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How Oil Prices Could Go To $100

How Oil Prices Could Go To $100

Offshore

“We’re in a deflationary moment that surpasses anything seen in most people’s lifetimes,” proclaimed a New York Times byline on Tuesday, the morning after oil prices went negative. The West Texas Crude Intermediate benchmark plummeted to previously unimaginable depths, closing the day at negative $37.63 per barrel.  The novel coronavirus has wreaked unprecedented havoc on the global economy, shutting down entire industrial sectors and bringing countries across the world to a halt as the global community shelters in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Economists have warned that the fallout is going to be the largest economic downturn that we have seen in our lifetimes, but few could have foreseen the absurdity of negative oil prices. 

Few, but not none. Three weeks ago, on April 1, CNBC published a report titled “Oil prices could soon turn negative as the world runs out of places to store crude, analysts warn,“ which predicted exactly what is happening now. “Global oil storage could reach maximum capacity within weeks, energy analysts have told CNBC, as the coronavirus crisis dramatically reduces consumption and some of the world’s most powerful crude producers start to ramp up their output.”

While the situation is totally unprecedented it’s impossible to say what will happen next for oil markets, some experts think that oil is poised for a major comeback. Even though oil prices are lower than they have ever been, “one energy fund thinks $100 a barrel is achievable,” reported the Midland Reporter-Telegram earlier this week. At the time of the report, oil was only at an 18-year low rather than an all-time low. The article intro continued:  “But first, prices need to fall even further.” Well, they got their wish. 

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U.S. Oil Drilling Grinds To A Halt At Key Shale Hotspots

U.S. Oil Drilling Grinds To A Halt At Key Shale Hotspots

Shale rig

Oil and gas production in the United States has peaked and is already in decline. 

The latest data from the EIA’s Drilling Productivity Report sees widespread production declines across all major shale basins in the country. The Permian is set to lose 76,000 bpd between April and May, with declines also evident in the Eagle Ford (-35,000 bpd), the Bakken (-28,000 bpd), the Anadarko (-21,000 bpd) and the Niobrara (-20,000 bpd). 

Natural gas production is also in decline, a reality that occurred prior to the global pandemic but is set to accelerate. The Appalachian basin (Marcellus and Utica shales) are expected to lose 326 million cubic feet per day (mcf/d) in May, a loss of 1 percent of supply. In percentage terms, the Anadarko basin in Oklahoma is expected to see an even larger drop off – 216 mcf/d in May, or a 3 percent decline in production. 

The sudden declines in production illustrates the fatal flaw in the shale business model. Once drilling slows down, production can immediately go negative due to steep decline rates. Shale E&Ps have to keep running fast on the drilling treadmill in order to keep production aloft. But the meltdown in prices has forced the industry to idle 179 rigs since mid-March. 

With drilling grinding to a halt, output has slumped as “legacy” production declines take hold. That is, without new wells coming online to offset the declines from existing wells, overall production falls. 

In specific terms, the Permian, for example, will lose 356,000 bpd from “legacy” wells in May, more than overwhelming the 280,000 bpd in new output from new wells. On a net basis, the Permian is set to lose 76,000 bpd in May. 

That legacy decline rate has deepened with each passing year, requiring more aggressive drilling each month to keep production on an upward trend. But the treadmill has finally caught up to the industry. 

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Oil Price War Claims Another Victim

Oil Price War Claims Another Victim

LNG Qatar

The oil price war has already claimed its first victim.

Whiting Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: WLL), once the largest oil and gas producer in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy becoming the first major shale producer to do so in the current year. Whiting has cited the “severe downturn” in oil and gas prices courtesy of the Saudi Arabia-Russia oil price war and COVID-19-related impact on demand. 

But this shale producer has no plans to go into a state of suspended animation: Whiting has announced that it will go ahead with full production claiming it has ample liquidity with $585M of cash on its balance sheet and has reached an agreement in principle with certain noteholders for a comprehensive restructuring.

In short, Whiting’s playbook is to buy more time hoping for a rebound in energy prices to bail it out. 

WLL shares have jumped 15.1 percent after the bankruptcy announcement–probably an indication that investors believe the company has healthy odds at a comeback. Still, the shares have crashed an appalling 95 percent YTD, making the sector’s 46.9 percent YTD plunge appear tame in comparison. Whiting has announced that existing shareholders holders will only receive 3 percent of the equity in the reorganized company. 

The bankruptcy is symptomatic of the sheer pain reverberating throughout the oil supply chainas per Bloomberg.

It also serves as a cautionary tale for the battered natural gas sector which is, sadly, following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia, Russia and the oil sector by stubbornly refusing to lower production.

Source: CNN Money

Head Fake

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The OPEC Meeting Could Send Oil Prices Crashing Below $10

The OPEC Meeting Could Send Oil Prices Crashing Below $10

OPEC Meeting

The current optimism of analysts and the media that an end to the ongoing OPEC+ oil price spat is near is entirely unjustified. The ongoing oil market volatility, the battle between leading producers for market share, the logistical impossibility of enforcing U.S. production cuts, and the continued demand destruction caused by COVID-19 are not issues that can be solved by an OPEC meeting. Immediately after Trump’s latest OPEC twitter offensive, Saudi Arabia and Russia came out with critical statements about the impact and influence of the US president on the matter. While Putin and Mohammed bin Salman are reluctant to bash Trump, the real power when it comes to the oil market does not lie with the U.S. President. The tweet by Trumpclaiming that MBS and Putin would agree to a 10+ million bpd production cut shows not only his overestimation of his own power over the two countries, but also shows a lack of knowledge about the underlying market fundamentals and the current demand destruction worldwide.  As former US president George W. Bush stated during his election campaign, which did not end well as we know, “it’s the economy stupid” that matters in the end. Trump’s tweets and general approach to this matter suggests he and his administration are out of touch with reality. Even if a Saudi-Russian combination would cut 10 million bpd, the oil price reaction would be minimal and very short-lived. At present, leading oil market experts such as Vitol, Trafigura and Goldman Sachs are warning of a total demand destruction of 20 million bpd or more.

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Unprecedented Demand Destruction Marks The Return Of The Super Contango

Unprecedented Demand Destruction Marks The Return Of The Super Contango

Super Contango

These days, every corner of the oil market is “unprecedented”—from the demand destruction to the supply surge and the resulting glut. The oil futures curve is no exception and is also in a state never seen before.   This is the super contango, the market situation in which front-month prices are much lower than prices in future months, pointing to a crude oil oversupply and making storing oil for future sales profitable.  

The last time a super contango appeared on the market was during the previous glut of 2015. During the peak of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the super contango hit a record—the discount at which front-month futures traded compared to longer-dated futures was at its highest ever.

The double supply-demand shock of the past month threw the oil futures market into another super contango. And this super contango is already beating previous records.

The super contango is representative of the state of the oil market right now: the growing glut with shrinking storage capacity as oil demand craters, OPEC’s leader and the world’s top exporter, Saudi Arabia, intent on further cratering the market with a supply surge beginning this month. Storage costs are surging, and so are costs for chartering tankers to store oil at sea for future sales when traders expect demand to recover from the pandemic-hit plunge.

The market structure flipped into contango in early February, when the Chinese oil demand slump in the coronavirus outbreak led to lower estimates for oil consumption. A month and a half later, oil consumption is set to plunge by 20 million bpd, or 20 percent, this month. Add to this the Saudi supply surge, and here we have what analysts expect to be the largest glut the oil market has ever seen.

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What Happens If Oil Prices Go Negative?

What Happens If Oil Prices Go Negative?

Oil Price War

Various reports hit the news feeds today quoting a deliberately headline-grabbing statement by Paul Sankey, managing director at Mizuho Securities, in which he is reported as saying, “Oil prices can go negative.” That is, they could as a combination of Saudi Arabia (and Russia) flooding the market with increased oil and the market running headlong into COVID-19-induced curtailment of activity that is suppressing consumption, which combined will create the perfect storm of excess supply.

In reality, inventory levels are already rising.

CNN quotes Sankey, who said global oil demand is only around 100 million barrels per day.

However, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could crash demand by up to 20 percent.

This would create a 20 million barrel-per-day surplus of oil in the market that would rapidly exceed storage capacity, forcing oil producers to pay customers to buy the commodity – hence, in effect, negative oil prices.

The American government plans to purchase a total of 77 million barrels of oil starting within weeks the article states, but according to Sankey, this can only be done at a rate of 2 million barrels per day, leaving a massive excess that will be looking for a home.

Brent oil prices have already fallen to the lowest level for 17 years. The consequences for the U.S. oil industry if a coronavirus-induced recession drives down demand could be catastrophic.

West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) collapsed by a staggering 19.2 percent to $22 while the Mexican Basket is down 22.4 percent.

For a short while, hedges will protect producers and they will continue to pump oil. While that will protect producers for a while, it encourages counter-cyclical practices; producers should be cutting back but instead will probably continue to pump and ship into store.

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The Inevitable Outcome Of The Oil Price War

The Inevitable Outcome Of The Oil Price War

Putin MBS

One might reasonably posit that when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) signalled that Saudi Arabia was once again going to produce oil to the maximum to crash oil prices in a full-scale oil price war, Russian President Vladimir Putin probably fell off the horse he was riding bare-chested somewhere in Siberia because he was laughing so much. There is a phrase in Russian intelligence circles for clueless people that are ruthlessly used without their knowledge in covert operations, which is ‘a useful idiot’, and it is hard to think of anyone more ‘useful’ in this context to the Russians than whoever came up with Saudi’s latest ‘plan’. Whichever way the oil price war pans out, Russia wins.

In purely basic oil economics terms, Russia has a budget breakeven price of US$40 per barrel of Brent this year: Saudi’s is US$84. Russia can produce over 11 million barrels per day (mbpd) of oil without figuratively breaking sweat; Saudi’s average from 1973 to right now is just over 8 mbpd. Russia’s major oil producer, Rosneft, has been begging President Putin to allow it to produce and sell more oil since the OPEC+ arrangement was first agreed in December 2016; Saudi’s major oil producer, Aramco, only suffers value-destruction in such a scenario. This includes for those people who were sufficiently trusting of MbS to buy shares in Aramco’s recent IPO. Russia can cope with oil prices as low as US$25 per barrel from a budget and foreign asset reserves perspective for up to 10 years; Saudi can manage 2 years at most.

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Only 5 Shale Drillers Are Still Profitable At $31 Oil

Only 5 Shale Drillers Are Still Profitable At $31 Oil

Haynesville

Most shale oil wells drilled in the United States are unprofitable at current oil prices, Rystad Energy has warned. The Norwegian consultancy said, as quoted by Bloomberg, that drilling new wells would be loss-making for more than 100 companies.

Just five shale drillers—Exxon, Chevron, Occidental, and Crownquest—can drill new wells at a profit at $31 per barrel of West Texas Intermediate.

The problem is the nature of shale oil wells: while quick to start production and expand it, they are also quick to run out of oil, so drillers need to keep drilling new ones to maintain production, which is what U.S. shale patch players have been doing for years. However, this has affected investor returns, Bloomberg notes, and now it is affecting spending plans.

“Companies should not be burning capital to be keeping the production base at an unsustainable level,” Tom Loughrey from shale oil data company Friezo Loughrey Oil Well Partners LLC told Bloomberg. “This is swing production — and that means you’re going to have to swing down.”

The situation is more positive for drilled but uncompleted wells, according to Rystad. The consultancy said yesterday that as much as 80 percent of DUCs in the U.S. shale patch have a breakeven price of less than $25 per barrel of WTI. Yet this is dangerously close to current prices.

If nobody blinks in this supply war, prices may have to go this low in order to properly reduce production and get supply-demand back in balance,” Rystad’s head of shale research, Artem Abramov, said in the news release.

“This could turn out to be one of the greatest shocks ever faced by the oil industry, as coronavirus containment measures will add to the headache of producers fighting for market share. And OPEC has clearly stated that it won’t be coming to the rescue in the second quarter of 2020,” he also said. 

The Race For Arctic Oil Is Heating Up

The Race For Arctic Oil Is Heating Up

Arctic LNG

Despite climate concerns and environmentalist backlash against exploration for oil and gas in pristine sensitive regions of the Arctic, companies continue to explore for hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic Circle, in Russia and Norway in particular.

The largest Russian energy companies are looking to explore more Arctic oil and gas resources on and offshore Russia, while Norwegian and other Western oil firms are digging exploration wells in Norway’s Barents Sea.

Those companies lead the development efforts to tap more Arctic oil and gas resources as legacy oil and gas fields both offshore Norway and onshore Russia mature.  

Russia’s biggest energy firms Gazprom, Rosneft, Novatek, and Lukoil, and Norway’s oil and gas giant Equinor, as well as Aker BP and ConocoPhillips, are the top oil and gas producers in the Artic region, data and analytics company GlobalData said in a new report. Gazprom is the undisputed leader in Arctic oil and gas production, followed, at a long distance, by two other Russian firms, Rosneft and Novatek, GlobalData’s estimates show.

Russian firms are ramping up exploration in Russia’s Arctic, while Equinor and other Western companies drill exploration wells in Norway’s Barents Sea, hoping for a significant discovery that could add to the Johan Castberg oilfield—a massive discovery which was made in 2011, but which hasn’t been replicated in the Barents Sea so far.  

Yet, both Russia and Norway face specific challenges in getting the most out of their respective Arctic oil and gas resources. 

In Russia, the government has made Arctic oil and gas development a key priority and offers tax breaks for firms exploring in the area.

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“Gasmaggedon” Sweeps Over Global Gas Market

“Gasmaggedon” Sweeps Over Global Gas Market

CNOOC LNG

China’s state-owned gas importers are considering declaring force majeure on LNG imports, which would amplify the turmoil in global gas markets.

LNG prices have already plunged to their lowest levels in a decade in Asia as the ramp up of supply in 2019 came at a time when demand has slowed. That was true before the outbreak of the coronavirus. But the quarantine of around 50 million people and the shutdown of huge swathes of the Chinese economy has sent shockwaves through commodity markets.

Shipments of oil and gas are backing up at Chinese ports, which is creating ripple effects across the world. Now, Chinese state-owned CNOOC is considering declaring force majeure on its LNG import commitments, according to the FT. Sinopec and CNPC are also apparently considering the move.

Prices were already in the dumps. JKM prices recently fell to 10-year lows. But they have continued to decline, approaching $3/MMBtu for the first time in history. Just a few weeks ago, JKM prices were trading at around $5/MMBtu, itself an incredibly low price for this time of year.

LNG exports from the U.S. are uneconomical at these price levels. Many exporters have contracts at fixed, higher prices. But shipments can be cancelled for a fee. And any spot trade would be hit hard. The question now is whether shipments will come to halt. “Forward prices for summer are now at levels where U.S. LNG shut-ins begin to seem viable,” Edmund Siau, a Singapore-based analyst with energy consultant FGE, told Bloomberg. “There is usually a lead time before a cargo can be canceled, and we expect actual supply curtailments to start happening in summer.”

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The Oil Industry’s Radioactive Secret

The Oil Industry’s Radioactive Secret

shale operation

“All oil-field workers are radiation workers.”

That quote comes from a blockbuster investigation by Justin Nobel writing in Rolling Stone, who has spent more than a year and a half researching and reporting on radioactivity in fracking waste.

When a well is drilled, it produces a ton of brine, a salty substance that comes out of the ground. Shale wells can produce as much as ten times more brine than they do oil and gas. While hydrocarbons prove to be useful, the brine needs to be hauled somewhere for disposal. Often it is reinjected into disposal wells, or, in some cases it is sent to water treatment plants.

The problem is that the brine can be radioactive. As Nobel writes in Rolling Stone, radioactive brine may be dramatically increasing the cancer risk for people who come in contact with it. The workers who handle the waste are most obviously at risk. But there are plenty of others. The brine is used for de-icing roads, so municipalities are essentially spreading radioactivity all over roads in various parts of the country.

Old oilfield equipment is also repurposed. Rolling Stone spoke with a Louisiana inspector who saw a child sitting on a fence that was so radioactive that someone might receive a full year’s radiation dose in a single hour. Related: Hydrogen Costs Could Be Set To Plunge By 50%

The oil and gas industry dismisses the risk of radioactivity in the brine, which is naturally occurring, as not something that anybody should be worrying about. However, some of the experts that Nobel interviewed argue otherwise. First of all, the notion that just because something exists naturally in the world somehow makes it benign, is odd. “Arsenic is completely natural, but you probably wouldn’t let me put arsenic in your school lunch,” one nuclear-forensics scientist told Rolling Stone.

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Can Europe’s Largest Economy Survive Without Coal?

Can Europe’s Largest Economy Survive Without Coal?

Germany Coal

One of the greatest moral dilemmas that has been creeping into the everyday activities of specialists working with coal, oil and in some cases even gas (despite its being perceived a natural bridge to a low-carbon future) could be phrased in the following way: how do you stop producing fossil fuels when you still have cheap ample reserves? In this context coal stands out – its relative inferiority in terms of environmental pollution prompted governments in developed economies to ban its future usage. Yet whenever its production is not curtailed by government-mandated cuts, producers simply continue to extract as much coal as possible. Straight in the middle of the so-called European approach to coal lies Germany, an erstwhile bulwark of the coal industry. Can it eventually survive without coal?

In stark contrast to oil and gas – of which Germany has traditionally been a major net importer and in both cases looking back to a more than 50-year history of depending on primarily Russian hydrocarbon riches – Europe’s leading economy has substantial reserves of coal, lignite in particular. In fact, Germany remains the world’s largest producer of lignite and burns most of it for power generation, accounting for some 22 percent of the nation’s gross electricity output. Ironically, lignite production is more COintensive than hard coal as it is done by extracting coal from open-cast pits, nevertheless, its mid-term future looks a lot better than that of hard coal mining in Germany.

Whilst lignite remains economically competitive, Germany’s hard coal production went downhill after the government ended its subsidy schemes. The last hard coal mine closed its gates in December 2018, ending a 200-year history of the Ruhr Region and potentially starting a new development phase of Westphalia, a geographical phenomenon inextricably intertwined with coal. 

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Burning Trees For Heating Won’t Help With Climate Change: UK Think Tank

Burning Trees For Heating Won’t Help With Climate Change: UK Think Tank

coal

A suggestion by the UK Committee on Climate Change to burn more wood and plant replacement trees as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels has drawn criticism from think tank Chatham House, which says this is hardly the best approach to reducing emissions.

“Expanding forest cover is undoubtedly a good thing, if you’re leaving them standing,” energy expert Duncan Brack told the Daily Telegraph. However, Brack, who served as special adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, suggested that burning wood for heating was not the most sustainable way forward. Calling wood burning a carbon neutral process is “highly dubious,” Brack added.

These claims, according to the Telegraph’s environment editor, Emma Gatten, rest on the assumption that the carbon footprint of chopping down trees and burning them is offset by planting new trees to replace them. This assumption excludes the fact that older trees absorb more carbon and that it takes time to replace a forest.

“You can leave trees standing and they will continue to absorb carbon for decades,” Brack says. “But the biomass industry implicitly assumes that forests at some point stop reach a saturation point for carbon intake and can be harvested and simply replaced.” 

The benefit of planting trees to mitigate the effects of climate change has been put to the test on a wider scale as well. A study released last year found that reforestation could work, but it had to be done at a massive scale.

We need to plant 25 percent more trees than there are on Earth right now, or more than half a trillion in total, the study found. This would reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by a quarter, erasing 20 years of emissions. Yet it would not solve the climate problem on its own, without a sustained effort to cut emissions, commentators on the study said.

The “Twin Threats” Facing Big Oil

The “Twin Threats” Facing Big Oil

Wolfcamp rig

The global oil and gas industry is facing the “twin threats” of the loss of profitability and the loss of social acceptability as the climate crisis continues to worsen. The industry is not adequately responding to either of those threats, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“Oil and gas companies have been proficient at delivering the fuels that form the bedrock of today’s   energy system; the question that they now face is whether they can help deliver climate solutions,” the IEA said.

The report, whose publication was timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, critiques the oil industry for not doing enough to plan for the transition. The IEA said that companies are spending only about 1 percent of their capex on anything outside of their core oil and gas strategy. Even the companies doing the most are only spending about 5 percent of their budgets on non-oil and gas investments.

There are some investments here and there into solar, or electric vehicle recharging infrastructure, but by and large the oil majors are doing very little to overhaul their businesses. The top companies only spent about $2 billion on solar, wind, biofuels and carbon capture last year.

Before even getting to the transition risk due to climate change, the oil industry was already facing questions about profitability. Over the past decade the free cash flow from operations at the five largest oil majors trailed the total sent to shareholders by about $200 billion. In other words, they cannot afford to finance their operations and also keep up obligations to shareholders. Something will have to change. 

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Russia Bets Big On The World’s Least Explored Oil Frontier

Russia Bets Big On The World’s Least Explored Oil Frontier

offshore africa

When the inaugural Russia-Africa summit was held in October 2019, most industry observers believed that the majority of projects under discussion would not get past the FID stage – in no small part because of their varied economic prospects. As well as wheat exports, nuclear technologies, conventional weaponry and ore mining, oil loomed large on the agenda. With the OPEC+ agreement entering its third consecutive year and oil prices stabilizing around $60 per barrel, Russian oil firms have enough cash to invest but face an uncertain future with domestic projects as no one really wants to see their own project ending up in the category of “spare production capacity”.

International sanctions and the ramifications they entail have compelled Russia to look beyond their usual investment regions – with little to no investments in Europe since 2014. Gazprom is now an unwelcome investor in Europe and even the privately-owned LUKOIL has mulled divesting its downstream assets and has reduced its retail presence in Europe. Investing in the United States or Canada is completely out of question for reasons predominantly political, whilst Middle Eastern NOCs have grown to become competitors, themselves looking for opportunities to diversify their portfolio. Due to all of the above factors, Africa has emerged somewhat naturally as a suitable region for Russian investment.

The Russian Energy Ministry has repeatedly declined to link Russia’s newly-found interest in Africa and the OPEC+ curtailments, saying that greenfield projects usually require 5-7 years before commissioning and thus the time gap between today’s issues and future production is too wide to impact any forecasts.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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