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Skyrocketing Energy Prices Could Cripple Europe’s Economy

Skyrocketing Energy Prices Could Cripple Europe’s Economy

Surging energy prices in Europe are hurting more than just consumers. The price spikes have started to hit industrial activities, threatening to deal a blow to the post-COVID recovery in European economies with a triple whammy of reduced consumer purchasing power, lower industrial production, and higher operating costs.

Giant European firms, from chemicals and mining to the food sector, say sky-high gas and electricity prices are hitting their profit margins and forcing some of them to curtail operations.

Some factories have shut down because of record natural gas prices. More idling of industrial activity across Europe is likely in the coming weeks, analysts say.

Meanwhile, the record European natural gas prices are sending Asian spot prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to record levels for this time of the year—between peak summer demand and ahead of the winter heating season.

Europe’s tight gas market, low wind speeds, abnormally low gas inventories, and record carbon prices have combined in recent weeks to send benchmark gas prices on the continent and power prices in the largest economies to record highs. Almost daily, gas and power prices in Europe surge to fresh records, putting pressure on governments as consumers protest against soaring power bills.

It’s not only consumers that struggle with the record energy prices. Industries are starting to feel the heat, too.

CF Industries, a manufacturer of hydrogen and nitrogen products, said this week it was halting operations at both its Billingham and Ince manufacturing complexes in the UK due to high natural gas prices.

“The Company does not have an estimate for when production will resume at the facilities,” CF Industries said.

Norway-based Yara, one of the world’s top ammonia producers, is curtailing production due to the record-high gas prices.

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Why Norway Won’t Give Up On Oil & Gas

Why Norway Won’t Give Up On Oil & Gas

Norway doesn’t have any second thoughts about oil exploration and investment in light of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report suggesting that no new fossil fuel exploration would be needed for a net-zero world.

Western Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer is doubling down on oil development and continues to consider oil exploration and production a critical part of its economy and income for the state.

Norway, the country with the highest electric vehicle (EVs) share of new car sales anywhere in the world, is not giving up on one of its core industries. The oil and gas sector is a major employer and the key contributor to the so-called oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund with US$1.3 trillion in assets and holdings of 1.4 percent of all of the world’s listed companies.

The Norwegian government believes that the industry could reduce emissions and reach net-zero operations on the Norwegian continental shelf, at the same time ensuring new oil developments to support the local supply chain and employment. Norway is also betting big on offshore wind and carbon capture technology, including with strong financial support from the government, but it believes that oil and gas can continue to create value in the long term.

Norway is betting on offshore wind, hydrogen, and electrification to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement, but its oil and gas sector will continue to play a major role in long-term job creation, economic growth prospects, and value for the country, the government said in a White Paper last month.

“The main goal of the government’s petroleum policy – to facilitate profitable production in the oil and gas industry in a long term perspective – is firmly in place,” Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Tina Bru, said.

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European Bank For Reconstruction And Development Ends All Upstream Oil Financing

European Bank For Reconstruction And Development Ends All Upstream Oil Financing

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will no longer invest in oil and gas exploration and production, the bank’s Managing Director Harry Boyd-Carpenter told Reuters as the institution pledged to align all its activities to the Paris Agreement goals from the end of next year.

“We will no longer invest in upstream oil and gas projects,” Boyd-Carpenter told Reuters on Thursday.

On the same day, the bank announced that its Board of Governors decided at the Annual Meeting 2021 to accelerate decarbonization across the regions it operates, supporting them to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The EBRD invests in projects in central and eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean.

The EBRD, however, will continue to invest in selected oil and gas projects in the downstream and midstream that are aligned to or contribute to the Paris Agreement goals, EBRD’s Boyd-Carpenter told Reuters.

“The low carbon transition requires the world economy to move in less than 30 years from a more than 80 per cent reliance on fossil fuels to a net-zero model. This is a challenge that is unprecedented in economic history. Similarly, the associated opportunity is enormous,” the EBRD’s First Vice-President Jürgen Rigterink said in a statement.

The EBRD is the latest bank to announce it would halt financing for one or other form of oil and gas.

Last year, Deutsche Bank ended financing for new oil and gas projects in the oil sands and the Arctic region effective immediately.

In the United States, Goldman Sachs said in December 2019 that it would decline to finance new Arctic oil exploration and production and new thermal coal mine development or strip mining. Wells Fargo and JPMorgan have also said they would stop financing new oil and gas projects in the Arctic.

Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ said that banks should finance low-carbon climate-resilient projects, not big fossil fuel infrastructure that is not even cost-effective anymore.

Oil Prices Set To Head Even Higher As Market Tightens

Oil Prices Set To Head Even Higher As Market Tightens

Solid oil demand is driving up the spot crude prices in every part of the world. This is a clear indication that the physical oil market is finally catching up with the recent rally in the paper market.

The strengthening appetite for crude in Asia and tightening regional markets due to changed differentials between regional benchmarks are, in turn, supportive of the oil futures rally, analysts and traders tell Reuters.

The surging premium of Brent over the Middle Eastern benchmark Dubai now makes shipping crude grades from the Atlantic Basin to Asia uneconomic because they are priced off the Brent benchmark. So Asian demand for Middle Eastern and Russian grades priced off the Dubai benchmark is high, driving the spot premiums for Omani crude and Russia’s ESPO and Sokol grades close to a one-year high.

At the same time, the narrowing discount of WTI Crude to Brent Crude is effectively shutting the arbitrage for U.S. crude to go to Europe and Asia as the less-than-$2 a barrel spread makes shipping American oil to the major import markets uneconomical.

As a result of these dynamics in spreads between regional benchmarks, physical crude supply in each of the regions is tightening. First, because it’s uneconomical to import crude from other regions. Second, because oil demand is rebounding as the summer driving season begins and economies reopen from restrictions in mobility.

In the paper market, Brent Crude prices already hit $75 a barrel this week, for the first time in over two years. WTI Crude was above $73 early on Wednesday as demand strengthened and as U.S. crude oil inventories were estimated by the American Petroleum Institute (API) to have shrunk by 7.199 million barrels for the week ending June 18.

Backwardation in the WTI futures continues to tighten—a sign of a tighter market.

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Depleted Gas Stocks Force Europe To Use More Coal

Depleted Gas Stocks Force Europe To Use More Coal

With power demand recovering from the pandemic, European utilities are using more coal as natural gas inventories are unusually low for this time of the year due to a cold snap in late winter and early spring.

This year, despite the record-high carbon price in Europe, the use of coal for power generation has jumped by up to 15 percent, Andy Sommer, team leader of fundamental analysis and modeling at Swiss trader Axpo Solutions, told Bloomberg in an interview published on Tuesday.

“Gas storage is so low now that Europe cannot afford to run extra power generation with the fuel,” Sommer told Bloomberg.

Natural gas stockpiles are some 25 percent below the five-year average, and with such a right gas market, utilities run more coal-fired power generation, analysts say.

Europe had already started to restock with natural gas following a harsh winter that drained inventories when a cold snap in April caused unusual additional withdrawals from storage.

“A cold snap in April caused a counter-seasonal net withdrawal of inventory, worsening the storage situation which for several months has been running below seasonal averages,” Wood Mackenzie said in its Q2 LNG short-term trade and price outlook at the end of May.

As a result of the low levels of natural gas in storage, the price of the Dutch TTF gas, the European benchmark, has rallied by over 50 percent so far in 2021. Prices are close to the highest level for late spring since 2008, according to Bloomberg estimates.

With the ultra-tight gas market, power generation from coal is rising in Europe, despite the record-high EU carbon price, which exceeded US$60.50 (50 euro) per ton in early May.

The current situation with the power mix in Europe is indicative of the challenges the continent and the European Union face in their push to make the grids greener.

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Leak Reported At Chinese Nuclear Power Plant

Leak Reported At Chinese Nuclear Power Plant

A nuclear power plant in southeastern China could turn into an “imminent radiological threat,” the part owner of the facility, a French company, has told the United States, CNN reported on Monday, citing U.S. officials and a letter of the French firm it had obtained.

The U.S. has been assessing the report of the fission gas leak over the past week, CNN reports, quoting the warning from the French firm that China’s authorities had raised the limits of acceptable radiation levels at and around the plant to avoid a shutdown.

The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in the Chinese province of Guangdong is being operated by a joint venture in which French energy giant EDF and its subsidiary Framatome hold 30 percent. The EDF Group and its subsidiary Framatome supplied the EPR pressurized reactor technology for the plant.

According to officials in the U.S. Administration who spoke to CNN, the situation with the Chinese nuclear power plant has not reached a “crisis level.”

The French company has reached out to the United States to obtain a waiver that would allow them to share U.S. technical assistance to resolve the issue at the plant.

China has yet to acknowledge that there is a problem, CNN reports.

The U.S. administration has been in contact with the French government to discuss the situation, sources told CNN. Contact has been made with China, too, although it is not clear to what extent.

Following the report from CNN, the French company Framatome issued a statement on Monday related to Taishan’s reactor number 1, saying that it “is supporting resolution of a performance issue with the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant.”

“According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters,” the company said.

“Our team is working with relevant experts to assess the situation and propose solutions to address any potential issue,” Framatome added.

Saudi Arabia And Russia Warn Of Major Oil Supply Crunch

Saudi Arabia And Russia Warn Of Major Oil Supply Crunch

The debate about emissions reduction and the path forward for oil companies moved to a whole new level since the International Energy Agency (IEA) dropped last month the bombshell report suggesting no new investment in oil and gas would be needed if the world is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Environmentalists and activist shareholders intensified pressure on large public oil firms to align their businesses with a net-zero scenario, while some of the international majors acknowledged they have a part to play in the energy transition.

But the leaders of the OPEC+ group, Saudi Arabia and Russia, will continue to invest in oil and gas because, they say, the world will still need those resources for decades, despite the growing push against fossil fuels and investment in new supply.

Chronic underinvestment in oil and gas supply while operational oilfields mature would lead to a supply crunch and a spike in oil prices down the road, analysts and Big Oil top executives such as TotalEnergies’ Patrick Pouyanné say.

While international oil majors were somewhat more contained in their views on the IEA report—those that commented on it anyway—Saudi Arabia and Russia didn’t beat around the bush and said outright that the suggestion of no new oil and gas investments ever is “unrealistic,” “simplistic,” and taken out of a “La La Land” script.

BP’s chief executive Bernard Looney wrote that forecasts of much lower investments in oil and gas were “in many ways consistent with our approach – to reduce our oil and gas production by 40% in the next decade.” Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi commented on Looney’s post that “We are now at a historic turning point, where each of us needs to play an active role.”

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Extreme Drought Puts California’s Power Supply At Risk

Extreme Drought Puts California’s Power Supply At Risk

A more severe than usual drought in California has depleted reservoirs and lakes, including the ones feeding some of the largest hydropower facilities, putting the state again at risk of power outages during heat waves this summer.

Last year, residents in California went through rolling outages as there was insufficient energy to meet the high demand during the heatwave.

This year, the drought in California has reduced output of hydropower stations and could force the state with ambitious emission-reduction targets to rely more on its remaining natural gas-powered plants for baseload electricity supply.

Water levels at Lake Oroville, for example, are much lower than usual and could fall to below a threshold by August—one that could prompt state officials to shut down the Edward Hyatt Power Plant, the Associated Press reports.

The Hyatt power plant is the fourth largest energy producer of all the hydroelectric facilities in California.

North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) warned last month in its 2021 Summer Reliability Assessment that parts of North America are at elevated or high risk of energy shortfalls this summer during above-normal peak temperatures. California falls in the “high risk” category, as it relies on large energy imports during peak demand and when solar resource output retreats in the evening hours, according to NERC.

“California is at risk of energy emergencies during periods of normal peak summer demand and high risk when above-normal demand is widespread in the west,” NERC says.

California needs imports to the area to “maintain reliability when demand peaks in the afternoon and to ramp up even further for several hours as internal resources draw down,” the assessment notes, despite the fact that the state will have 675 megawatts (MW) of new battery energy storage systems online at the start of the summer that can continue to supply stored energy for periods when needed.

 

U.S. Oil Bankruptcies Shoot Up In Q1 2021

U.S. Oil Bankruptcies Shoot Up In Q1 2021

The number of North American producers that filed for bankruptcy protection in the first quarter of 2021 reached the highest number for a first quarter since 2016, yet the wave of bankruptcies has significantly slowed since the peaks in the second and third quarter of 2020, law firm Haynes and Boone said in its latest tally to March 31.

The Oil Patch Bankruptcy Monitor showed that eight producers filed for bankruptcy this past quarter, which was the highest Q1 total since 2016 when 17 oil producers in North America sought protection from creditors.

Texas accounted for 50 percent of the total producer filings in the first quarter of 2021, with four in total, Haynes and Boone said.

The law firm noted that there were no producers with billion-dollar bankruptcies in Q2 2021, which had not happened since the third quarter of 2018.

The total debt for producers that filed in the first quarter was just over $1.8 billion—the second-lowest total for a Q1 after $1.6 billion in Q1 2019, according to Haynes and Boone.

Even though the number of first-quarter 2021 bankruptcies was the highest for a Q1 since 2016, it showed the trend of slowing filings after 18 oil and gas producers filed in the second quarter of 2020 and another 17 in the third quarter, the two quarters in which the oil price crash and the crisis were most severely felt by indebted producers.

Apart from eight producers, the first quarter of 2021 also claimed five oilfield services companies that filed for bankruptcy, Haynes and Boone data showed. This number is the third-lowest Q1 total since 2015, and much lower than 27 filings in Q3 2020 and another 17 filings from oilfield services companies in Q4 2020.

The aggregate debt for oilfield services companies that filed in Q1 2021 was over $7.2 billion—the third-highest Q1 total since 2015, but one company, Seadrill Limited, accounted for 99.8 percent of the aggregate debt for the quarter, Haynes and Boone said.

Shell To Exhaust Dwindling Oil & Gas Reserves By 2040

Shell To Exhaust Dwindling Oil & Gas Reserves By 2040

Shell expects to have produced 75 percent of its current proved oil and gas reserves by 2030, and only around 3 percent after 2040, the supermajor said in its Energy Transition Strategy that it will put to a non-binding shareholder vote next month.

Discussing the risk of stranded assets in the energy transition, Shell said that every year it tests its oil and gas portfolio under different scenarios, including prolonged low oil prices, and cross-references assets with break-even prices to assess if they would still be viable in case of low oil and gas prices.

At December 31, 2020, Shell estimated that around 70 percent of its proved plus probable oil and gas reserves, known as 2P, will be produced by 2030, and only 5 percent after 2040.

Shell’s proved oil and gas reserves have been declining in recent years, shrinking the reserves life to below eight years of production.

In 2020, Shell’s proved reserves—taking production into account—decreased by 1.972 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) to 9.124 billion boe at December 31, 2020, the firm’s annual report showed.

That’s reserves for just seven years of production, lower than most peers.

The declining reserves life is not unique for Shell. The largest international oil companies have seen their average crude reserves drop by 25 percent over the past five years, which could be a challenge for Big Oil’s production and earnings in the coming years, Citi said earlier this month.

The supermajors reported lower reserves in their most recent reports, also due to the 2020 oil price and oil demand collapse, which forced all of them to write off billions of U.S. dollars off the value of assets.

In Shell’s case, the declining reserves life is not in contradiction to its assessment from earlier this year that its oil production peaked in 2019 and is set for a continual decline over the next three decades.

Oil Major Total Sees 10 Million Bpd Supply Gap In 2025

Oil Major Total Sees 10 Million Bpd Supply Gap In 2025

France’s supermajor Total is warning that the world could find itself with a shortfall of supply of 10 million barrels per day (bpd) between now and 2025, due to continued underinvestment in the industry, the OPEC+ pact, and cracks in the U.S. shale business model.

“There is a risk of supply crunch in the mid-term,” Helle Kristoffersen, President, Strategy and Innovation at Total, said on the company’s Q4 earnings call this week.

“We have seen in 2020 how OPEC managed to bring back market discipline. We’ve seen the cracks in the US shale model, and we’ve seen a continued underinvestments in the oil industry as a whole,” Kristoffersen said.

The market needs new oil projects, considering the fact that many producing oilfields will see natural declines in production, the executive said.

“And that’s true, even if you take very cautious view on short-term demand recovery and on future demand levels,” Kristoffersen added, noting that “a 10 million barrels per day gap in supply between now and 2025, that’s a massive shortfall of supply to cover in just a very few number of years.”

Last year, the coronavirus accelerated a structural decline in upstream oil investments as all E&P firms, oil supermajors, U.S. shale producers, and national oil companies alike, slashed capital expenditures in the wake of the price crash.

Investments in new oil supply have now slumped to a more-than-a-decade low.

OPEC+ currently has a lot of spare capacity that could come on stream when demand recovers. But sustained investments in oil and gas will be needed to meet global consumption of oil, which the world will continue to need, peak demand or not, analysts and forecasters warn.

“The world may be sleepwalking into a supply crunch, albeit beyond 2021. A recovery in oil demand back to over 100 million b/d by late 2022 increases risk of a material supply gap later this decade, triggering an upward spike in price,” says Simon Flowers, Chairman and Chief Analyst at Wood Mackenzie.

 

IHS Markit: Oil Demand Won’t Fully Recover Until 2022

IHS Markit: Oil Demand Won’t Fully Recover Until 2022

Global oil demand will likely take another year or so to return to pre-pandemic levels—by late 2021 or early 2022, energy expert and IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin told Al Arabiya English in a video interview on Monday.

Yergin’s expectations for oil demand are roughly in line with the forecasts by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC, which don’t expect annual oil demand to return to the pre-COVID levels next year, despite the projected rise compared to this year’s slump.

Continued low demand for jet fuel will account for 80 percent of next year’s 3.1-million-bpd gap in oil demand compared to pre-pandemic levels, the IEA said in its monthly Oil Market Report earlier this month. OPEC also revised down its oil demand projections for this year and next in its Monthly Oil Market Report for December, expecting 2021 oil demand at 95.89 million bpd, down 410,000 bpd from its projection of 96.3 million bpd from November.

IHS Markit’s Yergin doesn’t see the biggest disruption on the oil market as either bringing forward or delaying peak oil demand.

“At the end of the day, it won’t have much impact on peak oil demand, which I still think will be around 2030 or so,” Yergin told Al Arabiya English.

The Pulitzer-Prize winning energy author also discussed the U.S. shale patch and the chances of it returning to the rapid growth in production in the years just before the 2020 price crash.

“Let me give you a very simple answer, the answer is no,” Yergin told Al Arabiya English when asked if U.S. oil production could return to 1.5-million-bpd annual growth.

According to IHS Markit, shale production will stay relatively unchanged at around 11 million bpd until late 2021, before it starts rising, but it will increase at a much more moderate pace.

“So that 1.5 million barrels per day, that two million barrels per day that was so disruptive for the oil market, that’s history,” Yergin told Al Arabiya English.

Middle East Oil Producers Are Drowning In Debt

Middle East Oil Producers Are Drowning In Debt

Arab Gulf oil producers are losing billions of U.S. dollars from oil revenues this year due to the pandemic that crippled oil demand and oil prices. Because of predominantly oil-dependent government incomes, budget deficits across the region are soaring.

Middle East’s oil exporters rushed to raise taxes and cut spending earlier this year, but these measures were insufficient to contain the damage.

The major oil producers in the Gulf then rushed to raise debt via sovereign and corporate debt issuance. Bond issues in the region have already hit US$100 billion, exceeding the previous record amount of bonds issued in 2019.

Thanks to low-interest rates and high appetite from investors, the petrostates are binging on debt raising to try to fill the widening gaps in their balance sheets that oil prices well below their fiscal break-evens leave.

Saudi Aramco Taps International Debt Market Again

One of the latest issuers is none other than the biggest oil company in the world, Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco, which raised this week as much as US$8 billion in multi-tranche bonds.

Aramco is tapping the international U.S.-denominated bond market for the second time in two years, after last year’s US$12 billion bond issue in its first international issuance, for which it had received more than US$100 billion in orders.

Saudi Aramco prefers to considerably increase its debt to cope with the oil price collapse than to touch its massive annual dividend of US$75 billion, the overwhelming majority of which goes to its largest shareholder with 98 percent, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Analysts warn that the dividend windfall from Aramco will not be enough to contain Saudi Arabia’s widening budget deficit if oil prices stay in the low $40s for a few more years.

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Oil Price Crash Costs Saudi Arabia $27.5 Billion In Revenue In 2020

Oil Price Crash Costs Saudi Arabia $27.5 Billion In Revenue In 2020

The oil price collapse is depriving Saudi Arabia of US$27.5 billion in oil revenues this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Friday, admitting that the current oil income is not enough to cover the Kingdom’s salaries bill.

Saudi Arabia had projected last year that this year’s revenues for the state would be US$222 billion (833 billion Saudi riyals), of which US$137 billion (513 billion riyals) would come from oil, the crown prince said in a speech carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

However, after the collapse in oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s oil revenues actually dropped to US$109 billion (410 billion riyals), Mohammed bin Salman said.

Thus, the price crash—which Saudi Arabia itself helped to create by flooding the market with oil in April—cost the world’s top oil exporter just over US$27.5 billion in oil revenues this year.

“These revenues alone are insufficient to cover even the salaries bill estimated at 504 billion riyals in this year’s budget, not to mention the difficulty of financing other items which include capital spending by 173 billion riyals and social security benefits by 69 billion riyals as well as operation and maintenance bill estimated at 140 billion riyals and others, which means an economic recession and millions of jobs lost,” Mohammed bin Salman said in his speech.

The collapse in oil prices has forced the Kingdom to take some very unpopular measures such as tripling the value-added tax (VAT), reducing payouts to poorer households, and discontinuing cost-of-living allowances for state workers.

Earlier this week, Fitch Ratings revised down its the outlook on Saudi Arabia’s long-term foreign-currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’, citing “the continued weakening of its fiscal and external balance sheets, which has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic and lower oil prices, despite the government’s strong commitment to fiscal consolidation.”

Shell’s Largest Refinery Reduces Crude Processing Capacity By 50%

Shell’s Largest Refinery Reduces Crude Processing Capacity By 50%

Shell will halve the crude oil processing capacity of its largest wholly owned refinery in the world, Pulau Bukom in Singapore, as part of its ambition to be a net-zero emissions business by 2050 or sooner, the supermajor said on Tuesday.

Pulau Bukom hosts the largest wholly-owned Shell refinery globally in terms of crude distillation capacity, 500,000 barrels per day (bpd), and it also has an ethylene cracker complex with a capacity of up to a million tons per year and a butadiene extraction unit of 155,000 tons annually.

As Shell is looking to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and is transforming its refining business for the new future, it will cut the crude processing capacity at Pulau Bukom by about half, the company said. In that new future, the Pulau Bukom Manufacturing Site will be one of Shell’s six energy and chemicals parks, and will pivot from a crude-oil, fuels-based product slate towards new, low-carbon value chains.

“Our businesses in Singapore must evolve and transform, and we must act now if we are to achieve our ambition to thrive through the energy transition. Our decisive action today will help Shell in Singapore stay resilient and build a cleaner, more sustainable future for all of us,” said Aw Kah Peng, Chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore.

The reduced refinery capacity in Singapore will result in fewer jobs at the site, Shell said, while a Shell spokeswoman told Reuters that the supermajor would cut around 500 jobs by the end of 2023. Currently, Pulau Bukom employs around 1,300 people.

Shell is implementing a new downstream strategy to reshape its refining business towards a smaller, smarter refining portfolio focused on further integration with Shell Trading hubs, Chemicals, and Marketing.

As part of this strategy, Shell has sold the Martinez Refinery in California to PBF Holding Company for US$1.2 billion.

Shell is also set to shut down its 211,000-bpd refinery in Convent, Louisiana, after failing to find a buyer for the site.

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