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Secret Talks, China’s Covid Crisis, And Biden’s SPR Buyback Wrap Up A Wild Year

Today we’re offering a free glimpse into our weekly Global Energy Alert communique. In this segment, our intelligence director highlights the week’s most important stories in energy.  It’s a bite-sized overview of the news you can’t afford to miss.

Politics, Geopolitics & Conflict

Evidence, most of it anecdotal, that China’s struggle with Covid has taken a turn for the worse is mounting, weighing on oil prices and global fears of recession. A report in the Wall Street Journal claims that a crematorium for Covid-19 deaths is overflowing with bodies and that it may be possible that Beijing is not reporting real death toll figures or positive cases. Adding to the unconfirmed reports, epidemiologists are coming out of the woodwork with dire predictions, such as more than 60% of China’s population could be infected over the next three months.

High-level, very secretive talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran going on in Baghdad have now stalled over the widespread protests engulfing Iran, with Tehran accusing Riyadh of helping to foment the unrest in the aftermath of the death of a young woman in the custody of ‘morality police’. Rapprochement does not now look likely between the two bitter rivals in the foreseeable future.

A bomb near the Northern Iraqi oil region of Kirkuk killed at least 9 Iraqi police officers over the weekend, with no group claiming responsibility for the attack. The bomb targeted a police convoy in the area, some 30 kilometers southwest of oil-rich Kirkuk, which is now under federal Iraqi control. This is a region where ISIS has previously operated, before security forces–largely thanks to Kurdish Peshmerga–pushed them out in late 2017. Since then, Iraqi forces controlled by the federal government in Baghdad have managed Kirkuk. Prior to this, Kurdish forces controlled the region. ISIS typically claims responsibility for its attacks.

Three European countries–Hungary, Romania, and Georgia–signed a deal with Azerbaijan over the weekend for the construction of an electricity connector that will run under the Black Sea and serve as a new source of power that is not reliant on Russian energy sources. The cable would link Azerbaijan to Hungary via Georgia and Romania.

Italian Eni is hoping to soon start exploration on Block 9 offshore Lebanon following the resolution of a long-running maritime dispute with Israel. However, Israel wasn’t Lebanon’s only oil exploration problem: Syria also has a maritime border dispute with Syria that could impinge on Eni’s plans for Block 9, which Lebanon is desperately hoping will be another major find along the lines of Israel’s Leviathan natural gas play. Part of the maritime area that overlaps contains exploration blocks awarded by Syria to Russian companies. Maritime borders with Cyprus will also have to be more clearly delineated.

There are indications emerging that Libya’s Fatih Bashagha, the rival prime minister, is attempting to throw a wrench in the country’s oil expiration deal with Italian Eni. In a statement this week, Bashagha accused Eni of seeking to change the percentage of participation between itself and the Libyan NOC in the Mellitah Oil and Gas Company, calling it “exploitation” and “suspicious deals”.

Discovery & Development

Chevron has discovered a massive 3.5-trillion-cubic-feet of gas offshore Egypt, adding to the supermajor’s Leviathan field reserves in the Israeli portion of the Mediterranean. The discovery is in the Nargis exploration block and could turn Egypt into a major energy hub, adding to another huge discovery of the Zohr gas field by Italian Eni in 2015. Egypt is already home to some 1.7% of the world’s known gas reserves and produced nearly 68 billion cubic meters of gas last year.

Germany launched its first floating LNG terminal over the weekend, after a rapid construction period that was fast-tracked to reduce reliance on Russian gas. The vessel docked in Germany’s Wilhelmshaven port on Saturday, loaded with 167,000 cubic meters of LNG from Spain. Uniper is the operator of the terminal and first gas will be delivered to German consumers on December 22nd. The new terminal will be able to supply around 8% of Germany’s annual natural gas consumption.

TC Energy Corp., the operator of the Keystone oil pipeline, has delayed the restart of the pipeline by another week following the 14,000-barrel oil spill. The new target date for restart is December 28-29.

Italian Eni has announced a gas discovery offshore Cyprus at Zeus-1 well in what will be its third discovery in Block 6 following Cronos-1 and Calypso-1. Zeus-1 encountered 105 m of net gas pay in a carbonate reservoir sequence, and the gas in place is preliminarily estimated at 2-3 trillion cubic feet.

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Regulations

The Biden administration on Friday launched the buyback program for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), hoping to lure more oil production out of American drillers with attractive pricing. The DoE will buy 3 million barrels of crude at fixed prices with long-term contracts to refill the SPR (it’s usually not long-term/fixed, but market prices at time of delivery). This could motivate drillers because it removes some of the risks of spending to drill because prices are locked in.


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