Showing posts with label us oil export ban. Show all posts
Showing posts with label us oil export ban. Show all posts

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are you serious Mr President?

Ah, the joys of the oil market! Yet another day of volatility is all but guaranteed. Nearly a fortnight into February, it’s increasingly looking like how it was in January, and how it’s likely to be in March - an uptick of 2-6% followed by a slump of 2-6% in headline oil futures prices on repeat mode.

In the meantime, we have descended into the realm of the ridiculous. If you believe market chatter – it goes something like the Russians will cut oil production, only if the Saudis agree. They’ll cut only if the Iranians agree, who say it’s the Saudis and their allies who should make room for additional Iranian production. 

It is manifestly apparent, that should there be a coordinated OPEC and non-OPEC oil production cut excluding Canada and the US, the only producers to benefit would be the ones in North America. Such a cut would at most provide a short-term bounce of $7-10 per barrel, enabling shale producers, who were coping and managing just fine at $35 per barrel, to come back into the game and hedge better for another 12-18 months, as one wrote on Forbes. 

The Oilholic suspects both Russian and Saudi policymakers know that already. Which is why, it is a borderline ridiculous idea for parties who know very well that the market will take its own course, and any attempts to manipulate it artificially could have the very opposite effect some in OPEC such as Nigeria and Venezuela are hoping for. 

Meanwhile, each US oil inventory update makes Brent and WTI dance. With the latter currently below $30 barrel, US President Barack Obama has come up with his own sublime contribution to a ridiculous market. 

News emerged earlier this week that Obama has proposed a $10.25 per barrel levy on oil extracted in the US! According to Treasury projections, the levy, which would be applied to both imported and domestically-produced oil but won’t be collected on US oil shipped overseas, would raise  $319 billion over 10 years.

The plan would temporarily exempt home-heating oil from the tax. According to Obama, it "creates a clear incentive for private sector innovation to reduce America's reliance on oil and invest in clean energy technologies that will power our future."

The levy would be collected from oil companies to boost spending on transportation infrastructure, including mass transit and high-speed rail, and autonomous vehicles. However, noble the intention might be, its timing, execution and rate cap are completely barmy. In fact so barmy, the President knows there is no chance a Republican-controlled Congress would pass it. 

Without going into a costing analysis, oil companies would (a) be hit hard, and (b) almost certainly attempt to pass it over to consumers. Domino effect in terms of jobs and consumer spending adds another layer, making it extremely unpopular. So only a President who has no more elections to fight can come up with such a policy at such a time for the industry! That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: White House, Washington DC, USA © Gaurav Sharma, April 2008.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Brent- WTI parity (again) before the year-end!

Before the year is out, we’ve got parity yet again between both benchmarks. Right at the start of the year, the West Texas Intermediate briefly traded at a premium to Brent having achieved parity at $48.05 per barrel on January 15


Come the end of the year and we are here again! Parity between both benchmarks was achieved once more at a lower level of $36.40 per barrel on December 22 (see above, click to enlarge), exactly $11.65 lower with WTI in the ascendancy. In fact, the US marker's premium appears to holding.

The OPEC stalemate, peak winter demand and lifting of US exports ban are and will remain price positives for the WTI, as one wrote in a Forbes column. So is this a reversal of the 'crude' pecking order of futures contracts we have gotten used to since 2010? The Oilholic feels its early days yet. However, the development sure makes for an interesting 12 months in more ways than one.

Happy Christmas dear readers, but that’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Bloomberg terminal screen grab showing moment of Brent-WTI parity on December 22, 2015  © Bloomberg.

Friday, December 18, 2015

US oil exports could level crude playing field

It has taken 40 years but US politicians finally found the timing, inclination and effort required to get rid of a legislative relic dating back to the Arab oil embargo of 1975 – a ban on exporting the country's crude oil that has plagued the industry for so long for reasons that no longer seem relevant.

Late on Friday, when news of the lifting of the ban arrived, the Oilholic could scarcely believe it. As recently as July 2014, this blogger opined in a Forbes column that movement on this front was highly unlikely until after the US Presidential election. However, in this instance, one is both pleasantly surprised as well as glad to have been proved wrong.

US producers, including independent upstarts behind the country’s shale bonanza, would now be able to sell their domestically produced barrels out in the international market competing with those already having to contend with a global supply glut.

Let's not kid ourselves, lifting of the ban would not necessarily lead to a significant spike in US oil exports over the short-term. However, it at least levels the playing field for the country’s producers should they want to compete on the global markets. It is also price positive for WTI as a crude benchmark leading it to compete better and achieve parity (at the very least) with global benchmarks in the spirit of free market competition.

Of course, in keeping with the shenanigans long associated with political circles in Washington DC, lifting of the ban came as part of a $1.1 trillion spending bill approved by the Senate that will fund the government until 2016.

The spending bill also includes tax breaks for US solar and wind power, and a pledge by both errant Republicans and Democrats not to derail a $500 million grant to the UN Green Climate Fund.

No matter what the political trade-offs were like, they are certainly worth it if the reward is the end of an unnecessary and redundant ban. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Alaska Pipeline, Brooks Range, USA © Michael S. Quinton / National Geographic

Thursday, May 21, 2015

US oil production decline much less than feared

As the latest visit to Houston, Texas nears its conclusion, the Oilholic walked wistfully past a petrol station in the Lone Star state. What European motorists wouldn’t give for US$2.49 (£1.61) per US gallon (3.79 litres) to fill up their cars. That was the price was this morning (see left)!

Ditching wistfulness and moving on to price of the crude stuff, the latest energy outlook report from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) sees Brent averaging $61 per barrel in 2015, with WTI averaging around $55. The EIA also expects a decline in crude oil production stateside from June onwards through to September.

However, there is little anecdotal evidence here on the ground in Houston to suggest the Eagle Ford is slowing down if activity elsewhere is. Furthermore, feedback from selected attendees at two events here – Baker & McKenzie’s 2015 Oil & Gas Institute 2015 and the Mergermarket Energy Forum – alongside most experts this blogger has spoken to since arrival, point to the said production decline being much less than feared.

On average, most opined that we’d be looking at a decline of between 35,000 to 45,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year. It would imply that US production would still stay within a very respectable 9.1 to 9.3 million bpd range with much of the drop coming from North Dakota. As if with eerie timing, American Eagle’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, following its inability to service debt on plays in North Dakota (and Montana), provided a near instant case in point.

Overall picture is less clear for 2016. If the oil price stays where it is, we could see a US production decline in the region of 60,000 to 100,000 bpd. EIA has estimated the decline might well be towards the upper end of the range. 

It comes after analysts at Goldman Sachs labelled the recent oil prices “rally” as being a bit ahead of itself. Or to quote their May 11 email to clients in verbatim: “While low prices precipitated the market rebalancing, we view the recent rally as premature.

“The oil market focus has dramatically shifted over the past month, from fearing a breach of US crude oil storage capacity to reflecting a well under way oil market rebalancing. We view this shift in sentiment and positioning as excessive relative to still weak fundamentals.”

The Oilholic has repeatedly said over the past six weeks that both benchmarks are likely to stay within the $50-75 barrel range, as the decline in the number of operational oil rigs stateside was not high enough (yet) to trigger persistently lower US production. EIA data and feedback here in Houston supports such conjecture.

Meanwhile, the front page of the Financial Times loudly, but bleakly, declared on Tuesday that “more than $100 billion of projects” were on ice with Canada hit the hardest. According to the newspaper’s research, Shell, BP, Statoil and ConocoPhillips have all led moves to curtail capital spending on 26 major projects in 13 countries.

Speaking of ConocoPhillips, its CEO Ryan Lance has joined an ever increasing chorus stateside of oil industry bosses calling on the US government to lift its 40-year plus ban on crude exports

At a conference in Asia, Lance told Bloomberg that the Houston-based oil and gas producer had sufficient production capacity stateside to cater the global market and ensure stable domestic supply. Right, so there’s no danger to Houstonians paying $2.49 per gallon to fill up their cars then?

To be fair, the ConocoPhillips boss is not alone in calling for a lifting of the ban. Since last July, the Oilholic has counted at least 27 independents, many mid-tier US-listed oil and gas producers including Hess Corp and Continental Resources, and almost all of the majors voicing a similar opinion.

They can say what they like; there won’t be any movement on this front until there is a new occupant in the White House. That’s all from Houston on this visit folks, its time for the big flying bus home. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’! 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Photo: Price display board at a Shell Petrol Station in Houston, Texas, USA © Gaurav Sharma, May 2015.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Viewing US oil output through Drillinginfo’s lens

Perceptions about massive a decline in US oil production currently being put forward with such fervour and the ground reality of an actual one taking place are miles apart; or should we say barrels apart. 

Assuming that a decline in production stateside would start eroding the oil supply glut thereby lending slow but sure support to the oil price is fine. But declarations on the airwaves by some commentators that a North American decline is already here, imminent or not that far off, sound too simplistic at best and daft at worst.

The Oilholic agrees that Baker Hughes rig count, which this blog and countless global commentators rely upon as a harbinger of activity in the sector, has shown a continual decline in operational rigs over recent weeks and months. However, that does not paint a complete picture.

Empirical and anecdotal data from Canada demonstrates that Western Canadians are aiming to do more with less. According to research conducted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), fewer wells would be dug this year but production will actually rise on an annualised basis over 2015. That’s despite the fact that the Western Canadian Select fell to US$31 per barrel at one point.

There’s a similar story to be told in the US of A, and digital disruptors at Drillinginfo are doing a mighty fine job of narrating it. The Austin, Texas headquartered energy data analytics and SaaS-based decision support technology provider opines that much of the current conversation obsessively intertwines the oil price dip with a decline in activity, bypassing efficiencies of scale and operations achieved by US shale explorers.

“Our conjecture is that an evident investment decline does not imply that production is nose-diving in tandem. Quite the contrary, our research suggests exploration and production firms are 25% more efficient than they were three years ago,” says Tom Morgan, Analyst and Corporate Counsel at Drillinginfo.

It’s not that Drillinginfo is not recording dip in rig counts and new drilling projects coming onstream via its own DI Index. Towards the end of February, its US rig count stood at 1433, while new US oil production dipped 9% on the month before to 525 million barrels per day (bpd). However, if what’s quoted here sounds better than what you’ve heard elsewhere then it most probably is for one simple reason.

“What we put forward is in real-time. Two years ago, we started handing out GPS trackers to operators to latch on to their rigs. It was not easy convincing an old fashioned industry to immediately warm up to what we were attempting to do. It was a long drawn out process but we converted many people around to our viewpoint.

“At present, over 80% of rigs in continental US are reported on daily via Drillinginfo installed GPS units. In return, the participants get free access to our collated data. At this moment in time, not only can I point out each of these rigs via a heat signature (see image from January above left, click to enlarge), but also pinpoint the coordinates for you to locate one, drive there and verify yourself. I’d say our data is 99% accurate based on back testing and reconciling trends with our archives,” Morgan adds.

Drillinginfo also examines the actual spud of a well that's been drilled but not yet completed, as well as permit applications. “The thought process in case of the latter is that if you have applied for a permit to drill, then you are more than likely [if not a 100%] sure of going ahead with it.”

Drillinginfo saw a 24% decline in US permit application between January and February. This shows that investment is slowing down, yet at the same time operational wells are generally on song. With the end of first quarter of this year in sight, the US is still the world’s leading producer in barrels of oil equivalent terms.

Oil production continues to rise, albeit not in incremental volumes noted over the first and second quarters of last year prior to the slump. US producers, or shall we say those producers who can, are strategically lowering operations in less bankable or logistically less connected shale plays, while perking up production elsewhere.

For instance, while the collated production level at Bakken shale plays in North Dakota is declining, production at Eagle Ford shale in Texas has risen to 159,000 bpd; a good 26,000 bpd above levels seen towards the end of last year.  In terms of the type of wells, Drillinginfo sees older vertical wells bear the brunt of the slump, while production at onstream horizontal wells is either holding firm or actually rising a notch or two.

“No one is pretending that market volatility and the oil price slump isn’t worrying. What we are encountering is that shale players are trying to achieve profitability at a price level we could not imagine ten, five or even three years ago because technology has advanced and efficiencies have improved like never before,” Morgan adds.

While pretty reliable, feed-through of information via the Baker Hughes rig count is not real-time but looking backwards based on a telephone and electronic submission format. By that argument, the Oilholic finds what Drillinginfo has to say to be an eye-opener in the current climate, particularly in an American context. 

However, company man Morgan, who has known Drillinginfo's co-founder and CEO Allen Gilmer since both their freshmen years at Rice University back in the 1980s, has a more polished description.

“Today we talk of heat map of rigs, real-time data, rig movement monitoring, type and location of rigs going offline, and much more. I’d say we’re bringing agility via a digital medium to participants in a very traditional business.”

That agility and sense of perspective is something the industry does indeed crave, especially in the current climate. The Oilholic would say what Genscape is bringing to storage monitoring; Drillinginfo is bringing to upstream data analytics. That’s all for the moment folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2015. Graphic: Map of new US wells drilled in January 2015, and those drilled within the last six months © Drillinginfo, 2015

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Crude year that was & oil price forecasts for 2015

As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at what the Oilholic was up to and how the oil and gas sector performed in general. The only place to start would be the oil price where those in the business of charting it had a year of two halves.

First six months of the year saw Brent, considered a global proxy benchmark, comfortably over $100 per barrel only to see a dramatic decline over the second half of the year that accelerated rapidly in the face of a global supply glut.

The US went in general retreat from the global oil markets in meaningful volumes, not needing to import as much given rising domestic shale and tight oil production. Global demand didn’t stack-up like it did in 2013, but producers were unrelenting with output rising from Canada to Russia and OPEC’s production quota staying where it was at 30 million barrels per day (bpd).

In fact, make it 30.7 million bpd if you believe in market consensus. End result was (and still is) a buyers’ market with China leading the way, but not importing as much as it used owing to stunted economic activity. From $115 per barrel in the summer, Brent is barely managing to resist a $60 price floor having already breached it once in December. WTI is also plummeted in tandem and is currently trading below $60.

Both OPEC Ministers’ meets for 2014 couldn’t have been held in more divergent circumstances. In June, the quota was held where it was because most in the cartel were happy with a $100-plus Brent price. In November, the quota stayed where it was because the Saudis refused to budge from their position of not wanting a production cut fearing a loss of market share. While Iran and Venezuela did not share their view, the Saudis prevailed as usual for a cut without their backing would have been meaningless.

Quite frankly, by not calling an extraordinary meeting when oil hit $85, OPEC missed a trick. Nonetheless, given the existing glut one doubts whether an OPEC cut in November would have had any tangible medium term impact anyway. Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi probably thought the same. But where does the price go from here? One has to admit that for the first time since this blog appeared on cyberspace in 2009; price averages for both Brent and WTI fell below the Oilholic’s median 2014 forecast.

Being a supply-side analyst one has long bemoaned the high oil price right from the days it became manifestly apparent that the US was no longer importing like it used to. And yet net long bets persisted well into the summer of this year courtesy hedge funds and other speculators, until physical traders of the crude stuff refused to buy in to a false spike injected by Iraqi disturbances.

Instead of contango, backwardation set in and price hasn’t recovered since with good reason. However, it wasn’t until October that the decline really took hold with OPEC’s decision not to cut production really accelerating the drop over the fourth quarter. The Oilholic would say the market is undergoing profound change of the sort that only comes around once in 20 years or so.

Given there so much oil out there and importers aren’t importing as much, risk premium has turned to risk fatigue, while a sellers’ market in the most lukewarm of times has become a buyers’ market in uncertain times. Nonetheless, supply correction is inevitable as unprofitable, especially unconventional exploration, takes a hit and non-OECD demand picks up. The Oilholic is fairly certain that come December 2015, we would once again be around the $80 level for Brent.

For the moment, barring a financial tsunami knocking non-OECD economic activity, the Oilholic's prediction is for a Brent price in the range of $75 to $85 and WTI price range of $65 to $75 for 2015. Weight on Brent should be to the upside, while weight on WTI should be to the downside of the aforementioned range. This blogger also does not believe legislative impediments over the US exporting oil are going away anytime soon as the 2016 presidential election draws ever closer.

Moving away from pricing, 2014 also saw the oil and gas world mourn the sad death of Total CEO and Chairman Christophe de Margerie in a plane crash in Moscow. Here is the Oilholic's tribute to one of the industry’s most colourful characters. Wider human tragedies overlapping the crude world including Russia’s bid to influence events in Ukraine and the spectre of ISIS over Iraq loomed large.

The oil price began hurting Russia by the end of the year with the rouble taking a plastering. Meanwhile in Iraq, given that ISIS controlled areas were far removed from the port of Basra and major Iraqi oil production facilities, risk premium from the unfolding events did not have a lasting impact on oil price barring a momentary spike in June.

Nigeria and Libya's troubles continued. In case of the latter, the country now has two oil ministers, two prime ministers but thankfully only one National Oil Company. Yet, geopolitical flare-ups aren't likely to have much of an impact over the first half of 2015 given the amount of oil there is in the market.

Away from it all and on a more personal footing, yours truly started writing for Forbes as well as commentating on Tip TV on a regular basis over 2014, alongside various other ‘crude’ engagements. Going on the road (or air) in pursuit of ‘crude’ intel, saw the Oilholic visit Rotterdam, Istanbul, San Francisco, Zagreb, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

The 21st World Petroleum Congress meant a return to the host city of Moscow after a gap of 10 years. Invariably, the Ukrainian stand-off cast a shadow over an event dubbed the Olympics of the oil and gas business.

One also got a chance to interview ex-Enron whistleblower turned academic Dr Vincent Kaminski in Houston and IEA Chief Economist Dr Fatih Birol more closer to home. Among several senior executives one got a chance to interact with were C-suite executives from EDF, Tethys Petroleum, Frontier Resources, Primagaz and Rompetrol to name but a few.

Many fellow analysts, commentators, traders, academics, legal and financial experts shared their insight and valuable time on on-record while others preferred an off-record chat. Both sets have the Oilholic’s heartfelt thanks. Rather unusually, this blogger found political satirist and comedian Jon Stewart’s take on the farce that’s become of the Keystone XL project bang on the money. Finally, the Oilholic also reviewed some ‘crude’ books to help you decide whether they are for you or not.

It's been a jolly crude year and one that wouldn't have been half as spiffing without the support of you all - the dear readers of this blog. Here goes the look back at Crude Year 2014. As the Oilholic Synonymous Report embarks upon its sixth year on the Worldwide Web and the eighth year of its virtual existence – here's wishing you a very Happy New Year! That’s all for 2014 folks! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Oil pipeline, India © Cairn India

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

US prices at the pump & that export ban

Each time the Oilholic is Stateside, one feels obliged to flag up petrol prices at the pump, often a cause of complaint from US motorists, spooking presidents to seek a release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves.
 
So here's the latest price snap (left) from a petrol station at Mission San Jose, California captured by yours truly while in the South San Francisco Bay. And the price is per gallon, not litres, a pricing level that drivers in Europe can only dream of. With the shale bonanza, chatter is growing that the US should end its ban on crude oil exports. The ban was instituted in wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and has been a taboo subject ever since.

However, the prices you see above are the very reason a lifting of that ban is unlikely to end over the medium term. Argument used locally is the same as the one mooted for the unsuccessful bid to prevent US natural gas exports – i.e. end consumers would take a hit. While in the case of natural gas, industry lobby groups were the ones who complained the loudest, in the case of crude oil, consumer lobby groups are likely to lead the fight.

That's hardly an edifying prospect for any senator or congressman debating the issue, especially in an election cycle which rears its head every two years in the US with never ending politicking. Just ask 'now Senator' and Democrat Ed Markey! But to quote someone else for a change – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, another Democrat, has often quipped that lifting the ban would benefit only major oil companies and could end up "hurting US drivers and households" in the long run with higher gasoline prices.
 
Not all Democrats or US politicians are opposed to the lifting of a ban though. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Mary Landrieu and Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski support a lifting of the ban. Both recently called on the EIA to conduct a detailed study of the effects of crude oil exports.
 
"This is a complex puzzle that is best solved with dynamic and ongoing analysis of the full picture, rather than a static study of a snapshot in time," they wrote in an April 11 letter to EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.
 
However, in all honesty, the Oilholic expects little movement in this front. Read up on past hysteria over the slightest upward flicker at US pumps and you'll get your answer why. One must be thankful that the debate is at least taking place. That too, only because US crude oil inventory books keep breaking records.

Earlier this month, the market was informed that US inventories had climbed to their highest level since May 1931. So what are we looking at here –  stockpiles at Cushing, Oklahoma, the country's most voluminous oil-storage hub and the delivery point for New York futures, rose by 202,000 barrels in the week ended April 25.
 
The news trigged the biggest WTI futures loss since November last year as a Bloomberg News survey estimated the net stockpile level to be close to 399.9 million last week. That said, nothing stops the likes of Markey from blowing hot air or speculators from netting their pound of flesh.
 
According to the Commitment of Traders (COT) data released by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) on Friday, traders and speculators increased their overall bullish bets in crude oil futures for a fifth straight week, all the way to the highest level since March 4 last week.
 
The non-commercial contracts of crude oil futures, primarily traded by large speculators and hedge funds, totalled a net position of +410,125 contracts for the week ended April 22. The previous week had seen a total of +409,551 net contracts. While this represents only a minor change of just +574 contracts for the week, it is still in throes of a bull run. That's all from San Francisco folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!
 
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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo: Gasoline prices at a station in Mission San Jose, California, USA © Gaurav Sharma, April, 2014.

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