Thursday, April 26, 2012

Oh drat! Brits ask what the ‘Frack’!

The Oilholic arrived back home from Texas last week to the sound of fellow Brits discussing ‘fracks’ and figures in favour of shale gas prospection here. All UK activity ground to a halt last year, when a couple of minor quakes majorly spooked dwellers of Lancashire where a company – Cuadrilla – was test fracking.

Fast forward to April 2012, and a UK government appointed panel of experts including one from the British Geological Survey now says, "There was a very low probability of other earthquakes during future treatments of other wells. We believe that (last year's) events are attributable to the existence of an adjacent geological fault that had not been identified. There might be other comparable faults, (and) we believe it's not possible to categorically reject the possibility of further quakes."

However, it added that while the tremors may be felt in areas where fracking is conducted, they won’t be above magnitude 3 on the Richter scale and were unlikely to cause any significant damage. The panel’s report has now been sent for a six-week consultation period.

The British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is expected to issue a set of regulations soon and ahead of that a verbal melee has ensued with everyone for or against wanting a say and environmental groups crying foul. However, there was near unanimous approval for a control mechanism which would halt fracking activity as soon as seismic levels rise above 0.5 on the Richter scale. The engineers wanted in too.

Dr. Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says, “The recommendations that any shale gas operations should be more closely monitored are welcome. UK and European environmental regulations are already some of the most stringent in the world; and these proposed precautions are a good example of how to help mitigate the risk of any damage caused by seismic activity as a result of shale gas activity.”

City energy analysts also gave the panel’s conclusions a cautious thumbs-up as there is a long way to go before a meaningful extraction of the gassy stuff occurs in any case. Jim Pearce, Energy and Process Industries practice partner at global management consultancy A.T. Kearney, says, “Shale developments offer the UK an opportunity to exploit a relatively clean resource and fill the energy gap that is opening up once again as nuclear projects come under threat. If the UK is going to use gas we should look for the best available source, which is arguably shale gas. Moreover, shale developments may also provide the UK’s chemical industry with a much needed boost if ethane and other NGL’s (natural gas liquids) are also found.”

He opines that UK and the rest of Europe are falling rapidly behind on gas supply security and cost. “Our key industries will be coming under increasing threat if we do not react to the new order that shale has created. We have a great opportunity here to take the lessons learned from the US and benefit from them,” Pearce adds.

Oh what the ‘frack’, that’s surely reason enough to tolerate a few quakes providing the security of the water table is preserved and concerns over water pollution are addressed. Yikes, that’s another quaky one! Away from shale, the 30th anniversary of the Falkland Islands war between the UK and Argentina came and went earlier this month marked by remembrance services for the fallen, but accompanied by the usual nonsensical rhetoric from British and Argentine officials, more so from the latter irked by oil prospection off the Islands’ shores which it claims as its own.

Five independent British oil companies are exploring four areas for oil in Falkland Islands’ waters, but only one of these – Rockhopper – claims to have struck meaningful reserves of the crude stuff. It says it could get 350 million barrels in the Sea Lion field to the north of the islands, which it plans to bring onstream by 2016. However, analysts at Edison Investment Research noted in March that a total of 8.3 billion barrels could lie offshore. So expect each anniversary and the run up to it from here on to be accompanied by ‘crude’ rhetoric and much frothing from Buenos Aires.

When it comes to being ‘crude’, the Argentines are in a class of their own. Just ask Repsol! On Wednesday, the country’s Senate approved the controversial decision, announced last week by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, to nationalise Repsol YPF thereby stripping Spanish giant Repsol’s controlling stake in YPF.

Following the bizarre but locally popular announcement last week, while its stock plummeted, rating agencies scrambled to downgrade Repsol YPF’s ratings with Fitch Ratings and Moody’s doing so in tandem. Warnings to Argentina from the Spanish government, EU Trade Commission and last but not the least Repsol itself have since followed.

Repsol wants around US$10 billion for its 57.4% stake in YPF, but Argentina has said it does not recognise that valuation. There also one more thing they don’t possibly recognise - it’s called ‘sound economics’ which often gets trumped by ‘good politics’ in that jurisdiction. A number of analysts’ notes have been doing the rounds since April 17th when Kirchner went down the route towards nationalisation. Most had the same dire forecast for Repsol, but for the Oilholic, one issued by the inimitable Stuart Joyner, head of oil and gas at Investec, stood out.

In it he notes, “The apparent decision to nationalise YPF means we move to a worst case for the value of Repsol's 57.4% stake. The Argentine Tango is the consummate dance of love, but there was little affection for the country's largest foreign investor in Buenos Aires yesterday.”

Well said sir! Meanwhile with near perfect symmetry while the Argentines were being crudely castigated, Time magazine decided to name Brazilian behemoth Petrobras' CEO Maria das Graças Silva Foster one of the most influential people in the world. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Gas pipeline © National Geographic photo stock.

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