There are a number of developments putting upward and downward pressure on oil prices this week, ranging from NAFTA talks and Trump’s most recent Chinese tariff threat, to the prospect of removing up to a billion barrels of Iranian oil from the market very soon. So far, the upward pressure is proving strongest, but the downward pressure is keeping things at bay. Oil prices have climbed more than 10 percent in the past two weeks, but that has been driven more by bullish sentiment than real-time bullish fundamentals.
Thursday saw oil prices dip slightly over the trade war, particularly with Trump’s threat to pull out of the WTO and to make good on a promise to slap tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese imports as early as next week. These two developments led analysts to slash price forecasts for this year, fearful that the trade war will dampen global growth and energy demand along with it. The forecast is significant because it’s the first time in nearly a year that analysts have slashed prices downward.
But fear not … Sentiment was already working its way back up by Friday because the supply surplus is draining, and it’s about to drain much more significantly. Venezuela is a constant drain, and everyone expects Iranian crude supply on the market to be cut significantly even before the second round of sanctions take effect in early November. All in all, potential gains for Brent and WTI are lining up and there seems to be every reason to be bullish. We can already see the supply drain with mounting volumes of unsold crude, and with buyers of Iranian crude already slashing purchases, the next few weeks should see more of drain.
WTI is over $70, and Brent is nearing $78, and gains are expected to be another 2% and 4%, respectively, over the coming weeks in the run-up to November sanctions.
Iran’s crude oil and condensate exports are set to drop to 64 million barrels this month (2.06 million bpd). For perspective, that would be the first time Iranian ultra-light oil shipments have dropped below 70 million barrels since April last year. At the highest, China was importing 24 million barrels this year, and is expected to see only 18.4 million barrels for August as scaling down picks up speed.
And even with the trade war fires threatening to scupper global oil demand, Wood Mackenzie says that India’s demand for oil will outpace China’s by 2024, with demand expected to grow by 3.5 mbpd from 2017 to 2035, accounting for one-third of global oil demand growth.
Discovery & Development
• ExxonMobil just recorded its 9th discovery offshore Guyana. The discovery is in the Hammerhead-1 well in the Stabroek Block. While this is Exxon’s 9th discovery in Guyana, it’s also its 5th discovery at Stabroek in the past year. Drilling at Hammerhead launched on July 27yh and found approximately 197 feet (60 meters) of high-quality, oil-bearing sandstone reservoir. The well was safely drilled to 13,862 feet (4,225 meters) depth in 3,373 feet (1,150 meters) of water. Exxon is fast-tracking exploration and development in this “new concept play”. They are targeting “significant undrilled targets” and are bringing in a second exploration vessel in October to begin drilling at the Pluma prospect, which is near the string of discoveries.
• Italian Eni has made a new gas discovery in the Egyptian Western Desert (EWD). The company said that the discovery well has been open to production delivering 25 million cubic square feet per day, confirming the East Obayed Concession’s potential. Eni currently produces 55,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from the EWD.
• Norway's Equinor (two-thirds owned by the Norwegian government) will drill up to 3,000 exploration or development wells off the coast of Norway in the hope of finding new oil and gas fields and extending the life of existing fields. The wells will be drilled in the coming decades and aims to extend the life of more than 20 installations and to achieve an average recovery rate of 60% from its oil fields and 85% from its gas fields. Such a recovery rate would be nearly twice the average global oil recovery rate of 35%.
• A subsidiary of Exxon Mobil (Esso Deepwater) has launched exploratory drilling in two wells for new sources of natural gas off the southern coast of Australia, in the deepwaters of the Gippsland Basin. The Baldfish and Hairtail exploration wells will establish the extent of any gas reserves in the field and the possibility for development of new gas supplies from the already-producing basin.
Deals, Mergers & Acquisitions
• Royal Dutch Shell has acquired a 26% stake in the Hazira LNG project in the western Indian state of Gujarat from venture partner Total SA (no financial details disclosed). French Total is exiting as the Indian government launches reforms to improve transparency and competition in the gas market.
• UK oilfield services provider Petrofac Ltd has agreed to sell its 20% interest in the Greater Stella Area of the North Sea to oil and gas operator Ithaca Energy in a deal worth up to $292 million. Ithaca was recently acquired by the Israeli Delek Group, and this latest deal boosts its production base by nearly 50%. Ithaca now boasts some 22,000 bopd for this year.
• Eclipse Resources Corporation (an Appalachian natural gas producer) and Blue Ridge Mountain Resources announced that they have entered into a definitive merger agreement after months of speculation that Eclipse was one of the most likely takeover targets outside the Permian basin. The transaction suggests an enterprise value for the combined company of approximately $1.4 billion and an equity value of approximately $908 million.
• Russian state-owned Gazprom Neft has partnered with Russian S7 Airlines to use blockchain-based smart contracts for aircraft fueling (smart fuel contracts). The first refueling of a S7 scheduled flight using the new system took place at Tolmachevo airport (Novosibirsk)—the site of a Gazprom-Aero refueling complex.
• There have been varying reports coming out of Saudi Arabia related to Aramco’s rights to Saudi oil and gas fields. Some reports have made this seem a victory for Aramco, which is now being given a 40-year concession for fields, with a 20-year potential extension. However, others will point out that the previous set-up gave Aramco eternal concessions, with no limits. This all comes amid the drama over the Aramco IPO, which has been delayed indefinitely. According to our sources on the ground, the game right now is simply to save face for MbS—it can’t be outright cancelled. It has to be delayed and then forgotten about. There has been, from the start, much opposition to this IPO domestically.
• Workers union ‘Unite’ is suspending a planning strike on three North Sea rigs operated Total, after an arbitration group was called following a breakdown in negotiations last week over pay issues. A series of strikes that began on July 23 have led to a reduction in gas production by as much as 13 million cu m/d and oil output by 70,000 b/d.
Regulatory, Legal Updates
• California lawmakers have approved a bill to ban construction of any new pipelines aimed at hindering Trump’s plans to allow new offshore oil drilling off the state’s coast. The bill would prohibit the State Lands Commission from allowing any new wharfs, piers, pipelines and other facilities in state waters from the shoreline out to three miles offshore that could be used to expand oil production.
• The Trans Mountain pipeline project has been dealt another blow as a Canadian court has blocked it, ruling that the country’s federal government didn’t properly consider the impacts of the controversial 5.7 billion, 715-mile pipeline. It is a major blow for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government, which approved Trans Mountain in 2016 and was so determined to see it built that it announced plans this spring to buy the pipeline.
• Brazil’s state-run Petrobras will appeal an unfavorable Dutch court ruling related to the suspension of a drilling contract with U.S.-based Vantage Drilling Co. Last week, Amsterdam judge has allowed US company to restrict assets owned by Petrobras, in an effort to collect $622 million in damages. It is alleged that in 2015 Petrobras wrongfully terminated its eight-year contract with Vantage, claiming the company had breached its obligations. Petrobras claims that the contract was canceled as part of the “Car Wash” corruption probe into payment of bribes in exchange for contracts.
Politics, Geopolitics & Conflict
• Iran and China have been exploring investment opportunities in Iran’s LNG industry, with official meeting in Tehran earlier this week. The focus is on small-scale LNG projects, with production capacities ranging from 2,000 to 500,000 tons a year. Additionally, China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) is expected to take the lead on a $5B project to develop Iran’s South Pars gas field (the largest in the world) after Total withdrew following U.S. sanctions renewals.
• Iraq's state-owned company oil marketing body, SOMO, is said to be close to signing a contract with China’s state-run Zhenhua Oil Company in a move that would significantly improve Iraq’s position in Asia. China is under pressure to cut oil purchases from Iran.
• France’s Environment Minister, Nicolas Hulot, has resigned on live radio, citing an “accumulation of disappointments” in his government with regards to meeting climate change goals. Hulot is a popular figure in France, and correspondents say his departure is a major blow to President Emmanuel Macron.
• Land-locked South Sudan has agreed to pump its oil through Sudan as part of a new deal on transportation fees. Last week, the government of South Sudan re-launched pumping 20,000 barrels per day of crude from Toma South oilfield, where production had been stopped since the outbreak of civil war 2013. Sudan is charging South Sudan $4/barrel to transport its crude oil to export terminals on the Red Sea.
• Iran has threatened to half oil exports to the Middle East if it is not allowed to ship through the Strait of Hormuz. In other words, Iran is saying there will be no security for anyone shipping crude through the strait if Iran is cut off. And the threat hails from Iran’s military generals. Such threats have been repeated for the past two months.