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Quote of the Week

“The disturbing truth is that the real cost of oil production has doubled since the 1990s. That is very bad news for the global economy. Those who believe that technology is always the answer need to think about that…Tight oil may have bought us a few years of abundance but the resulting over-supply, debt and prolonged period of prices below the cost of production have exacted a terrible cost. Under-investment, a damaged service sector, weak oil company balance sheets and a decimated work force practically ensure cripplingly higher prices a few years in the future.”

Art Berman, consulting geologist

1.  Oil and the Global Economy

The vote in Britain to pull out of the EU came as a surprise as most observers were expecting the referendum would fail. Oil prices fell immediately and after some gyrations settled down about $2.50 a barrel at $47.64 in New York and $47.54 in London.

The ramifications of the British vote for the oil markets will take years to work out, and many believe it will lead to a series of international realignments with other countries pulling out of the EU and possibly even the secession of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK.  Conventional wisdom currently holds that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will lead to lower economic growth in the EU, UK, and possibly other countries.

While the immediate impact of the vote on oil consumption in Europe is likely to be minimal, the financial turmoil occasioned by the redistribution of financial assets and institutions could have long-term consequences for the global economy as investors seek safety and economic growth slows.

For the short term, the interplay among the global oil glut, large inventories of crude, the various production outages, real or potential, and the gradual slowdown of high-priced oil production will continue to drive the markets.  At some point in the next 12 months, the markets are likely to rebalance and after working through the massive inventories that have accumulated, prices will return to the levels we saw two or three years ago. At circa $50 a barrel, parts of the US oil industry are teetering on the edge between hunkering down and increasing drilling in a handful of more productive “sweet spots.” Last week the rig count fell again after increasing in the two previous weeks.

A new analysis of the costs of producing oil shows that while a few oil fields may be profitable at around $50 a barrel, most US drilling does not become profitable until oil sells for $60-$70 a barrel. This is true despite all of the “efficiencies” that the industry has discovered in recent years and the buyers’ market for oil service company support these days.

2.  The Middle East & North Africa

Iran: Despite the announced intention of increasing its oil production from the 3.6 million b/d it produced in May to 4 million by the of the year and then on up to 4.8 million in the next couple of years, there are indications that Tehran’s oil production from existing fields may be maxing out. Further increases will require a significant investment of largely foreign capital to rework old fields and drill new ones.  It is still an open question as to how much of this investment will be forthcoming. While Russian and Chinese companies say they are willing to make investments in Iran based on their government’s foreign policy, Tehran has a long history of hostility towards foreign oil companies and is having difficulty in coming up with contracts lucrative enough to attract serious foreign investment. However, Iran remains optimistic that new contracts will be signed by major international oil companies within the next few months.

The Obama administration appears to have approved a deal to allow Boeing to sell 80 commercial aircraft worth $17.6 billion to Iran. The Iranians recently negotiated a deal with Airbus for more than 100 commercial planes. The Boeing deal, however, has already raised complaints in Congress that it will simply enable Iran to support more terrorism around the world. Given the prohibition on use of the dollar by Iran and its exclusion from the US banking system, it is not clear how Boeing will be paid the $17 billion. Barter for oil is one possibility.

Syria/Iraq: The fighting in both countries continues apace. Russian and Syrian aircraft continue to bomb “moderate” rebels around Aleppo killing many civilians as well. Hezbollah is reported to be sending more fighters to battle for Aleppo. The Syrian government is likely running short of military age manpower after five years of war. Anybody who is smart is likely to run for the border or join whatever flavor of rebel suits them. Russia and Iran, like the US, are not willing to commit serious numbers of combat troops to frontline military engagements in the region where the casualties are high, leaving the Lebanese Shiites as the only source of what might be termed “cannon fodder.” Some 26 Hezbollah fighters were killed so far in June.

The US-backed assault on Manbij, Syria to cut off ISIL from access to Turkey continues to make slow progress. ISIL is reported to have seized some 900 Kurds from territory they occupy and are using them as slave laborers to build defenses. Those that will not cooperate are being executed.

Last week’s US airstrikes destroyed the facility that ISIL was using as an “oil ministry” to coordinate the production and distribution of oil within the caliphate.

In Iraq, the government says ISIL forces have been completely driven out of Falluja. The issue of just how the largely Sunni city will be policed and governed, after ISIL is driven out, remains.

Iraqi oil exports from the southern fields averaged 3.14 million b/d so far in June. Exports from the northern fields have been halted since March due to a dispute with the Kurds. Iraqi Kurdistan continues to export about 500,000 b/d of its own oil through Turkey.

Saudi Arabia/Yemen: Saudi oil exports fell to a six-month low in April as more Saudi-produced oil went to power air-conditioning in the ever-warming climate and is being refined domestically. The Saudis burned some 400,000 b/d to produce power in March, 500,000 in May and are expected to consume 1 million in their power plants during the height of the summer heat.

Saudi oil officials are saying that the oil glut is nearly over, and the prices should be going higher shortly. Some analysts are saying that this is wishful thinking on the Saudis’ part and that the response of shale oil producers to rising prices will determine how high oil will go. The Saudi oil minister said last week that the Saudis may return to their long-time role of balancing the oil markets once the current price slump is over and they can earn their accustomed billions by selling $100+ oil.

3.  China

All those new refineries that the Chinese have opened in recent years coupled with a slowing rate of economic growth has created a surplus of gasoline and diesel which is being exported in ever-increasing quantities. In May diesel exports grew to a record 1.5 million tons while apparent domestic diesel consumption in April fell 8.6 percent from last year. The Chinese even went so far as to prepare a 35,000-ton cargo of diesel that meets the high-quality Australian specifications – a first for the Chinese who usually sell diesel with a high sulfur content.

In addition to its economic problems, and hazardous air, the scope of China’s massive water problem is being talked about more in the Chinese press.  The underlying problem is that China has 20 percent of the world’s population and only 7 percent of its water – most of which is badly polluted and would be considered undrinkable in Western countries.  According to newly released government statistics, some 80 percent of the rural water supply is unsafe for drinking or bathing. More that half of China’s rivers are too polluted to use for household water. Only 16 percent of the Yellow River is clean enough to use.

Some 80 percent of China’s water is in the south while half the population and two-thirds of the farmland are in the north. Although massive pipelines and canals are being built to move water where it is needed, these efforts are being hampered by climate change and the attendant droughts and floods. More than 100 major cities face severe water shortages, and a few have already run dry.

The costs of decades of unprecedented economic growth with minimal attention to the environment are coming home to roost.  In a few years, it may become apparent that the 21st century will not belong to the Chinese who will be preoccupied with cleaning up the messes they made in the 20th.

Some believe that China’s current efforts to deregulate its electrical industry could have a major impact on economic growth in the future. The new policies will allow end users of electricity to negotiate directly with power producers for the best deal – cutting out the state-owned power distributors. Instead of flat rate power prices established by Beijing, prices will be set by regional power trading entities. State-owned transmission companies will only charge a transmission fee and will have nothing to do with the price of the power.

4. Russia/Ukraine

Over the weekend, Moscow and Beijing signed new energy agreements, bringing the two countries closer together. Russia and China are becoming more interdependent all the time, and Moscow was China’s biggest oil supplier in May for the third month in a row. The two countries have mutual interests. As China becomes increasingly dependent on imported oil, it seeks to diversify its sources of crude away from the unstable Middle East, which could easily erupt at any time and reduce oil exports as it has several times in the past. For its part, Moscow has been suffering from the low oil prices and economic sanctions imposed by the EU and has turned to Beijing as a replacement for EU financing of energy projects.  The Chinese drive hard bargains and Moscow undoubtedly do not get as good terms as it has been getting from the West but has nowhere else to go.

5. Nigeria

The state of Nigeria’s oil exports may be murkier than thought. As the government has long had a ban on oil companies reporting on the efficacy of insurgent attacks on their oil facilities, the results of any specific attack are difficult for outsiders to judge. In addition, oil companies are not eager to announce that damage, especially to jungle pipelines, has been repaired as this would only draw new attacks. For several months now new insurgent groups especially the Niger Delta Avengers have been blowing up oil company pipelines and other facilities at a steady pace in retaliation for the government’s halting of what amounted to bribes to leave the oil infrastructure alone.

There have been many estimates of the cumulative effect of these attacks on Nigerian oil production and exports. OPEC and other agencies have been saying that Nigerian crude exports had fallen as low as 1.3 million b/d and some put the number even lower as the attacks continued. Last week, however, a maritime intelligence firm called Winward which tracks exports coming from Nigeria said that exports in May were 1.9 million which is some 300,000 – 500,000 b/d higher than outsiders have been estimating. As Winward tracks ship to ship transfers, its numbers are usually higher than actual oil production.

Two weeks ago, the government announced a 30-day ceasefire with the Niger Delta Avengers; however, pronouncements on Twitter by people allegedly speaking for the rebels deny there is a ceasefire. As is usual in these situations, official spokesmen for new and diverse insurgent groups are hard to identify.

Late last week, a new militant group calling themselves the “Red Scorpion” said they had blown up an oil facility belonging to Elf Petroleum. The police denied knowledge of this attack but confirmed that an attack on a Shell facility took place on Thursday without providing details.

Nigeria allowed its currency to float last week sending the naira down by nearly 30 percent against the dollar. The drop in oil prices coupled with massive corruption has left the Nigeria economy in a mess with no bright spot in sight other than a possible end to the militant attacks by which might be gained more central government revenue sharing with the oil producing provinces. The increase in offshore oil production which is more immune from insurgent attacks is also a benefit.

Nigeria is a country of 182 million people which is divided 50 -50 between Muslins and other religions. This alone is enough to cast doubts on its long-term stability and reliability as an oil exporter.

6. Venezuela

This situation continues to get worse. The food crisis deepens; most foreign airlines have suspended flights into the country; the opposition continues its efforts to force a recall election, which the Maduro government opposes with every tool at its disposal. The US had a senior diplomat in the Caracas last week to broker a compromise. As the situation becomes increasingly dire, it is obvious is that the US is the only country with the resources to provide quick relief from widespread starvation. As the Maduro government continues to blame the US for its troubles, Washington is not eager to supply aid until a political compromise is reached.

The exact state of Venezuelan oil production is unknown as the government and the National Oil Company are not eager to admit they are in trouble. As recently as March, Venezuela was thought to be producing around 2.3 million b/d, but in the last three months, the situation has deteriorated. There have been electricity shortages, workers are not being fed properly, foreign contractors are slowing their work for lack of payments, and the country is having difficulty paying for the light oil used to dilute Venezuelan heavy crude before it can be shipped. The national oil company may be forced to default on its debt later this year making borrowing far more difficult.

Crude production is supposed to be down by only 120,000 b/d, but Barclays is saying that production could be down by 500,000 b/d shortly as the situation worsens. A drop of this size could impact world prices as the situation in Venezuela remains uncertain.

7. United Kingdom

While it is way too early to assess the implications of the Brexit vote last week, political turmoil in the country is increasing rapidly. Scotland is already preparing for another vote to secede from the United Kingdom and is even hinting that its parliament may be able to block the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Three million Britons have already signed a petition to force another vote on leaving the UK suggesting that many now realize the turmoil they have caused in what many considered an effort to express their displeasure with the elites of both political parties.

In the short term oil prices will likely fall a bit as the dollar strengthens against the pound and Britain sinks into a period of political chaos. Over the longer term, there are so many issues that could emerge from the Brexit vote that it is ridiculous to speculate. Several other countries are talking about holding exit referendums. The major EU members are pushing for Britain to leave quickly and plan to drive such a hard trade bargain with the British that no other country will see an advantage in leaving. Some are foreseeing that the fallout from last week even could be the beginning of an end to globalization as countries turn in on themselves and become more isolationist.

8. The Briefs

OPEC said its oil revenue plunged by $438 billion to a 10-year low of $518.2 billion last year as an increase in export volumes failed to compensate for the collapse in prices. (6/23)

Oil & money: The world’s private equity funds, with a cash pile of around $1 trillion, are stepping up their interest in the oil and gas industry, with almost half expecting to buy assets in the sector over the next year. Funds’ appetite for investments in the sector fell sharply after the start of the oil price rout two years ago. But recent signs of a rebound, coupled with abundant assets around the world, are turning the tide. (6/21)

Global LNG: The number of liquefied natural gas importers may more than double as a glut damps prices and encourages nations to ditch crude, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd. More than 50 countries may switch to LNG. (6/24)

LNG smackdown: Japan, the world’s largest importer of natural gas, is testing its clout while trying to rewrite the rules of a saturated market. Japanese buyers are chafing at the premiums they have long paid for liquefied natural gas. The nation’s giant utilities are renegotiating contracts, questioning practices such as linking LNG and crude-oil prices, and pushing back on restrictions that prevent them from reselling surplus cargoes. The moves are part of government-backed efforts to crack open an opaque, rigid market in which Asian buyers pay higher prices. (6/20)

BP said on Friday its headquarters would remain in the UK, despite Britain voting to leave the European Union. (6/24)

Royal Dutch Shell, having turned round its North American shale business, is putting so-called unconventional energy at the heart of its growth plans, and believes lessons from the revamp can be applied across the company. (6/20)

Asian gasoline is heading to South and Central America in large quantities as higher prices and a supply shortfall in the region—caused in part by refinery outages and the Alberta fires—opened the rare east-to-Americas trade route. More movements could be expected as Asia continues to struggle with high stockpiles, although these eastbound trades would likely be ad-hoc rather than regular. (6/24)

India’s biggest oil and gas explorer is preparing to spend on its biggest ever crude binge as sub-$50 oil halves the cost of rigs and services. State-run ONGC is contracting as many as five deepwater drill ships and dozens of jack-up rigs as it launches a $5-billion development program in the Krishna-Godavari Basin off the east coast of India. (6/21)

Indonesia’s efforts to boost upstream petroleum investments to mitigate falling production have not made much headway in recent years, further entrenching its reliance on imports. Recent data show falling interest by local and foreign companies to invest in Southeast Asia’s largest oil and gas producer. The archipelago attracted $18 billion in upstream spending in 2015, down 18.2 percent from the $22 billion invested in 2014. (6/21)

For Egypt, BP announced Monday that, together with the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company, it has sanctioned the development of the Atoll Phase One project. The project is an early production fast-track scheme that will bring up to 300 million cubic feet per day gross of gas to the Egyptian domestic gas market, starting in the first half of 2018. (6/21)

Offshore Egypt: With pressure on the sector easing, a subsidiary of field services company Schlumberger said it secured a multi-million-dollar contract for offshore Egypt. (6/22)

Kenyan officials said oil from the Lokichar Basin will begin reaching foreign markets at a rate of 2,000 barrels of crude per day by July 2017. So far, the East African nation has confirmed 750 million barrels of recoverable crude oil in the basin, since the discovery became public in March 2012. (6/22)

Uganda will start pumping oil within two years, which could help the country transform its economy and society dramatically if revenues are managed appropriately, according to the World Bank. Uganda is categorized as a low-income nation with nearly 20 percent of the population living at or near the poverty level. (6/25)

The Ugandan and Tanzanian governments are trying to fast-track a $4 billion oil pipeline that would connect landlocked Uganda to foreign markets even though construction won’t start in August as they originally indicated. The companies behind what could be East Africa’s first major oil pipeline believe the August start-date that Tanzanian officials gave last March for work on the 900-mile pipeline through Tanzania is unrealistic. (6/21)

Shell Companies in Nigeria paid $43 billion into the Federation Account between 2011 and 2015, just as the companies spent a total of $195.5 million on social investments in the country in 2015, thus making Nigeria the largest concentration of social investment spending in the Shell Group. (6/21)

Angola’s state-run oil giant Sonangol, recently taken over by the president’s daughter, has announced a gas discovery in the offshore Kwanza Basin that could hold 813 million barrels of oil equivalent. BP holds an interest in this block along with the Angolan state company. According to Sonangol, the block holds an estimated 313 million barrels of condensate and 2.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. (6/23)

The Colombian government and FARC rebels are close to ending their decades-long armed conflict following the anticipated signing of a bilateral ceasefire. The conflict has taken its toll on infrastructure targeted by the guerillas, including oil pipelines and refineries. Eighty Colombian pipelines were bombed in 2015. Experts believe the oil industry will likely undergo difficulties in the beginning of the post-conflict period. It will take some time to quell conflict in oil-producing provinces. (6/24)

The expansion of the Panama Canal is not likely to drastically affect crude oil and petroleum product flows, with the exception of US propane exports. (6/24)

The new Panama Canal, to be successful, needs enough water, durable concrete, and locks big enough to safely accommodate larger ships.  On all three accounts it has failed to meet expectations, according to dozens of interviews with contractors, canal workers, maritime experts and diplomats, as well as a review of public and internal records. (6/23)

Canadian oil output is forecast to decline this year for the first time since 2009 after a wildfire in northern Alberta curtailed more than one million barrels a day for a month and low commodity prices hit producers. Total Canadian oil output will drop to 3.82 million barrels a day in 2016, less than the 3.85 million barrels a day produced last year. (6/24)

The active US oil rig count dipped by 7 this week, after increasing by 9 last week, and 3 the week before. The total number of U.S. oil rigs in production as of today’s report is 333. Natural gas rigs were up by 4 this week, after gaining one rig the week before. (6/25)

Gulf of Mexico oil producers will ramp up production in coming months, propping up American output, despite efforts to curb production and raise barrel prices. Low prices caused by the high output levels have kept oil exploration efforts at a minimum. Yet around 500,000 more barrels of crude from Mexico’s namesake gulf will go online by 2017. (6/25)

Demand for US natural gas for export — including both pipeline and LNG exports — is set to skyrocket through the next few decades, a US Department of Energy official said Thursday, adding the country was on a path to become a top supplier to the international market. A spokesman for the DOE predicted that US gas exports would reach 10 Bcf/d by 2022 and double that volume to 20 Bcf/d by 2040, making the US “one of the biggest gas exporters by 2022, only second to Qatar.” (6/24) [Ed. note: dartboard alert]

US oil and gas drillers won a critical legal victory over the future of fracking in America’s shale plays. That came in Wyoming, where a District Judge struck down a set of tougher rules on fracking that had been implemented by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management early last year.  The Obama administration said it will continue to make its case in the courts. (6/24)

The US expanded its oil storage capacity by 34 million barrels, or six percent, from September 2015 to March 2016, according to the Energy Information Administration’s latest report on the matter. The addition marks the largest such capacity growth since the EIA began collecting the data in 2011. (6/24)

Marathon Oil Corp’s plans to buy small Oklahoma producer PayRock Energy Holdings (for $888 million, from venture capital firm EnCap Investments) is the latest signal U.S. shale companies are pouncing on properties in the state’s high margin STACK basin as the price of oil rebounds. (6/21)

Refinery sale: push “un-do.” Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the Carlyle Group-backed company that breathed new life into a “zombie” refinery complex on the East Coast, is apparently now trying to shed the investment in the face of market headwinds. (6/24)

Arctic drilling: The American Petroleum Institute and other energy industry groups are urging the US government not to remove Arctic offshore drilling from the table through 2022, despite strong opposition over ecological issues. (6/25)

Alaskan doldrums: The energy-rich state lost its AAA rank from the three biggest credit-rating companies this year amid a political standoff over how to close a $4 billion budget deficit — equivalent to about $5,400 for every one of its 738,000 residents. While the price of crude has climbed back to almost $49 a barrel, Alaska once counted on it holding above $100 and hasn’t cut spending enough to make up for the drop. (6/22)

Alaska has traditionally lightly yoked its residents with the lowest tax burden of any state across the country. In contrast, it has also had the highest per capita spending in the country thanks to its vast swath of territory. Both facets of this social compact may have to change. The State is looking closely at implementing a state income tax for the first time in 35 years and may double the gas tax and cut corporate incentives for energy firms. (6/20)

A magnitude-3.7 earthquake hit central Oklahoma early last Monday after over a dozen small tremors rocked the oil-rich state the previous week.  A March report from the USGS found central US states have experienced a dramatic increase in seismic activity over the past six years. The report said the disposal of oil and gas-related wastewater is the “primary reason” for the increase in seismic activity in the central US.  USGS data show 888 tremors hit Oklahoma last year, a 51 percent increase from the previous year. The state recorded 34 seismic events in 2012. (6/21)

Falling gasoline prices have made big heavy cars fashionable again, said Michael Sivak with the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. In fact, demand for trucks, SUVs and vans has rebounded to historic levels after they dropped sharply in 2008 when gas was $4 a gallon. Electric vehicles sales have totaled 442,000 (including plug-in hybrids) since President Obama took office, well short of his target of 1 million EVs by 2015. (6/25)

Electric cars are poised to reduce U.S. gasoline demand by 5% over the next two decades—and could cut it by as much as 20%—according to a new report being released Monday by energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. The U.S., which currently uses more than nine million barrels of gasoline a day, could see that demand drop by as much as two million barrels a day if electric cars gain more than 35% market share by 2035. (6/20)

SoCal blackouts? Refiners in southern California are bracing for potential disruptions ahead of possible blackouts this summer after the closure of a key natural gas storage field—SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon facility—prompted state regulators to warn of power and gas shortages. Those concerns have intensified this week as a heat wave swept the region, testing power grids that rely heavily on natural gas for fuel. (6/23)

Apple will soon be selling electricity. In what is being regarded as something of a bombshell in the energy markets, Apple has quietly has created a new subsidiary called Apple Energy, and asked to obtain a license to sell electricity directly to consumers, rather than back to the grid via the wholesale market. (6/24)

California’s last nuclear power plant will close in 2025, after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. reached an agreement with labor and environmental groups. The Diablo Canyon facility, which started operating in 1985, accounts for 9 percent of California’s annual electricity production. PG&E will begin to invest in a new portfolio of energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage to make up the lost production. (6/22)

Nix nukes: The Sierra Club remains in firm opposition to nuclear power, contrary to some reports last week. According to one source, “it is categorically incorrect” to suggest that the Sierra Club considers nuclear power a bridge to clean energy. Instead, they consider nuclear power to be “a bridge to nowhere.” By contrast, the organization is part of a coalition to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency. (6/24)

Coal consumption is climbing in the U.S., increasing 29.4% nationwide over the last four weeks, thanks to hotter weather and higher and solidifying natural gas prices. (6/21)

Renewable energy steady: Much has also been made about cheap oil hampering investment in renewables. This may have been the case ten years ago, yet throughout the second half of 2015, and first six months of 2016, renewables weathered the global price slump handily. Eight million people now work in the renewable energy sector, and countries from Jamaica to Japan are increasing investments. (6/22)

Coal vs. wind: In Carbon County, where Wyoming’s first coal mine opened a century ago, the last coal mine shut down a decade ago.  Job losses continue to hammer communities that supported the country’s largest coal fields.  But the county may soon be home to the largest wind farm in the country, if not the world. Construction on a 730-mile transmission line, which will carry the electricity to Las Vegas and Southern California, should start late this year or early next. Yet most Wyoming miners losing their jobs won’t find work in the state’s booming wind energy sector.  (6/20)

Windy Scotland: The Scottish government said the economic returns of renewable energy investments were emerging. Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said more than 300 jobs would come from the construction of the new Beatrice wind farm slated for the country’s coast.  The government awarded $2.1 million toward an accelerator program meant to facilitate research and design for further offshore wind development.  (6/21)

The world’s farmers must increase crop yields on less land each year due to losses to climate change and increasing urbanization. This means higher demand for the three main elements of fertilizer—potash, phosphate and nitrogen. Last year, of major commodities potash outperformed gold, silver, copper and oil and gas. Russia, Belarus, China, Germany, the U.S., Israel, Jordan and China are all major potash miners, with Canada currently holding the top position for the commodity–producing 11 million tons last year and the year before, compared to Number 2 producer Russia’s 7.4 million tons. (6/24)

“The Big One:” West coast residents are living on borrowed time. Stress has been building up along the San Andreas fault for more than a century, and scientists tell us that southern California is way overdue for a major earthquake. When that stress is finally released, the U.S. Geological Survey says that we could be looking at hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. (6/25)

Volkswagen’s diesel emissions settlement with U.S. regulators is valued at nearly $10.3 billion. The settlement includes offers to buy back nearly 500,000 polluting U.S. vehicles and set aside billions for green energy projects and a program to offset excess diesel pollution. (6/24)