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1. Demand, production and prices

Since touching a high for the year above $73 a barrel last month, oil prices have fallen steadily for the last two weeks, closing at $59.89 on Friday. The so-called green shoots of economic revival, which had been driving the oil market higher since the first of the year on hopes that demand would pick up, have been withering. Demand remains weak, inventories are continuing to grow, and OPEC exports are creeping up.

With the exception of China, which claims to be making progress despite a 21 percent slump in exports, the economic news from around the world has been almost all bad. Unemployment is rising, production and retail sales are falling, and asset values, particularly for real estate, continue to drop. Given this situation, it is difficult to make a case that demand for oil will increase in the near future.

Optimism continues, however, that by next year the various stimulus packages and bailouts will do more than just reduce the pace of economic contraction. Last week, the IMF forecast that the world economy will expand by 2.5 percent next year and the IEA issued a companion estimate that the demand for oil will increase by 1.4 million b/d, or 1.7 percent, in 2010.

As unemployment increases, concern is growing in Washington that last winter’s $800 billion stimulus package will not be sufficient. Talk of a second stimulus package is beginning to amp up and the issue is already becoming politically controversial.

While the prognosis for the world’s economy overshadows other oil industry news, the Niger Delta militants continue to blow up pipelines, Venezuela is on course to lose more production as the unpaid oil service companies reduce drilling, the Iranian post-election situation is far from over, and the future of Iraq is becoming increasingly cloudy as US forces pull back, violence increases, and the Kurds reassert their independence.


The US government has never had so many balls in the air at the same time with such grave implications for the future of energy in the country. Currently there are dozens of congressional actions, international agreements, court decisions, regulatory rulings, and energy-related government loans and grants being proposed, debated or readied for implementation.

At the top of the list is the Waxman-Markey climate change bill which seeks to place severe restrictions on carbon emissions. Passage of the bill in anything close to current form would have a profound impact on energy in the US and could serve as a catalyst for far-reaching international agreements. Last week the G8 leaders pledged cuts of 80 percent in emissions over the next 40 years.

While the bill passed easily through the House, it faces a tougher time in the Senate where many see little need to cap emissions and claim the bill is simply a disguised form of taxation. Beijing has also weighed in, saying that any form of a carbon tax will lead to trade war.
A bill to increase tax incentives for buying vehicles fueled by natural gas is making its way through congress.

Close behind in likely impact is the emergence of the now government-owned and -financed GM from bankruptcy with a mandate to produce a new generation of more efficient automobiles.

The biggest regulatory news of the week is a move to limit speculation in energy futures by US and some foreign governments. This move has already elicited cheers from those who fear that energy speculation has the potential to destroy the world economy, then expressions of concern from Wall Street where energy speculation is seen as an important way to balance markets.

Even the courts got into the act last week when a Bush administration ruling that would have allowed power plants and factories to avoid installing pollution control equipment was struck down.

Briefs (clips from recent Peak Oil News dailies are indicated by date and item #)

  • Output from the first wells drilled at Exxon Mobil’s Horn River basin shale-gas field in Alberta, announced Thursday, suggests huge potential. Wood MacKenzie last year estimated the region might hold up to 47 trillion cubic feet of reserves. That would put it on a par with Texas’ prolific Barnett Shale fields. (7/10, #17, #19)
  • A consortium of companies failed to find oil in deep waters off Brazil’s coast, officials said on Wednesday, a sign the South American nation’s push to become an energy exporter is still fraught with risks. (7/9, #14)
  • Brazil’s plan to overhaul laws governing massive offshore oil reserves faces an uphill battle for approval in a potentially hostile Congress, slowing Brazil’s drive to become a major energy exporter. (7/7, #9)
  • Daily Russian oil production this year will expand by 30,000 barrels to 10.3 million a day, according to the IEA, which had previously forecast a decline. The IEA raised its estimates for Russia by 110,000 barrels a day this year and 260,000 barrels a day in 2010. The revisions follow government tax incentives for developing new fields. (7/10, #4)
  • Since January of 2007, Nigerian oil has accounted for an average of 9.6 percent of all crude oil imported into the U.S. With such a large percentage of one country’s oil going to the US, it’s not surprising that what happens in Nigeria has repercussions across the global oil market. (7/8, #11)
  • British investment in the North Sea fell 20 percent between 2005 and 2008, despite the high oil prices. The reasons include an exodus by the oil majors and an influx of independents. These players have been hurt by the credit crisis. Norway’s outlook is brighter than the UK’s. StatoilHydro, 62 percent government owned, says it will be able to keep production from the Norwegian Continental Shelf steady at around 1.5 million b/d over the next 10 years. OPEC in its latest World Oil Outlook says the UK’s total output will drop to 1.2 million barrels a day in 2013, from 1.6 mbpd last year. (7/11, #15)
  • With little notice and almost no public debate, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders are pushing ahead with a new constitution for their semiautonomous region, a step that has alarmed Iraqi and American officials who fear that the move poses a new threat to national unity. (7/10, #6)
  • Iraq needs more than $50 billion of investments in the country’s petroleum industry in the next five to six years, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said Friday. The country plans to increase its crude oil production to 6 million barrels a day by the end of 2015, from the current 2.4 million barrels. (7/10, #8)
  • If Iraq wants foreign investment – which even the most nationalist oil unions say is necessary to some degree – to enhance their oil sector, they will have to pay for it. Thus far the price tag is too low for most potential investors. (7/9, #8)
  • Iraq’s 4.4 billion barrel Nassiriya field is to be developed in three phases starting at 50,000 b/d and Iraq now believes the field can produce up to 1 million b/d, nearly three times as much as earlier estimates, within 12 years. (7/9, #9)
  • The number of US drilling rigs, after climbing for 3 consecutive weeks for the first time since early September, is down by 12 units to 916 rigs working this week. That’s down 55 percent from the peak last September. (7/11, #14)
  • The completion of the Rockies Express pipeline in the US is allowing cheap gas from the Rockies to displace more than 10 percent of Canada’s gas exports to the Midwest. This has forced more Canadian gas into storage and lowered natural gas prices for Canadian producers. Previously, the natural decline of gas production in Canada helped keep natural gas prices high at the Edmonton AECO hub. But then came horizontal drilling, shale gas, and the REX pipeline. (7/10, #15)
  • On July 5, just nine days after the House passed the cap and trade bill (also known as Waxman-Markey), Chinese officials made it clear they are opposed to any carbon taxation scheme. The spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry said the bill violates basic principles of the World Trade Organization and said that the ruse of environmental protection was being used to protect trade and that it could induce a trade war. Developed countries have moved dirty industries to developing countries, and now the carbon dioxide emissions from those industries are being considered “pollution.” (7/10, #11)
  • As many as 180 nuclear power reactors may be completed in the next eight years in countries from China to Brazil, according to the World Nuclear Association, while a further 282 have been proposed. (7/9, #19)
  • The Vancouver city council will soon decide whether to require developers to install electric car-charging stations in at least 10 per cent of all new condo parking lots — a proposal that’s creating a chicken-or-the-egg debate. (7/9, #22)
  • China’s passenger-vehicle sales rose 48 percent in June, the biggest jump since February 2006, as government stimulus spending spurred an economic revival. Full-year vehicle sales are now forecast to be more than 11 million. (7/10, #12)
  • China has launched its highest-profile criticism of the dominant role of the US dollar as a global reserve currency at a meeting of the world’s biggest economies. While China desires in the long run to move to a more multipolar global financial system, officials understand that there is no short-term alternative to the dollar and may not be for many years. (7/10, #3)
  • Iranian oil demand dropped by 30,000 barrels a day in January to April year, compared with a growth of 100,000 barrels a day in the same period in previous years. (7/8, #9)
  • US traffic congestion, which has steadily been worsening, pulled back in 2007, according to a new study from the Texas Transportation Institute. The pullback was the first in the 25 years that the data has been compiled. (7/9, #16)
  • The American Automobile Association estimates that the number of drivers traveling over the Fourth of July weekend—that penultimate holiday weekend of the summer—dropped by 10.5 percent over the last two years. (7/9, #20)
  • The global financial crisis may not affect investment in renewable energy projects this year as countries strive to cut emissions of pollutants and reach a new climate-change agreement, according to the International Energy Agency. (7/11, #4)
  • Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens has called off plans to build the world’s biggest wind farm in the Texas Panhandle. Pickens said the wind farm project was scuttled partly because of the lack of adequate transmission lines to carry the electricity from remote locations to cities. (7/9, #18)
  • The European Union imposed five-year tariffs on US biodiesel to help EU producers counter American subsidies and price undercutting, a step that may stoke trans-Atlantic trade tensions. (7/7, #13)
  • South Korea, Asia’s third-biggest crude oil importer, plans to invest $84.4 billion over the next five years in improving energy efficiency to help cut reliance on fossil fuels and boost economic growth. The investments will include spending on developing solar power, hybrid cars and energy-saving lighting. The government will spend the equivalent of about 2 percent of gross domestic product annually in 2009- 2013 on renewable energy. (7/6, #17)
  • [From the Editors: we kid you not:] Urine-powered cars, homes and personal electronic devices could be available in six months with new technology being developed by scientists from Ohio University. Using a nickel-based electrode, the scientists can create large amounts of cheap hydrogen from urine that could be burned or used in fuel cells. (7/10, #21)

Quote of the Week

  • “Speculators cannot profit from sustained high prices; they can only profit from changing prices. So, yes, the recent volatility in the oil market can certainly be attributed to speculation, but speculation cannot support an extended price rally… While speculators affect the market in both directions, commercial participants [e.g. airlines] tend to put upward pressure on prices.”
    — Ari J. Officer, contributor to Time magazine, works for a Chicago trading firm

Energy Stat of the Week

  • There are more than 250 million vehicles on the road in the U.S., and of those only 142,000 are powered by natural gas, T. Boone Pickens said. Pickens, whose plan for autos would initially emphasize heavy-duty trucks, said he’d like to see 1.3 million trucks running on natural gas by 2014. (7/9, #17) [Editors’ note: in 1990, the Natural Gas Vehicle Association set a target of 10 million CNG vehicles on U.S. roads by the year 2000. They didn’t come close. The Pickens Plan has a steep hill to climb, but it’s a story to follow.]