• The Inevitable Decline Of Big Oil

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    The major International Oil Companies, IOCs, ― Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total, ENI and Statoil ― have seen a marked decline in fortune over the past few years. During the late 1960s for example, the group held more than four-fifths of global crude oil reserves; currently, their share is less than one-sixth. In addition, the group has over the past decade and half, grappled with growth challenges, to wit, profitability and reserves addition. The recent dip in crude oil prices to multi-year troughs has only added to such challenges.

    Two principal issues, in the main have driven the change in fortunes:

    1. Resource Nationalism

    Major IOCs operating in oil-rich countries have over the past few years been required by host governments to cede greater proportions of assets and, or production proceeds. In 1979 for example, Nigeria under the leadership of General Olusegun Obasanjo, nationalized the British oil company BP; the action was consistent with the country’s policy of economic nationalism and afro-centric liberation. In Venezuela, assets belonging to ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips were expropriated in 2007 for their failure to restructure in accordance with the provisions of President Hugo Chávez’s “21st Century Socialism”; Chevron and BP among others relinquished majority shares in their Venezuelan projects. Though there was some financial compensation for the requisitioning, the impact on these IOCs was substantial.

    With the expropriation of the group’s assets came the establishment of wholly-owned National Oil Companies, NOCs, in which acreages and other petroleum assets were vested. These assets, in addition to seemingly limitless state-funding without the restrictive shareholder accountability, set up these NOCs as formidable competitors. Some of the NOCs such as Brazil’s Petrobras and Columbia’s Ecopetrol have since listed in stock exchanges, having restructured and boasting high operational efficiencies as well as cutting-edge technological proficiencies. 

    2.  Spiraling  Costs

    Access by IOCs to production acreages in these oil-rich countries, has largely been through Production Sharing Contracts, PSCs, and Joint Venture Agreements, JVAs, and at very high costs. Production Sharing Contracts in general, require the IOCs to bear exploration ― even where there are no discoveries ― and production costs and then share production proceeds with host countries if and when discoveries are made. However, such proceeds often come under very steep, royalty and other tax regimes sometimes as high as 80% to 90%; and since they are on a sliding scale, usually indexed to oil prices, rising global crude oil prices offer no relief to the IOCs.

    Selected Comparative Indices_ IOCs vs NOCs

    Joint Venture Agreements have become rare. A recent licensing round for Iraq’s massive onshore oil acreages was for service contracts; one of the winning bids, a partnership between Royal Dutch Shell and Petronas was for a mere US$1.39 per barrel of marginal production increase, to the great delight of the host government. Continue reading  Post ID 236



  • Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal: Arsène Wenger Needs New Ideas To Exit That Specialist-In-Failure Tag

    Arsenal FC shieldIt was Week 7 of the Barclays Premier League and Arsène Wenger and his boys were at Stamford Bridge on a redemption mission against José Mourinho and the Blues. The Chelsea team under Mourinho meted out a 6-0 drubbing of Wenger and his boys last season, and that, on a day Wenger was marking his 1,000th game as manager. Even more riling, Mourinho had referred to Wenger as a specialist in failure, for the latter’s inability to win a Premier League title in almost a decade. Wenger’s frustrations may have led to the altercation with Mourihno during the match. While Mourinho may have been uncharitable, few would disagree that Wenger has not made the best of a club with so much potential.

    Again, deficiencies in Wenger’s business model meant Chelsea came out victorious on the day. It was the usual story. Arsenal had all the fanciful possession but no final third capability and of course, the defensive lapse that conceded the contest.

    The reasons are not far-fetched. First, since the departure of Thierry Henry, Arsenal have had, arguably, in Robin van Persie’s last season, just one competent striker; and then he was sold to rivals Manchester United to help them win the Premiere League title. The rest of the strikers have shown rather low chance conversion ratios. As shown in Table 1, Arsenal did not have even one shot on target throughout the match against Chelsea.

    Match Statistics

    The implication then is that against the top Premiere League teams, where goal-scoring chances would be few, Arsenal would be unable to get winning results; and that was the case at Stamford Bridge. Against the top 7 premier League teams of the 2013-2014 season, Arsenal could only win 3 games, losing 5 and drawing 4.

    Secondly, Arsenal’s defensive midfield and backfield capabilities have been unimpressive since the “Invincibles” team of 2004. Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s Belgian winger rode roughshod over the Arsenal midfield and backfield, scoring the first goal of the match. Didier Drogba, during his first-term at Chelsea, had a field day against Arsenal, scoring quite easily in just about every game he played against the club.

    All said, Mr. Wenger’s business model really needs a review. His vision of buying promising youngsters and developing them has not translated to title-winning teams and his preference for players of certain physical attributes upon whom he imposes a certain play-pattern has left him with one of the worst injury lists in the Premier League.
    Table 2 shows the total number of injury days for first team players in the Premier League for the 2010-2011 season through 2013-2014.

    Barclays Premier League_ Total Player-Day Injury Loss (First Team)
    In three of those seasons, Arsenal either topped that table or placed in the top three. Last season, Arsenal had a total of 1,716 days without its first team players, almost 300 more than the second-placed team, Tottenham; it was also more than three times that of Chelsea and almost double those of Liverpool and Manchester City. All three teams finished above Arsenal on last season’s Premier League table. The 2014-2015 has barely begun and already, Arsenal is saddled with long first-team layoffs in Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil and Mathieu Debuchy, while Laurent Koscielny, Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsay and Theo Walcott are out for unspecified periods. Abou Diaby is seemingly permanent on that log.

    Without a rethink of this model, it is unlikely the team will return to title-winning ways, leaving that specialist-in-failure tag firmly in place.



  • Global Crude Oil Prices: Why Uncertainty Will Endure

    Global crude oil prices have fallen significantly over the past few months. Brent crude for November delivery for example settled at US$94.67 per barrel, a 16% drop for the quarter and its lowest for 27 months. West Texas Intermediate also last month fell below US$90 per barrel ending 12% lower for the third quarter.
    Such declines however, bear only mixed fortunes. While manufacturers and other consumers may welcome the relief, crude oil producers especially those engaged in unconventional resources (such as shale) and complex terrains (such as the deep offshore or the Arctic) may not be so welcoming; and that is because the falling crude oil prices may test the upper range of breakeven prices for some of these producing fields.

    At present, there are three principal drivers for global crude oil prices:

    Demand
    The 2008 global economic crises saw a decline in the world’s total petroleum consumption; among member-countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) however, that decline began well in advance, in 2005 (Figure 1).

    Total Petroleum Consumption _OECD, Non-OECD 2005-2013

    A sustained rise in oil prices led to the introduction of higher efficiency and conservation measures such as Renewable Fuel Standards and Fuel Efficiency Standards which further reduced consumption.

    Global rebound from that recession has been modest and that has led to sluggish growth in demand for petroleum, which is still the dominant energy form for powering the world’s economic wheel. In the United States, rebound has been slow and factory activity reports for September indicate an uneven expansion. For the European Union, growth has been fragile and the prospects for 2015 are modest. France and Germany are the two European economic powerhouses but in September, factory activity shrank for the first time in 15 months in Germany while France saw a contraction for the fifth month running. In the United Kingdom, manufacturing activity fell to a 17-month low in September.

    Rising emerging market demand for petroleum was expected to countervail the decline in developed economies, however GDP growth in this economic group has slowed; according to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, GDP growth in emerging markets slowed from 7% during 2003-2008 to 6% during 2010-2013 and is expected to further fall to 5% during 2014-2018. Even the Asian economic giants have seen a measure of slower economic growth. China, on concerns about slowing economic growth, recently cut mortgage rates for the first time since the 2008 crises, in an effort to bolster a flagging housing market. India and South Korea have also witnessed contractions in manufacturing activity.

    Production
    The steep rate of crude oil production increase in the United States ― in addition to increases from Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries ― has contributed significantly to the current excess global supply. Such is the contribution from producers outside the Middle East that the current ISIS crises in Iraq has had little if any effect on global crude oil prices. According to the Energy Information Administration, total oil supply by the United States exceeded those of Saudi Arabia and Russia to record the highest value for a country in 2013 (Figure 2).

    Total Oil Supply_U.S., Russia Saudi Arabia 2005-2013

    According to Platts, the estimated surplus of global oil supply over consumption for 2014 is currently about 800,000 barrels per day. That surplus is set to increase as OPEC members prepare for a price-reduction battle in order to protect their market share. The net effect of the supply glut has been downward pressures on prices.

    Dollar Rates
    Exchange rates for the United States dollar with regard to major global currencies have also impacted crude oil prices. The U.S. currency strengthened to a two-year high against the Euro and a four-year high against several major currencies. Since crude oil is bench-marked in United States dollars, the effect of that strengthening has been to make the commodity more expensive, exerting downward pressures on demand and hence prices.

    All said, given the current levels of oil oversupply and the phlegmatic rates of global economic activity, oil prices will most probably remain comparatively low in the short to medium term. Some analysts expect a further decline of about US$10 per barrel from current price levels. This will test the profitability of cost-intensive producers. Breakeven prices for tight oil producers in the United States for example are estimated to be between US$65 per barrel and US$85 per barrel. For the Canadian oil sands, the values are US$75 per barrel for steam-assisted gravity drainage projects and US$100 per barrel for mine upgrading capacity projects. The implication is that some ongoing projects may be forced to shut down while some proposed ones may be shelved.
    While these conditions may constitute the necessary spur for a future price rebound, the expected tenure of the current price regime remains uncertain.



  • Religious Conservatism And The Profanation of Christianity

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    For Christians, the Bible is the constitution for earthly living. It refers to Christianity as the “Way”; the way of life. Jesus Christ said of Himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6; NIV). There is little doubt that true Christians look to biblical provisions to guide their ways of life; however it is in the understanding and interpretation of those provisions that differences have arisen. Issues such as women covering their hair in church, spanking of children, validity of tithing, charity and the Trinity among others have been contentious.

    Of greater concern however, are untenable arguments by professed Christians, citing biblical provisions in support of various social and political positions. Arguments for and against are often deeply entrenched invoking commentaries of many a “biblical scholar” from one theological institution or another and which in the main, place undue emphasis on individual scholarship. According to the apostle Paul:

    My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5; NIV)

    Biblical expositors must speak as they are carried by the Spirit of God. Since Christians are baptized into one Spirit ― the Spirit of God ― and God is not a God of disorder but a God of Peace (1 Corinthians 14:33; NIV), there should be no disagreement among Spirit-led Christians on any issue. Unity in the body of Christ is one of the thematic elements of Paul’s letters. The fact that inveterate disagreements on various issues subsist, indicates that some positions are not Spirit-led and arise either out of a lack of understanding or for purely self-serving ends.

    Most Christians for example, admit a biblical obligation to extend charity to the poor. In the United States however, Christian conservatives with political affinity in the main, for the Republican Party, hold that such acts of charity should be voluntary and for which state funds should not be appropriated. To them, citizens should not be forced to part with the fruit of their hard labor for the purpose of redistribution; and therefore presenting a ‘biblical” foundation for one of the pillars of a political platform. But the hypocrisy inherent in that position is exposed by its view ― which the bible does not mandate ― that the same fruit of citizens’ hard labor should be appropriated to fulfill other biblical obligations such as protection of the state of Israel. Its self-serving ends are also found in the contention that recipients of state-funded charity are beholden to the other political party, the Democratic Party which upholds it. The Republican Party’s Mitt Romney, in a self-scorching gaffe during his campaign for the 2012 United States presidency ― which he lost to the Democratic Party’s Barack Obama ― claimed that there were 47 per cent of Americans who pay no federal taxes but live off government charity and who would vote for President Obama “no matter what”. That claim which turned out to be wildly inaccurate did nothing to dispel perceptions that his party favors the rich over the poor; and such favoritism may indeed hold dire economic and political consequences. Continue reading  Post ID 218



  • Adrian Peterson, Child Abuse And The Biblical Position On Corporal Discipline

    About a fortnight ago, Adrian Lewis Peterson, a running back for the Minnesota Vikings in the National Football League was indicted by a Montgomery County, Texas grand jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child; the child just happened to be his four-year old son. Peterson reportedly admitted to beating his son with a “switch”, a thin part of a tree branch. Images from the alleged beating are quite graphic.

    Adrian Peterson Child Abuse - Police Photo Evidence

    The running back, in an Instagram message, seemingly sought solace in his standing with God. This, among Christians, elicited arguments for and against corporal discipline or spanking. The arguments have in the main, been based on the following passage from the book of Proverbs in the Bible:

    He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him (Proverbs 13:24; New International Version).

    Proponents of corporal discipline hold that the verse is self-evident while opponents are of the view that “rod” here refers to a shepherd’s instrument for guiding (not spanking) the flock. The antagonists also cite several theological scholars and professors of divinity in support of their respective positions.

    The arguments highlight the degree of  “lack of knowledge” among self-confessed Christians; and God speaking in the Bible says “… my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6).

    There are three noteworthy elements to the discourse:

    First is the contentious word, “rod”, in Proverbs 13:24. Advocates of child spanking read a literal sense to the word and this, when taken to the extreme, results in such graphic images as those of Adrian Peterson’s son. Continue reading  Post ID 212



  • Arsenal FC: Will Arsène Wenger Rue Another Botched Transfer Window?

    Arsenal FC shieldArsenal FC won the Football Association Cup as well as the Community Shield for the 2013/2014 season in the United Kingdom; but that would be the first time in about a decade that the club would win any trophy. Since winning the English Premier League title in the 2003/2004 season, Arsène Wenger, who has managed the club since 1996 embarked on a controversial business model which placed much greater emphasis on youth development.

    While youth development is certainly a critical part of building and sustaining a football team, it must be balanced with experienced and proven players. In the past ten seasons of the Barclays English Premiership, for example, 5 of the titles have been won by teams [Chelsea FC (3) and Manchester City FC (2)] which have invested significantly in proven and experienced players. The other 5 were won by a club (Manchester United FC) that had a critical balance of youth and proven experience.

    Arsene Wenger 2

    In addition, the tendency is for developed players that are neither winning titles nor earning commensurate wages to seek better prospects with other clubs. For Arsenal FC, the cases with Gaël Clichy, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabrégas and Robin van Persie among others stand out. In the case of van Persie, the sale to Manchester United FC arguably facilitated that club’s Premier League title at the expense of Arsenal.

    True, Mr. Wenger has led the club to 17 consecutive years of qualification for the UEFA Champions League competition. He has even introduced a trademark fanciful gamesmanship to the club’s play but l dare add that most fans of the club would rather have titles and trophies.

    Three issues need to be addressed if the club must return to winning ways: Continue reading  Post ID 195



  • Shale Resources: Prospects For Global Oil and Gas Supply

    TRF Thumbnail 2The United States in the last few years witnessed a massive increase in crude oil and natural gas production from shale formations. That increase, according to the Energy Information Administration, EIA, has put the country on course to leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest producer of crude oil while reducing the domestic price of natural gas by about two-thirds. The shale boom, as the breakthrough has been termed, was made possible in the main by two processes, namely hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) and directional drilling.

    Given the formidable challenges facing oil and gas production from many shale formations, questions have inevitably arisen about the sustainability or longevity of the whole shale boom phenomenon. While skeptics hold that the sheer number of wells necessary just to maintain production is impracticable, proponents estimate that the boom will endure for between three and nine decades. A proper evaluation of the prospects is therefore informative.

    Production
    One characteristic of production from shale formations is the rather steep initial production decline rates (Figure 1) which in some cases are in excess of 50% (typically 60% to 70%) after just one year of production.

    Typical Natural Gas Production Curves For Selected Shale Formations

    Conventional resources in the main, show decline rates of about 55% after two years and thereafter taper off gradually. The implication then is that for shale formations, many newer wells would have to be drilled just to maintain production. According to the International Energy Agency for example, North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation will require 2,500 new wells drilled a year in order to sustain production of crude oil at 1 million barrels per day; a measure many conventional fields can accomplish with as little as nine-tenths less .
    Another production concern in shale formations is low recovery rate. Shale resources show a lot of lateral variability. For example, a 100-meter thick oil-laden formation may in just over a kilometer away thin out to zero, impacting the general yield rate.

    Revenues
    Of greatest concern to shale producers however, is the cost factor. According to reports by Oil and Gas Journal, there have been assets write-downs of nearly US$35 billion among the 15 largest shale resource producers since the beginning of the shale boom; the report also cites 6 years of “progressively worsening financial performance” among 35 U.S.-focused independent companies involved in shale gas and tight oil plays. The high-positive correlation between shale production costs and product prices leaves little wiggle room for profitability. Some analysts estimate that this year, drillers for shale oil and gas resources will spend US$1.50 for every US$1.00 they earn from sales of their output. Clearly, cash flow, positive inflection point is still some time away. Continue reading  Post ID 186



  • The Middle East* And Global Petroleum Supply

    The lack of any significant effect on global crude oil prices by the current Middle East conflicts is perhaps indicative of the region’s declining importance in the global oil and gas industry. The Middle East has for decades dominated the supply of crude oil and natural gas and any unrest ― such as the Arab Springs ― in the region has tended to cause spikes in energy prices.
    The current spat in the region involves Israel and Hamas on one hand and ISIS on the other. Since the current crises began and through 11 August, the two major metrics for global crude oil prices, namely Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) have declined (Figure 1).

    Spot Crude Oil Prices (FOB)_ Brent, WTI 01 July 2014 - 11 August 2014

    In contrast, the Russia-Ukraine crisis has had an opposite effect. The recent report that Russia ―― the third-largest producer of crude oil and with the largest natural gas reserves ―― has sent battle tanks across its border into Ukraine caused crude oil prices to rise. For example, front-month October Brent prices on Friday climbed US$1.46 to settle at US$103.53 per barrel.

    This market response may derive from the region’s fundamentals. For example, the proportion of global crude oil reserves held by the Middle East has been declining significantly over the last decade while that for natural gas has remained essentially unchanged over the same period (Figure 2).

    Middle East_ Proved Oil and Gas reserves As Proportion of World's Total  1980 - 2013

    In addition, the growth in crude oil reserves by the rest of the world has outpaced that of the Middle East. Between the years 2000 and 2013, the rest of the world grew crude oil reserves at an average rate of 3.5% while for the Middle East the average growth rate was only 1.3% (Figure 3).

    For natural gas, while the Middle East’s proportion of global supply has been increasing, the growth rate for its reserves since the year 2000 has declined faster than that for the rest of the world.

    Growth In Crude Oil Reserves_ Middle East vs Rest of the World 2000 - 2013

    The Middle East region presents one of the last remaining “easy-to-get” petroleum provinces; however, major oil and gas companies while still active in the region, have channeled investment in the more politically stable ― even if more geologically complex and capital intensive ― acreages.
    Investors often loathe uncertainty, but prefer the calculated risk in technological or geological challenges over the inscrutable vagaries of less-developed economies. ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Statoil are among the majors prospecting for oil and gas in the Arctic. Some other companies in the United States are divesting overseas assets to focus on domestic prospects.

    With the prospective addition to the global inventory, of resources from tar sands, shale (especially in China), as well as the Arctic among others, the strategic importance of the Middle East to the global petroleum industry may be further (even if gradually) eroded.

     

    *The Middle East region referred to in this post consists of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.



  • Major Oil Companies: Restructuring For Profitability

    Nrelate and Default Icon - TRFCrude oil and natural gas exploitation has been progressing into more challenging regimes. These frontiers such as the Subsalt as well as the Arctic among others are more geologically complex requiring enhanced technological applications to exploit; that inevitably means higher costs with implications on the operating companies’ profitability and shareholder returns. The Energy Information Administration in a recent report indicated that among 127 major oil and gas companies, cash proceeds for the year ended 31 March 2014 totaled US$568 billion while cash usage was US$677 billion, or US$109 billion higher.

    Three metrics elucidate this:

    1. Upstream Unit Capital Productivity

    In the seven years to 2012, unit capital productivity among the world’s top 74 oil and gas companies declined in a near-exponential manner from 21.59 barrels of oil equivalent per dollar (boe/$) to 9.56 boe/$ (Figure 1), according to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers report. The report was based on the world’s top 100 oil and gas companies as compiled by Evaluate Energy. Unit capital productivity measures the quantity of oil and gas produced for each dollar of capital employed by the companies. In other words, the quantity of oil produced by the companies per dollar employed has almost halved in the period under consideration. The decline is in spite of massive production increases mainly from unconventionals and is same even among the top performing (upper quartile) companies. Figure 1. Unit Capital Productivity_2006 - 2012 Continue reading  Post ID 143



  • A Brief On The Current Energy Sector Sanctions Against Russia

    Nrelate and Default Icon - TRFThe United States and European Union a few days ago announced a third stage of co-ordinated sanctions against Russia, in response to that country’s annexation of Crimea and its reported complicity with separatist rebels in the shooting down of Malaysia’s flight MH 17 over Ukraine. The current sanctions target Russia’s energy, defence and financial sectors.

    According to the Energy Information Administration, Russia is the second-largest producer of dry natural gas and third-largest producer of liquid fuels in the world. However, exploitation of the country’s petroleum resources is largely dependent on the West’s technological expertise and financial muscle; any withdrawal or reduction with regard to these will certainly impact her production.
    The provisions of the current sanctions limiting financial and specific technological investment in the Russian oil and gas sector must therefore be of some concern. For example, production in the country’s older oilfields is only being maintained by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes among others provided by western energy companies. In addition, estimated capital expenditure for 2014 by (mainly western) upstream companies was US$51.7 billion according to Barclays Capital Inc. ExxonMobil (U.S.) and Statoil (Norway) have joint ventures with Russia’s state-controlled oil company Rosneft, for the exploitation of Arctic and other geologically complex prospects while BP (UK) holds a 19.75% stake in Rosneft. Igor Sechin, Chief Executive Officer of Rosneft recently revealed that the company has devised ways to circumvent or minimize the effect of such sanctions.

    Oilfield service companies such as Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and Halliburton generate 4% to 6% of their global sales from Russia according to RBC Capital Markets; and while losses at such levels ― should they occur ― would not threaten these companies, they would certainly pinch. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president may have been counting such a pinch when he defied the West’s calls and pressed on with support for rebel separatist forces in eastern Ukraine; and he may have gotten a reprieve as Russia’s gas works were spared of sanctions, perhaps because they supply about a third of the European Union’s gas consumption.

    While these sanctions may have little or no immediate effect on Russia’s oil production, they will however, if they endure, quicken production decline in older oilfields and lead to extensive delays in the development of new ones. Russia is blessed with a lot of brilliant scientists and engineers who are quite capable of developing their own technology to replace the West’s; but the capital outlay as well as the time frame needed for its development, testing and deployment would suggest a Russian crude oil production decline in the medium-term to long-term.