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Dave Summers

Dave Summers

David (Dave) Summers is a Curators' Professor Emeritus of Mining Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology (he retired in 2010). He directed the…

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Fast Destruction and Slow Reconstruction

Underlying many of the projections of future energy supply that are now being made there are, as mentioned earlier, a lot of assumptions that are beginning to appear more questionable as time passes. Much of the concern has to focus on the instability in the Middle East and North African nations (MENA) that are now increasingly unsettled by civil conflict. While optimism in many reviews anticipates that the turmoil will decline and nations will return to pre-conflict levels or higher, particularly in the case of Iraq, unfortunately this conflicts with much of what we have learned from recent history. Sadly there is also the history of Gazprom, which now also suggests that rosy visions of the future are only that, and what is coming is likely to be much grimmer.

Considering first Libya, once the infrastructure of an oilfield and its links to the outside world, and the operators that run it have been destroyed, seriously damaged or dissuaded from being there, then, particularly where conflict continues over time, restoration of pre-conflict volumes can take more than a decade. Once combatants become embittered by the realities of civil war, so their willingness to subsume the hatreds and other burdens brought on by loss becomes more difficult to engage, and conflict drags on with its continued losses for society. Libya is a sad example of how rapidly production can collapse.

Libyan oil production pre-current conflict
Figure 1. Libyan oil production pre-current conflict (SEPM strata)

The country has now reached as low a rate of daily production (around 240 kbd) as it has seen in recent years.

Recent Libyan oil production
Figure 2. Recent Libyan oil production (from OPEC MOMR)

For some time the powers that be have continued to hope and even project that Libyan production can return to levels of around a million bd, but those hopes seem dubious at best.

Related Article: Instability In Libya Continues To Be A Drag On Oil Prices

Just a week ago the National Oil Corporation announced that it was lifting the “Force Majeure” designation for the Oil Harbor at Zuetina. The first tanker was to load on Friday. According to a Bloomberg report the Ottoman Tenacity was to pick up a cargo of 600,000 barrels from Zuetina and carry it to Europe. The ship was reported to be loading on Friday and is currently just off Cagliari in Sardinia.

Location of the Ottoman Tenacity on Wed May 7th  
Figure 3. Location of the Ottoman Tenacity on Wed May 7th (Marine Traffic)

A second ship was supposedly loading up to 850,000 barrels at Haringa destined for France. Yet according to Marine Traffic it is now (Wednesday) off the coast of Tunisia, and does not, in the end, appear to have revisited Haringa.

The situation in Libya is not really stable, despite the hopes. On Sunday the Parliament swore in a new Prime Minister but his support is not strong, and factions continue to challenge his election. Attacks on the military are also on the increase. Meanwhile the blockade of the Sharara oilfield continues. It is hard to see oil production increasing much above the current levels, despite the optimism.

Yet if this effectively has removed a million bd from the global market, where can this be made up? In the short term Saudi Arabia increased production to cover the shortfall, and is still producing around 9.7 mbd. OPEC production overall remains at around 30 mbd, and is projected to remain at this level over the year.

Related Article: Global Energy Advisory - 2nd May 2014

OPEC notes that the Former Soviet Union is expected to increase production by around 200,000 bd this year, of which almost half will come from Russia itself, but OPEC are careful to include a word of caution in their predictions of Russian output.

The risk to Russia’s supply forecast remains high on technical, political and natural decline grounds.

It is the increasing political risks associated with Russian production, and the supply of that fuel to Europe that are perhaps of most concern. An article in Der Speigel points out that the Russian grip on German fuel supplies is only increasing. One of the Russian oligarchs has just bought one of the German oil and gas production companies for $7.1 billion, and now controls a fifth of German natural gas production and a quarter of its oil production. Another fifth of the German natural gas market, provided by Wingas, is also now Russian as Gazprom bought the company, and its distribution network, in a sale to be finalized this summer. And while Europe is seeing more LNG receiving facilities being constructed there is still a global shortage of export facilities to match that demand. As a result current facilities are significantly under-utilized.

Gazprom has, in the past, shown that it can, when necessary, play hard ball to ensure that it owns and controls the market for natural gas (just ask BP or Turkmenistan), and with the demise of the Nabucco pipeline is in increasing control of natural gas supplies into Europe. That condition cannot change in the short term, LNG facilities take years to plan, permit and construct, and thus the control which Russia exerts over Europe through this grip on the various supply pipelines is likely to continue to influence European opinion and, more realistically, actions in the next few years.

What this all means for the future of Ukraine is rather unfortunate – regrettably it is not clear that Russian ambition will end there and one would suspect that, given the limitations in response to the current and earlier (Georgia) Russian activity, that it will not. How this will affect overall oil and natural gas supply is unclear. OPEC concerns over future Russian production levels appear justified, especially since future developments in Russia will require increasing levels of capital, which might instead be directed at supporting Russian foreign policies – reducing overall volumes available, and more particularly the volumes that Europe has come to depend on. It could make for a couple of interesting years, since there are few alternatives that can be developed within that time frame. And certainly there is, at present, little will to make the capital investments that might bring them about.

Sadly history suggests that the outcome will not be a good one, there are few precedents that would show how one might get out of the increasing messes caused by political instability.

By Dave Summers




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