Friday, December 07, 2018

OPEC/Non-OPEC cut at 1.2m bpd; Iran's smiling

In case you haven't heard dear readers, which the Oilholic doubts or you wouldn't be reading an oil market blog - OPEC has calmed the crude market with a 1.2 million barrels per day cut, in concert with 10 non-OPEC producers led by Russia.

Both Brent and WTI are up by over 4% at the time of writing, and Iran is smiling all the way to the bank having secured an "exemption" before US sanctions start biting more meaningfully. 

Will provide some more composed thoughts upon return to London from Vienna, as one has to scoot to the airport. That's all from Vienna folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018.  

OPEC's Friday numbers game

So here we are back again at Helferstorferstrasse 17 on Friday (December 7), for another packed room at the "5th OPEC and non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting." That's after having received no formal announcement on the level of OPEC cuts overnight at the "conclusion" of the 175th OPEC Ministers Meeting, and Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih having told CNN a deal on a production cut may not materialise. 

The morning after extreme volatility in the oil markets, OPEC's numbers game continues. The latest that multiple sources seem to suggest is that OPEC is inclined to cut 650,000 barrels per day (bpd), and non-OPEC countries another 350,000 barrels per day, all tallying up to a possible 1 million bpd cut proposed overnight. 

Question is - will the market be convinced, especially if Iran and a few smaller members decline to participate? The Oilholic doesn't think so (and Iran continues to play hardball and the formal OPEC /non-OPEC meeting has not even begun yet @12:46 GMT). 

To support a $70 oil price, a 1 million bpd cut won't do, but may serve to de-risk a huge decline. Anything above that appears unlikely. We wait and see! More from Vienna soon. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: OPEC Media Briefing room, Vienna, Austria, December 2018 © Gaurav Sharma 2018

Thursday, December 06, 2018

No Show: OPEC press conference cancelled

In a rather unprecedented development of sorts, the 175th OPEC Summit's concluding press conference was cancelled, as member nations could not agree to er...a..concluding statement. 

Sources say Iran, and other members exempt from oil production cuts, were asked to participate in a proposed cut and declined to do so. 

Hence, the can got kicked down the road, and proceedings will resume on Friday (December 7). There is expected to be some sort of announcement after discussions with the Russians and 9 other non-OPEC producers. Things do remain on track for a 1 million barrels per day (bpd) cut, but its doubtful that would push the bears that far. 

The event is unprecedented in recent times, and only once in the past has OPEC failed to hold a concluding press conference. We've had one even at times of acrimony and differing positions between its members over the years. 

As for the market, WTI is down 4.86% to $50.32 per barrel, while Brent is at $58.88, down 4.35% following the development. Bit of a farce this is, but that's all from OPEC this evening. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Empty podium at the 175th OPEC Meeting Press Conference, Vienna, Austria © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

OPEC's 'Crude' Basket & Last Friday's close

Two charts real quick while waiting for OPEC to make an announcement - (1) Direction of the OPEC price basket (including Qatar) and (2) Where the oil benchmarks ended last week (Friday, 30 November)! Let's see what the movement is like by the time this week is done! (Click to enlarge both charts)!




















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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Graph 1: OPEC Crude Oil Price Basket (YTD December 2018), Graph 2: Friday benchmark closes to November 30, 2018 © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

First quips & intraday soundbites from OPEC 175


It's the usual manic start to the 175th OPEC Ministers' Meeting here in Vienna, Austria. For those unfamiliar with the drill, here we go - a long queue of analysts and journalists, the Oilholic included, waiting to get in, followed a long queue to go up to see the ministers in the summit's conference room, followed by a mad dash to see them, followed by a media gang b..., I, er media scrum, and the security chucking everyone out! True to form manic wires and tweets follow, and Thursday (6 December) was no different.

Here are some highlights from the Oilholic's attendance and questioning of ministers in two media scrums - that of Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih and UAE Oil Minister and current OPEC President Suhail Al Mazrouei - embedded below via his twitter account:


Putting it altogether, some summary points:

1) The Saudis are still denying any discussions were held with the Americans with regard to oil production levels. 
2) Data suggests Riyadh is pumping in excess of 11 million barrels per day (bpd).
3) An OPEC cut of 1 million bpd is likely (which would be below market expectations). 
4) All rather mum and diplomatic about Qatar's decision to quit OPEC
5) Saudi Arabia wants "all" participants to contribute to cut, Iran is against it, while Libya and Nigeria are exempt from it (as things stand). 

More from Vienna soon! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Start of the 175th OPEC Ministers' Meeting in Vienna, Austria on December 6, 2018 © Gaurav Sharma 2018. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

A ‘Qatarstrophe’, Saudi-Russian bromance & Tariff Man

The Oilholic arrived for visit number 25 to Vienna, Austria, for the 175th Meeting of OPEC Ministers on Wednesday (December 5) with a 'Qatarstrophe' in the background, rumblings over the Saudi-Russian oil market bromance, and of course US President Donald Trump declaring himself to be a ‘Tariff man’ after declaring a temporary truce with China.

The view in (see above left, click to enlarge) – of wind farms in the foreground and mountains in the background – on a clear Austrian day was quite a sight, and on the ground, yours truly's early morning flight from Heathrow (BA696) pulled up right next to Russian Oil Minister Alexander Novak's plane. Surely that's a 'crude' sign of things to come over the next few days.

Right, first to the Qatarstrophe, in case you haven’t heard – Qatar, which has been a member of OPEC since 1961, has decided to quit the cartel to "renew and redouble" its national focus on natural gas. Away from the official version, Doha feels cornered in a cartel that no longer serves its interests and is dominated by Saudi Arabia, a country that has slapped economic and diplomatic sanctions on it.

While Qatar's announcement created an intraday kerfuffle and a mini shock, it should hardly come as a surprise. Here is the Oilholic's detailed take on the development for Forbes. Unlike others, this blogger believes the development is not a fatal blow for OPEC, since members come and go, quit and rejoin. However, it is worth noting that Qatar is the first Middle Eastern member to quit, and Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates must shoulder much of the blame.

And there are other rumblings – many other OPEC member delegations are briefing in Vienna that they are not particularly impressed by the bonhomie (or more appropriately a crude bromance) between Saudi Arabia's oil minister Khalid Al-Falih and his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak; the two architects of the OPEC/non-OPEC production cut agreement, first inked in 2016. While others are voicing their concerns guardedly, Iran is doing so quite vocally. 

Finally, there's Tariff Man – a.k.a. US President Donald Trump, who has, well, made some peace with the Chinese, leading to a temporary suspension of trade hostilities. Parking trade wars to the side, he's been firing tweets at OPEC. Bring in the noise! More from Vienna soon, but that's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: View of Austrian landscape from BA696 to Vienna on December 5, 2018 © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Three -7% crude slumps & a WEC engagement

As the Oilholic headed for a splash and dash visit to the familiar surroundings of Vienna on another early morning British Airways flight to the Austrian capital on Friday (November 23), one couldn't but help notice that yet another oil futures selloff was underway in Asia, with regional closing trends indicative of 2% declines. 

By the time this blogger landed at Vienna International Airport at half past noon, the decline had become more pronounced in European trading hours. And a few hours later in the US, the intraday rout was complete with both WTI and Brent front-month contracts registering declines of  tad over 7%. 

What is worth noting here is that the latest drop is the third such decline - not just in the quarter, or on the month, but in the short space of a mere 10 trading sessions. Overall, crude prices have slumped by 30% over the last 7 weeks; quite something given the amount of bullish nonsense that was on the airwaves prior to the slide. 

If this isn't a slump, what is? Especially, as Brent also slid below $60 per barrel. Not so long ago, the global proxy benchmark was approaching $85, leading to typical exaggerated market forecasts in some quarters that the benchmark would hit $100 over Q1 2019.

Those who never believed such predictions, including this blogger, and expressed a net-short position ought to feel vindicated. The froth has gone out of the market, and sentiment remains largely bearish. However, there is such a thing as an 'over-correction'. The Oilholic thinks the slide has been too steep, too fast because the macroeconomic dynamic on the supply side has not undergone a similar sentimental slump. 

The Trump-China face-off, global growth rate (which is steady but not quite firing up), possibility of European upheavals (Brexit, Italy, Greece, Spain, etc), and an unimpressive oil demand growth range of 1.1 to 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd), were all priced in when the WTI was lurking in the $60s and Brent in $70s.

That for the Oilholic was the optimal range/level for both contracts, before the so-called false prophets exaggerated the impact of Iranian sanctions slapped unilaterally by the US on Tehran. Hedge Funds and money managers then piled in, as they tend to with jumped up net-long calls, in the hope of extending the rally and Brent hit thoroughly unmerited $80+ intraday levels.

Therefore, when the initial correction hit, dragging Brent first down to $70, and subsequently below, it was merited. However, the Oilholic believes we are in an over-correction patch now. The market is in a real danger of swapping one extreme for another, and as usual the false prophets are it again, with some predicting a slump to $40 and below. The volatility of the last few weeks has delivered a classic lesson on why not to trust them.


Moving on from 'crude' rants, the Oilholic was delighted to speak at the World Energy Council's (WEC) Vienna Energy Summit, which is what the early morning departure from Heathrow and earlier than usual scrutiny of oil prices in East Asia - should you follow one on Twitter - was all about.


The summit addressed a number of crucial subjects, and gave due weight to the macroeconomic and sociopolitical climate beyond current and future permutations in the energy markets.

Fellow panellists and yours truly deliberated, Saudi Arabia's transformation (at least on paper) to renewable energy, impact of regulations on the oil price and world order, petro-yuan hypothesis, those inimitable Donald Trump tweets and diplomacy by social media, Iran sanctions and much more.

It was a great industry dialogue, and a pleasure finally connecting with Dr Robert Kobau, Secretary General of WEC Austria (above right). With so much ground to cover, the session just flew by and animated, good spirited discussions spilled over to the after event reception, as how industry dialogues should be. All the remains, is to say it's time for the big flying bus home! Keeping reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo: Gaurav Sharma with Dr Robert Kobau, © Gaurav Sharma 2018.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Crude froth goes before a fall?

What a commotion we had in the oil markets last week, when Tuesday's (November 13) session saw an intraday decline of 8% for the West Texas Intermediate, and a near similar drop for the Brent front-month contract. 

Long calls unravelled in higher numbers as the market increasingly came to the realisation that there was still plenty of crude oil in the market regardless of the Trump versus Iran situation. Of course, as it tends to happen, when the market oversells or overcorrects, a recovery run follows. As it were, come Friday, Brent was down by 4.87% and WTI was down 6.19% on the previous week’s closing position. 

If nothing else, what the selloff did was ensure a puncturing of bullish illusions and flag up the fact (again!) that three crude oil producers alone – US, Saudi Arabia and Russia – were pumping more than all of OPEC, albeit with very different geopolitical agendas of their own. The sudden decline also makes for an interesting OPEC meeting scheduled for December 6. 

Nonetheless, the proof is in the 'crude' pudding – i.e. the latest CFTC and ICE data which points to a decline in global net-long positions. Starting with Brent contracts – for the week ending November 13, money managers' net long positions fell 17% to 214,832 contracts; the lowest level on record in nearly 18 months. 

Concurrently, WTI net-long positions fell 5.2% to 151,984 futures; the lowest since August 2017. Anyone for $100? That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo © Cairn Energy 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

All about ‘EcoStruxure’ for Schneider Electric

The Oilholic finds himself at Schneider Electric's North America Innovation Summit 2018, here in Atlanta, stateside, and what a first day its been. North America accounts for nearly 27% of the global energy management and automation giant's headline business, and is home to several of its innovation hubs, making Atlanta a perfect place for the latest round of its innovation summit series. 

Unsurprisingly, the company is using the occasion to reveal several new announcements, the most eye-catching of which (so far) has to be the launch of a dedicated venture capital funding arm. The unit called Schneider Electric Ventures would have around €500 million of dry power to invest in new tech ventures (See The Oilholic’s detailed report for Forbes here). 

But the buzzword for the event is – 'EcoStruxure' – Schneider Electric's Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) architecture conceived to deliver "smart machine" solutions within the energy sphere. To quote the company's Chairman and CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire if you still haven't heard about it by the time the event comes to a conclusion, well you really haven't been here. 

EcoStruxure's innovative pathways run along five slants. First there's EcoStruxure Power, a solution that deploys the IIoT premise to strengthen power management capabilities with advanced monitoring and analytics. It is also designed to improve operational safety, reliability and efficiency. 

Then there's EcoStruxure Machine to deliver advanced smart machine solutions, including connectivity, control, tracking and monitoring.

You'd be surprised if there wasn't an EcoStruxure IT platform, which you've probably guessed is a cloud-based solution for improved monitoring and visibility across the entire data center ecosystem.

EcoStruxure Grid solution is where you'll find Schneider Electric in its element as an industry leader; the solution is an enhanced microgrid offering aimed at maximising "onsite renewable energy penetration and simplify power management."


And finally, EcoStruxure Building offers to fortify occupant engagement, optimise space utilisation better and empower personalised environments. For Schneider Electric, the direction of travel is clear – IIoT need not be a phantasm. It's here, it's now, it's accessible via EcoStruxure solutions, says Tricoire.

In his keynote address to over 1,400 attendees, the boss added: "How IoT will change things meaningfully is yet to be written, the journey is just starting. But at the same time IoT is more accessible that you think. We will continue to introduce new additions to the EcoStruxure architecture in step with the digital transformation of industrial automation markets."

Analysts here, including yours truly, believe we'll get more of the same from the company, with its connected products, edge control software, apps, analytics, and services, and more. It is the inexorable direction of travel in a digital economy. 

And Tricoire rightly notes that digital is not a zero-sum game. That means collaboration between energy and utility sector clients will bring about an integrated approach to energy management, and the boss' favourite topic – greater energy supply reliability and efficiency. 

Tricoire also said data and energy go hand in glove. "Major demand and consumption growth of electricity is coming from the proliferation of IT and datacentres. Nearly every new innovation uses electricity." 

So expect plenty more innovations under the EcoStruxure umbrella. And well, on a day both Brent and West Texas Intermediate oil futures contracts are down by over 7%, Tricoire says Schneider Electric sees "enormous opportunities" with the world moving from a largely fossil fuel-driven economy to an electrified economy! Bring in the noise people! That's all from Atlanta folks! Keep reading, keep it crude!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo 1: Schneider Electric Chairman and CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire addresses the company' Innovation Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Photo 2: Schneider Electric Summit's Innovation Hub. © Gaurav Sharma Nov 13, 2018.

Monday, November 12, 2018

On crude 'slumps', 'spikes' & predictable ranges

Over the last 12 months we've heard of oil price spikes and slumps, ups and downs, four-year highs and six-week losing streaks, and exaggerated predictions of $100 per barrel crude prices, being made by those prone to making them and then getting them spectacularly wrong. 

Yet, as the Oilholic hears Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih [suggest a 2019 OPEC production cut might be on the horizon] on TV while sitting in a hotel room in Altanta stateside, the inescapable fact is that Brent, WTI and OPEC's own basket price of crude oil(s) exported by its members remains as range-bound as ever (see graph, click to enlarge). 

Whichever way you look at it - all year the price has fluctuated within a $60-80 per barrel range. You can come up with all sorts of fancy, creative explanations about it, as both the bulls and bears have, but the market is where it is because the physical traders are at peace with the supply demand and dynamic as it stands. 

While speculators and money managers, especially hedge funds, might pile into the market at the slightest sign of an uptick in the hope of extending the rally, physical traders (at least the ones the Oilholic is in contact with in Amsterdam and Shanghai) aren't exactly sweating while looking at their solver models that point to no scarcity of supply. 

Given that dynamic, paper market panics don't last long as recent weeks and months have proven. End result - everyone from Morgan Stanley to RBC Capital Markets, and all the so-called price prophets in between, are scrambling to downgrade their oil price forecasts. Some have even gone to the other extreme predicting $40 per barrel oil prices, and that won't happen either. 

Using an aggregate of global demand growth from various data sources (OPEC, EIA, IEA) and squaring it against global supply (as it stands) - the oil price will likely remain range-bound in the $60-80 bracket. So keep calm and carry on! That's all for the moment folks. The Oilholic needs to head out and brave the rain in Altanta, more from here later. 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Graph: Friday closes of oil benchmarks (Jan to YTD 2018) © Gaurav Sharma 2018 

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.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Gazing at DJ Basin’s ‘Shale Gale’ with Highlands Natural Resources

Last month, the Oilholic headed stateside to get a 'crude' glimpse of drilling activity in the Denver Julesburg or 'DJ' Basin in Colorado; this blogger's first visit to the region. The basin has been a key hydrocarbon producing region of the US since 1901. Over a century later, it's still going strong courtesy of the state of Colorado's very own 'Shale Gale.' 

Colorado's legislative climate might be a bit onerous compared to Texas, but the basin still remains a relatively benign place for exploration and production, and yes the oil majors are all there poking around the place.

Also, what won't surprise regular readers of this blog one bit is that regional activity is being bolstered by - you guessed it - the independent upstarts, or new-age shale wildcatters as the Oilholic prefers to call them. 

In this august group is London-listed Highlands Natural Resources (HNR), the brainchild of entrepreneur and local oilman Robert Price, and his close-knit group of geologists, engineers, financiers and consultants. The company's simple but effective motto – in Price's own words – is to deliver projects "safely, on time and on budget."

The company has farmed out acreage from ConocoPhillips out in East Denver, is not only trialling Halliburton's cost and process optimising Integrated Asset Management (IAM) suite of techniques to the fullest, but also has a stake in its operations from the global oilfield services company itself; a rather unique scenario. 

HNR's site in the Lowry Bombing Range, East Denver (see above left), visited by this blogger in Price's company, sees just the sort of savvy operations predicated on big data that we often hear about in the popular press. For example, in an area where players are attempting to drill 16 or 24 wells in the same pad, Domingo Mata, HNR's Vice President of Engineering, says his company has opted for 8 wells, as studies have convinced the management that fewer wells will provide a better yield.

"We also keep an eye on the minutiae of the drilling process via a plethora of sensors. That's how we gather data and learn lessons from the drilling process in the case of each well, and bring about a sequential reduction in drilling times by improving upon past processes based on what the data revealed about the last round of works," Mata adds.

In some cases, that drilling time has come down to 10-14 days; and we're talking depths in the range of 17,000 to 19,000 feet. Price says optimised operations are the bedrock of his company and together with his chief geologist Paul Mendell, HNR is "astute and prudent" in managing its exposure to what has been, is, and will always remain, a high risk, high reward business. 

On the East Denver site the Oilholic had a walkabout, HNR now has a 7.5% carried interest in first 8 wells to produce at the project with additional upside potential to own 7.5% interest in up to 24 wells at no extra cost. The arrangement is boosted by a strong working relationship with majority holder True Oil. 

The site carries a potential yield of 5,000 barrels per day (bpd) of one of the sweetest and best crudes (see right) this blogger has seen since a visit to Oman back in 2013. The product is currently being brought to market via tanker trucks, but will soon be hooked up to ConocoPhillips' pipeline infrastructure. 

And HNR has received £2.9 million of income during four months up to 31 March 2018 from just two wells – Powell and Wildhorse – which sit in the top 3% of all horizontal DJ Basin (Niobrara) wells in Colorado. 

Not wanting to sit on its existing plays, the company is now eyeing West Denver prospects. HNR owns a direct 100% working interest in leases covering 2,721 acres in the area, where Price reckons his team, partners, contractors and affiliates can collaboratively drill at least 48 wells.

What's more the surface area is largely free of urban development and consolidated into closely grouped parcels, and may allow HNR to move through Colorado's permitting and development processes quicker relative other statewide plays.  

Price and Mendell have also made it their mission to diversify HNR. The company is looking to market and monetise its DT Ultravert technology for enhanced oil recovery, which it claims will help the wider industry achieve at least a 15% increase in production. 

It has been proven to prevent 'well bashing' in horizontal and vertical wells. If the monetisation of DT Ultravert takes off, it could be a game-changer for the company, which is incidentally also in the business of Helium and Nitrogen plays.

All things considered, could Team HNR be described as 'Shale Gale' mavericks? "I think prudent, efficient, low-risk operators would be what I'd humbly describe us as," says Price. Well there you have it folks! It was a pleasure exchanging views with Team HNR (above) and seeing what they are up to.

Depending on whom you rely on, ranging from the US Energy Information Administration's projections to estimates by the likes of Anadarko Petroleum, the DJ basin could hold up to 4.5-5 billion barrels of oil equivalent for viable extraction (including natural gas liquids). 

That suggests there's plenty going around for the likes of HNR to continue tapping away at the reserves in their own cost optimised way. So here's to ingenuity and the spirit of private enterprise that has come to symbolise the shale revolution. That's all for the moment; keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo I: Highlands Natural Resources' East Denver drilling site. Photo II: Glimpse of Denver light sweet crude produced by Highlands Natural Resources. Photo III: (Left to Right) Gaurav Sharma with Robert Price, CEO & Chairman, Highlands Natural Resources, and Domingo Mata, Vice President of Engineering, Highlands Natural Resources © Gaurav Sharma, 2018.

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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