Published Apr 6 2009 by ASPO-USA
Archived Apr 6 2009

Peak Oil Review - Apr 6

by Tom Whipple

Save the Date: ASPO-USA Annual Conference; Denver, CO, Oct 11-13.
It doubles as the ASPO-International Conference for 2009

1. Production and Prices
After falling into the high $40s, oil prices closed out the week about where they started, at $52 a barrel. The struggle continues between bad economic news combined with pessimistic economic forecasts vs. investor optimism that the end of the economic downturn is in sight.

Comments to the effect that OPEC production cuts can no longer control the oil market continue to surface. On Thursday the Secretary General of OPEC said, “I think we can live with prices of around $50 for the time being. The world economy is in a very bad condition." This is a major concession to the reality that higher priced oil could exacerbate the global economic situation and that for the time being, oil exporters need to tighten their belts. Last week the head of the IEA likened the collapse in oil prices to a trillion dollar stimulus package that will either restart the world economy or at least slow the pace of the recession.

Tanker tracker Oil Movements reiterated that it expects OPEC exports (excluding Angola and Ecuador) to decline by another 960,000 b/d before the middle of April. China reported that its crude imports in January and February declined by 9.5 percent.

New forecasts that the global GDP will continue to contract suggest that the IEA will be lowering its projection for global oil demand this year. Analysts’ projections for oil prices continue to vary widely. Some believe that falling demand and increasing unemployment will soon have prices testing lows below $35 a barrel. Others are more impressed by OPEC production cuts and see prices moving higher in the near future.

2. The Clean Energy & Security Act
Last week the chairs of two key Congressional Committees released a draft of the most far-reaching energy and climate change legislation ever proposed in the U.S. The four titles of the bill, which has dozens of subsections, encompass:

1. A clean energy title that promotes renewable sources of energy, carbon capture and sequestration technologies, low-carbon fuels, electric vehicles, and the smart grid and electricity transmission;

2. An energy efficiency title that increases energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy, including buildings, appliances, transportation, and industry;

3. A global warming title that places limits on emissions of heat-trapping pollutants; and

4. A transitioning title intended to protect US consumers and industry and promotes green jobs during the transition to a clean energy economy.

Congressional leaders hope to get the bill through the House by the end of May and signed by the President prior to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.

Among the more controversial provisions of the bill is the effort to cut carbon emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to require companies to acquire permits to release greenhouse gases. The prospects for the bill are cloudy. The bill should make it through several House committees that have jurisdiction, but may run into trouble in the Senate where there is strong Republican opposition and some wavering Democrats.

A major roadblock to the bill will be the state of the economy. Any change in energy policy of this magnitude is likely to impose new costs on consumers and businesses. For those who do not see an imminent threat from global warming and believe that energy problems can be solved through more offshore drilling, this bill is an anathema. The administration, however, has significant power to act unilaterally on many of these issues under the Clean Air Act, thereby leaving Congress out of the decision making. There is clearly a long and tortuous path for the bill between May and December.

3. Cuba
Relations between the US and Cuba seem to be warming. Cuban officials are already in discussions with members of the US Congress to end the 47-year trade embargo. Last week a senior Cuban official said that Cuba would welcome the help of US oil companies in developing its oil resources. Although Chinese, Russian, Angolan, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Malaysian companies are already in discussions about developing Cuban oil, US companies have vast resources in and near the Gulf of Mexico that could develop Cuban oil much more quickly and cheaply. The official noted that the problem of bringing equipment from China is one reason that Cuba to date has only drilled one off-shore well.

US companies would like a share of the Cuban oil business. But after nearly 50 years, opposition to the Cuban regime has hardened to the point that easing trade restrictions will be difficult without significant concessions by the Cuban government.

Cuba says it has some 20 billion barrels of reserves, a number that is three or four times higher than outside estimates. While US firms could probably undercut bids from more distant companies, with oil prices at $50 a barrel deepwater drilling is not always an economic proposition. While the Obama administration is said to be moving to ease travel restrictions with Cuba, there seems to be both no sense of urgency plus many political problems connected with lifting trade sanctions.

4. Detroit
With the rejection of the automobile industry’s recent restructuring plans, attention is now focusing on some sort of managed bankruptcy before the end of June. GM’s new CEO seems willing to entertain the idea and is on record as saying that the company cannot move forward in the midst of a recession without a balance sheet that has been purged of debt and union contract obligations. Current discussions seem to involve splitting GM into a potentially profitable piece that could emerge quickly from bankruptcy while the rest is liquidated by the courts.

GM currently has 60 days of government support to work out its problems, while Chrysler is supposed to achieve some sort of merger with Fiat by the end of April or face liquidation. There are wide ranging implications for the US economy, but with industry sales stuck well below the level of profitability there seems to be no other choice.

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

  • Kuwait has boosted production capacity to 3 million b/d and is on track to reach its goal of 4 million by 2020, the head of its state oil company said on Monday. (3/31, #7)
  • Kuwait plans to pump 450,000 barrels a day of heavy oil by 2020, cutting an earlier target agreed on with Exxon Mobil Corp., as part of a new energy strategy that will be completed this year. (4/1, #3)
  • OPEC is more scared of the market fundamentals than it has been before. The group's spare capacity already amounts to as much as 6 million b/d, according to some analysts. And it will rise still further as the new Saudi fields come on stream and if compliance with the existing cuts rises beyond 80%. (4/1, #17)
  • Global oilfield spending will probably fall 30 percent this year, cutting non-OPEC supply by 1.7 million b/d by the end of 2010, and pushing oil prices up another 60 percent, Sanford Bernstein forecast. (4/3, #8)
  • The number of LNG tankers sailing to Japan, the world’s biggest buyer of the fuel, fell 47 percent in the past two weeks as the recession cut demand from power producers. The number of tankers sailing to the US doubled to four in two weeks. (4/4, #4)
  • The cost to transport crude oil from the Caribbean on Aframax tankers fell 43 percent this week as the supply of ships available for charter exceeded demand. (4/4, #5)
  • Mexican oil exports are already under the 1.370 million bpd target forecast for 2009 by the finance ministry. Crude exports over the first two months of 2009 averaged 1.315 million bpd. (4/4, #7)
  • When OPEC asked its 12 members to reduce output by a combined 4.2 million barrels a day in January, Venezuela agreed to a 364,000 barrels-a-day cut, 11 percent of total production, and vowed the bulk of those cuts would come from exports to the US. But crude shipments from Venezuela to the U.S. rose to an average 1.2 million barrels a day in January, up 14 percent from December. (4/2, #8)
  • Nigeria’s rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta rejected an offer of amnesty by Nigeria’s president in return for laying down its weapons. (4/3, 14)
  • The International Energy Agency is likely to lower its global oil demand forecasts significantly as more bleak economic data emerges, its chief said on Thursday. (4/3, #4)
  • BP and Eni are among global oil companies having difficulty replacing reserves through exploration, preferring instead to buy competitors, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said. (4/3, #21)
  • Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom's March gas production slumped by a quarter from a year ago as demand shriveled in Europe and at home and buyers delayed purchases in hopes that prices would fall. (4/3, #20)
  • A senior government minister said Russia's economy shrank by 7 percent in the first quarter, a news agency reported Thursday, marking a staggering downturn after eight years of oil-fueled growth. (4/3, #19)
  • The International Monetary Fund sees the world economy contracting by between 0.5 and 1 percent in 2009, Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in an interview published on Wednesday. (4/1, #2)
  • Exxon aims to chop billions of dollars from the cost of increasing output capacity at the world's fourth-largest oilfield in the United Arab Emirates. The capacity rise at Upper Zakum accounts for about a third of the UAE's planned boost to total capacity of 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018 from around 2.8 million bpd. (4/1, #4)
  • Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that. (4/2, #10)
  • In India, the nation’s import dependence is likely to fall from 60% to 45% as the production of first gas from RIL-Niko KG basin field, India’s first deep-water project, comes on line. The initial production of gas from the new field will amount to 50 percent of India’s current gas production. Production from the new field is then expected to double by 2011. (3/31, #10
  • With massive deepwater finds in the pre-salt layer, as well as the Campos and Santos Basins, Brazil’s Petrobras pledged an investment of $174.4 billion for 2009 to 2013. With a firm commitment to exploration and production, the company hopes to become one of the five largest energy companies in the world. (4/1, #7)
  • Although the US economy is expected n a paper presented at the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity, University of Calif.-San Diego economist James Hamilton crunched some numbers on how consumer spending responds to rising energy prices and came to a surprising result: Nearly all of last year’s economic downturn could be attributed to the oil price shock. (4/4, #17)
  • US ethanol maker Biofuel Energy has added its name to the growing list of ethanol companies warning about possible bankruptcy. (4/4, #20)
  • The number of U.S. oil and gas rigs rose to 1,043, up four from the previous week, according to rig data from oil-field services company Baker Hughes Inc. (4/4, #10)
  • The US may have as many as 115 billion barrels of “technically recoverable” oil in federal waters, according to a new report from the Interior Department . (The report provided a mean estimate of 86 billion barrels of oil.) The report also said the Outer Continental Shelf contains as much as 565 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and that the east and west coasts hold more than 1,900 gigawatts of potential wind energy. (4/3, #3)
  • The global supply of liquefied natural gas will exceed demand over the next two or three years before the market gets “tight” around 2013, according to Wood Mackenzie, a U.K. energy research and consulting company. (4/2, #7)
  • In 2009, Exxon expects a steep increase in its global liquefied natural gas production with the addition of four large trains, or LNG production units, in Qatar and the start-up of receiving terminals in the U.S., the U.K and Italy. (4/2, #13)
  • Major US airlines are projected to drop passenger volume in 2009 by 8.8% to levels last seen in 1995. Regional airlines will see business drop 4.5%, taking them back to volumes they had four or five years ago, while air cargo is expected to slide 2.8%. (4/1, #12)
  • The US recession has turned a serious shortage of long-haul drivers into a surplus virtually overnight. Disappearing credit has hurt production and shipments of goods of all kinds all at once, idling thousands of trucks. (4/1, #13)
  • Energy companies are pressing to develop technologies for coaxing usable fuels from shale in the Rocky Mountain West despite resistance to exploiting the resource from the Obama administration. (4/1, #14)
  • Airlines worldwide have announced plans over the past year to take 1,700 planes out of service as fewer people fly. The number of planes in storage has jumped 29 percent in the past year to 2,302, according to aerospace data firm Ascend Worldwide. That includes 930 parked by U.S. operators alone, mostly at facilities in the desert Southwest. (4/5, #10)
  • Energy Secretary Stephen Chu met with supporters of the FutureGen project, seen by many as a cutting-edge attempt to burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. (4/1, #20)
  • U.S. electricity demand will continue to shrink in 2009 as the economic meltdown hits industrial power consumption. Electricity sales, which have climbed nearly uninterrupted for 25 years, are expected to decline 1.7 percent this year, the Energy Information Administration said in its most recent outlook. (3/31, #13)
  • The city of Bloomington (Indiana) has established a Peak Oil Task Force, chaired by City Councilman David Rollo. The task force is preparing a report on its findings and will present it to the Bloomington City Council sometime this summer. (4/5, #13)
  • According to an assessment from the Presidential Auto Task Force of struggling US automakers, while the Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle holds promise, “it will likely be too expensive to be commercially successful in the short-term.” (3/31, #20)
  • There are currently 88 deepwater drilling “floaters” being constructed for delivery after January 2009. All rigs in this category are rated for more than 6,500 feet of water, and some are being built to work in waters that measure up to 12,000 feet deep. Currently, there are 101 drill ships and semis worldwide that are capable of working in waters deeper than 4,000 feet; so the additional 88 new builds will change the offshore exploration and production playing field substantially. A few rig-building projects have been halted due to financing and bankruptcy problems. (3/31, #19)
  • Quote of the Week

    "We are swimming in oil because production is strong and demand is weak ... and it is going to remain that way in the short run."
    -- Stephen Schork, oil industry analyst

Original article available here