Showing posts with label moscow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label moscow. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Oilholic’s photo clicks @ the 21st WPC host city

The Oilholic is by no means a photojournalist, but akin to the last congress in Doha, there is no harm in pretending to be one armed with a fully automatic Olympus FE-4020 digital camera here in Moscow!

The 21st World Petroleum Congress also marked this blogger's return to Russia and its wonderful capital city after a gap of 10 years.

The massive Crocus Expo International Center (above left) happens to be the Russian venue for the Congress from June 15 to June 19, with events also held at the Kremlin. Hope you enjoy the virtual views of the venue as well as Moscow, as the Oilholic is enjoying them here on the ground. (click on images to enlarge)

Crowds at 21WPC exhibition floor

Oil giants out in force at 21WPC exhibition
Shell's FLNG Model

Luxury cars right at home in Crocus Expo Center

Repsol Honda on display at 21WPC Exhibition floor   

The Virtual Racing Car experience thanks to ExxonMobil
Author Daniel Yergin (left) & BP Boss Bob Dudley
Highlighting Sakhalin region's potential
Gazprom's mammoth stand at 21WPC




Russian Hammer & Sickle at a Moscow Metro Station

Grand interior of a Moscow Metro Station






















Rush hour at motorway off the Red Square
























Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow























© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photos from the 21st World Petroleum Congress, Moscow, Russia © Gaurav Sharma, June 2014.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Iraqi situation likely to unleash crude bull runs

Just as the OPEC conference dispersed here in Vienna, the speed with which the situation in Iraq has deteriorated has taken the market by surprise. Can't even blame Friday the 13th; the deterioration started a few days before.

There was not an Iraqi official commentator in sight when the trickle of news turned into a flood announcing the rapid advance of Sunni militants (or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda breakaway) across vast swathes of the country to within touching distance of Baghdad.

The market is keeping reasonably calm for now. However, both Brent spot and futures prices did spike above US$113 per barrel at one point or another over the last 72 hours. We're already at the highest levels this far into 2014. The Oilholic has always been critical when paper traders jump to attach instant risk premium to the crude price at the slightest ripple say in Nigeria or Libya. However, this alas is something else and it matters.

For starters, Iraqi production was on a slow and painful recovery run. The trickle of inward investment had started and Kurdish controlled areas weren’t the only ones seeing a revival. This is now under threat. Secondly, a visibly deteriorating situation could draw Iran into the tussle and there are some signs of it already. Thirdly, it has emboldened Kurdish security forces to take over Kirkuk, with unhidden glee. This could dent ethnic calm there in that part of the country.

Fourthly, Iraq despite its troubles remains a key member of OPEC. Finally, if you look at a map of Iraqi oilfields, the areas now held by the insurgents would trouble most geopolitical commentators as they cover quite a few hydrocarbon prospection zones. Add it all together and what's happening in Iraq, should it continue to deteriorate, has the potential of adding at least $10 per barrel to the current price levels, and that’s just a conservative estimate.

If Iraq gets ripped apart along ethnic lines, all projections would be right out of the window and you can near double that premium to $20 and an unpredictable bull run. That tensions were high was public knowledge, that Baghdad would lose its grip in such a dramatic fashion should spook most. There is one but vexing question on a quite a few analysts’ minds – is this the end of unified Iraq? The Oilholic fears that it might well be. 

Away from this depressing saga, a couple of notes from ratings agencies to flag up. Moody's says the outlook for global independent E&P sector remains positive. It expects growth to continue over the coming 12-18 months, with no "obvious catalyst" for a slowdown.

Analyst Stuart Miller reckons unless the price of crude drops below $80 per barrel, investment is unlikely to fall materially for oil and liquids-oriented companies such as Marathon Oil, Whiting Petroleum and Kodiak Oil & Gas.

"The positive outlook reflects our view that industry EBITDA will grow in the mid- to high-single digits year over the next one to two years. Stable oil and natural gas prices will enable E&P companies to continue to invest with confidence, driving production and cash flow higher," Miller added.

However, a lack of gathering, processing and transportation infrastructure will continue to plague the industry, though to a lesser extent than in the past couple of years. The completion of infrastructure improvements will unshackle production growth rates for companies such as Continental Resources and Oasis Petroleum in the Bakken Shale, and Range Resources and Antero Resources in the Marcellus Shale, according to Moody's.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings said fracking could help the European Union cut its reliance on Russian Gas. Germany's reported plan to lift a ban on fracking highlights one of several ways that European countries could reduce their reliance on Russian gas, it says.

Out of the major European oil and gas companies, Fitch reckons Total could have a head start over rivals if European shale gas production ramps up, because of the experience it has gained from investment in UK shale.

The group became the first Western oil major to invest in UK shale after agreeing to take a 40% stake in two licenses earlier this year. Total would also be well positioned if France followed Germany and decided to ease restrictions on shale gas production, as its home market is thought to have some of the largest shale gas reserves in Europe.

Jeffrey Woodruff, senior director at Fitch Ratings, said, “If European countries want to cut reliance on Russian gas, other potential routes include greater use of LNG. BG will be one of the first European companies to export LNG from the US, due to its participation in three of the six projects that have been approved by the US Department of Energy to export LNG.”

All of this is well and good, but as the Oilholic noted in a Forbes post earlier this month, Europeans need to be both patient and pragmatic. The US shale bonanza took 30 years to materialise meaningfully, Europe's is likely to take longer. Speaking of shale, here is one's take on why US shale would not hurt OPEC all that much, as legislative impediments prevent the US from exporting crude oil and by default do not give it the feel of a global bonanza. That's all from Vienna folks. Next stop Moscow, for the 21st World Petroleum Congress. Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Exploration site in Kurdistan © Genel Energy

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An arduously researched book on ‘crude’ Russia

When looking up written material on the Russian oil and gas industry, you are (more often than not) likely to encounter clich├ęs or exaggerations. Some would discuss chaos in wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs as a typical “Russian” episode of corruption and greed – yet fail to address the underlying causes that led to it. Others would indulge in an all too familiar Russia bashing exercise without concrete articulation. Amidst a cacophony of mediocre analysis, academic Thane Gustafson’s splendid work – Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia – not only breaks the mould but smashes it to pieces. This weighty, arduously researched book of just under 700 pages split by 13 chapters does justice to the art of scrutiny when it comes to examining this complex oil and gas exporting jurisdiction; a rival of Saudi Arabia for the position of the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil.
 
It is about power, it is about money, it is about politics but turning page after page, you would realise Gustafson is subtly pointing out that it is a battle for Russia’s ‘crude’ soul. In order to substantiate his arguments, the book is full of views of commentators, maps, charts and tables and over 100 pages of footnotes. The narrative switches seamlessly from discussing historical facts to the choices Russia’s political classes and the country’s oil industry face in this day and age.
 
The complex relationship between state and industry, from the Yeltsin era to Putin’s rise is well documented and in some detail along with an analysis of what it means and where it could lead. In a book that the Oilholic perceives as the complete package on the subject, it is hard to pick favourite passages – but two chapters stood out in particular.
 
Early on in the narrative, Gustafson charts the birth of Russian oil majors Lukoil, Surgutneftegaz and Yukos (and the latter’s dismembering too). Late on in the book, the author examines Russia’s (current) accidental oil champion Rosneft. Both passages not only sum up the fortunes of Russian companies and how they have evolved (or in Yukos’ case faced corporate extinction) but also sum up prevailing attitudes within the Kremlin.
 
What’s more, as crude oil becomes harder and more expensive to extract and Russian production dwindles, Gustafson warns that the country’s current level of dependence on revenue from oil is unsustainable and that it simply must diversify.
 
Overall, the Oilholic is inclined to feel that this book is one of the most authoritative work on Russia and its oil industry, a well balanced critique with substantiated arguments and one which someone interested in geopolitics would appreciate as much as an enthusiast of energy economics.
 
This blogger is happy to recommend Wheel of Fortune to readers interested in Russia, the oil and gas business, geopolitics, economics, current affairs and last but certainly not the least – those seeking a general interest non-fiction book on a subject they haven’t visited before. As for the story seekers, given that it’s Russia, Gustafson has more that few tales to narrate all right, but fiction they aren’t. Fascinating and brilliantly written they most certainly are!
 
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To email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front cover - Wheel of Fortune: The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia © Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Price correction, Saudis hurt Canada & Russia!

Finally, we have a price correction which saw both global oil benchmarks reflect the wider macroeconomic climate accompanied by a dip in stock markets and a downgrade of 15 of the world’s largest banks by Moody’s. NYMEX WTI forward month futures contract fell below US$80 per barrel on Thursday for the first time since October 2011 while Brent is just about resisting the US$90-level trading at US$90.77 when last checked.

The benchmarks have shown bearish trends for almost three months but they were still not reflecting the wider macroeconomic climate; until yesterday that is. The ‘only way is up’ logic based on a linear supply-demand permutation oversimplifies the argument as the current situation demonstrates. Factors such as the absence of QE3 by the US Federal Reserve, a stronger US Dollar, and weaker Chinese, Indian and European data finally influenced market sentiment – not to provide the perfect storm but to provide the perfect reality! A decline in German business confidence levels reinforces bearish trends which will last for a while yet.

Despite negative sentiments and the possibility of Brent trading below US$100 per barrel for prolonged periods between now and Q1 2013, OPEC did not cut its quota last week. Saudi Arabia, which is so dominant within the cartel, actually wanted to send the price lower as it can contend with Brent falling to US$85 per barrel.

From a geopolitical standpoint, Saudis not only kicked a sanction hit Iran (maybe gleefully) but delivered bad news for Russia (perhaps intentionally) and Canada (almost certainly unwittingly). Saudi rivalry with Iran has more than a ‘crude’ dimension, but one with Russia almost certainly revolves around market dominance. The Oilholic’s hypothesis is that this intensified when Russian production first overtook Saudi production in 2009.

As the world’s leading producer for over two years, Moscow was causing Riyadh some discomfort. So the Saudis raised their game with the Libyan conflict and Iranian sanctions giving them ample excuses to do so. Constantly flouting OPEC production quotas, this February Saudi Arabia regained its top spot from Russia. Now with prices in reverse, it is the Russians who are sweating having rather bizarrely balanced their budget by factoring in an oil price in the circa of US$110 to US$120 per barrel.

Several independents, ratings agencies (for example S&P) and even former finance minister Alexei Kudrin repeatedly warned Russia about overreliance on oil. The sector accounts for nearly 70% of Russian exports and Vladimir Putin has done little to alter that dynamic both as prime minister and president in successive tenures.

Realising the Russian position was not going to change over the short term and with a near 10% (or above) dip in production at some of their major fields; the Saudis ramped up their production. A masterstroke or precisely a deft calculated hand played by Minister Ali Al-Naimi planked on the belief that amid bearish trends the Russians simply do not have the prowess, or in fact the incentive, to pump and dump more crude on the market has worked.

A Russian production rise to 10 million bpd is possible in theory, but very difficult to achieve in practice in this macroeconomic climate. So the markets (and the Saudis) expect Russia to fall back on their US$500 billion in reserves to balance the books over the short to medium term rather than ramp-up production. Furthermore, unless the Russians invest, the Saudis’ hand will only be strengthened and their status as ‘crude’ stimulus providers enhanced.

Canada’s oil sands business while not a direct Saudi target is indeed an accidental victim. The impact of a fall in the price of crude will also be very different as Canada’s economy is far more diversified than Russia’s. Instead of a decline in production, the ongoing oil sands and shale prospection points to a potential rise.

Canadian prospection remains positive for Canadian consumers and exporters alike; provincial and federal governments want it, justice wants it, PM wants it and the public certainly want it. However, developing the Athabasca oil sands and Canadian shale plays (as well as US’ Bakken play) is capital and labour intensive.

For the oil sands – holding the world’s second largest proven oil resource after Saudi Arabia’s Dhahran region – to be profitable, crude price should not plummet below US$60 per barrel. Three visits by the Oilholic to Calgary and interaction with colleagues at CAPP, advisory, legal and energy firms in Alberta between 2008 and 2011 threw up a few points worth reiterating amidst this current crude price correction phase. First of all, anecdotal evidence suggests that while it would rather not, Alberta’s provincial administration can even handle a price dip to US$35 to 40 per barrel.

Secondly, between Q2 2007 and Q1 2008 when the price of crude reached dizzy heights, oilfield services companies and engineering firms hired talent at top dollar only to fire six months later when the price actually did plummet to US$37 per barrel in wake of the financial crisis. Following a wave of redundancies, by 2010 Calgary and Fort McMurray were yet again witnessing a hiring frenzy. The cyclical nature of the industry means this is how things would be. Canadians remain committed to the oil & gas sector and in this blogger’s humble opinion can handle cyclical ups and downs better than the Russians.

Finally, Canada neither has a National Oil Company nor is it a member of any industry cartel; but for the sake of pure economics it too needs a price of about US$80 a barrel. On an even keel, when the price plummets or the Saudis indulge in tactical production manoeuvres, as is the case at present, you’d rather be a Canadian than a Russian.

The Oilholic has long suspected that the Saudis look upon the Canadians as fellow insurers working to prevent ‘oil demand destruction’ and vying for a slice of the American market; for them the Iranians and Russians are just market miscreants. That the market itself is mischievous and Canadians might join the 'miscreants' list if proposed North American pipelines come onstream is another matter! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

© Gaurav Sharma 2012. Photo 1: Russian pump jacks © Lukoil. Photo 2: Red Square, Moscow, Russia © Gaurav Sharma 2004. Photo 3: Downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada © Gaurav Sharma 2011.