Showing posts with label DECC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DECC. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Scrutinising UK’s latest North Sea tax break

The British government announced fresh tax relief measures last week aimed at boosting output in the North Sea. The Oilholic’s first thought, after having scrutinised the small print, is that it’s a positive signal of intent from UK chancellor George Osborne following on from his 2012 union budget. In all fairness he is also looking to put the taxation measures of 2011 budget, which irked the industry, behind him.

From July 25th, new UKCS gas fields with 10-20 billion cubic metres (bcm) in reserves located at depths of less than 30 metres will be exempted from a 32% tax levy on the first £500 million (or US$776 million) of income. Shallow water offshore projects will still pay the 30% Ring Fence Corporation Tax on all income from the field.

UK Treasury figures suggest the measure is expected to cost £20 million per annum in reduced tax receipts, but the government reckons it would generate additional jobs and crucially bolster energy security.

Chancellor Osborne said, "Gas is the single biggest source of energy in the UK. Today the government is signalling its long-term commitment to the role it can play in delivering a stable, secure and lower-carbon energy mix."

A new UK gas strategy is expected this autumn and all indications are that the British will acknowledge the critical role of the gas market in meeting emissions targets alongside a mix of subsidy supported renewable projects. Another passive acknowledgement then that gas, not renewable energy platforms, would be the immediate beneficiary of a post-Fukushima turn-off?

In fact the Oilholic and quite a few others are convinced that gas-fired plants would play a more than complementary role in a future British energy mix. The latest tax relief, aimed at shallow water gas prospection is proof of this.

Derek Henderson, senior partner in the Aberdeen office of Deloitte, also believes the move builds on UK March’s Budget when a number of other reliefs were announced. “This announcement should further support investment, unlock potential gas reserves and increase long term production leading to additional employment and an increase in overall tax revenue,” he said.

“This encouraging action by the Chancellor also provides more evidence of the constructive dialogue that is taking place between industry and the Government. The politicians are demonstrating their commitment to gas, it is now up to the industry to respond with increased activity levels,” Henderson concludes.

Centrica pledged to invest £1.4 billion towards developing its Cygnus gas field with partner GDF Suez barely hours after the announcement of the tax relief. Six days later Prime Minister David Cameron came ‘up North’ to pledge his support to the sector.

“If everything goes well in the oil sector and the renewables sector, is really important, high-quality manufacturing. I think that's something to celebrate and something to stand up for," he said speaking at Burntisland Fabrications in Fife.

The company has just won a contract from Premier Oil to create structures for their platform destined for the Solan oilfield development, west of Shetland. Burntisland Fabrications said the contract will create an additional 350 jobs.

UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) greenlighted Premier Oil’s plans for the Solan oilfield in April. The field could produce up to 40 million barrels of oil, with a projected production commencement rate of 24,000 barrels per day from Q4 2014. Given the amount of activity in the area, looks like a lot work might be coming from developments west of Shetland and it’s great to see the Prime Minister flag it up.

Meanwhile oil giant BP posted a sharp fall in Q2 2012 profits after it had to cut the value of a number of its key assets. The company made a replacement cost profit, outstripping the effect of crude oil price fluctuation, of US$238 million over Q2; versus a profit of US$5.4 billion in the corresponding quarter last year. The cut in valuation was in a number of its refineries and shale play assets.

With the TNK-BP saga continuing, BP’s underlying replacement cost profit for Q2 2012, leaving out asset value reductions, dipped to US$3.7 billion versus US$5.7 billion noted in Q2 2011.

On the crude pricing data front, both benchmarks have not moved much week on week and price sentiment is still bearish ahead of FOMC and ECB meetings. Given that on the macroeconomic front, the global indicators are fairly mixed, Sucden Financial Research analyst Myrto Sokou believes crude oil prices will continue to consolidate within the recent range.

“We saw this today; trading volume remains fairly low as investors would like to remain cautious ahead of the ECB and Fed decisions,” she concluded.

Andrey Dirgin, Head of Research at Forex Club said, “On Tuesday’s trading session, September’s energy futures performed indifferently. Oil contracts didn’t manage to fix on their levels and moved slightly down. The nearest Brent Crude futures contract fell 0.21% to US$104.7.”

Away from pricing and on a closing note, the Oilholic notes another move in the African crude rush. This one’s in Sierra Leone. A fortnight ago, the Sierra Leone government provisionally awarded two offshore exploration blocks – SL 8A-10 and SL 8B-10 – to Barbados registered ODYE Ltd.

The said exploration blocks SL 8A-10 and SL 8B-10 contain 2584 sq.km and 3020 sq.km of prospection area respectively. According to the Petroleum Directorate of Sierra Leone, the exploration blocks consist of early to late Cretaceous oil prone marine source rocks, primarily shale, sand and shale basin floor fans, channelised sand sequences and potentially high porosity sands.

ODYE says it is looking forward to “working with the other participants in these provisionally awarded blocks, Chevron Sahara and Noble Energy” to develop the assets. So the West African gold rush continues. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Andrew Rig, North Sea © BP Plc.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Oh drat! Brits ask what the ‘Frack’!

The Oilholic arrived back home from Texas last week to the sound of fellow Brits discussing ‘fracks’ and figures in favour of shale gas prospection here. All UK activity ground to a halt last year, when a couple of minor quakes majorly spooked dwellers of Lancashire where a company – Cuadrilla – was test fracking.

Fast forward to April 2012, and a UK government appointed panel of experts including one from the British Geological Survey now says, "There was a very low probability of other earthquakes during future treatments of other wells. We believe that (last year's) events are attributable to the existence of an adjacent geological fault that had not been identified. There might be other comparable faults, (and) we believe it's not possible to categorically reject the possibility of further quakes."

However, it added that while the tremors may be felt in areas where fracking is conducted, they won’t be above magnitude 3 on the Richter scale and were unlikely to cause any significant damage. The panel’s report has now been sent for a six-week consultation period.

The British Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is expected to issue a set of regulations soon and ahead of that a verbal melee has ensued with everyone for or against wanting a say and environmental groups crying foul. However, there was near unanimous approval for a control mechanism which would halt fracking activity as soon as seismic levels rise above 0.5 on the Richter scale. The engineers wanted in too.

Dr. Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says, “The recommendations that any shale gas operations should be more closely monitored are welcome. UK and European environmental regulations are already some of the most stringent in the world; and these proposed precautions are a good example of how to help mitigate the risk of any damage caused by seismic activity as a result of shale gas activity.”

City energy analysts also gave the panel’s conclusions a cautious thumbs-up as there is a long way to go before a meaningful extraction of the gassy stuff occurs in any case. Jim Pearce, Energy and Process Industries practice partner at global management consultancy A.T. Kearney, says, “Shale developments offer the UK an opportunity to exploit a relatively clean resource and fill the energy gap that is opening up once again as nuclear projects come under threat. If the UK is going to use gas we should look for the best available source, which is arguably shale gas. Moreover, shale developments may also provide the UK’s chemical industry with a much needed boost if ethane and other NGL’s (natural gas liquids) are also found.”

He opines that UK and the rest of Europe are falling rapidly behind on gas supply security and cost. “Our key industries will be coming under increasing threat if we do not react to the new order that shale has created. We have a great opportunity here to take the lessons learned from the US and benefit from them,” Pearce adds.

Oh what the ‘frack’, that’s surely reason enough to tolerate a few quakes providing the security of the water table is preserved and concerns over water pollution are addressed. Yikes, that’s another quaky one! Away from shale, the 30th anniversary of the Falkland Islands war between the UK and Argentina came and went earlier this month marked by remembrance services for the fallen, but accompanied by the usual nonsensical rhetoric from British and Argentine officials, more so from the latter irked by oil prospection off the Islands’ shores which it claims as its own.

Five independent British oil companies are exploring four areas for oil in Falkland Islands’ waters, but only one of these – Rockhopper – claims to have struck meaningful reserves of the crude stuff. It says it could get 350 million barrels in the Sea Lion field to the north of the islands, which it plans to bring onstream by 2016. However, analysts at Edison Investment Research noted in March that a total of 8.3 billion barrels could lie offshore. So expect each anniversary and the run up to it from here on to be accompanied by ‘crude’ rhetoric and much frothing from Buenos Aires.

When it comes to being ‘crude’, the Argentines are in a class of their own. Just ask Repsol! On Wednesday, the country’s Senate approved the controversial decision, announced last week by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, to nationalise Repsol YPF thereby stripping Spanish giant Repsol’s controlling stake in YPF.

Following the bizarre but locally popular announcement last week, while its stock plummeted, rating agencies scrambled to downgrade Repsol YPF’s ratings with Fitch Ratings and Moody’s doing so in tandem. Warnings to Argentina from the Spanish government, EU Trade Commission and last but not the least Repsol itself have since followed.

Repsol wants around US$10 billion for its 57.4% stake in YPF, but Argentina has said it does not recognise that valuation. There also one more thing they don’t possibly recognise - it’s called ‘sound economics’ which often gets trumped by ‘good politics’ in that jurisdiction. A number of analysts’ notes have been doing the rounds since April 17th when Kirchner went down the route towards nationalisation. Most had the same dire forecast for Repsol, but for the Oilholic, one issued by the inimitable Stuart Joyner, head of oil and gas at Investec, stood out.

In it he notes, “The apparent decision to nationalise YPF means we move to a worst case for the value of Repsol's 57.4% stake. The Argentine Tango is the consummate dance of love, but there was little affection for the country's largest foreign investor in Buenos Aires yesterday.”

Well said sir! Meanwhile with near perfect symmetry while the Argentines were being crudely castigated, Time magazine decided to name Brazilian behemoth Petrobras' CEO Maria das Gra├žas Silva Foster one of the most influential people in the world. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Gas pipeline © National Geographic photo stock.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

BP breathes a sigh; but end of legal woes not nigh!

It has been a crudely British fortnight in terms of Black Gold related news, none more so than BP’s announcement – on March 3 – that it has reached a settlement of US$7.8 billion with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee (PSC) for civil charges related to the 201 Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The settlement amount is at the upper end of market conjecture and certainly well above conservative estimates. However, it does not mean that the US government is going to in any way, shape or form, let up on BP – especially in an election year. Everyone knows that, especially BP. However for a second time, the trial case brought against it will have to be delayed as the US Judge in the case – Carl Barbier – noted the settlement would lead to a “realignment of the parties in this litigation and require substantial changes to the current Phase I trial plan, and in order to allow the parties to reassess their respective positions.”

The US government maintains that the US$7.8 billion deal does not address "significant damages" to the environment but PSC-BP agreement is expected to benefit regional 100,000 fishermen, local residents and clean-up workers who suffered following the spill.

BP says it expects the money to come from a US$20 billion compensation fund it had previously set aside and the response of the wider market and ratings agencies to the settlement has been positive. While reaffirming BP’s long term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at ‘A’, Fitch Ratings notes that BP has adequate financial resources to meet its remaining oil spill related obligations currently estimated by the agency at US$20 billion between 2012 and 2014.

This figure includes the remainder of BP's provisioned costs of US$10.6 billion and approximately US$10 billion of Fitch assumed additional litigation related payments, excluding potential fines for gross negligence. As of end-December 2011, BP had adequate financial resources to meet this obligation with US$14.1 billion of ‘on balance sheet’ cash and US$6.9 billion of undrawn committed stand-by and revolving credit lines. Additionally, the company plans to dispose of assets for about US$18 billion by end-2013 within its US$38 billion asset disposal programme.

Fitch Ratings estimates BP's total Gulf of Mexico spill related payments, net of partner recoveries, will range between US$45 billion and US$50 billion assuming BP was not grossly negligent. BP's cash outflow related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill amounted to US$26.6 billion by end-2011, net of partner recoveries.

S&P also views the settlement as “somewhat supportive” for its ‘A/A-1/Stable’ ratings on BP and consistent with the agency’s base-case assumptions. “This is because the settlement addresses some material litigation and payment uncertainties, and because we understand that the plaintiffs cannot pursue further punitive damages against BP as a condition of the settlement,” it says.

BP has not admitted liability and still faces other legal claims at State and Federal level. Nonetheless, while the settlement is credit supportive, market commentators in City feel the uncertainty related to the total oil spill liability is not ending any time soon. The Oilholic feels an investigation by US Department of Justice against BP into the oil spill incident encompassing possible violations of US civil or criminal laws could be a potential banana skin as no love has been lost between the two. With several cases still ongoing, a settlement with PSC was a first of many legal hurdles for BP; albeit an important one.

Away from the legal wrangles of “British Petroleum” as US politicians love to call it, Brits themselves had to contend with a record high price of petrol at the pump this week – an average gas station forecourt quote of 137.3 pence per litre on March 5, according to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The previous record of 137.05p was set on May 9, 2011. However, private research by Experian Catalist says the high is a little “higher” at 137.44p per litre.

And if you thought, the Oilholic’s diesel-powered readership was faring any better, the diesel price is hit a record high of 144.7p per litre, up 0.8p from the previous UK record, which was set the week before! As if that wasn’t enough – the country’s (Markit/CIPS) Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for manufacturing slipped to 51.2 in February, down from 52 in January with analysts blaming the high cost oil for manufacturers which rose at the fastest rate in 19 years. It presents another serious quandary for UK Chancellor George Osborne who’s due to table his government’s Union budget on March 21st.

From the price of the refined stuff at British gas station forecourts to the price of a barrel of the crude stuff on the futures market – which saw Brent resisting the US$125 level and WTI resisting the US$106 level for the forward month contract. Myrto Sokou, analyst at Sucden Financial, reckons stronger US economic data brought back risk appetite and improved sentiment this week.

Greece is going to be a main focus for the market with hopes of a positive result on its debt bailout, Sokou adds, but amid renewed rumours whether it would be better for the country to leave the Euro. Cautious optimism is ‘crudely’ warranted indeed.

Elsewhere, the Indian government's attempt divest a 5% stake in one of its NOCs – the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) – via public share offering fell marginally short of expectations last week. Despite tall claims of oversubscription, only 98% of the shares on sale were subscribed. With high hopes of raising something in the region of US$2.5 billion, the government had offered 428 million shares at a price of INR290 per share (approximately US$5.85 and 2% higher than ONGC average share price for February).

However, the Oilholic thinks that even for a company which admittedly has a massive role in a burgeoning domestic market, the price offer was strange at best and overpriced at worst. This probably put off many of the country’s average middle tier investors, especially as many used February’s price as a reference point. Who can blame them and perhaps the Indian government is wiser for the experience too. That’s all for the moment folks. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Aerial of the Helix Q4000 taken shortly before "Static Kill" procedure began at Macondo (MC 252) site in Gulf of Mexico, August 3, 2010 © BP Plc.