Showing posts with label Sudan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sudan. Show all posts

Friday, August 17, 2012

The South Sudan question & other crude matters

Where South Sudan fits in the oil world has troubled ‘crudely’ inclined geopolitical analysts for some time now. The country celebrated the first anniversary of its creation on July 9th. But there is little to cheer about yet for South Sudan which inherited over 75% of parent Sudan’s proven oil reserves but is overtly reliant on the latter’s infrastructure to bring it to market. Sources with expertise as well as anyone with a modicum of interest in current events would agree that South Sudan’s outlook is bleak at best and abysmal at worst following decades of conflict. That’s notwithstanding a prolonged border dispute with the North, 170,000-plus refugees and tension over oil revenues which have only just shown signs of easing.

While it is early days, on August 4th a Reuters’ flash stating that the North and South sides had pulled back from the brink of war and finally agreed on oil transit payments was widely welcomed from trading floors to the Office of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And what has emerged so far is a relief for everyone from Elf to Total, from OMV to CNPC; the Chinese being the biggest players in Sudan. Of the seven exploration blocks, CNPC is majorly involved with four in case you didn’t know.

Yet deep down everyone, not least the Oilholic, is pragmatic enough to acknowledge that the time to uncork the champagne is not here yet. This humble blogger was not in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa where the agreement was reached, but courtesy dispatches from kindred souls in diplomatic circles it is known that South Sudan agreed to pay North Sudan just over US$9.05 per barrel for usage of its transport, supply and logistics infrastructure to move the crude stuff to Port Sudan.

However, nearly a fortnight on from the announcement, we still await an announcement about when the South will resume oil exports which were stopped in January. That said North Sudan will receive US$3 billion as compensation for revenue lost in that period.

The agreement is not the end of South Sudan’s problems. Without even having meaningfully exploited its precious resources, the world's newest nation is already a case study for the resource curse hypothesis. With oil production having only begun in 2005 and anti-graft measures either side of the border being ‘less than worse’, it can be safely concluded that South Sudan is more likely to resemble a 1970s Nigeria than a 2012 Botswana.

If the Americans press South Sudan to act on graft they are labelled as arrogant, the South Africans as patronising, the Brits as colonials and so on in populist circles even if the government is partially listening. The Chinese way to calm the situation either side of the disputed border and improving things is by offering to buy the crude stuff at above existing market rates (as they did in February).

Clue – nothing is going to change meaningfully anytime soon. Alas, with a production peak for existing facilities forecast for 2020, a turnaround is needed and fast! At least a plan to move away from overreliance on the North by building a pipeline to Kenya is a positive if it materialises. Happy Belated Birthday South Sudan!

Away from Sudanese problems, but sticking with the African continent – Nigeria has signed an ‘initial’ agreement with USA’s Vulcan Petroleum Resources Ltd.; a Vulcan Capital Management SPV, to build six new oil refineries worth US$4.5 billion. If ‘initial’ becomes ‘final’ and the deal materialises, it would add to the four refineries Nigeria already has increasing refining capacity by 180,000 barrels per day.

For a country which is Africa’s largest oil exporter but a net importer of refined distillates, the Oilholic has always opined that seeing is believing. So we’ll believe when we see and greet the announcement with cautious optimism.

Moving to some corporate news which also has an African flavour, its emerged that Edinburgh-based independent upstart Melrose Resources has announced a merger with Ireland’s Petroceltic. Both companies will now merge operations in North Africa along with Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

The new company will have Petroceltic’s branding and will be headquartered in Ireland. The merger values Melrose at £165 million with Petroceltic shareholders having a 54% stake in the merged company and Melrose shareholders having the rest. Sounds like a sound move!

Finally, a new computer virus is doing the rounds targeting energy infrastructure being dubbed by the security firms as the “Shamoom” attack. A notice from Symantec (available here) describes the virus as “a destructive malware that corrupts files on a compromised computer and overwrites the MBR (Master Boot Record) in an effort to render a computer unusable.”

On Wednesday, Saudi Aramco said it was subject to a virus attack but did not acknowledge whether it was a Shamoom attack. A spokesperson said Aramco had now isolated its computer networks as a precautionary measure while stressing that the attack had no impact on its production. Virulent times in the crude world. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Oil worker © Shell

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Delhi’s traffic jams, officials & other crude matters

Last few days here have involved getting some really interesting intelligence from selected Indian ministries on investment by the country’s NOCs, India’s possible action against Iranian crude imports, rising consumption patterns and a host of other matters. However, to get to the said officials during rush hour, you have to navigate through one of the worst traffic in any Asian capital. Furthermore, rush hour or no rush hour, it seems Delhi’s roads are constantly cramped.

It takes on average an hour to drive 10 miles, more if you happen to be among those on the road during rush hour. It often pains to see some of the fastest cars on the planet meant to bring the thrill of acceleration to the Indian driver’s foot pedal, doing 15 mph on the Capital’s streets. They say Bangkok has Asia’s worst traffic jams – the Oilholic thinks ‘they’ have not been to Delhi.

Away from the jams, chats with officials threw up some interesting stuff. India currently permits 100% investment by foreign players only in upstream projects. However, the government is putting through legislation which would raise the investment ceiling for other components of the oil & gas business including raising investment cap in gas pipeline infrastructure to 100 per cent.

What India does, matters both to it as well as the wider oil & gas community. The country has some 14 NOCs, with four of them in the Fortune 500. As the Oilholic noted at the 20th World Petroleum Congress, over a period of the last 12 months, Indian NOCs have invested in admirably strategic terms but overseas forays have also seen them in Syria and Sudan which is politically unpalatable for some but perhaps ‘fair game’ for India in its quest for security of supply. It also imports crude from Iran. Together with China, Indian crude consumption heavily influences global consumption patterns.

US EIA figures suggest Indian crude consumption came in at 300,800 barrels per day (bpd) in 2009 while local feedback dating back to 2010 suggests this rose to 311,000 bpd by 2010. Being a massive net importer – sentiment goes right out of the window whether it comes to dealing with Iran or Sudan, and India's NOCs are in 20 international jurisdictions.

Over days of deliberations with umpteen Indian officials, not many, in fact any were keen on joining the European oil embargo on Iran. However, some Indian scribes known to the Oilholic have suggested that in the event of rising pressure, once assurances over sources of alternative supply had been met, the government would turn away from Iran. In the event of financial sanctions, it is in any case becoming increasingly difficult for Indian NOCs to route payments for crude oil to Iran.

No comment was available on the situation in Sudan or for any action on Syria. In case of the latter, many here are secretly hoping for a Russian veto at the UN to prevent any further action against the Assad administration but that view is not universal. Speaking of Sudan, the breakaway South Sudan shut its oil production on Sunday following a row with Sudan. It is a major concern for India’s ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) – which has the most exposure of all Indian companies in Sudan. Oil production makes up 98% of newly independent South Sudan's economy and OVL has seen its operations split between North and South Sudan.

Amid rising tension, the real headache for OVL, its Indian peers and Chinese majors is that while South Sudan has most of the crude oil reserves, North Sudan has refineries and port facilities from which exports take place to countries like India and China. It’s no surprise that the latest row is over export fees. If the dispute worsens, Indian analysts, oil companies and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are near unanimous in their fear that it could become a major threat to stability in the region. The Oilholic notes that while all three have very different reasons for voicing their fears – it is a clear and present danger which could flare up anytime unless sense prevails within the next four weeks.

South Sudan's oil minister Stephen Dhieu Dau told Reuters on Sunday that all production in his landlocked country had been halted and that no oil was now flowing through Sudan. "Oil production will restart when we have a comprehensive agreement and all the deals are signed," he added. Earlier on January 20th, Sudan seized tankers carrying South Sudanese oil, supposedly in lieu of unpaid transit fees. On Saturday, Sudan said it would release the ships as a “goodwill gesture” but South Sudan said this did not go far enough.

UN Secretary General Ban accused the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan of lacking "political will" and specifically urged Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir to "fully co-operate with the United Nations". Doubtless he’ll respond to it just as he did to the issuance of his arrest warrant by the International Court of Justice in 2009! The world is watching nervously, as is India for its own crude reasons.

On the pricing front, Brent and WTI closed on Monday at US$110.98 and US$98.95 a barrel respectively, with decidedly bearish trends lurking around based on renewed fears of a chaotic default in Greece and EU leaders’ inability to reach a consensus. Unsurprisingly the Euro also lost ground to the US dollar fetching US$1.31 per Euro.

Jack Pollard, analyst at Sucden Financial, says the fear that CDS could be triggered in a hard Greek default could look ominous for crude prices, especially in terms of speculative positions. “Continued Iran tensions should help to maintain the recent tight range, with a breakout only likely when there is a material change in dynamics. Whether Iran or Greece produces this (change) remains to be seen,” he adds.

Last but not the least, reports from Belize – the only English-speaking Central American nation – suggest the country has struck black gold with its very first drill at the onshore Stann Creek prospect currently being handled by Texan firm Treaty Energy. Abuzz with excitement, both the government and Treaty believe the Stann Creek prospect has yet more surprises to offer with two more exploratory wells on the cards fairly soon pending permit requests. That’s all for the moment folks, keep reading keep it ‘crude’!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo: Glimpses of Delhi's mega traffic Jams © Gaurav Sharma 2012.

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