Showing posts with label Brazil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brazil. Show all posts

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Dilma and the Petrobras scandal's aftermath

Bidding Adiós to Buenos Aires, the Oilholic has landed in the bursting metropolis of Sao Paulo, Brazil, one’s penultimate stop in South America before returning to Bogota and flying back home following a two week trip to South America.

Walking down the city’s vibrant Avenida Paulista, a 1.75 mile thoroughfare that has several businesses, financial and cultural institutions (including the Museu de Arte de São Paulo), glitzy skyscrapers, malls, hotels and shops lining up either side of it, one gets a real buzz of modern Brazil.

However, the country’s President Dilma Rousseff would get a largely unwelcome buzz were she to walk down the avenue. Most in Brazil’s commercial heart lay the blame for the Petrobras corruption scandal, uncovered earlier in February, firmly on Rouseff’s door even tough she has not been directly implicated in anything uncovered by corruption investigators so far.

There have been several mass protests here in Sao Paulo, along with Rio de Janeiro and other major Brazilian cities calling for the President to be impeached. As the Oilholic noted earlier this year in a Forbes column, the scandal has politically scarred Rouseff, a former chairwoman of Petrobras’ board of directors, beyond repair in the unforgiving world of Brazilian politics.

Many of those facing investigations and jail time happen to be from her side of the Brazilian political spectrum – the Workers’ Party. That’s what fuels people’s anger. Mass protests grab headlines, but sporadic smaller protests – like one this blogger witnessed on Avenida Paulista – are commonplace (see above left).

For people who call the Americas third-largest oil producer behind the United States and Canada their home, Petrobras has always held a special place in hearts and minds. So to see it humiliated on the world stage and financially wounded by a corruption scandal plays on peoples minds in a struggling economy.

In global terms, according to BP’s latest statistics on the industry, Brazil is the world’s 9th largest oil and gas producer pumping out some 2.95 million barrels per day, with Petrobras as its custodian.  

Furthermore, as the US Energy Information Administration, notes, “Increasing domestic oil production has been a long term goal of the Brazilian government, and discoveries of large offshore, presalt oil deposits have already transformed Brazil into a top-10 liquid fuels producer.”

However, weak economic growth and the scandal implicating several high profile people at Petrobras has reduced the chances for production growth over the short term; at least of the kind that was hoped for back in 2010 according local sources. 

Clearly, going by the mood in Sao Paulo, not many want to let Rouseff off the hook, whether rightly or wrongly. That’s all from Brazil folks, as one leaves you with a view of the magnificent Catedral da Se de Sao Paulo (above right). Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo I: Anti-Dilma Rousseff protests on Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo, September 23, 2015. Photo II:  Catedral da Se de Sao Paulo, Brazil © Gaurav Sharma, October 2015.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

EIA’s switch to Brent is telling

A decision by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) this month has sent a lot of analysts and industry observers, including yours truly, crudely quipping “we told you so.” That decision is ditching the WTI and adopting Brent as its benchmark for oil forecasts as the EIA feels its domestic benchmark no longer reflects accurate oil prices.

Ok it didn't say so as such; but here is an in verbatim quote of what it did say: "This change was made to better reflect the price refineries pay for imported light, sweet crude oil and takes into account the divergence of WTI prices from those of globally traded benchmark crudes such as Brent."

Brent has traded at US$20 per barrel premium to WTI futures since October, and the premium has remained in double digits for huge chunks of the last four fiscal quarters while waterborne crudes such as the Louisiana Light Sweet have tracked Brent more closely.

In fact, the EIA clearly noted that WTI futures prices have lagged behind other benchmarks, as rising oil production in North Dakota and Texas pulled it away from benchmark cousins across the pond and north of the US border. The production rise, for lack of a better word, has quite simply 'overwhelmed' the pipelines and ancillary infrastructure needed to move the crude stuff from Cushing (Oklahoma), where the WTI benchmark price is set, to the Gulf of Mexico. This is gradually changing but not fast enough for the EIA.

The Oilholic feels it is prudent to mention that Brent is not trouble free either. Production in the British sector of the North Sea has been declining since the late 1990s to be honest. However the EIA, while acknowledging that Brent has its issues too, clearly feels retail prices for petrol, diesel and other distillates follow Brent more closely than WTI.

The move is a more than tacit acknowledgement that Brent is more reflective of global supply and demand permutations than its Texan cousin. The EIA’s move, telling as it is, should please the ICE the most. Its COO said as early as May 2010 that Brent was winning the battle of the indices. In the year to November, traders have piled on ICE Brent futures volumes which are up 12% in the year to date.

Furthermore, prior to the OPEC output decision in Vienna this week, both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests hedge funds and 17 London-based money managers have increased their bets on Brent oil prices rising for much of November and early December. Can’t say for last week as yours truly has been away from London, however, as of November 27 the net long positions had risen to 108,112 contracts; a spike of 11k-plus.

You are welcome to draw your own conclusions. No one is suggesting any connection with what may or may not take place in Vienna on December 12 or EIA opting to use Brent for its forecasts. Perhaps such moves by money managers and hedge funds are just part of a switch from WTI to Brent ahead of the January re-balancing act. However, it is worth mentioning in the scheme of things.

In other noteworthy news, Stephen Harper’s government in Canada has finally approved the acquisition of Nexen by China’s CNOOC following a review which began on July 23. Calgary, Alberta-headquartered Nexen had 900 million barrels of oil equivalent net proven reserves (92% of which is oil with nearly 50% of the assets developed) at its last update on December 31, 2011. The company has strategic holdings in the North Sea, so the decision does have implications for the UK as well.

CNOOC’s bid raised pretty fierce emotions in Canada; a country which by and large welcomes foreign direct investment. It has also been largely welcoming of Asian national oil companies from India to South Korea. The Oilholic feels the Harper administration’s decision is a win for the pragmatists in Ottawa. In light of the announcement, ratings agency Moody's has said it will review Nexen's Baa3 senior unsecured rating and Ba1 subordinated rating for a possible upgrade.

Meanwhile, minor pandemonium has broken out in Brazil’s legislative circles as president Dilma Rousseff vetoed part of a domestic law that was aimed at sharing oil royalties across the country's 26 states. Brazil’s education ministry felt 100% of the profits from new ultradeepwater oil concessions should be used to improve education throughout the country.

But Rio de Janeiro governor Sergio Cabral, who gets a windfall from offshore prospection, warned the measure to spread oil wealth across the country could bankrupt his state ahead of the 2014 soccer world cup and the 2016 summer Olympic games. So Rousseff favoured the latter and vetoed a part of the legislation which would have affected existing oil concessions. To please those advocating a more even spread of oil wealth in Brazil, she retained a clause spreading wealth from the “yet-to-be-explored oilfields” which are still to be auctioned.

Brazil's main oil-producing states have threatened legal action. It is a very complex situation and a new structure for distributing royalties has to be in place by January 2013 in order for auctions of fresh explorations blocks to go ahead. This story has some way to go before it ends and the end won’t be pretty for some. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Pipeline, Brooks Range, Alaska, USA © Michael S. Quinton/National Geographic.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Three Months, Three Cities, Three ‘crude’ reports

The three cities being – Delhi, Doha and Vienna, the three reports being Oilholic’s work on Latin American Offshore, Shale Oil & Gas and Refineries projects outlook, research for which was spread over December, January and February from the 20th World Petroleum Congress to the 160th OPEC Meeting to the streets of ‘crude’ Delhi.

The last of the three reports was published by Infrastructure Journal on Feb 29th and while the analysis in the reports remains the preserve of the Journal’s subscribers, the Oilholic is more than happy to share a few snippets starting with the Latin American offshore landscape, which shows no signs of a post ‘Macondo’ hangover [1].

In fact, the month of May, will be a momentous one for the region’s offshore oil & gas projects market in general and Brazil in particular, as the country would dispatch its first shipment of oil from ultradeepwater pre-sal (‘below the salt layer’) sources. The said export consignment of 1 million barrels destined for Chile is a relatively minor one in global crude oil volume terms. However, its significance for offshore prospection off Latin American waters is immense.

When thinking about Latin American offshore projects think Brazil; think Brazil and think Petrobras’ Lula test well in the Santos basin, named after the former president, which is producing 100,000 barrels per day (bpd). Almost over a third of the Chilean consignment originated from the Lula well according to the Oilholic’s sources.

What should excite project financiers, corporate financiers and technical advisers alike is the fact the company expects to pump nearly 5 million bpd by 2020 and its ambitious drive needs investment.

However, ignoring other jurisdictions in the region and focussing only on Brazil, its promise and problems would be a fallacy. Others such as Argentina, Columbia and prospection in Falkland Islands waters are worth examining, the latter especially from the standpoint of corporate financed asset acquisitions.

Data always helps in contextualising the market movements. Using the present Infrastructure Journal data series on project finance, which commenced in 2005, figures certainly suggest the sun is shining on the Brazilian offshore industry. Of the 15 Latin American offshore projects on record which reached financial close between October 2006 and Sept 2011, 13 were Brazilian along with one apiece from Panama and Peru (Click on pie-chart above to enlarge). With a cumulative deal valuation of just under US$9.3 billion, among these Brazil’s Guara FPSO valued at US$1.2 billion led the way reaching financial close in June 2011.

The year 2010, was a particularly good one for Brazil with five projects reaching financial close. Over the last three years, sponsors of offshore projects in the country have been consistent in approaching the debt markets and bringing three to five projects per annum to financial close, with 2011 following that trend.

Moving on to the Oilholic’s second report, for all intents and purposes, Shale oil & gas prospection has been the energy story of the last half decade and Q1 2012 would be an apt time to scrutinise the ‘Fracks’ and figures[2].

To say that shale gas has altered the American energy landscape would be the understatement of the decade, or to be more specific at least half a decade. Courtesy of the process of hydraulic ‘fracking’, shale gas prospection – most of which was initially achieved in the US by independent upstart project developers – has been an epic game changer.

US shale gas production stood at 4.9 trillion cubic feet (tcf) by end-2011, which is 25% of total US production up from 4% in 2005. Concurrently, net production itself is rising exponentially owing to the shale drive according to the EIA.

Project finance aside, it is in the corporate finance data where the shale story is truly reflected – i.e. one of a steady rise both in terms of deal valuation as well as the number of projects. From four corporate infrastructure finance deals valued at US$1.89 billion in 2009, both data metrics posted an uptick to seven deals valued at US$8.35 billion in 2010 and 10 deals valued at US$7.58 billion in 2011 (Click on bar-chart above to enlarge).

However, a short term global replication of a US fracking heaven is unlikely and not just because there isn’t a one size fits all model to employ. While American success with shale projects has not escaped the notice of Europeans; financiers and sponsors in certain quarters of the ‘old continent’ are pragmatic enough to acknowledge that Europe is no USA. The recent shale projects bonanza stateside is no geological fluke; rather it bottles down to a combination of geology, American tenacity and inventiveness.

Europe’s best bet is Poland, but European shale oil & gas projects market is unlikely to record an uptick between 2012 to 2017 on a scale noticed in North America in general and the USA in particular between 2007 and 2012. The financing for shale projects – be it corporate finance or project finance – would be a slow, but steady trickle rather than a stream beyond North America.

Finally, to the Refineries report, given the wider macroeconomic climate, refinery infrastructure investment continues to face severe challenges in developed jurisdictions and Western markets[3]. Concurrently, the balance of power in this subsector of the oil & gas infrastructure market is rapidly tipping in favour of the East.

Even if refinery investment of state-owned Chinese oil & gas behemoths, which rarely approach the debt markets, is ignored – there is a palpable drive in emerging economies elsewhere in favour of refinery investment as they do not have to contend with overcapacity issues hounding the EU and North America.

For some it is a needs-based investment; for others it makes geopolitical sense as their Western peers holdback on investing in this subsector. The need for refined products is often seen superseding concerns about low refining margins, especially in the Indian subcontinent and Asia Pacific.

Industry data, empirical, anecdotal evidence and direct feedback from industry participants do not fundamentally alter the Oilholic’s view of tough times ahead for refinery infrastructure. As cracking crude oil remains a strategic business, investing in refinery infrastructure reflects this sentiment, investor appetite and financiers' attitudes.

According to current IJ data, investment in refinery infrastructure via private or semi-private financing continues to remain muted; a trend which began in 2008. In fact, 2011 has been the most wretched year since the publication began recording refinery project finance data.

Updated figures suggest the year 2010, which saw the artificial fillip of Saudi Arabia’s mega Jubail refinery project (valued at US$14.04 billion) reach financial close, has been the best year so far for refinery project finance valuation despite closing a mere two projects. However, industry pragmatists would look at 2008 which saw ten projects valued at US$9.39 billion as a much better year (Click on bar-chart above to enlarge).

From there on it has been a tale of post global financial crisis woes with the market struggling to show any semblance of a recovery and most of the growth coming from non-OECD jurisdictions. In 2009, three projects valued at US$4.79 billion reached financial close, followed by two projects including Jubail valued at US$15.04 billion in 2010, and another two projects valued at US$1.49 billion in 2011. By contrast, the pre-crisis years of 2005, 2006 and 2007 averaged US$6.71 billion in terms of transaction valuations.

A general market trend in favour of non-OECD project finance investment in refineries is obviously mirrored in the table of the top deals between 2005 and 2011 (above). Of the five, four are in non-OECD countries – led by Jubail Refinery (Saudi Arabia) valued at US$14.04 billion which closed in 2010, followed by Guru Gobind Singh Bhatinda Refinery, India (valued at US$4.69 billion, financial close – 2007), Jamnagar 2 Refinery, India (US$4.50 billion, financial close – 2006) and Paradip refinery, India (US$2.99 billion, financial close – 2009).

Only one deal from an OECD nation, which is a very recent member of the club, made it to the top five, namely Poland’s Grupa Lotos Gdansk Refinery Expansion valued at US$2.85 billion which reached financial close in 2008. Simply put, the future of infrastructure investment in this sub-component of the oil & gas business lies increasingly in the East wherein India could be a key market. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

NOTES:

[1] Latin American Offshore O&G Outlook 2012: Brazil’s decade, By Gaurav Sharma, Infrastructure Journal, January 17, 2012. Available here.

[2] Shale Oil & Gas Outlook 2012: The ‘Fracks’ and figures, By Gaurav Sharma, Infrastructure Journal, January 25, 2012. Available here.

[3] Refinery Projects Outlook 2012: ‘Cracking’ times for Eastern markets, By Gaurav Sharma, Infrastructure Journal, February 29, 2012. Available here.

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Graphics: Pie Chart 1 – Latin American Offshore Project Finance transactions (October 2006 to Sept 2011), Bar Chart 1 – Number of Shale Corporate Finance transactions (2009-2011), Bar Chart 2 – Refinery Project Finance Valuation (2005-2011) © Infrastructure Journal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mr. Gabrielli, an IEA revision & the Kuwaiti situation

This Monday, the crude world bid farewell to Petrobras’ inimitable CEO José Sergio Gabrielli de Azevedo who stepped down from his position having been at the Brazilian major's helm since July 2005. Over his tenure, Petrobras took great strides towards ultradeepwater offshore exploration and made several overseas forays. Rumours had been lurking around since January that Gabrielli was in the twilight of his career at Petrobras following differences with Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff – but both the government and the company strenuously denied it.

The reins of Petrobras have now passed on to Maria das Graças Silva Foster (pictured left) a corporate veteran who has worked at Petrobras for 31 years. In addition to occupying various executive level positions in the company, Foster has been CEO of Petroquisa - Petrobras Química, and CEO and CFO of Petrobras Distribuidora. In her career, she was also Secretary of Oil, Natural Gas and Renewable Fuels at the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy from January 2003 to September 2005.

Earlier, Petrobras approved the contract for 21 offline rigs with Sete Brasil, at an average daily rate of US$530,000 and the contract for 5 dual activity rigs with Ocean Rig, at the average day rate of US$548,000, both for a 15-year term. All units, which have local content requirements ranging from 55% to 65%, are to be delivered within 48 to 90 months, according to the schedules established in the contracts.

The project includes the construction of new shipyards in the country and the use of existing infrastructure. Petrobras expects to reduce the average daily rates to US$500,000 for the Sete Brasil contract and to US$535,000 for the Ocean Rig contract. These amounts may suffer further reductions if the parties detect and agree to mechanisms that reduce operating costs.

With these contracts, the plan to contract 28 drilling rigs to be built in Brazil to meet the demands of the long-term drilling program, primarily for use in pre-salt wells has been completed. Based on the conditions submitted by the companies and on the current demand for the development of future projects, Petrobras, in its own words, "chose to take advantage of the negotiated conditions and contract five additional which were not originally planned."

All this is fine and dandy, but since the timelines of construction and delivery are so lengthy, a hike in construction costs is likely – more so because some yards where the rigs are expected to be built, haven’t yet been built themselves. But the Oilholics loathes being too sceptical about what is a reasonably positive agreement.

Meanwhile, the IEA has cut its oil demand forecast again! In an announcement last week, the agency said a weak global economy had prompted its sixth successive monthly revision to forecasts by 250,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 800,000 barrels for 2012. Before the IEA, the US EIA actually made an upward revision of 50,000 barrels to 1.32 million bpd while OPEC cut its forecast by 120,000 bpd to 940,000. All three forecasters are looking towards non-OECD jurisdictions for demand growth.

Elsewhere, the Oilholic would like to highlight two very interesting corporate client notes. In one issued on February 7th, Fitch Ratings observed that following the recent parliamentary elections in Kuwait, marked frictions between an elected Parliament and the appointed government will continue to weigh on the reform agenda and hamper political effectiveness.

The agency feels that difficulties in reaching agreement at the political level will continue to affect economic reforms, including the implementation of a four-year development plan (worth 80% of GDP over 2010-11 and 2013-14), which aims at boosting the country's infrastructure and diversifying the economy away from oil.

Nonetheless, Fitch rates Kuwait as 'AA' with a Stable Outlook. As relatively high oil prices are being forecast, Fitch’s own being at US$100/barrel for 2012, Kuwait’s earnings should continue to ensure double digit current account and fiscal surpluses which lend support to the rating.

Moving on to the second note, on the expected impact of US' QE3 on the commodity market circulated on February 10th, Société Générale analysts Michael Haigh and Jesper Dannesboe opine that an increase of expected inflation during QE3 Stateside coupled with the impact of the EU embargo on Iran could result in the DJ-UBS commodity index rising 20% and Brent prices rising to US$130/barrel.

“Sep12 Brent call spread with strikes at US$117 (long) and US$130 (short). The current net up-front cost: about US$4.6/barrel. This results in a maximum net profit of US$8.4/barrel. If one also sells a Sep12 US$100/barrel put, the overall structure would have zero upfront cost and the maximum net profit would be US$13.7/barrel. We consider a price drop below US$100 to be very unlikely,” they wrote and the Oilholic quotes. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Silva Foster © Petrobras Press Office.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Speaking @ OPEC & WPC plus Dec's trading lows

It’s been a hectic few weeks attending the OPEC conference in Vienna and the 20th World Petroleum Congress in Doha, but the Oilholic is now happily back in London town for a calm Christmas. In fact, a more than passive interest in the festive period’s crude trading lows is all what you will get for the next fortnight unless there is a geopolitical mishap. However, before we discuss crude pricing, this humble blogger had the wonderful experience of doing a commentary hit for an OPEC broadcast and moderating a Baker & McKenzie seminar at the WPC.

Starting with OPEC, it was a pleasure ditching pricing and quotas for once in Vienna and discussing the infrastructure investment plans of its 12 member nations in OPEC webcast on December 14th. The cartel has announced US$300 billion of upstream infrastructure investment between 2011 and 2015.

The market is right in believing that Kuwait and Qatar would lead the new build and give project financiers considerable joy. However, intel gathered at the WPC suggests the Algerians could be the surprise package. (To watch the video click here and scroll down to the seventh video on the 160th OPEC conference menu)

This ties-in nicely to the Baker & McKenzie seminar at the WPC on December 7th where the main subject under the microscope was investment opportunities for NOCs.

Six legal professionals attached to Baker's myriad global practices, including familiar names from their UK office, offered the audience insight on just about everything from sources of funding to a reconciliation of different drivers for NOCs and IOCs in partnerships.

Once the panel discussion was over, the Baker partners were kind enough to allow the Oilholic to open the floor for some lively questioning from the audience. While the Oilholic did most of the probing and Baker professionals did most of the answering, the true credit for putting the seminar and its research together goes to Baker’s Emily Colatino and Lizzy Lozano who also clicked photos of the proceedings.

Now from crude sound-bites to crude market chatter post-OPEC, as the end of last week saw a major sell off. Despite the price of crude oil staging a minor recovery in Monday’s intraday trading; both benchmarks were down by over 4 per cent on a week over week, five-day cycle basis on Tuesday. Since the festive period is upon us, trading volumes for the forward month futures contracts will be at the usual seasonal low over the Christmas holidays. Furthermore, the OPEC meeting in Vienna failed to provide any meaningful upward impetus to the crude price level, which like all traded commodities is witnessing a bearish trend courtesy the Eurozone crisis.

Sucden Financial Research analyst Myrto Sokou notes that investors remained very cautious towards the end of last week and were prompted towards some profit taking to lock in recent gains as WTI crude was sliding down toward US$92 per barrel level.

“After market close on Friday, Moody’s downgraded Belgium by two notches to Aa3, as liabilities associated with the Dexia bailout and increased Eurozone risks were cited as key factors. In addition, market rumours on Friday of a France downgrade by S&P were not followed up, though the agency did have server problems during the day. Suspicion is now that they will wait until the New Year to conclude review on Eurozone’s second largest economy,” Sokou said in a note to clients.

Additionally, crude prices are likely to trade sideways with potential for some correction higher, supported by a rebound in the global equity markets. “However, should the US dollar strengthen further we expect some pressure in the oil market that looks fairly vulnerable at the moment,” Sokou concludes.

Away from pricing projections, the Reuters news agency reports that Libya has awarded crude oil supply contracts in 2012 to Glencore, Gunvor, Trafigura and Vitol. Of these Vitol helped in selling rebel-held crude during the civil war as the Oilholic noted in June.

On to corporate matters and Fitch Ratings has upgraded three Indonesian oil & gas utilities PT Pertamina (Persero) (Pertamina), PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (Persero) (PLN) and PT Perusahaan Gas Negara Tbk (PGN) to 'BBB-' following the upgrade to Indonesia's Long-Term Foreign- and-Local-Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) to 'BBB-' from 'BB+'. The outlooks on all three entities are Stable, agency said in a note on December 15th.

Meanwhile, a Petrobras communiqué suggests that this December, the combined daily output of the Brazilian major and its partners exceeded 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/day) in the promising Santos Basin. The company said that on December 6, two days after operations began at well RJS-686, which is connected to platform FPSO Cidade de Angra dos Reis (the Lula Pilot Project), the total output operated by Petrobras at the Santos Basin reached 205,700 boe/day.

This includes 144,100 barrels of oil and condensate, in addition to 9.8 million cubic meters of natural gas (equivalent to an output of 61,600 boe), of which 8.5 million cubic meters were delivered to the Monteiro Lobato Gas Treatment Unit (UTGCA), in Caraguatatuba, and 1.3 million cubic meters to the Presidente Bernardes Refinery (RPBC) Natural Gas Unit, in Cubatão, both in the state of São Paulo.

Finally, ratings agency Moody's notes a potential sizable lawsuit against Chevron Corporation in Brazil could have a negative impact on the company, but it is too early to judge the full extent of any future liability arising from the lawsuit.

Recent news reports indicate that a federal prosecutor in the state of Rio de Janeiro is seeking BRL20 billion (US$10.78 billion) in damages from Chevron and Transocean Ltd. for the offshore oil leak last month. The Oilholic thinks Transocean’s position is more troublesome given it’s a party to the legal fallout from the Macondo incident.

That’s all for the moment folks – a crude year-ender to follow in early January! In the interim, have a Happy Christmas! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo 1: Gaurav Sharma on OPEC's 160th meeting live webcast from Vienna, Austria on Dec 14, 2011 © OPEC Secretariat. Photo 2 & 3: The Oilholic at Baker & McKenzie seminar on investment opportunities for NOCs at the 20th World Petroleum Congress in Doha, Qatar on Dec 7, 2011 © Lizzy Lozano, Baker & McKenzie.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

BP Swoops for (More) Global Assets

Oil major BP has swooped for assets in Brazil, Azerbaijan and U.S. deepwater Gulf of Mexico from Devon Energy for a price tag of $7 billion as well as giving the latter a 50% stake in its Kirby oil sands holdings in Alberta, Canada, for $500 million.

The 50/50 Canadian joint venture, slated to be operated by Devon, will pursue development of the interest. Devon Energy has also committed to fund an additional $150 million in capital costs on BP’s behalf.

Going into further details, BP said the acquired assets include ten exploration blocks in Brazil, seven of which are in the Campos basin, prospects in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and an interest in the BP-operated Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) development in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan.

Apart from diversifying in general, the move was as much about strengthening the British oil major’s foothold in the Gulf of Mexico where it has been a key player for decades. BP will now gain a high quality portfolio in the Gulf with interests in some 240 leases, with a particular focus on the emerging Paleogene play in the ultra-deepwater.

The addition of Devon Energy’s 30% interest in the major Paleogene discovery Kaskida will give BP a 100% interest in the project. The assets also include interests in four producing oil fields: Zia, Magnolia, Merganser, and Nansen. Market commentators have already given the deal a thumbs-up.

Furthermore, Andy Inglis, BP's chief executive of Exploration and Production, told the media that BP’s entry into Brazil will add a major position in another attractive deepwater basin. "Together with the additional new access in the Gulf of Mexico, it further underlines our global position as the leading deepwater international oil company," he added.

BP also hopes to count on Devon Energy's first-hand experience in Canada. "Devon is an experienced operator in the Canadian oil sands with a proven track record of in situ development and production. We expect this transaction will accelerate the development of the Kirby assets and, through the associated crude off-take agreement, provide a secure source of Canadian heavy oil for our advantaged Whiting refinery," Inglis noted.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Logo Courtesy © BP Plc

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ethanol Can’t Solve it All!

When it comes to cutting Greenhouse gas emissions, reasons for being suspicious if not sceptical about the potential of ethanol-based biofuels are gaining traction. The initial promise, some say PR hype, of a clean and green fuel with the potential to solve it all has been dampened by the principal question mark – just how green ethanol fuel really is? The complex answer depends on what technique and which raw material is actually used during the production process.

In this game there are two principal players – Brazil and U.S.A - who between them accounted for some 90% of the world’s ethanol fuel production if 2008 is used as a cut-off point. Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) noted in a report in 2008 that only some type of ethanol production processes, which involved low water-absorption intensive techniques over the course of production, were likely to do much good.

This too came from sugarcane produced ethanol made by Brazil. Ethanol produced from corn, i.e. the American way or more specifically the Iowa way, is considered inefficient and expensive. While the Brazilian ethanol fuel industry is over thirty years old, President George W. Bush literally pumped-up a not so dormant U.S. industry in 2007 when he signed legislation requiring a five-fold increase in biofuels production, to 36 billion gallons* by 2022.

Alas when a politician steps in, lobbyists so entrenched in an industry touting its allegedly green credentials cannot be far behind. Woe betide any politician who messes with lobby groups (of all descriptions not just the ‘corny’ ones). By the time Bush signed the legislation, number of U.S. ethanol factories had already tripled over eight years from 50 to 140. The former President was merely following a long drawn out campaign by the American corn ethanol industry that he was doing some good. For them that is, not mother earth.

Research suggests that a typical corn-fed ethanol factory producing 50 million gallons of biofuels a year needs about 500 gallons of water per minute, according to published sources. Most of it goes into boiling and cooling processes. It is a method which in layman terms would be similar to making beer though more water intensive. Experts agree that U.S. ethanol plants have become more efficient over the last five years using nearly half as much water per gallon as they did a decade ago, but the stated figure is the benchmark for better or for worse.

Furthermore, the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC, found in a study that annual yield in litres* per hectare for corn manufactured ethanol was in region of 3100 to 4000 while sugarcane manufactured ethanol yielded double the volume in the circa of 6800 to 8000 litres per hectare.

In face of such overwhelming inefficiencies, the Iowa industry is kept alive largely by generous subsidies and high tariffs which keep out the cheaper and environmentally friendly Brazilian imports, according to FT’s World Trade Editor Alan Beattie. Even then, the Brazil Institute estimates that projected price of ethanol produced in Brazil currently is and remains lower than both the projected prices of unleaded gasoline and of U.S. produced ethanol. In fact, the price differential between Brazilian and U.S. produced ethanol was so great in 2006 that it was still cheaper to import Brazilian ethanol even after the 54 cents per gallon import tariff.

Furthermore, Iowa’s plants have become poster children of the Food Versus Fuel debate. According to a report by the Reuters news agency, while American funding for corn continues, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is rethinking its stance on funding biofuels in general. The UNEP has also conducted detailed research into the subject which makes for interesting reading. However, it curiously notes in its report that the work, “delivers no final word, but a concentration of current knowledge, aimed to support decision making and future scientific work towards a sustainable bio-economy.”

That the American lobbyists are not paying attention or are open to gentle persuasion is a different matter. Ethanol production rose from 440 million gallons in 2002 to 2 billion gallons by 2007 in Iowa alone. That’s not including production facilities in other U.S. states that were brave enough or should I say idiotic enough to allow corn-fed ethanol production facilities to burden their aquifers. In fact, water could be the undoing of ethanol according to IATP. I am not a scientist, but from where I stand even the economics of it is on a shaky footing. Mark Twain aptly observed: "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over."

Several ethanol projects within a 30 mile radius of Illinois' Mahomet Aquifer are embroiled in challenges (legal or otherwise) as residents fret over their impact on the region's water supply. Other examples could include cases from Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska and even Iowa. The recession has had an unwitting effect as well. Most industry observers now feel that despite Government subsidies, only the most efficient U.S. ethanol plants would survive the downturn as the industry has been overbuilt and over-hyped. In the interim, doubts persist whether ethanol, especially the corn-fed variety, is all that green at all. That’s on top of the unwanted side-effect of needless hot air generated by U.S. presidential hopefuls, sitting presidents, politicians and lobbyists of ‘corny’ persuasions.
(* 1 Gallon - U.S. = 3.785 Litres)

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo Courtesy © Coxwebnews.com

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