Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A ‘crude’ autumn statement in a freezing UK

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne finally got around to delivering his 2012 ‘autumn’ budget on a freezing December afternoon here in London today and there was plenty in it for the Oilholic to mull over. To begin with, in a highly populist move, Osborne not only postponed a 3 pence (5 US cents) rise in UK fuel duty but scrapped the tax measure on motorists altogether. This was followed by an announcement that the Government will set up a new Office for Unconventional Gas with an emphasis on shale gas and coal-bed methane and the role they could play in meeting the country's energy demand.
 
Osborne also announced a consultation exercise with the possibility of new tax incentives for the shale gas industry which is currently in its infancy here. Shale could very well become a part-player in the UK government’s latest strategy as conventional North Sea gas production declines.
 
The Chancellor also said that the UK’s headline rate of corporation tax would fall to 21% in 2014, from 22% in 2013. Additionally, plant and machinery investment allowance was raised from £25,000 to £250,000; duly cheered by independent contractors. Summing up the motive behind his ‘crude’ moves, the Chancellor urged investors to: "Come here, create jobs here; Britain is open for business. This would be the lowest rate of (corporation) tax for any major Western economy."
 
Once Osborne's statement had ended, the Oilholic sought feedback from the crude men around.
 
Robin Cohen, partner in Deloitte’s Energy & Resources practice, felt the government’s positive messages on the potential for shale gas, although tempered by realism on the timelines and challenges for the sector, will be welcomed by those involved in developing a potentially significant future energy resource for the UK.
 
“Recent energy pronouncements from the government and its gas generation strategy reinforce the dramatic (recent) changes in the character of the country’s electricity market from an investor’s perspective. Rather than assessing the viability of future power generation projects by analysing supply, demand and the resulting market prices, investors now need to anticipate the aggregate effect of several key policy measures, some of which have no track record as yet,” he added.
 
These include the carbon price floor, contracts for differences (CFDs) within the levy control framework, the capacity mechanism and the UK’s response to the EU target model for electricity markets. “While the strategy will be broadly welcomed by investors, it highlights the limits to the level of future certainty that the Government can provide,” Cohen added.
 
Anthony Lobo, Head of Oil and Gas at KPMG UK, also said the government's plan to consult on an appropriate fiscal regime for shale gas exploration is a positive sign for the industry.
 
“The UK has been seen as a negative place to invest recently due to very high levels of fiscal uncertainty. The tax increases in 2011 resulted in lowest levels of investment in years. Production also plummeted by 19% in 2011 predominantly as a result of the increase in supplementary charge, this drop negated any tax revenues the government hoped to realise. The announcement today signals the government's intent to support investment in Oil and Gas,” he added.
 
Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, felt the Chancellor had provided some very welcome clarification as to the role of gas in bridging the looming energy gap mid-decade. “It is sensible for the UK to invest in gas-fired power plants at this point in time as they are cleaner than coal, needed to back-up intermittent renewable energy sources, and can be built quicker with much lower up-front costs than nuclear plants,” he said.
 
“News that the Government will set up a new Office for Unconventional Gas is positive…Unconventional has the potential to create thousands of high-skilled engineering jobs and export services over the next decade,” Fox added.
 
There you are! The advisory firms like what the Chancellor said, the engineers and tax consultants did too – now only future investors and big energy companies need convincing. That’s all from the UK House of Commons folks!
 
But before yours truly takes your leave, it emerged overnight that Aberdeen-based Faroe Petroleum has bagged a provisional Icelandic exploration licence in the Dreki area. The company said it was "very excited to get the opportunity to explore and de-risk these extensive prospects” encompassing seven blocks located inside the Arctic Circle to the north east of the Iceland.
 
Faroe added that the move was an important extension of its frontier exploration portfolio in the UK west of Shetlands, Norwegian Sea and Norwegian Barents Sea. Graham Stewart, chief executive of Faroe Petroleum, said, "As with our Norwegian Barents Sea licences, this new Icelandic (Jan Mayen Ridge) licence has significant hydrocarbon potential, and is located in ice-free waters."
 
So on an Arctic note, let’s hope Faroe has better luck than its Scottish cousin Cairn Energy has had (so far) in its icy foray. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!
 
© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil Rig, North © Cairn Energy

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