota's Fuel Cell System (TFCS), featuring both fuel cell and hybrid technology, and incorporates the global automaker’s proprietary fuel cell (FC) stack, FC boost converter and, of course, a 5kg capacity high-pressure (@ 70 MPa/10,000 psi) hydrogen tank. 

As for those worried about the tank’s safety – it has been rigorously tested since 2012, not just to your average crash tests but has even had bullets fired at it too without failure! The TCFS emits no CO2, but water, which can be released at the press of a button. A tank full of hydrogen can take you to around 500 kms before refuelling, according to Toyota, with only water as a by-product along the way.

En route, the Mirai, by the Oilholic’s calculation, accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in 10 seconds. The car does have a top speed of around 180 km/h, but yours truly and his companions did not attempt it. 

And over the course of 800 kms, not a single problem or glitch occurred, although a passive eye had to be kept on fuel levels, given hydrogen refuelling points are not around every corner just yet. While fuel retailers hope to change that, Toyota, for its part, hopes the Mirai will captivate drivers' imagination in the years ahead. 

Organisational take-up of the Mirai from police departments to taxi and car hire companies across Europe has been pretty positive since 2015, after the Mirai moved from pilot to initial road deployment stage. Around 5,500 have been sold globally, including 250+ in Europe. By 2020, Toyota is targeting global sales of 30,000 per year.  

What the future holds is anybody's guess, but it was an absolute pleasure to have ridden in the Mirai in order of get a first hand feel of the emerging Hydrogen Society. That's all from this trip folks, with this the last of the hydrogen posts. But keep reading, keep it ‘crude’ and a tad hydrogen-fuelled too!

ADDENDUM: And here is the Oilholic's report on the Toyota Mirai and various permutations its success (or otherwise) holds in relation to the nascent hydrogen economy for Forbes.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 1: The Oilholic with the Toyota Mirai and photo of the car at a site in Denmark. Photo 2: Toyota Mirai console. Photo 3: Toyota Fuel Cell © Gaurav Sharma, May 2018.

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

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