Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Oil market's OPEC meeting tantrum & global LNG

On June 2nd, OPEC+ decided to adopt a pensive position rather than a defensive or offensive one and it promptly sent the oil market into a tizz. Quite frankly, it needn't have. According to data aggregators, OPEC+ members are currently cutting production by 5.86 million barrels per day (bpd). 

The figure includes 3.66 million bpd of group-wide cuts and "voluntary cuts" by eight members of 2.2 million bpd. They include Saudi Arabia, Russia and six others - Algeria, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The latter cuts were due to expire at the end of June 2024 while the group-wide ones were due to end in December 2024. Following a part-online, part-physical meeting, OPEC+ extended the cuts of 3.66 million bpd until the end of 2025. But it only prolonged the cuts of 2.2 million bpd by three months until the end of September 2024. After which these voluntary cuts will be gradually phased out over the course of a year from October 2024 to September 2025.

As the markets opened for trading the following, a crude carnage ensued with Brent shattering its $80 per barrel floor and heading lower to $77. While the OPEC+ decision can be construed as bearish, it wasn't the only reason for the slide in prices. As this blogger told Reuters, a number of factors came into play and OPEC's mild surprise merely served as a catalyst. Economic uncertainties persist both in US and China - the world's two leading crude consumers. Neither country offered consistently positive data the month before. 

Both the IEA and OPEC have now revised their demand growth forecasts lower, albeit to varying degrees. The IEA's (at 1.1 million bpd) is half of what OPEC now predicts (2.2 million bpd). Traders looked at all that and went net short for the week.   

However, all things being equal, Brent under $80 did appear to be oversold, as yours truly wrote on Forbes. That's why merely a calendar week later, prices are back above $80 and about right too. What OPEC did (or didn't) matters, but only to a point.

And now from oil to LNG, where yours truly has been doing a deep dive into the state of affairs and the general direction of the global market. 

That's after the latest outages in Norway and Australia triggered yet another spike in prices. As the Oilholic said in a recent CGTN interview, only high levels of storage in Europe have stopped prices from overshooting. It all bottles down to Asia (the world's largest LNG importing region) regularly competing with Europe (the second-largest) for cargoes. This year, Dutch TTF gas prices have risen by 40% over the past three months to trade at around $11 per million British thermal units (mmbtu) levels. 

However, here's the Oilholic's latest market analysis via Forbes on why a change may be on the horizon. Overall, future Asian demand, pace of the energy transition and new supply coming onstream (in the US and Qatar) will likely influence a calmer direction of near-term travel as the end of the current decade approaches. (Full report here). 

That's a wrap for now. More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo I: OPEC logo at its Secretariat in Vienna, Austria. © Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photo II: Gaurav Sharma on CGTN Europe for commentary on the natural gas market. © CGTN, June 2024. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

Range-bound crude prices & European majors' antics

After a fairly volatile April, a sense of relative calm has returned to the global oil markets in May. Since the start of the month, Brent futures have fluctuated between $82-84 per barrel with the global proxy benchmark's $85 support having been firmly breached last month. 

What was April's technical support level is proving to be this month's resistance level with oil struggling to cap $85 in a market still searching for a firm direction of travel.

It's doubtful if OPEC+ would be the one to provide direction. The Oilholic's reading of market sentiment is that a rollover of production cuts by the producers' group has been largely priced in by the market. 

If China's data remains positive overall, and the second reading of the US Q1 GDP is similarly so, perhaps an uptick in prices may be expected in the second half of the year. However, for now Brent remains in technical backwardation, i.e. the current contract is trading higher compared to one six months or more out. For example, Jan 2025 Brent is just north of $81 at the time of writing this blog. 

The oil price isn't too high and it isn't too low at the moment. So if you were OPEC+ why would you make any headline moves on production quotas? Much rather focus on soothing internal tensions for the common cause. Well their common cause, obviously not the consumers'! 

Away from crude prices, the European oil and gas majors sang from the same hymn sheet in recent weeks at the release of their quarterly results - offer shareholders higher dividends and announce multi-billion share buybacks. BP, Shell and TotalEnergies were all at it, but the latter two went one step further by professing their love for a primary US-listing in search of a higher valuation. 

Here are this blogger's musings on their antics and reasons via Forbes, and Chevron calling time on 55 years of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. That's a wrap. More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo: Oil pump jack model at the AVEVA World 2023 Conference, Moscone Center, San Francisco, US© Gaurav Sharma October 2023. 

Monday, May 06, 2024

All missives from OPTIMIZE24

With OPTIMIZE24, organised by AspenTech, drawing to a close last week, the Oilholic marked a fascinating and engaging week with a number of pieces for Forbes as well as daily blog posts. 

Here are the Forbes pieces:

  • AspenTech ‘Uniquely Positioned’ As An Optimization Enabler For Global Industries, Says CEO, April 30, 2024.
  • Net Zero Goals Intertwine With A Viable Circular Economy, Says Sustainability Tech Expert, May 6, 2024.

And here are all the blog entries for OPTIMIZE24:

  • 'Crude' carnage, a crazy April & arriving in H-Town, April 29, 2024.
  • Kick-off at OPTIMIZE24 & delving into 'bio-optimization', April 30, 2024.
  • 'Partnering for the future' at OPTIMIZE24, May 1, 2024

That's a wrap. More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here.
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© Gaurav Sharma 2024.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

'Partnering for the future' at OPTIMIZE24

The second and final day of the main conference program at OPTIMIZE24 has now concluded. It started with an early morning primer on the energy transition challenge from geologist, documentary filmmaker and founder of the Switch Energy Alliance Scott Tinker. 

This set attendees up for an insightful panel discussion on navigating net zero hosted by AspenTech's Chief Product & Sustainability Officer Rasha Hasaneen. She was joined by fellow panellists Andre Argenton, Chief Sustainability Officer at Dow, Suresh Kotha, Chief Information Officer at SMUD,  Darryl Willis, Corporate Vice President, Energy & Resources Industry at Microsoft, Zhanna Golodryga, Executive Vice President, Emerging Energy and Sustainability at Phillips 66, Aqil Jamal, Chief Technologist, Carbon Management Research Division at Aramco, and Mike Train, Chief Sustainability Officer at Emerson. 

The hour-long discussion that followed dwelt on how digitization and collaboration in the energy and industrial complex remain crucial to navigating net zero challenges and achieving a just energy transition by tackling the energy trilemma (of sustainability, security and affordability). 

Summing up, Hasaneen noted that existing digitalization tools may hold many of the answers, while innovations - like artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing - may enable a more consistent adoption across both traditional and emerging energy sectors. 

Ultimately, as the AspenTech sustainability head noted: "Technologies do exist to make the world greener and cleaner, willpower and collaboration is what's needed." Or in other words - all parties need to "partner for the future."

Elsewhere, over the course of the day, this blogger heard interesting sessions touching on cybersecurity best practices for operational technology, how AspenTech solutions are being deployed for automating well production, flaring and downtime reduction in the Permian basin, performance engineering for petrochemicals and the company's solutions for supporting the wider hydrogen industry. 

Away from it all, the Oilholic was delighted to host thought leadership videos for AspenTech at OPTIMIZE24 with several of the company's key movers and shakers including Hasaneen (pictured above). The software company's strategic partners and clients also participated in the exercise.

They included senior executives from EY, Accenture, Wood, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Westlake, TenneT and SMUD. The videos will be posted soon on AspenTech's and their partners' commercial and social channels. So watch this space folks!

And finally, the Oilholic shares with you a glimpse of the event's really cool "smart" lanyard. How so? Well the mini device attached to the strap, carried yours truly's event sessions preferences, and flashed a reminder each time they were due to start. Not only that, touching / syncing it with a fellow attendee's lanyard exchanged mutual contact details! All very, very handy and innovative! And that alas is it for the latest edition of OPTIMIZE. 

All that remains is to thank the wonderful Team AspenTech for putting on a fabulous and insightful event in Houston, and for their warm hospitality. Here's to the next installment in the very near future. More musings to follow soon after the flight home to London. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo I: 'Navigating net zero' panel at AspenTech's OPTIMIZE24 on May 1, 2024 in Houston, Texas, US. © Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo II: Gaurav Sharma recording an AspenTech thought leadership video with Rasha Hasaneen, the company's Chief Product & Sustainability Officer on May 1, 2024. © Pete Yagmin /AspenTech 2024. Photo III: OPTIMIZE24's smart lanyard. © Gaurav Sharma 2024.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Kick-off at OPTIMIZE24 & delving into 'bio-optimization'

The Oilholic has just concluded his first insightful day at OPTIMIZE24, the thought leadership event for specialist industrial software provider AspenTech. 

The first day of the event's main program saw  attendees from over 50 countries, 20 industries and 100 AspenTech partners who included a veritable who's-who of the energy, manufacturing and industrial complex such as Aramco, Eni, Dow, ExxoMobil, Tennet, Chevron, YPF, OMV and Sabic to name a few. 

Leading technology companies, seen regularly at energy events these days, were also in town including Amazon Web Services and Microsoft who partner on the data side with AspenTech. 

Proceedings were kicked-off by AspenTech CEO Antonio Pietri who summed up the company's ambitions of being a dependable business partner for those looking to improve throughput, firm up their bottomline, improve margins and lower their carbon footprint - all of which are connected. 

Pietri also expressed his enthusiasm for industrial AI as a tool for achieving energy efficiencies, albeit with "guardrails" in place and via a pragmatic approach, in tandem with IIoT and predictive analytics. Ahead of his keynote, the AspenTech also boss kindly spared the time to sit down with the Oilhoic once again, as he has kindly done several times in the past. The resulting and wide-ranging Forbes interview is published here

Pietri's keynote set the tone for the sessions that followed. This blogger chose to listen in to how energy majors were attempting to streamline exploration and production, reduce capex and opex, improve health and safety, advance operational excellence and enable the energy transition. 

Many at the venue were happily prepared to give the Oilholic demos and details of upstream and downstream pilot projects to this effect, as well as their existing deployments. 

One key and very interesting theme that made this blogger think was the ongoing re-tuning of the refining complex, which is seeing many European refiners, who once deployed AspenTech solutions to improve efficiencies for the traditional cracking of hydrocarbons, turn to the company's bespoke digital solutions and deploy them produce sustainable bio-fuels. If its a buzzword you seek dear readers - then call it 'bio-optimization'.

Taking in all of its clients global refining optimisation and bio-fuels initiatives, AspenTech claims to have cut 16MT of CO2 emissions in step with $59 billion worth of improved profitability! And on that mammoth refined, or shall we say bio-refined note, its time to bid goodbye for now. We're only just getting started here, so more to follow tomorrow. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo I: OPTIMIZE24 logo. Photo II: Antonio Pietri, CEO of AspenTech, speaks at OPTIMIZE24, his company's thought leadership conference in Houston, Texas, US on April 30, 2024© Gaurav Sharma 2024.

Monday, April 29, 2024

'Crude' carnage, a crazy April & arriving in H-Town

The crazy trading month of April is drawing to a close and the Oilholic is writing this missive on a sunny Houston afternoon, having arrived in H-town for industrial software firm AspenTech's thought leadership event - OPTIMIZE24. More on that later, and over the next couple of days. 

But first, let's sum up April's 'crude' carnage. The Brent front-month contract has broken its $85 per barrel support level. This wasn't looking likely at the start of the month when prices were lurking well above the level and even overshot to $92 in the wake of the Iran-Israel skirmish. Yet, as the second month of the second quarter of the oil trading year nears its conclusion, the price is barely holding above $83. Why? Well in this blogger's humble opinion that's certainly not because the risk has gone away. The residual risk still persists. 

However, with the Iran-Israel tensions having eased and oil sliding from $90+ highs, as trading stumbles into May with (thankfully) no regional damage to energy infrastructure - concerns over demand have resurfaced in a market struggling for direction. On one hand there are still lingering doubts about the performance of China's economy (yes there are) and the general direction of travel for the global economy, while on the other is an overriding sentiment that OPEC will hold firm on its price supportive actions. It what's your truly told Reuters the other day.  

Yes, Beijing is indeed importing record amounts of crude oil. But its importation uptick is nothing like it was pre-Covid. And quite a few of the barrels it is importing are being used to boost its strategic reserves. Furthermore, you can count an economy to have motored on in any given fiscal year if its data was consistently pointing to an upswing in economic sentiment, which it clearly isn't in China's case. Hence the doubts. 

As for OPEC, this blogger keeps hearing suggestions from some that the producers' group has lost control of the crude market. This is bonkers. In fact, the Oilholic doubts OPEC is anywhere even remotely near losing control. 

It appears to be actively positioning for a Brent price that is at least 15-20% higher than pre-Covid levels of around $75, seen at the start of January 2020. That'd be around a $80-$90 - a level that's not too high for buyers, not too low for it and well short of three-figures. It's why a market seeking direction is witnessing the current oscillation, while OPEC is left with plenty of spare capacity.

Away from crude chatter, and on to the happy matter of OPTIMIZE24, an event where the great and the good of the technical and engineering side of energy, industrial, chemical and manufacturing worlds are gathering this week at the behest of AspenTech. This blogger looks forward examining, discussing and learning about the challenges and solutions for the approaching low carbon horizon, and of course joining the dots between improved throughput and meeting emissions targets. 

The event's slogan "Partnering for the future" has a nice ring to it. Let's see how it sings over the next couple of days. More from H-Town soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo I: View of  George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green, Downtown Houston, Texas, US, on Apr 29, 2024. Photo II: Gaurav Sharma at AspenTech's OPTIMIZE24 thought leadership conference, Houston, Texas, US., Apr 2024© Gaurav Sharma 2024.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Regular columns for Energy Connects

Dear readers, really excited to share the news that yours truly will now be writing regular opinion columns for global news and analysis platform Energy Connects. The portal, which is a part of the dmgevents portfolio, provides access to an engaged global audience that incorporates the entire energy value chain from oil and gas to wind, solar, utilities, hydrogen and nuclear companies. 

The first of the Oilholic's missives is already online here. Do give it a read, and feedback is welcome as always. Looking forward to offering more thoughts and analysis via Energy Connects on a regular basis from hereon. 

More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Revisiting 'EcoStruxure' At Schneider Electric's Innovation Summit

Earlier this month the Oilholic had the pleasure of attending a Schneider Electric event after a gap of nearly six years - the company's Innovation Summit in Paris, France. 

A lot has happened since this blogger last attended a Schneider event. The inimitable Jean-Pascal Tricoire has moved on from being CEO to the Chairman of the company, with former AVEVA boss Peter Herweck now in the boss' chair. 

But one constant has been the company's relentless development and marketing of its Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) architecture - EcoStruxure - conceived to deliver "smart" automation and digitization solutions within the energy sphere for a plethora of industrial, manufacturing and processing clients. 

So it was a pleasure to receive two use case demonstrations of how the product suite is being applied and has evolved since the turn of the decade. For this blogger, the company's EcoStruxure Automation Expert, a software-centric industrial automation system, and EcoStruxure Hybrid Distributed Control System  (formerly branded as PlantStruxure PES), a single automation system to engineer, operate, and maintain a plant's entire infrastructure, stood out amidst a sea of solutions and myriad use cases. 

These were use cases for a "sustainable, productive and market-agile" future that the company envisions for the wider industrial and manufacturing complex, according to CEO Herweck, who in his keynote, noted that: "Being more electrical, being more digital, means being more efficient."

And "Digital + Electric = A Sustainable Future" was the simple equation put forward by Herweck for a world facing the complex issue of managing carbon emissions. 

Here's a Forbes report summing up Herweck's comments in Paris. It was also revealed at the Innovation Summit that Schneider Electric was driving up its R&D spend from 5.4% to around 8% of headline revenue. The company is also practicing what it preaches by converting key facilities into the very sort of "smart factories" it is recommending to the world, something the Oilholic intends to revisit later down the year.  

Elsewhere, your truly also got to grips with a number of fascinating home energy management software solutions and applications alongside battery inverters (used as a way to control flow of electricity in residential properties) and allied smart home concepts. 

Commercial power management software and hardware, grid operations software, artificial intelligence (AI) powered monitoring systems, datacenter cooling systems, and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure displays and demos at the exhibition floor completed an interesting and informative visit. 

Or a glimpse of a digitized and electrified horizon, as the company's C-Suites and public relations executives will tell you! And on that note, its time to say goodbye. More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

Additional note 25.04.24: Here's yours truly's recently published interview with Barbara Frei, Executive Vice President, Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric following a meeting in Paris. 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo I: A Schneider Electric EcoStruxure display at the company's Innovation Summit in Paris, France. Photo II: Schneider Electric CEO Peter Herweck delivering his keynote. Photo III: Sustainability message dominated proceedings, Apr 3-4, 2024. © Gaurav Sharma 2024.

Friday, March 29, 2024

All missives from CERAWeek 2024

With CERAWeek 2024, organised by S&P Global, drawing to a close last week, the Oilholic marked a fascinating and engaging week for the energy markets with a number of pieces for Forbes as well as daily blog posts. 

Here are the Forbes pieces:

  • Aramco Investing ‘Big Time’ In Renewables But CEO Slams ‘Fantasy’ Of Phasing Out Oil And Gas, March 18, 2024.
  • Oil Is Nearing 5-Month Highs And Its Not Just About Supply Fears, March 18, 2024.
  • What Will Oil Demand Look Like In 10 Years And When Might A ‘Peak’ Occur?, March 20, 2024.
  • Why Bill Gates Reckons Houston May Become The ‘Silicon Valley Of Energy’, March 24, 2024.
  • Global LNG Market: Sliding Prices In 2024, Rising Opportunities By 2030?, March 27, 2024.
  • Energy Transition: Challenge Of Financing And Investing In A $6 Trillion Megatrend, March 28, 2024.
All blog entries for each CERAWeek day may be found here

And that's a wrap. More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

CERAWeek Day IV & V: Tech-enabled methane emissions monitoring

The Oilholic writes this blog while taking in a view of Downtown Houston's Discovery Green from the Hilton's fourth floor glass windows with CERAWeek 2024 having concluded. There were loads of interesting deliberations, panels and debates aplenty on day(s) IV and V. 

Alongside these, several emerging energy and cleantech technologies were showcased. But if yours truly were to pick one out for 2024 - then it was perhaps the delivery of near real-time methane monitoring services from high-altitude balloons and satellites that stood out. 

For context, the scientific community is united in its belief that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane has more than 80 times the warming power of the latter over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere. 

So in order to tackle it, the technologists and energy sector players are coming together with effective monitoring being a key pillar of this drive. Over the course of the week, CERAWeek delegates heard how ExxonMobil is collaborating with Scepter and Amazon Web Services (AWS) on near real-time methane monitoring via satellites and high-altitude balloons and satellites.  

According to ExxonMobil, this collaboration has the potential to "redefine methane detection and mitigation efforts" and will contribute to broader satellite-based emission reduction efforts. Such moves will do wonders in terms of improving global methane detection and quantification.  

It was heartening to note at CERAWeek that the ExxonMobil, Scepter and AWS partnership is just one of the many methane monitoring and mitigation initiatives. Industry peer Chevron, and pipeline operator Williams are also among those making similar moves. 

Williams for its part said it had launched two satellites to detect methane leaks, and the company's CEO Chad Zamarin said he was in favour of round-the-clock methane monitoring. It gives one absolute confidence that emissions tech is booming. 

Elsewhere, Bill Gates was in the CERAWeek House talking cleantech too and representing his two energy companies –  Breakthrough Energy, which is accelerating sustainable energy solutions and pursuing innovations in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; and TerraPower, which acts as a technology design and development engineering company for nuclear reactors.

Much to the delight of America's oil and gas capital over a business luncheon, Gates told CERAWeek Houston has the potential to become the Silicon Valley of energy and a dominant hub in the global energy transition.

Finally, over 8,100 delegates attended CERAWeek 2024. The tally caps 9,400 when counting staff, vendors, etc. The figure broke the previous record of over 7,200 delegates at CERAWeek 2023. The delegates hailed from over 80 countries who listened to some 1,400 speakers. And on that note, its time to say goodbye to H-Town and board the flight back home to London. More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo: Discovery Green and Downtown Houston, Texas, US © Gaurav Sharma, March 2024. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

CERAWeek Day III: On peak oil demand & more

As the end of day III of CERAWeek nears, for the Oilholic one panel session stood out in particular - Oil Demand: How will it look in a decade? This emotive and extremely polarizing subject turned hot late last year after the International Energy Agency issued a forecast predicting a peaking of oil demand in the 2030s. 

Naturally, OPEC blasted the IEA and said demand would continue to grow for many, many years. It also offered a bullish scenario of 116 million barrels per day in global oil demand by 2045. 

If the Oilholic were to offer his tuppence, oil will indeed continue to be a major part of the energy landscape not just for many years, but many decades. The stark reality of the matter is that no one can say for sure when oil demand will peak whether it is the IEA or OPEC. 

But kudos for the CERAWeek panelists to have at least tried. They included names familiar to the readers of this blog - Joseph McMonigle, Secretary General of International Energy Forum and Jeff Currie, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Chief Strategy Officer of Energy Pathways at Carlyle. 

Both were joined by Fred Forthuber, President of Oxy Energy Services, and Arjun Murti, Partner, Energy Macro and Policy at Veriten, and another former Goldman Sachs executive. The discussion was as lively as it gets. Here's the Oilholic's full report on the goings-on of the panel via Forbes

The panel followed a related quip by Shaikh Nawaf al-Sabah, CEO of Kuwait Petroleum Company, earlier in the day's proceedings. He told delegates that global energy demand will increase faster than the population growth rates through to 2050. "That means that we're going to require more energy intensity for the population in the world."

KPC's answer - why of course - increase its production capacity to 4 million bpd by 2035 from its current level of 3 million bpd. 

See, again the thing here is (as asserted earlier by yours truly), if the various forecasters can't even agree on what demand growth will be like at the end of 2024 (with the IEA predicting 1.3 million bpd and OPEC predicting 2.25 million bpd) - how can they predict for sure what the approaching horizon may look like in 2030! And on that note, it's time to say goodbye. More musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo: CERAWeek 2024 panel on - Oil Demand: How will it look in a decade? © Gaurav Sharma, March 2024. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

CERAWeek Day II: OPEC ministerial no shows & more

The Oilholic writes this blog well towards the end of the second day of CERAWeek with no sign of any OPEC ministers or the Secretary General of the producers' group. This is in stark contrast to previous years

However, many of the bosses of their state-owned oil and gas companies are here in fine voice, most notably, Amin Nasser, CEO of Aramco, Nawaf Al-Sabah, CEO of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, and Mele Kyari, CEO of Nigerian National Petroleum Company. 

One notable absentee among their ranks was Sultan Al Jaber - the President of COP28, UAE Special Envoy for Climate Change and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Managing Director and - Group CEO of ADNOC.

However, he did appear virtually to receive the CERAWeek Leadership Award recognizing his leadership at COP28 to deliver the UAE Consensus for a global agreement on a sustainable energy future.

"I am deeply honored to accept the CERAWeek Leadership Award for the UAE Consensus," Al Jaber said upon receiving the award. "In a world too often held back by conflict, the UAE Consensus brought nations together to take a giant step forward for climate progress. 

"Multilateralism overcame geopolitics to produce an unprecedented agreement to produce a fair, orderly and responsible energy transition. In short, COP28 was a success because of its full inclusivity. Everyone had a seat at the table, everyone was invited to contribute, and everyone did contribute."

Meanwhile, Mike Wirth, CEO of Chevron, appeared at CERAWeek to express his "surprise" when ExxonMobil moved to arbitration over Guyana. Wirth also flagged his company's ongoing geothermal pilot program. Murray Auchincloss, CEO of BP, chose to big up his upstream business, while Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhilips, said the wave of upstream oil and gas M&A "is not done yet". 

That wave saw $234 billion worth of deals in 2023. Additionally, and quite interestingly, Lance seemed to suggest that US oil production will likely rise from its current level of 13 million barrels per day to 14 million bpd before it plateaus. 


Well that's a wrap for day for the second day of CERAWeek. The Oilholic leaves you with a glimpse above of a scramble for the escalators for a break after the plenaries conclude. Now these ones are to the right of the ballroom exit. If only some good folks had gone far left they'd find the escalators there quite empty and reach their lunches and coffees a tad quicker :) Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo I: CERAWeek 2024 logo in Houston, US. Photo II: Crowded escalators at CERAWeek 2024 © Gaurav Sharma, March 2024. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

CERAWeek Day I: Aramco sets its stall in Houston

The Oilholic is back in town for CERAWeek 2024 and the first day has been pretty interesting. Key moments included - Aramco's CEO Amin Nasser wanting the world to ditch "fantasy" economics of phasing out oil and gas (full report for Forbes here) and Shell's CEO Wael Sawan telling delegates there is way more politicisation of oil and gas than is necessary. 

Sawan also took the opportunity to stress that Shell sees LNG as a massive opportunity. "We're heading for a multidimensional energy mix of the future. While we are stabilizing our oil business, we are actively growing our LNG business."

He added that the energy major was a "huge" believer in the LNG market's potential and sees demand rising "by 50% from current levels." 

Elsewhere, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said he was not trying to scupper Chevron's acquisition of Hess. Rather his sole objective in its dispute with Chevron was to establish its own rights over Hess' lucrative assets in Guyana. 

Elsewhere, former United States Energy Secretary, and now Founder & CEO of Energy Futures Initiative Ernest Moniz summed up the most significant accomplishments of COP28. CERAWeek's video of the session here is a good one to listen to. 

Other notable speakers on Day I included Jean Paul Prates, CEO of Petrobras, Meg O'Neill, CEO of Woodside Energy, Jack Fusco, CEO of Cheniere Energy and Torbjörn Törnqvist, Chairman of Gunvor. 

As panel discussions gathered pace, CERAWeek's Agora technology and innovation program also got underway, duly visited by yours truly during the second half of the day. 

Emerging cleantech and breakthrough applications of artificial intelligence appeared to be all the rage here with loads of chatter in open forum events being held in "pods." And of course, where there are pods, there have to be hubs! 

One such hub was Agora's Climate Hub, where the Oilholic attended the "Weathering the change" session late in the day, and received some interesting perspectives on the links between climate change and extreme events, albeit with some familiar soundbites. 

And the first day of CERAWeek also saw the oil price spike to near-five month highs as Ukrainian attacks on Russian refineries spooked the markets. After hours, Brent went as high as $87 per barrel, and here's why the Oilholic believes the $85 support level has been broken (for now). Well, that's all for the moment folks, more musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo I: Amin Nasser, Chief Executive Officer of Aramco & Wael Sawan, Chief Executive Officer of  Shell. Photo II: Climate Hub at CERAWeek's Agora program © Gaurav Sharma, March 2024. 

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Heading to CERAWeek with oil north of $85/bbl


Brent crude oil is lurking north of $85 per barrel as the Oilholic heads down south (from London) to Houston for CERAWeek 2024. The current level would make it a 4-month high. It's what two geopolitical variables and tight inventories can 'crudely' do. More musings to follow from H-Town soon folks. Looking forward to it, meeting old friends, making new ones (and news ones too!). Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Chat on software-led sustainability with AVEVA's CEO

Earlier this month, The Oilholic had the pleasure of visiting industrial software firm AVEVA's London office for a long overdue meeting with its Chief Executive Officer Caspar Herzberg.

Theme(s) of the riveting discussion, which extended way beyond the time allocated, touched on the proliferation of AI, IIoT, digital twin tech, big data and predictive analytics in the energy industry. 

All have been exponentially deployed in recent years by major energy operators conscious of their carbon footprint. Many have done so in partnership with AVEVA and the pace of adoption is only going to accelerate. 

The top 20 oil and gas companies by market capitalisation have all pledged to achieve net zero by 2050, as well as eliminate routine gas flaring by 2030, and are incrementally turning to tech solutions that AVEVA and its competitors are happy to provide. 

Herzberg told The Oilholic: "The energy majors have rapidly come around to the viewpoint that optimisation enabled by software serves the purpose(s) of improving their throughput and operating margins, reducing downtime as well as lowering their carbon footprint. 

"I also think most energy majors are now subject to significant societal pressure to lower their carbon footprint. This pressure is only going to increase. And every summer it will be ever more pressing, especially in liberal democracies where citizens are free to express their opinion and see climate change as a key concern."

It is here that the true potential of "connected solutions" may indeed be realized by the energy sector (and beyond) driven by continually improving corporate efficiencies and returns in tandem. "I would say that connected software makes things that are already possible, quicker, and frees people up to deal with more pressing issues in the value chain, rather than routine, but time-consuming tasks."

"Ultimately, AI, IIoT, digital twins, big data and analytics are all purposeful tools but at their inner core is data centricity – essentially, talking hold of data and getting value out of it."

The possibilities are infinite for the energy firms both large and small, Herzberg said. AI driven carbon capture, physics-based simulation, predictive asset optimization, streamlining processes for a green hydrogen future, making the power grid more resilient and reducing refinery or plant downtime are just some of the use cases, the AVEVA boss noted, while personally and very kindly showing yours truly a simulation on an absolutely ginormous screen. 

Away from exclusive snippets for this blog, do read The Oilholic's interview with Herzberg for Forbes here. It offers a much wider perspective on AVEVA and Herzberg's strategy for the business in the energy sector and beyond, and the company's very vocal stance on improving process efficiencies in the wider industrial world's march to a low-to-zero carbon future. Well, that's all for the moment folks, more musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo: Gaurav Sharma with Caspar Herzberg, Chief Executive Officer of AVEVA© AVEVA, March 2024. 

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Onsite with Coolbrook and its 'electric factory' pilot

Last week the Oilholic headed out for a rather unique site visit to the Brightlands Chemelot Campus - an innovation hub in Geleen, The Netherlands - where cleantech firm Coolbrook is running a pilot project premised on the idea of an 'electric factory.' 

Yes indeed, you read that one correctly dear readers - an 'electric factory' concept that could in the fullness of time lead us to re-imagine the industrial complex and substantially lower the carbon footprint of heavy industries and petrochemical plants. 

To make sense of it all, the company's CEO Joonas Rauramo kindly agreed to explain the process and take this blogger around. The idea is to substitute heat sources / furnaces in use at heavy industries currently running on fossil fuels with an electrical power source. 

For that Rauramo and Coolbrook have come up with the company's patented RotoDynamic technology - which uses a rotating device powered by electricity to generate heat without burning anything. "So basically air or for that matter a large range of gaseous substances / inert gasses go in where a high-speed 0.8 MW electric motor accelerates them with mounted rotating blades. Subsequent deceleration leads to the generation of a shock wave that converts kinetic energy to thermal energy," Rauramo explained. 

The heat generation is in milliseconds and is not transferred from outside through a surface, rather volumertically inside the gas. And we are talking temperatures of up to 1700 C. Now the Oilholic knows the questions on many of your lips - does it really work and did this blogger get to look under the hood of the machine? The firm answer to both questions is yes. 

While photography was not permitted in certain areas of the project, The Oilholic was given full access to view and examine both the project set-up as well as its key components, and interview a range of personnel working onsite. It's doubtful a company would open its doors to your truly and provide this level of access if it had to something hide, or was still faking it till it made it. 

Furthermore, the test pilot has already achieved temperatures of around 1000 C. Project research and development is constantly independently verified (and monitored both onsite and remotely), several universities including Cambridge, Oxford and Ghent are involved, while Swiss industrial giant ABB is the technical partner on the project. Finally, the commercial launch appears to be on the horizon early in 2025. 

Now just re-imagine old versus the new industrial energy chain as illustrated by Coolbrook below (click to enlarge):

Makes you think about the immense possibilities it offers for lowering the global industrial complex's carbon footprint if the electricity that's powering the machine comes from renewable sources as well. 

Coolbrook's RotoDynamic has two modes - one a heating only machine and the other a reactor aimed at the petrochemical industry wherein the technology can be deployed not just for heating but cracking hydrocarbons as well. The kit can be fitted on both greenfield as well as brownfield sites. 

Coolbrook has identified over 40 uses cases but the most obvious ones would be cement, iron, steel, glass, chemicals and petrochemicals. The company's modeling points to a reduction of 2 billion tonnes in CO2 emissions annually if traditional heat sources are substituted by its technology. 

Of course, the transition will not be easy and there are other low to zero carbon techniques being explored. Rauramo was quick to assert that what Coolbrook is attempting is "50% more efficient" than hydrogen predicated alternatives and is "cheaper too." 

Total budget for Coolbrook's pilot project aimed at creating a "new industrial era" is in the region of $13.1 million. Should the commercial launch proceed as planned in 2025, that would be the result of 14 years of hard work since the company was founded in Finland in 2011.

Scaling up is the name of the game. In that respect, there has been considerable interest in Coolbrook's technology from the likes of ArcelorMittal, Shell, Ineos, Sabic, JSW, Linde, Braskem, Cemex and its longstanding partner ABB. The industrial heating market itself is estimated to be worth more that $1.1 trillion. 

Coolbrook doesn't yet have direct competition for a product like its own, as The Oilholic noted in his feature on the company for a recent Forbes article that's available here.

As for those in the industry looking at RotoDynamic from an outside-in perspective, The Oilholic observed quite a few tangible benefits. 

Process efficiency is an obvious one and comes in many forms ranging from lower energy bills and a carbon footprint to potentially higher plant throughput. The compact size of Coolbrook's offering is also an attractive one. So, by this blogger's reckoning, for say a petrochemical plant, we're talking roughly one-tenth the space needed for the company's reactor kit versus a traditional reactor. 

Capex and opex considerations matter hugely and the product is yet to hit the commercial world. But should the RotoDynamic technology meet its full potential, capex and opex will likely be competitive near-term, and could be way lower over the medium-term. 

Once Coolbrook scales up as a company post-launch, the initial deployment costs for the industry would also likely be calibrated lower and long-term ROI much higher. All-in-all a very interesting company (and its operating sphere) to watch out for. With those final thoughts, it's time take your leave. More musings to follow later this month. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photos: Gaurav Sharma with Joonas Rauramo, CEO of Coolbrook at the company's RotoDynamic Technology Test Pilot at Brightlands Chemelot Campus, Geleen, The Netherlands. Illustration: Coolbrook's demonstration of the 'old' versus 'new' energy chain for the global industrial complex© Jenni Schumacher / Coolbrook, March 2024. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Quickfire visit to the Economist Sustainability Week

Earlier this morning, The Oilholic had the pleasure of attending Economist Impact's 9th Annual Sustainability Week in London, albeit briefly, given commitments elsewhere in what is turning out to be a very hectic March. 

In a day packed with interesting sessions, three of which this blogger found time to attend, the expected conjecture was that there aren't any viable commercial models to leave things as they are in a world facing climate change. So, should you buy that supposition, the next inevitable question is how to finance the energy transition? To this end, an afternoon session - Financing net zero: assessing and accelerating green finance - really stood out. 

Some of the profound discussion slants included - how are companies building on the progress of previous years and what strategies are they implementing to boost the deployment of green finance further? What kinds of green investment funds are helping to "finance an inclusive climate transition"?

The panel included Heather Buchanan, Chief Executive and Co-founder, Bankers for Net Zero, Nicki Harrison, Director, Sustainable Finance, Europe, Environmental Defense Fund Europe, Evelina Olago, Managing Director of Client and Strategy, Just Climate, and, of course, The Economist's very own global energy and climate innovation editor Vijay Vaitheeswaran. 

There was plenty of interesting chatter among the panellists about asset managers making informed decisions based on data, predictive analytics, IIoT, and all the rest, as well as genuinely linking transition finance to greener pathways, including green bonds and equity investments. 

But all is not plain sailing, and quite frankly no one expects it to be so. For starters corporate balance sheets are stretched. We are in a high interest rate climate, and will likely remain so near-term. Both will trigger caution when it comes investing petrodollars towards green causes. Private equity players - typically keen backers of viable cleantech forays - are also holding back given the uncertain climate.

However, products and services aimed at decarbonisation continue to strengthen, said the panellists. But they also made one key observation that chimes with market intel obtained by the Oilholic - the anti-ESG backlash (or movement if you wish) has indeed had a chilling effect of late on financing greener initiatives. 

That is particularly true in the US in an election year that is going to be a rematch between incumbent Joe Biden and the man he ousted from the White House - Donald Trump. Therefore, a lot may depend on the post-November discourse, and a possible Trump presidency could materially alter the green finance landscape both in the US and abroad. 

And on that thought, it's time to say goodbye. There are two energy site visits coming up plus the little matter of CERAWeek in Houston. So more musings to follow soon. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo: Panel on financing net zero: assessing and accelerating green finance, at the Economist Impact Sustainability Week in London, UK on March 5, 2024. © Gaurav Sharma 2024. 

Monday, March 04, 2024

OEG Energy site visit & a 'crude' chat with its boss

Last week The Oilholic headed to sunny Scotland for a very interesting visit to one of OEG Energy's industrial sites in Aberdeen, with none other than its Chief Executive John Heiton. 

The scene of the walkabout was the global mission critical offshore logistics group's state-of-the-art Cairnrobin chemical plant.

This impressive six acre site, just south of Aberdeen's city centre, serves as OEG's storage, servicing and processing hub for a wide range of chemicals and aviation fuel on behalf of a veritable-who's-who of the energy business. It was fascinating to observe the place, its personnel, their processes and top-notch North Sea standard protocols on safe and secure handling of their operational tanks. 

The site visit was followed by a long overdue conversation with Heiton about how he is reshaping OEG along two offshore business silos under one group umbrella - traditional offshore energy and renewables. As it appears, after three years of painstaking work and over a dozen acquisitions, in 2023 the company managed the milestone of a near 50%/50% split in revenue between its traditional and renewables units. 

Heiton described it as the inexorable direction of travel for OEG, with double-digit growth expected for OEG's renewables business over the near-term, and solid single-digit growth for traditional energy boosted by operations in emerging oil and gas extraction hubs like Guyana and Suriname, and established ones in Africa and the Middle East. 

The OEG boss - who's company has its footprints in over 60 global locations - also said he'd encountered the same hike in shipping rates between Asia and Europe via the Red Sea as the readers of this blog (and The Oilholic's sources in Singapore) report, i.e. an uptick of 300% to 350% since November! 

That's when attacks by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels began on international energy and commercial shipping in the key maritime artery. 

"However, shipping rates from Australia to China have also gone up and there are no security issues there! So while some of the cost hike (since November) is related to the troubles in the Red Sea, shipping lines may also be using it as an excuse," Heiton said. 

On the subject of oil demand growth in 2024, OEG is going with the International Energy Agency's conservative forecast of 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd). "Part of it has to do with operational prudence in going for the lower end of global oil demand growth forecasts, rather than much higher forecasts out there. 

"However, where demand growth goes this year does not materially impact us as a business because a lot of global spare capacity is onshore based. Volume produced by the offshore fields we service doesn't make much of a difference to us as a critical logistics provider. They'd ultimately still require broadly similar levels of outsourced services we provide to the facility/platform in question."

Away from the exclusive snippets for this blog, do read The Oilholic's full interview with Heiton for Forbes here. It offers a much wider perspective on OEG's journey as a company in recent years. That's all for now folks, more blogging to follow later this week. Keep reading, keep it here, keep it 'crude'! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2024. Photo 1: John Heiton, Chief Executive of OEG Energy (left) with Gaurav Sharma. Photo 2: Specialist storage tanks at OEG Cairnrobin Chemical Plant, Aberdeen, UK, February 2024.