Showing posts with label BP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BP. Show all posts

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. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Crude oil stuck in the $80s, Europe's LNG woes & more

We're four months from the end of crude trading year 2023 and oil prices appear to be stuck at $80+ per barrel levels. And for all the market chatter of $100 per barrel oil prices, a July and early August rally, tightness in the physical market and all else in between - there seems to be no convincing bullish or bearish pattern either way. So here are one's musings on the direction of travel and what hedge funds are up to via Forbes

The global crude market for all intents and purposes remains challenging. Tight physical supply in the wake of Saudi and Russian cuts, unexpected industry outages and summer demand can only do so much to support higher prices when the wider economic climate remains dicey in a high interest setting. Simply put, as long as global central banks remain hawkish, the crude market is unlikely to fire up to levels (shall we say three figures) the perma-bulls hope for. 

Away from crude prices, here are some thoughts on the Europe's LNG woes, the jet fuel market and the rapidly dwindling 'war windfall' of oil and gas majors. Away from musings on Forbes, the Oilholic is busy getting back on the speaking circuit, resuming dialogues with energy industry movers and shakers for market insights, offering analysis on international broadcasts, and more. All in all - it's been a hectic four weeks. But fear not, blogging here will also pick up pace shortly. Just getting a few things on track for the exciting road ahead. That's all for now folks! More soon! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2023. Photo © Image by Terry McGraw from Pixabay

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Oil will rally in 2021 but joy would be short-lived

Oh what a 'crude' year 2020 turned out to be as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the global economy and our lives, and even briefly created the aberration of negative oil prices back in April. Few would be unhappy to see the back of 2020, and the Oilholic is most certainly among them.

However, as a new trading year beckons, it is best cut out the din, and trade both the direction of the oil market as well as energy stocks with a level head. First off, all the doomsday oil demand decline scenarios from earlier in the year, of as much as 20 million barrels per day (bpd) on 2019 levels, simply did not materialise.

The actual figure is likely to be shy of 9 million bpd, which, while wiping out nearly a decade's worth of demand growth on an annualised basis, is nowhere near as catastrophic. Economic signals point to a rebound in post-pandemic demand when human mobility, consumption and core economic activity, especially in East Asia and the Indian subcontinent begin a rapid bounce back in 2021.

So what of the oil price? Using Brent as a benchmark, the Oilholic envisages a short-lived bounce to $60 per barrel before/by the midway point of the year, and on the slightest nudge that civil aviation is limping back to normal. However, yours truly firmly believes it won't last.

That's because the uptick would create a crude producers' pile-on regardless of what OPEC+ does or doesn't. Say what people might, US shale isn't dead and there remains a competitive market for American crude, especially light sweet crude, that will perk up in 2021.

Other non-OPEC producers will continue to up production on firmer oil prices as well. And finally, a Joe Biden White House would bring incremental Iranian barrels into play even if the return of the Islamic Republic's barrels is more likely to be a trickle rather than a waterfall. All of the above factors will combine to create a sub-$60/bbl median for the demand recovery year that 2021 will be. And the said price range of $50-60 will be just fine for many producers.

As for energy stocks, who can escape the battering they took in 2020. By the Oilholic's calculations, valuations on average fell by 35% on an annualised basis, and nearly 50% for some big names in the industry. 

However, based on fundamentals, where the oil price is likely to average in 2021 (~base case $55/bbl), portfolio optimisation and an uptick in demand, yours truly expects at least a third of that valuation decline to be clawed back over the next 12 months. And depending on how China and India perform, we could see a 15-20% uptick.

Of course, not all energy stocks will shine equally, and the Oilholic isn't offering investment advice. But if asked to pick out of the 'crude' lot – the horses yours truly would back in 2021 would be BP and Chevron. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'! Here's to 2021!

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To email: journalist_gsharma@yahoo.co.uk
© Gaurav Sharma 2020. Photo: Terry McGraw/Pixabay

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Hosting ADIPEC Energy Dialogues

Over the last few months, yours truly has been participating in the recording of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC) Energy Dialogues series. Some of the recordings are now up. Here is a selection of them, also available via ADIPEC's YouTube channel and the event's website.

Recent conversations have included informative discussions with Morag Watson, SVP Digital Science & Engineering at BP, Jeff Zindel, Vice President and General Manager at Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Cybersecurity and Thomas Gangl, Chief Downstream Operations Officer, OMV.

Morag Watson, SVP Digital Science & Engineering at BP



Jeff Zindel, Vice President and General Manager at Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Cybersecurity



Thomas Gangl, Chief Downstream Operations Officer, OMV


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© Gaurav Sharma 2020. Video © ADIPEC / DMGEvents, UAE

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Another two 'crude' days at CERAWeek '19

Day II or Tuesday (March 12) of CERAWeek zipped by, Wednesday is about to come to a close here in Houston and there have been several discussion points. Where to start when penning thoughts on the last 48 hours - a lot of plaudits were won by BP boss Bob Dudley's dinner speech overnight on the evolving oil landscape. 

"Oil and gas majors need to recognise the world's low carbon future. They need to be progressive for society and pragmatic for investors," he noted to considerable applause.

Earlier on Tuesday, OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo took to briefing journalists and analysts. Key points made included being 'apolitical' on the Venezuelan situation and launching a polite but firm attack on efforts by US lawmakers to hit OPEC with antitrust action - dubbed the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) Act. Here's yours truly's full report for Forbes

The UAE government envoys were also in town promoting their catchy 'Oil and Gas 4.0' drive ranging from investing in digital assets to upskilling and hiring, from AI to robotics. William Clay Ford Jr was around too telling CERAWeek when Ford's F-150 truck's electric version is available it'll be a "completely different animal" and also admitted he had a soft sport for the Mustang. 

On Wednesday (March 13), Centrica Group CEO Iain Conn said societal pressures, e.g. UK government's energy price cap, are eating into utilities sector's operating margins, and that (yes) natural gas will serve as a bridging fuel for decades. 

Away from Brexit chaos back home, he also noted: "While the energy market will not be materially disrupted by Brexit; UK energy consumers would be left worse off if a declining GBP contributes to higher domestic energy bills linked to global markets."

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry also turned up for his second successive CERAWeek making a wide range of points from sanctions on Venezuela to President Donald Trump's opposition to NordStream 2. 

Finally, here is the Oilholic's take on what ExxonMobil's Marine Fuels business makes of the approaching IMO 2020 rule. Well that's all for the moment, more from Houston soon. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2019. Photo: BP CEO Bob Dudley addresses CERAWeek 2019 © Gaurav Sharma 2019.

Monday, January 29, 2018

On Brent at $70/bbl & crude blockchain moves

Crude year 2017 is firmly behind us, and the Oilholic has summed up weekly closing prices for you on the chart adjacent, along with key points of the year which ended on a high for the oil market (see left, click to enlarge). 

That uptick has extended well into January. It can certainly be said that 2018 has started on a frantic, interesting and massively bullish note for the oil market. Brent, the world’s preferred proxy benchmark, finally closed at $70 per barrel on Friday (26 January); a first Friday-close above the said level since 28 November 2014.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean yours truly has turned bullish. The Oilholic continues to follow his preferred mantra of being net-short over the long term, and long over the short term. The reasons are simple enough – more US oil, even if purely for domestic consumption – is inevitable.

Inventories have rebalanced, and demand is picking up, but relative to that, there is still plenty of oil in the market. Yet, there is a school of thought out there that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has exaggerated the significance of shale. The Saudi Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih, among other influential voices at OPEC, has endorsed such a thinking

However, with US production tipped to cap 10 million barrels per day (bpd) in the first quarter of 2018, and may even touch 10.3 million bpd, one doubts the IEA has exaggerated things. US rig counts have continued to rise in step with the oil price rise. As such, there's little to have faith in a long-term $70 Brent price, especially as OPEC itself will ramp up production at some point. 

To get an outside-in perspective, on 25 January this blogger spent most of his day interacting with physical crude traders in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Hardly anyone seemed to buy in to the bullish chatter that was coming out of the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos. So the Oilholic is not alone, if you take him at his word. 

Away from the oil price, many say the biggest contribution of cryptocurrencies has not been Bitcoin and Ethereum, but the creation of blockchain, which is akin to a digitally distributed ledger that can be replicated and spread across many nodes in a peer-to-peer network, thereby minimising the need for oversight and governance of a single ledger.

This is now being actively pursued by major energy sector players, and developments at their end have kept the Oilholic busy for better parts of two weeks scribbling stories for Forbes

On 18 January, Shell’s trading arm unveiled its investment in a London-based start-up Applied Blockchain. Just days later on 22 January, Total and several energy traders joined TSX Venture Exchange-listed BTL's blockchain drive aimed at facilitating gas trading reconciliation through to settlement and delivery of trades using blockchain.

BP, Statoil and other traders such as Koch Supply & Trading and Gunvor have all recently gone down the blockchain path.

Then on 26 January, Blockchain outfit ConsenSys and field data management firm Amalto announced a joint venture to develop a platform to facilitate the automation of ticket-based order-to-cash processes in the oil and gas industry.

The emerging blockchain infrastructure aims automate all stages of the process associated with field services in upstream, midstream and downstream markets. Many of the processes, like field ticketing or bill of lading, are still largely manual and paper-based and primed for the blockchain revolution.

So from back-office functions to gas trading, blockchain is coming to shake-up the industry. Expect to hear more of the same. But that’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Graph: Oil benchmark Friday closing prices in 2017 © Gaurav Sharma 2017.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Importance of Khazzan-Makarem gas field for BP

When the Oilholic paid a visit to Oman couple of years ago, natural gas was not atop the list of ‘crude’ industry intelligence gathering activities, one must admit. The Sultanate perhaps has the richest quality of all Middle Eastern crude oil varieties but there’s not a lot of it around, nor is Oman's reserves position anywhere near as strong as that of its neighbours.

Nonetheless, oil matters took up much of this blogger’s time and effort, including an excursion to the Musandam Peninsula, where Oman is in the process of having a decent crack at its first offshore exploration. The crucial subject of Omani natural gas largely slipped under the radar there and then, and largely up until now. 

That’s until this blogger recently met David Eyton, Group Head of Technology at BP, for a fascinating Forbes interview (click here) on how the oil major is using digital tools such as 4D seismic to reshape the way it operates both upstream and downstream, and the subject of Oman came up.

The country's Khazzan-Makarem gas field is in fact among the many places benefiting from BP’s research and development spend of around two-thirds of a billion dollars per annum towards digital enablement of surveying, and more. What’s at stake for BP, and for Oman, is Khazzan’s proven reserve base of 100 trillion cubic feet. Unlike Shell, its FTSE 100 peer, BP isn’t digging for oil in the Sultanate, making the gas field – which it discovered in 2000 – a signature play.

At its core is Block 61, operated by BP Oman and Oman Oil Company Exploration and Production in a 60:40 joint venture partnership. Eyton says some of BP’s patented digital tools, including 4D seismic, are being deployed to full strength with a drilling schedule of approximately 300 wells over a 15 year period to achieve a plateau production rate of 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

“Khazzan has massive potential. It’s not shale in the strictest sense, but pretty tight gas and mighty difficult to crack owing to the low porosity of the reservoir rock,” Eyton said.

Invariably, BP has brought the full works into play to realise Block 61’s potential, drilling horizontal wells and using hydraulic fracturing technologies. "Advanced seismic imaging has played a huge part in understanding where the best bits of the reservoir are, and how to unlock them. Ultimately, that’s enabling development to proceed at a far better pace."

Construction work on Khazzan has commenced and first gas is expected in late 2017. Implications of Block 61 yielding meaningful volumes, as expected, cannot be understated. For Oman, the projected 1.2 bcf in daily production volume would be equivalent to an increment of over 30% of its total daily gas supply.

Concurrently, BP would look back in satisfaction at a Middle Eastern foray on business terms few oil and gas markets, bar Oman, would offer in an age of resource nationalism. As for the technology being deployed, it is already a winner, according to Eyton. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: David Eyton, Group Head of Technology at BP © Graham Trott / BP

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The ostentatious & those 'crude' percentages

The Oilholic finds himself gazing at the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nevada once again after a gap of five years. This gambling hub's uniqueness is often the ostentatious and loud way it goes about itself. The oil market had its own fair share of loud and exaggerated assumptions last week.

Sample these headlines – “Brent spikes to 2015 high”, “Oil markets rally as shale production drops”, “Brent up 10%.” There is some truth in all of this, and the last one is technically correct. Brent did close last Friday up 10.03% relative to the Friday before, while WTI rose 8.41% and OPEC's basket of crude oil(s) rose 10.02% over a comparable period (see graph blow right hand corner).

Bullish yes, bull run nope! This blogger believes market fundamentals haven't materially altered. There is still too much crude oil out there. So what's afoot? Well, given that one is in a leading gambling hub of world, once 'the leading one' by revenue until Macau recently pinched the accolade, it is best to take a cue from punters of a different variety – some of the lot who've been betting on oil markets for decades out of the comfort of Nevada, but never ever turn up at the end of a pipeline to collect black gold.

Their verdict – those betting long are clutching at the straws after enduring a torrid first quarter of the year. Now who can blame the wider trading community for booking a bit of profit? But what's mildly amusing here is how percentages are interpreted by the media 'Las Vegas size', and fanned by traders "clutching at the straws", to quote one of their lot, 'Las Vegas style'.

For the moment, the Oilholic is sticking one's 2015 forecast – i.e. a mid-year equilibrium Brent price of $60 per barrel, followed by a gradual climb upwards to $75 towards the end of the year, if we are lucky and media speculation about the Chinese government buying more crude are borne out in reality. The Oilholic remains sceptical about the latter.

Since one put the forecast out there, many, especially over the last few weeks wrote back wondering if this blogger was being too pessimistic. Far from it, some of the oldest hands in the business known to the Oilholic, including our trader friends here in Las Vegas, actually opine that yours truly is being too optimistic!

The reasons are simple enough – making assumptions about the decline of US shale, as some are doing at the moment is daft! Make no mistake, Bakken is suffering, but Eagle Ford, according to very reliable anecdotal evidence and data from Drillinginfo, is doing pretty well for itself. Furthermore, in the Oilholic’s 10+ years of monitoring the industry, US shale explorers have always proved doubters wrong.

Beyond US shores – both Saudi and Russian production is still marginally above 10 million bpd. Finally, who, alas who, will tell the exaggerators to tackle the real elephant in the room – the actual demand for black gold. While the latter has shifted somewhat based on evidence of improved take-up by refiners as the so called “US driving season” approaches, emerging markets are not importing as much as they did if a quarter-on-quarter annualised conversion is carried out.

Quite frankly, all eyes are now on OPEC. Its own production is at a record high; it believes that US oil production won’t be at the level it is at now by December and its own clout as a swing producer is diminished (though not as severely as some would claim).

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared the country's financial crisis to be over last week, but it seems Russia’s GDP fell between 2% to 4% over the first quarter of this year. The news caused further rumbles for the rouble which fell by around 4.5% last time one checked. The Oilholic still reckons; Russian production cannot be sustained at its current levels.

That said, giving credit where it is due – Russians have defied broader expectations of a decline so far. To a certain extent, and in a very different setting, Canada too has defied expectations, going by separate research put out by BMO Capital and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Fewer rigs in Canada have – again inserting the words 'so far' – not resulted in a dramatic reduction in Canadian production.

Finally, here's an interesting report from the Weekend FT (subscription required). It seems BP's activist shareholders have won a victory by persuading most shareholders to back a resolution obliging the oil major to set out the potential cost of climate change to its business. As if that's going to make a difference - somebody tell these activists the oil majors no longer control bulk of the world's oil – most of which is in the hands of National Oil Companies unwilling to give an inch!

That's all for the moment folks from Las Vegas folks, as the Oilholic turns his attention to the technology side of the energy business, with some fascinating insight coming up over the next few days from here. In the interim, keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Paris Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Nevada, USA © Gaurav Sharma, April 2015. Graph: Oil benchmark prices - latest Friday close © Gaurav Sharma, April 17, 2015.

Monday, February 23, 2015

When BP met…er…nobody!

It’s good to be back in Houston, Texas although the Oilholic could have done without the very British weather we’re having here. Before getting down to cruder brass tacks and gaining market insight in wake of the oil price slump, one decided to probe the ongoing chatter about BP being sized up suitors.

To being with, this blogger does not believe ExxonMobil is going to takeover BP, has said so quite openly on broadcasting outlets back in England. That sentiment is shared by a plethora of senior commentators the Oilholic has met here in Houston over the past 48 hours. Both financial and legal advisers along with industry insiders remain unconvinced. Hell, even BP employees don’t buy the slant.

For starters if you are ExxonMobil, why would you want a company that has quite a lot of baggage no matter how attractive a proposition it is in terms of market valuation. Let us face it BP’s valuation is pretty low, but a damn sight better than 280p circa it was fetching in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

However, the valuation is where it is for a reason. BP has scored a few legal victories, but the protracted tussle in US courtrooms resulting from the spill's fallout will continue for sometime yet. Secondly, its 19% stake in Russia’s Rosneft, while widely deemed as a positive move in Houston back in 2012, isn’t look all too attractive right now. BP’s latest financial data bears testimony to that.

Now if you were Rex Tillerson that’s not the most attractive partner out there to put it mildly, say Houston contacts who’ve advised the inimitable ExxonMobil boss on the company's previous forays. There are also regulatory hurdles. A hypothetical ExxonMobil takeover would create an oil and gas major with a cumulative revenue base that’d beat the GDP of a basket of mid-tier economies (using World Bank’s data on economic performance).

Finally, you can’t put monetary value on reputational risk. BP’s brand is considerably less toxic with boss Bob Dudley & co working real hard to mend it. Yet, the toxicity would take a while yet to dissipate. It’s not easy to forget the events of April 2010. Any suitor for BP, not just ExxonMobil, would be only too aware of that.

Another strange theory doing the rounds is that Shell might make an approach. This has been visited several times over the years, not least directly by BP’s former boss Lord Browne. The reason it hasn’t taken off is because the Dutch half of Royal Dutch Shell does not want its influence diluted further, which is guaranteed to happen were Shell and BP to merge.

Moving away from the improbable and the lousy, to something more credible - a theory doing the rounds that BP might find a credible white knight in the shape of Chevron. Such a tangent does make ears prick in Houston and gets the odd nod for experts who have seen many a merger and the odd mega merger. 

The only problem is that in more ways than one, Chevron and BP’s North American ventures overlap which isn’t a problem to such an extent in the case of ExxonMobil and Shell. So a BP and Cheveron merger does stack up in theory. However, there would plenty of regulatory hurdles and both parties would need to divest substantially for the merger to be approved by regulators in more than one jurisdiction.

While everything is possible on the BP front, nothing is worth getting excited about. In the interim, an odd investment banker (or two or possibly more) in New York or London will keep pedalling BP’s vulnerability.  But consider this, were a suitor or suitors turn up for BP, it wont hurt your prospects if you happen to be a BP shareholder!

That’s all for the moment folks from Houston, where there are a few strikes, some trepidation and a whole lot of realism in the air! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo 1: Logo of BP © BP Plc. Photo 2: ExxonMobil office signage, Downtown Houston, USA © Gaurav Sharma.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The $40-50 range, CAPP on Capex & Afren's woes

The first month of oil trading in 2015 is coming to a much calmer end compared to how it began. The year did begin with a bang with Brent shedding over 11% in the first week of full trading alone. Since then, the only momentary drama took place when both Brent and WTI levelled at US$48.05 per barrel at one point on January 16. Overall, both benchmarks have largely stayed in the $44 to $49 range with an average Brent premium of $3+ for better parts of January.

There is a growing realisation in City circles that short sellers may have gotten ahead of themselves a bit just as those going long did last summer. Agreed, oil is not down to sub-$40 levels seen during the global financial crisis. However, if the price level seen then is adjusted for the strength of the dollar now, then the levels being seen at the moment are actually below those seen six years ago.

The big question right now is not where the oil price is, but rather that should we get used to the $40 to $50 range? The answer is yes for now because between them the US, Russia and Saudi Arabia are pumping well over 30 million barrels per day (bpd) and everyone from troubled Libya to calm Canada is prodding along despite the pain of lower oil prices as producing nations.

The latter actually provides a case in point, for earlier in January the Western Canadian Select did actually fall below $40 and is just about managing to stay above $31. However, the Oilholic has negligible anecdotal evidence of production being lowered in meaningful volumes.

For what it’s worth, it seems the Canadians are mastering the art of spending less yet producing more relative to last year, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). The lobby group said last week that production in Western Canada, bulk of which is accounted for by Alberta, would grow by 150,000 bpd to reach 3.6 million bpd in 2015. 

That’s despite the cumulative capex tally of major oil and gas companies seeing an expected decline of 33% on an annualised basis. The headline production figure is actually a downward revision from CAPP’s forecast of 3.7 million bpd, with an earlier expectation of 9,555 wells being drilled also lowered by 30% to 7,350 wells. Yet, the overall production projection is comfortably above 2014 levels and the revision is nowhere near enough (yet) to have a meaningful impact on Canada’s contribution to the total global supply pool. 

Coupled with the said global supply glut, Chinese demand has shown no signs of a pick-up. Unless either the supply side alters fundamentally or the demand side perks up, the Oilholic thinks the current price range for Brent and WTI is about right on the money. 

But change it will, as the current levels of production simply cannot be sustained. Someone has to blink, as yours truly said on Tip TV – it’s likely to be the Russians and US independent upstarts. The new Saudi head of state - King Salman is unlikely to change the course set out by his late predecessor King Abdullah. In fact, among the new King’s first acts was to retain the inimitable Ali Al-Naimi as oil minister

Greece too is a non-event from an oil market standpoint in a direct sense. The country does not register meaningfully on the list of either major oil importers or exporters. However, its economic malaise and political upheavals might have an indirect bearing via troubles in the Eurozone. The Oilholic sees $1= €1 around the corner as the dollar strengthens against a basket of currencies. A stronger dollar, of course, will reflect in the price of both benchmarks.

In other news, troubles at London-listed Afren continue and the Oilholic has knocked his target price of 120p for the company down to 20p. First, there was bolt out of the blue last August that the company was investigating “receipt of unauthorised payments potentially for the benefit of the CEO and COO.” 

Following that red flag, just recently Afren revised production estimates at its Barda Rash oilfield in the Kurdistan region of Iraq by 190 million barrels of oil equivalent. The movement in reserves was down to the 2014 reprocessing of 3D seismic shot in 2012 and processed in 2013, as well as results from its drilling campaign, Afren said. 

It is presently thinking about utilising a 30-day grace period under its 2016 bonds with respect to $15 million of interest due on 1 February. That’s after the company confirmed a deferral of a $50 million amortisation payment due at the end of January 2015 was being sought. Yesterday, Fitch Ratings downgraded Afren's Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR), as well as its senior secured ratings, to 'C' from 'B-'. It reflects the agency’s view that default was imminent.

Meanwhile, S&P has downgraded Russia’s sovereign rating to junk status. The agency now rates Russia down a notch at BB+. “Russia’s monetary-policy flexibility has become more limited and its economic growth prospects have weakened. We also see a heightened risk that external and fiscal buffers will deteriorate due to rising external pressures and increased government support to the economy,” S&P noted.

Away from ratings agencies notes, here is the Oilholic’s take on what the oil price drop means for airlines and passengers in one’s latest Forbes piece. Plus, here’s another Forbes post touching on the North Sea’s response to a possible oil price drop to $40, incorporating BP’s pessimistic view that oil price is likely to lurk around $50 for the next three years.

For the record, this blogger does not think oil prices will average around $50 for the next three years. One suspects that neither does BP; rather it has more to do with prudent forward planning. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Oil pipeline with Alaska's Brooks Range in the background, USA © Michael S. Quinton / National Geographic

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Oil markets take in the 'Rouble Trouble' saga

The Oilholic is feeling somewhat melancholy today! A crisp rouble note yours truly kept as a memento following a visit to Moscow in June is now worth considerably less when pitted against one’s lucky dollar! 

At one stage over the past 24 hours, the US$1 banknote on the left was worth 79% of the RUB100 note on the right. One doubts whether a dollar would fetch a 100 roubles - but just putting it out there.

Barring a brief jump when the Russian government went for a free float of the currency back in November, there hasn’t been much to be positive about the rouble. Last evening’s whopper of an announcement by the Central Bank of Russia to raise interest rates by 650 basis points to 17% from 10.5% did little more than provide temporary respite.

Since January till date, Russia has spent has spent over $70 billion (and counting) in support of the rouble. Yet, the currency continues to feel the strain of escalating sanctions imposed by the West in tandem with a falling oil price.

However, there is a very important distinction to be made here. A falling oil price does not necessarily imply that Russian oil companies are in immediate trouble, repeat ‘immediate’ trouble. While a weak rouble makes imports costlier for the wider economy, which will almost certainly tip into a recession next year; oil – priced and exported in dollars - will get more ‘domestic’ bang for the converted bucks.

The Russian Treasury also adjusts tax and ancillary levies on oil exports in line with a falling (or rising) oil price. The policy is likely to keep things on a sound footing for the country’s oil & gas companies, including state-owned behemoths, for at least another 12 months.

How things unfold beyond that is anybody’s guess. First off, several Russian oil & gas players would need their next round of refinancing late next year or early on in 2016. With several international debt markets off limits owing to Western sanctions, the state will have to step in at least partially.

Secondly, the oil price is unlikely to stage a recovery before the summer, and would be nowhere near $100 per barrel. If it is still below $85 come June, as the Oilholic thinks it would be and the rouble does not recover, then corporate profits would take a plastering regardless of however much the Russian Treasury adjusts its tax takings. 

Of course, not all in trouble would be Russian. Austrian, French and German banks with exposure to the country, accompanied by Russia-centric ETFs and Arctic oil & gas exploration will be hit hard.

Oil majors with exposure to Russia are already taking a hit. In particular, BP springs to mind. However, as the Oilholic opined in a Forbes article earlier this year - while BP could well do without problems in Russia, the company can indeed cope. For Total and Exxon Mobil, the financial irritants that their respective Russian forays have become of late would not be of major concern either.

Taking a macro viewpoint, market chatter about a repetition of the 1998 crisis is just that – chatter! Never say ‘never’ but a Russian default is highly unlikely.

Kit Juckes, global head of forex at Société Générale, says, “Comparisons with past crises – and 1998 in particular – are inevitable. The differences are more important than the similarities. Firstly, emerging market central banks (including and especially Russia) have vastly larger currency reserves with which to defend their currencies.

“Secondly, US real Fed Funds are negative now, where they had risen sharply from 1994 onwards. That's a double-edged sword as merely the thought of Fed tightening has been enough to spark a crisis after such a long period of zero rates, but when the dust settles, global investors will still need better yields than are on offer on developed market bonds.”

The final difference, Juckes says, is that the rouble, in particular, is falling from a very great height in real terms. “It has only fallen below the pre-1998 peak in the last few days. It's still not cheap unless we believe that the gains in the last 16 years are all justified by productivity – an argument that works for some emerging market economies rather more than it does for Russia.," he concludes.

Finally, there is no disguising one pertinent fact in the entire ongoing Russian melee – the manifestly obvious lack of economic diversification with the country. Russia has remained stubbornly reliant on oil & gas exports and its attempts to diversify the economy seem even feebler than Middle Eastern sheikdoms of late.

For this blogger, the lone voice of reason within Russia has been former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. As early as 2012, Kudrin repeatedly warned of impending trouble and overreliance on oil & gas exports. Few Kremlin insiders listened then, but now many probably wish they had! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Image: Dollar versus Rouble: $1 and RUB100 banknotes © Gaurav Sharma, 2014.

Monday, December 15, 2014

That $60-floor, refining & FTSE100 oil majors

The US$60 per barrel floor was well and truly breached on Friday as the WTI dropped to $57.48 at one point. The slump is continuing into the current week as Brent lurks around $60 in early Asian trading. 

The scenario that most said would set alarm bells ringing within the industry is here. Since no one is predicting the current supply glut to ease anytime soon, not least the Oilholic, that the readers should expect further drops is a no brainer. Odds have shortened considerably on OPEC meeting well before June as was announced last month.

Nonetheless, speaking in Dubai, OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri said, “The decision [not to cut production] has been made. Things will be left as is. We are assessing the situation to determine what the real reasons behind the decrease in oil prices are.” So is perhaps half the world!

In the Oilholic’s humble opinion Brent could even dip below $50 fairly soon. However, supply constriction will eventually kick-in to support prices over the second half of 2015. In the interim, we’ll see a few interesting twists and turns.

As for oil and gas companies, Fitch Ratings reckons the much beleaguered European refining sector is likely to end the year in much better shape than 2013. In the first edition of its European Refining Dashboard, the ratings agency noted that refining margins in the third quarter rose to their highest level since at least the start of 2013 as “product prices fell more slowly than crude oil prices.”

The Oilholic feels it’s prudent not to ignore the emphasis on the words “more slowly”. Fitch says overcapacity and intense competition from overseas refineries still plague European refining.

“Further capacity reductions may be needed to restore the long-term supply and demand balance in Europe, while competition from Middle Eastern, Russian and US refineries, which generally have access to cheaper feedstock and lower energy costs, remains strong,” it added.

More generally speaking, in the Oilholic’s assessment of the impact of lower oil prices on the FTSE 100 trio of Shell, BP and BG Group; both Shell and BP outperformed in the last quarter by 6% and 11% respectively, according to published data, while BG Group’s underwhelming performance had much to with other operational problems and not the price of the crude stuff. 

While published financial data is backward looking, and the slump in prices had not become as pronounced at the time of quarterly results as it currently is, it's not all gloomy. However, the jury is still out on BG Group. The company is responding with incoming CEO Helge Lund waiting to take charge in March. Last week, BG Group agreed to sell its wholly-owned subsidiary QCLNG Pipeline Company to APA Group, Australia’s largest gas infrastructure business, for approximately $5 billion.

QCLNG Pipeline company owns a 543 km underground pipeline network linking BG Group’s natural gas fields in southern Queensland to a two-train LNG export facility at Gladstone on Australia’s east coast. 

The pipeline was constructed between 2011 and 2014 and has a current book value of US$1.6 billion. “The sale of this non-core infrastructure is consistent with BG Group’s strategy of actively managing its global asset portfolio,” it said in a statement.

While largely welcoming the move, most analysts have reserved judgement for the moment. “The sale is broadly supportive to the company's credit profile. However, we will need to be comfortable with the use of proceeds and progress with BG's planned output expansion before we change the current negative outlook,” as analysts at Fitch wrote in a note to clients.

Reverting back to Shell and BP, the former has quietly moved ahead of the latter and narrowed the gap to market leader ExxonMobil. Strong downstream results helped all three, but Shell’s earnings recovery over the year, was the most impressive according to Neill Morton, analyst at Investec.

“Despite its modest valuation premium, we would favour Shell’s more defensive qualities over BP in the current uncertain industry environment,” he added. Let's not forget the Gulf of Mexico oil spill fallout that BP is still getting to grips with.

Moving away from FTSE 100 oil majors and refiners, UN Climate Change talks in Peru ended on a familiar underwhelming note. Delegates largely cheered at the conclusion (which came two days late) because some semblance of something was achieved, i.e. a framework for setting national pledges to be submitted at a summit next year.

The final communiqué which can’t be described as anything other than weak is available for download here should it interest you. Problem here is that developed markets like lecturing emerging markets on CO2 emissions, something which the former ignored for most of 20th century. It won't work. Expect more acrimony, but hope that there is light at the end of a very long tunnel. 

On a closing note, here’s the Oilholic’s latest Forbes column on the Saudis not showing any signs of backing down in the ongoing tussle for oil market share.

Also over past few weeks, this blogger reviewed a few ‘crude’ books, namely – Energy Trading and Risk Management by Iris Marie Mack, Marketing Big Oil by Mark Robinson, Putin and the Oligarch by Richard Sakwa and Ownership and Control of Oil by Bianca Sarbu. Here’s hoping you find the reviews useful in deciding whether (or not) the titles are for you. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo:  Refinery, Quebec, Canada © Michael Melford / National Geographic

Monday, December 08, 2014

The difficult art of marketing ‘Big Oil’

Given the historical and perhaps customary negativity surrounding oil and gas majors in the best of times, working on their marketing pitches and brand equity enhancement is not for the faint hearted.

Environmental disasters and subsequent public relations fiascos in wake of incidents such as Exxon Valdez and BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill have only reinforced negative perceptions about ‘Big Oil’ in the minds of many. 

It all dates way back to Standard Oil, a company often castigated for its practices in the last century, writes Mark Robinson, professor of marketing at Virginia International University, in his recent work Marketing Big Oil published by Palgrave Pivot.

With pitfalls aplenty for oil and gas marketing professionals, the author has attempted to offer guidance on the arduous task by going well beyond the mundane 'do’s' and 'don’ts' in a book of just under 160 pages, split into five parts and 17 splendidly sequenced chapters. As it happens, Robinson knows more than a thing or two about marketing Big Oil, having been an industry executive at Deloitte’s Global Energy & Resources Group and ExxonMobil.

His book provides adequate subjective treatment, lessons from history and what approaches to adopt if marketing Big Oil is what you do or intend to do. Starting with the historical context provided by Standard Oil, the author leads readers on to present day challenges faced by oil and gas companies as we’ve come to know them.

The Oilholic really liked Robinson’s no holds barred analysis of marketing and branding exercises undertaken by industry participants and his detailed examination of what worked and what tanked given the millions that were spent. The author says throwing money at a campaign is no guarantor of success as many companies within the sector have found out to their cost.

Managing pitfalls forms an integral part of Robinson’s message; just ask BP with its ‘Beyond Petroleum’ slogan. Perceived disconnect between the slogan, what the company was up to, and subsequent events made it sound farcical. The saga, what went wrong with the campaign and lessons in its wake are described in some detail by the author.

Additionally, a part of the book is dedicated to managing a brand crisis. The entire text is well referenced and accompanied by 14 brand lessons treating various crucial marketing facets. Analysis of the industry's use of social media, e-commerce, mobile apps and digital advertising is fascinating too.

Overall, Robinson’s engaging and timely book on a complex marketing arena brings forth some 'crude' home truths, backed up by historical context and lessons from the corporate world, all weaved into a balanced industry perspective on the state of affairs in a digitally savvy world.

Budding marketing professionals as well as industry veterans, and those interested in how some of world’s biggest oil and gas companies succeed (or fail) in etching their global brand equity would find this book to be a thoroughly good read.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Front Cover – Marketing Big Oil: Brand Lessons from the World's Largest Companies © Palgrave Macmillan, July 2014.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

EU’s Russian gas, who gets what & BP’s Bob

The vexing question for European Union policymakers these days is who has what level of exposure to Russian gas imports should the taps get turned off, a zero storage scenario at importing nations is assumed [hypothesis not a reality] and the Kremlin's disregard for any harm to its coffers is deemed a given [easier said than done].

Depending on whom you speak to, ranging from a European Commission mandarin to a government statistician, the figures would vary marginally but won't be any less worrying for some. The Oilholic goes by what Eurogas, a non-profit lobby group of natural gas wholesalers, retailers and distributors, has on its files.

According to its data, the 28 members of the European Union sourced 24% of their gas from Russia in 2012. Now before you say that's not too bad, yours truly would say that's not bad 'on average' for some! For instance, Estonia, Finland, Lativia and Lithuania got 100% of their gas from Russia, with Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia not far behind having imported 80% or more of their requirements at the Kremlin's grace and favour.

On the other hand, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK have nothing to worry about as they import nothing or negligible amounts from Russia. Everyone in between the two ends, especially Germany with a 37% exposure, also has a major cause for concern.

And it is why Europe can't speak with one voice over the Ukrainian standoff. In any case, the EU sanctions are laughable and even a further squeeze won't have any short term impact on Russia. A contact at Moody's says the Central Bank of the Russian Federation has more than enough foreign currency reserves to virtually guarantee there is no medium term shortage of foreign currency in the country. Industry estimates, cited by the agency, seem to put the central bank's holdings at just above US$435 billion. EU members should know as they contributed handsomely to Russia's trade surplus!

Meanwhile, BP boss Bob Dudley is making a habit of diving into swirling geopolitical pools. Last November, Dudley joined Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi for a controversial visit to the Kirkuk oilfield; the subject of a dispute between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan. While Dudley's boys have a deal with the Iraqi Federal government for the oilfield, the Kurds frown upon it and administer chunks of the field themselves to which BP will no access to.

Now Dudley has waded into the Ukrainian standoff by claiming BP could act as a bridge between Russia and the West. Wow, what did one miss? The whole episode goes something like this. Last week, BP's shareholders quizzed Dudley about the company's exposure to Russia and its near 20% stake in Rosneft, the country's state-owned behemoth.

In response, Dudley quipped: "We will seek to pursue our business activities mindful that the mutual dependency between Russia as an energy supplier and Europe as an energy consumer has been an important source of security and engagement for both parties for many decades. We play an important role as a bridge."

"Neither side can just turn this off…none of us know what can happen in Ukraine," said the man who departed Russia in a huff in 2008 when things at TNK-BP turned sour, but now has a seat on Rosneft's board.

While Dudley's sudden quote on the crisis is surprising, the response of BP's shareholders in recent weeks has been pretty predictable. Russia accounts for over 25% of the company's global output in barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) terms. But, in terms of booked boepd reserves, the percentage rises just a shade above 33%.

However, instead of getting spooked folks, look at the big picture – according to the latest financials, in petrodollar terms, BP's Russian exposure is in the same investment circa as Angola and Azerbaijan ($15 billion plus), but well short of anything compared to its investment exposure in the US.

Sticking with the  crudely geopolitical theme, this blogger doesn't always agree with what the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) has to say, but its recent research strikes a poignant chord with what yours truly wrote last week on the Libyan situation.

The society's report titled - Arab Spring: An Assessment Three Years On (click to download here) - noted that despite high hopes for democracy, human rights and long awaited freedoms, the overall situation on the ground is worse off than before the Arab Spring uprisings.

For instance, Libyan oil production has dramatically fallen by 80% as neighbouring Tunisia's economy is now dependent on international aid. Egypt's economy, suffering from a substantial decrease in tourism, has hit its lowest point in decades, while at the same time Yemen's rate of poverty is at an all-time high.

Furthermore, extremist and fundamentalist activity is rising in all surveyed states, with a worrying growth in terror activities across the region. As for democracy, HJS says while Tunisia has been progressing towards reform, Libya's movement towards democracy has failed with militias now effectively controlling the state. Egypt remains politically highly-unstable and polarised, as Yemen's botched attempts at unifying the government has left many political splits and scars.

Moving on to headline crude oil prices, both benchmarks have closed the gap, with the spread in favour of Brent lurking around a $5 per barrel premium. That said, supply-side fundamentals for both benchmarks haven't materially altered; it's the geopolitical froth that's gotten frothier. No exaggeration, but we're possibly looking at a risk premium of at least $10 per barrel, as quite frankly no one knows where the latest Eastern Ukrainian flare-up is going and what might happen next.

Amidst this, the US EIA expects the WTI to average $95.60 per barrel this year, up from its previous forecast of $95.33. The agency also expects Brent to average $104.88, down 4 cents from an earlier forecast. Both averages and the Brent-WTI spread are within the Oilholic's forecast range for 2014. That's all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Sullom Voe Terminal, UK © BP

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A festive spike, ratings agencies & Omani moves

It's the festive season alright and one to be particularly merry if you'd gone long on the price of black gold these past few weeks. The Brent forward month futures contract is back above US$110 per barrel.

Another (sigh!) breakout of hostilities in South Sudan, a very French strike at Total's refineries, positive US data and stunted movement at Libyan ports, have given the bulls plenty of fodder. It may be the merry season, but it's not the silly season and by that argument, the City traders cannot be blamed for reacting the way they have over the last fortnight. Let's face it – apart from the sudden escalation of events in South Sudan, the other three of the aforementioned events were in the brewing pot for a while. Only some pre-Christmas profit taking has prevented Brent from rising further.

Forget the traders, think of French motorists as three of Total's five refineries in the country are currently strike ridden. We are talking 339,000 barrels per day (bpd) at Gonfreville, 155,000 bpd at La Mede and another 119,000 bpd at Feyzin being offline for the moment – just in case you think the Oilholic is exaggerating a very French affair!

From a French affair, to a French forex analyst's thoughts – Société Générale's Sebastien Galy opines the Dutch disease is spreading. "Commodity boom of the last decade has left commodity producers with an overly expensive non-commodity sector and few of the emerging markets with a sticky inflation problem. Multiple central banks from the Reserve Bank of Australia, to Norges bank or the Bank of Canada have been busy trying to mitigate this problem by guiding down their currencies," he wrote in a note to clients.

Galy adds that the bearish Aussie dollar view was gaining traction, though the bearish Canadian dollar viewpoint hasn't got quite that many takers (yet!). One to watch out for in the New Year! In the wind down to year-end, Moody's and Fitch Ratings have taken some interesting 'crude' ratings actions over the last six weeks. Yours truly can't catalogue all, but here's a sample.

Recently, Moody's affirmed the A3 long-term issuer rating of Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA), the (P)A3 rating for TAQA's MYR3.5 billion sukuk  programme, the (P)A3 for TAQA's $9 billion global medium-term note programme, the A3 rated debt instruments and the P-2 short-term issuer rating. Baseline Credit Assessment was downgraded to ba2 from ba1; with a stable outlook. It also upgraded the issuer rating of Rosneft International Holdings Limited (RIHL; formerly TNK-BP International) to Baa1 from Baa2.

Going the other way, it changed Anadarko's rating outlook to developing from positive. It followed the December 12 release of an interim memorandum of opinion by the US Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York regarding the Tronox litigation.

The agency also downgraded the foreign currency bond rating and global local currency rating of PDVSA to Caa1 from B2 and B1, respectively, and maintained a negative outlook on the ratings. Additionally, it downgraded CITGO Petroleum's corporate family tating to B1 from Ba2; its Probability of Default rating to B1-PD from Ba2-PD; and its senior secured ratings on term loans, notes and industrial revenue bonds to B1, LGD3-43% from Ba2, LGD3-41%.

Moving on to Fitch Ratings, given what's afoot in Libya, it revised the Italy-based Libya-exposed ENI's outlook to negative from stable and affirmed its long-term Issuer Default Rating and senior unsecured rating at 'A+'. 

It also said delays to the production ramp-up at the Kashagan oil field in Kazakhstan were likely to hinder the performance of ENI's upstream strategy in 2014. Additionally, Fitch Ratings affirmed Shell's long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at 'AA' with a stable outlook.

Moving away from ratings actions, BP's latest foray vindicates sentiments expressed by the Oilholic from Oman earlier this year. Last week, it signed a $16 billion deal with the Omanis to develop a shale gas project.

Oman's government, in its bid to ramp-up production, is widely thought to offer more action and generous terms to IOCs than they'd get anywhere else in the Middle East. By inking a 30-year gas production sharing and sales deal to develop the Khazzan tight gas project in central Oman, the oil major has landed a big one.

BP first won the concession in 2007. The much touted Block 61 sees a 60:40 stake split between BP and Oman Oil Company (E&P). The project aims to extract around 1 billion cubic feet (bcf) per day of gas. The first gas from the project is expected in late 2017 and BP is also hoping to pump around 25,000 bpd of light oil from the site.

The oil major's boss Bob Dudley, fresh from his Iraqi adventure, was on hand to note: "This enables BP to bring to Oman the experience it has built up in tight gas production over many decades."

Oman's total oil production, as of H1 2013, was around 944,200 bpd. As the country's ministers were cooing about the deal, the judiciary, with no sense of timing, put nine state officials and private sector executives on trial for charges of alleged taking or offering of bribes, in a widening onslaught on corruption in the sultanate's oil industry and related sectors.

Poor timing or not, Oman ought to be commended for trying to clean up its act. That's all for the moment folks! Have a Happy Christmas! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Oil Rig © Cairn Energy.