Thursday, January 17, 2019

OPEC oil production sinks in December as Saudis cut output more than expecte

A file photo showing a Libyan oil worker from the Libyan National oil and gas company checks an oil pipelines at the Zawiya oil installation in Zawiya, Libya.
Mahmud Turkia | AFP | Getty Images
A file photo showing a Libyan oil worker from the Libyan National oil and gas company checks an oil pipelines at the Zawiya oil installation in Zawiya, Libya.
  • OPEC's oil output falls by 751,000 barrels per day to 31.6 million bpd in December, the producer group reports.
  • Saudi Arabia slashes production by 468,000 bpd to just over 10.5 million bpd.
  • The drop shows OPEC got a jump on a deal with 10 other nations to cut production beginning in January.
When OPEC announced the deal, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih initially said his country's output would fall to 10.7 million bpd in December from a record high 11.1 million bpd in November. The Saudis are targeting another drop to 10.2 million bpd this month, Falih has said.

The pullback in OPEC production was deepened by supply disruptions in Libya and Iran.

Output in Libya fell by 172,000 bpd to 928,000 bpd in December, after a group of armed protesters and aggrieved workers took over the country's largest oil field.
 Iraq saw the biggest jump in production in the final month of the year. It's output rose 88,000 bpd to just over 4.7 million bpd. At that level, Baghdad would need to cut about 200,000 bpd in January to meet its quota under the supply cut agreement. Iraq, OPEC's second largest producer, regularly pumped above its quota throughout the group's last round of supply cuts.

December marks OPEC's first monthly report since Qatar left the organization amid an ongoing blockade against the Gulf nation by neighbors including Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Excluding Qatar, OPEC forecasts demand for the group's oil will average 30.8 million bpd in 2019, about 900,000 bpd lower than last year. Demand for OPEC's oil fell by about 1.2 million bpd last year, the group says.

OPEC+ collaboration is 'essential'

OPEC's forecast for growth in oil supply and demand is largely unchanged from its last report. It sees worldwide consumption increasing by 1.29 million bpd to just over 100 million bpd.

OPEC revised its outlook for non-OPEC output growth slightly lower, but still sees 2019 supply growth at 2.1 million bpd, outstripping the increase in demand.

In its final report of the year, OPEC highlighted the rise in U.S. interest rates and tightening monetary policy elsewhere in the world. OPEC notes that central bankers appear poised to tap the brakes on further tightening in 2019, which could have implications for global economic growth and the oil market.

"While the economic risk remains skewed to the downside, the likelihood of a moderation in monetary tightening is expected to slow the decelerating economic growth trend in 2019," OPEC said.

"If the anticipated moderation in monetary policies coupled with an improvement in financial markets materializes, this could provide further support to ongoing increases in non-OPEC supply."

The potential increase in crude supply will make it essential for OPEC, Russia and other producer nations to continue coordinating production to keep the oil market balanced, the group said.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

First U.S. crude cargoes head to China since trade breakthrough: sources

Vessel: Alboran

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Three cargoes of U.S. crude are heading to China from the U.S. Gulf Coast, trade sources said on Monday, the first departures since late September and a 90-day pause in the two countries’ trade war that began last month.

The vessels left Galveston, Texas, last month and are scheduled to arrive at Chinese ports between late January and early March, according to shipbrokers and vessel tracking data. The shipments mark a change since Chinese buyers largely began avoiding U.S. oil during the trade dispute that flared last summer. 

“It looks like China has resumed purchasing U.S. crude,” one U.S.-based shipbroking source said. The person, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said the destination data could yet change. 

China is the world’s biggest crude importer and became a top buyer of U.S. crude after Washington lifted a 40-year ban on shipments in late 2015. It imported 325,000 barrels per day (bpd) of U.S. crude in the first nine months of 2018, customs data showed. 

Beijing has also resumed purchases of some U.S. soybeans for delivery this year. But China’s 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean cargoes remains in place. 

The supertanker Alboran carrying about 2 million barrels of oil recently rounded South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and is due to arrive in China late this month, said brokers, citing fixture data. 

The Almi Atlas and the Manifa, two other vessels carrying 2 million barrels of crude, are expected to reach China in late February or early March. The two ships are currently located off Brazil, according to Refinitiv Eikon vessel tracking data. 

Wall Street falls amid growth concerns
The cargoes mark the first shipments of U.S. crude to China since U.S. President Donald Trump in December said China would begin taking more American products. 

“It’s a follow through of statements by the Chinese government they would indeed begin purchasing commodities from the United States again,” said Reid I’Anson, an energy economist at data provider Kpler. 

As China reduced U.S. crude imports, more American oil flowed into neighboring Asian countries, including India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. U.S. exports climbed to 2.33 million bpd in October, up from 2.2 million bpd in June. 

Reporting by Collin Eaton; Editing by Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman

Monday, January 14, 2019

Venezuela congress slams oil deals with U.S., French companies

FILE PHOTO: A view of a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-run congress on Tuesday issued a resolution calling deals between state-run oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] and U.S. and French companies announced this week illegal, since they had not been sent to lawmakers for approval.

The body said the oilfield deals with France’s Maurel & Prom (MAUP.PA) and little-known U.S. company Erepla violated article 150 of Venezuela’s constitution, which requires that contracts signed between the state and foreign companies be approved by the National Assembly, as Venezuela’s congress is known. 

“They are giving concessions that violate the law,” said lawmaker Jorge Millan, mentioning the two contracts. 

Congress, largely stripped of its power since the opposition took it over in 2016, is unlikely to be able block the deals from going forward. But the rejection could create legal complications under a future government. 

Maduro is set to be inaugurated for his second consecutive term on Thursday following a May vote considered a sham by the domestic opposition and many foreign governments. A regional bloc of Latin American countries last week called on Maduro, a protege of the late Hugo Chavez, not to take office. 

The deals are part of Maduro’s effort to reverse a sharp decline in the OPEC nation’s crude output that has crippled its economy. Erepla said it would invest up to $500 million in three fields, while Maurel & Prom said it would invest up to $400 million for a 40 percent stake in an oilfield joint venture. 

PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment. Maurel & Prom did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of normal business hours in France. 

Weak trading slams Citigroup's revenue
A spokesman for Erepla, registered in Delaware in November and part-owned by a prominent Florida Republican donor and shipping magnate, said Venezuela’s hydrocarbons law “allows PDVSA to contract with companies like Erepla to execute field services without any additional approvals required.” 

Referring to the Erepla deal during the congressional session earlier on Tuesday, Millan said that while PDVSA referred to the agreement as an oilfield service contract, “the company will be conducting oil exploration and production activities.” 

Maurel & Prom Chief Executive Michel Hochard said the company would act “in accordance with the instructions given” by Maduro and Oil Minister Manuel Quevedo, according to a statement attributed to him in a PDVSA press release. 

Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Venezuela opposition leader Guaido addresses rally after brief detention

Juan Guaido, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly and lawmaker of the opposition party Popular Will (Voluntad Popular), gestures while he arrives to a gathering in La Guaira, Venezuela January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Mayela Armas

CARABALLEDA, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido led a rally on Sunday after being briefly detained by intelligence agents, days after saying he would be willing to replace the increasingly isolated President Nicolas Maduro.

Guaido's comments on Friday spurred some opposition sympathizers to conclude that he had declared himself interim president, and led several government officials to say he should be arrested for treason.

Intelligence agents on Sunday pulled him from his car on the way from the capital of Caracas to the coastal town of Caraballeda, his wife and opposition legislators said.

He was released shortly thereafter, they said.

"I want to send a message to Miraflores - the game has changed," said Guaido, the head of the opposition-run congress referring to the presidential palace, from a stage surrounded by cheering opposition sympathizers. 

"Here we are! We are not afraid!"

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez told state television that the detention was an "irregular procedure" by rogue agents who wanted to help the opposition create a "media show," adding that the agents would face disciplinary action.

Guaido called Rodriguez's comments a sign that the government had lost control of its own security forces.

Asked whether he should be considered interim president, Guaido responded: "That has been clarified several times." 

The U.S. State Department on Saturday had called on Venezuelan security forces to respect the "safety and welfare" of Guaido and other legislators, calling for an "orderly transition to a new government."

Maduro was sworn in to a second term on Thursday, defying critics in the United States and Latin America who called him an illegitimate usurper of a nation where economic chaos has wrought a humanitarian crisis.

The once-booming OPEC nation's economy has collapsed following the fall of oil prices in 2014. Inflation is close to 2 million percent and some 10 percent of the population has emigrated since 2015 in search of better living conditions.

Maduro says the country is victim of an "economic war" led by his political adversaries with the help of Washington. He insists the 2018 vote was legitimate and that the opposition boycotted it because it knew it would lose.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Friday, January 11, 2019

BP just discovered a billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico

BP Oil rig
Sean Gardner | Reuters
BP Oil rig
  • BP discovers 1 billion barrels of oil at its Thunder Horse field in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The oil giant also says it will spend $1.3 billion to develop a third phase of its Atlantis offshore field south of New Orleans.
  • BP credits its investment in advanced seismic technology for speeding up its ability to confirm the discoveries.
BP's investment in next-generation technology just paid off to the tune of a billion barrels of oil.

The British energy company has discovered 1 billion barrels of crude at an existing oilfield in the Gulf of Mexico. BP also announced two new offshore oil discoveries and a major new investment in a nearby field.

BP is the Gulf of Mexico's biggest producer, and it's making strides to hold that title.

BP now expects its fossil fuel output from the region to reach 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day by the middle of the next decade. Today, it produces about 300,000 boepd, up from less than 200,000 boepd about five years ago.

On Tuesday, the company said it will spend $1.3 billion to develop a third phase of its Atlantis field off the coast of New Orleans. Scheduled to start production in 2020, the eight new wells will add 38,000 bpd to BP's production at Atlantis. The decision comes after BP found another 400 million barrels of oil at the field.

BP made the massive 1 billion-barrel discovery at its Thunder Horse field off the tip of Louisiana.

Executives are crediting their investment in advanced seismic technology and data processing for speeding up the company's ability to confirm the discoveries at Atlantis and Thunder Horse. BP says it once would have taken a year to analyze the Thunder Horse data, but it now takes just weeks.

"We are building on our world-class position, upgrading the resources at our fields through technology, productivity and exploration success," Bernard Looney, BP's chief executive for production and exploration, said in a statement.

Just northeast of Thunder Horse, BP also announced new discoveries at fields near its Na Kika platform.

BP says it plans to develop reservoirs at its Manuel prospect, where Shell holds a 50 percent stake. Producers also found oil at the Nearly Headless Nick prospect near Na Kika, where BP has a 20.25 percent working interest.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Increasingly isolated Venezuelan president begins new term

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro began a new term on Thursday with the economy in ruins and his regime more isolated than ever as regional leaders declared his re-election illegitimate and shunned his inauguration.

The 56-year-old socialist leader was sworn in by Supreme Court president Maikel Moreno as an audience of hundreds, including a handful of South American leftist leaders and Venezuela's military top brass, cheered and applauded.

"I swear on behalf of the people of Venezuela... I swear on my life," Maduro said solemnly as he took the oath of office for a second six-year term. 

After donning the presidential sash -- as well as a ceremonial gold chain bearing the key to the sarcophagus containing the remains of Venezuela's revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar -- an ebullient Maduro turned to salute the crowd with a V-sign. 

Maduro was re-elected last May in voting boycotted by the majority of the opposition and dismissed as a fraud by the United States, European Union and Organization of American States.

Even as he was sworn in, the United States said it would not recognize him, and vowed to increase the pressure on his regime.

"The US will not recognize the Maduro dictatorship's illegitimate inauguration," national security advisor John Bolton tweeted.

In a special session in Washington, the Organization of American States similarly backed a resolution declaring Maduro's government illegitimate.

"Venezuela is the center of a world war with US imperialism and its satellite governments," the socialist leader retorted in a rambling speech which lasted around two hours. 

He also demanded "respect" from the EU, accusing the bloc of "old colonialism" and "old racism" after it said Thursday that Maduro "lacked any credibility".

- Regional detractors -

A smiling Maduro arrived at the court building serenaded by a choir singing patriotic songs. He blew kisses at a welcoming party of children waving Venezuelan flags, and saluted supporters looking down from the building's multi-tiered galleries.

With the exception of Mexico, the Lima Group -- made up of 14 mostly Latin American countries -- has urged Maduro to renounce his second term and deliver power to parliament.

Maduro used his speech to call for a summit of Latin American leaders to discuss "with an open agenda all the issues that need to be discussed, face to face!"

Neither the EU nor the Lima Group sent a representative to the inauguration, with Lima Group member Paraguay announcing immediately after the ceremony that it was breaking off diplomatic relations with Venezuela. Peru branded it a "dictatorship."

Leftist presidents Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia, El Salvador's Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega were present for the inauguration, as were representatives of Russia, China and Turkey. Mexico sent a low-level diplomat. 

-Former bus driver-

A former bus driver and union leader, Maduro is the handpicked successor of the late leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez.

Maduro has gained control of virtually all of Venezuela's political institutions and enjoys the support of the military. 

But his first term saw an exodus of millions of people escaping economic meltdown. The UN has said more than five million will have fled by the end of this year.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that Venezuela's economy will shrink by five percent next year, with inflation -- which reached 1.35 million percent in 2018 -- hitting a staggering 10 million percent.

He says he feels stronger and more legitimate than ever, but many blame him for Venezuela's economic woes, which have left much of the population living in poverty with shortages of basic foods and medicines.

"This is going to lengthen the agony we have lived through in recent years, everything has seriously deteriorated, basic goods and services are becoming more and more unattainable," Mabel Castillo, 38, told AFP.

Thursday's ceremony took place in the Supreme Court rather than the sidelined, opposition-controlled parliament, which has refused to recognize Maduro.

Instead, in a statement Thursday the parliament called on the army, Maduro's bedrock, to formally disavow the president.

-Opposition jailed or exiled-

While the opposition has tried to dislodge Maduro, it remains fractured, having launched a failed bid in March 2016 for a recall referendum aimed at removing Maduro from office before the end of his term.

Many prominent opposition figures are either in jail or exile and various factions continue to squabble over power while the National Assembly, the one institution they control, has been left impotent after Maduro created the rival Constituent Assembly and filled the Supreme Court with loyalists who annul every decision made by parliament.

Maduro claims US and EU sanctions cost the country $20 billion in 2018. The opposition says the government's control of foreign exchange, in place since 2003, has generated $300 billion in illicit gains.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Goldman Sachs slashes 2019 oil price forecast amid oversupply concerns

A worker walks through an oil production facility owned by Parsley Energy in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, August 23, 2018.  
 Nick Oxford | Reuters 
A worker walks through an oil production facility owned by Parsley Energy in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, August 23, 2018.
  • The investment bank now expects international benchmark Brent crude to average $62.50 a barrel this year, down from a previous forecast of $70.
  • Meanwhile, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is expected to average $55.50 in 2019, down from a prior estimate of $64.50, the investment bank said in a research note published Sunday.

Goldman Sachs downgraded its oil price forecasts for 2019, citing a surge in global production and surprisingly resilient U.S. shale growth.

The investment bank now expects international benchmark Brent crude to average $62.50 a barrel this year, down from a previous forecast of $70.

Meanwhile, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is expected to average $55.50 in 2019, down from a prior estimate of $64.50, the investment bank said in a research note published Sunday.

"We expect that the oil market will balance at a lower marginal cost in 2019 given: higher inventory levels to start the year, the persistent beat in 2018 shale production growth amidst little observed cost inflation, weaker than previously expected demand growth expectations (even at our above consensus forecasts) and increased low-cost production capacity," analysts including Damien Courvalin and Jeffrey Currie said.

'Excessively pessimistic' growth outlook

On Monday, oil prices continued to move away from December's 18-month lows, with OPEC and non-OPEC production cuts providing some support.

Last month, OPEC agreed to take 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) off the market from the start of 2019. Pledges from 10 other producers aligned to the influential oil cartel, including Russia, brought total output cuts to 1.2 million bpd.

The aim of the energy alliance's production cut is to rein in global oversupply, fueled mostly by the U.S., where production reportedly grew by almost 20 percent to nearly 12 million bpd by the end of 2018. That would make the U.S. the world's biggest oil producer — ahead of OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC heavyweight Russia.

Brent crude traded at around $58.28 on Monday, up around 2 percent, while WTI stood at around $49.07, more than 2.3 percent higher. Oil has gained more than 10 percent since last Monday, notching five consecutive days of price gains in the process.

Meanwhile, financial markets also offered some support for crude futures at the start of the trading week, with investors monitoring a fresh round of trade talks between the U.S. and China.

An ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing has exacerbated concerns of an economic downturn over the coming months, which would likely hurt demand for oil.

"The oil market has priced in an excessively pessimistic growth outlook," analysts at Goldman Sachs said, before adding: "This sets the stage for prices to recover as long as global growth does not slowdown below 2.5 percent."

Monday, January 7, 2019

Saudis Plan New Export Cuts in Hopes of Lifting Oil to $80 a Barrel

Saudi Arabian energy minister Khalid al-Falih 
 Saudi Arabian energy minister Khalid al-Falih Photo: florian wieser/Shutterstock

Saudi Arabia to reduce crude exports by up to 800,000 barrels a day from November levels

By: Benoit Faucon and Summer Said

Saudi Arabia is planning to cut crude exports to around 7.1 million barrels a day by the end of January in hopes of lifting oil prices above $80 a barrel, according to OPEC officials.

The new strategy comes as the kingdom seeks to cover a large government spending boost. It said last month that it planned to increase its expenditures by 7% in 2019—the equivalent of about $20 billion—as the country struggles to fund ambitious plans to diversify its economy beyond petroleum products.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, has faced a sharp decrease in oil prices since October amid a supply glut. The brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in October has also deterred foreign companies from working in the kingdom and investing in its economic development plans.

The new Saudi budget requires oil prices to rise to as much as $95 a barrel, according to an official with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. But the kingdom would be satisfied with prices at $80 to $85 a barrel, a range that would limit its need to dip it into its financial reserves, according to people familiar with its thinking.

To cover proposed expenditures, Riyadh is set to reduce crude exports by up to 800,000 barrels a day from November levels.

Saudi Arabia exported about 7.3 million barrels a day of crude last month. That was already down from around 7.9 million barrels a day in November and 7.7 million barrels a day in October.

The U.S. market will see the largest reduction in Saudi oil exports, according to an OPEC official. Overall, the export cuts would go beyond the six-month commitment it made in early December to OPEC.

At an OPEC meeting last month, Saudi Arabia agreed to reduce its production by 2.5% from October levels starting in January. Later it upgraded its target to 3%. But the planned reduction in shipments—the most vital component of its supply because it affects global oil markets—would bring the export cut to 7.8%.

Oil prices fell below $80 a barrel in October after Saudi Arabia turned up the spigots in response to U.S. pressure to replace sanctioned Iranian oil. The increase turned out to be more than the market needed.

OPEC officials said the new effort is unlikely to lift prices to a level the Saudis require in the short term. They said $80-a-barrel oil, however, could become possible in the second half of the year when analysts anticipate an increase in oil demand.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 1.2% to just under $59 a barrel and WTI jumped 3.5% to just under $50 a barrel Monday after The Wall Street Journal reported Saudi Arabia planned to deepen export cuts.

Friday, January 4, 2019

PSCs warn of 2020 sulfur cap compliance

IMO sets 0.5% sulfur cap

The Paris and the Tokyo Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) on Port State Control (PSC) have issued warning letters on the sulfur content of marine fuels ahead of 2020.
Issued during inspections, the letters are expected to increase awareness of and encourage timely compliance with the new IMO requirements, the PSC administrations said.

The implementation of the global sulfur cap will have considerable implications on ship operators, the fuel oil supply chain and the industry as a whole.

To facilitate a smooth and consistent implementation of the global 2020 sulfur cap, the Paris and the Tokyo MOUs will carry out a joint information campaign by issuing a letter of warning to ships during inspections this year.

A letter of warning will be issued to ships found not yet ready for compliance with the relevant requirements that will enter into force at the beginning of 2020, the PSCs said.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Shutdown delays release of Trump's offshore oil, gas plan: sources

Washington — The ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government has indefinitely delayed the Trump administration's release of a proposed plan for offshore oil and natural gas leasing sales from 2019 through 2024, industry sources familiar with the plans said Wednesday.
The plan, which was expected to call for sales in US Atlantic, Arctic and Gulf of Mexico waters, was initially proposed in draft form by the Interior Department nearly a year ago. It initially included 47 proposed lease sales in nearly all federal waters.

Sources said that the release of the formal proposed plan, expected to be unveiled in mid-January, has been pushed back. The length of the delay depends on the length of the shutdown, which entered its 12th day on Wednesday. Nine federal departments, including Interior, are affected by the shutdown.
Sources said the announcement of the plan could be further complicated by the resignation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who officially left the position Wednesday. David Bernhardt, a deputy secretary at Interior, will be acting secretary. President Donald Trump has yet to name Zinke's replacement.

An offshore oil and gas lease sale planned for March, which is scheduled to offer 78 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, is unlikely to be affected by the shutdown, sources said.
That March sale is part of the 2017-2022 offshore leasing plan, finalized during the Obama administration. That plan includes 11 lease sales, including 10 in the Gulf and one in Cook Inlet offshore Alaska.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency within Interior developing the offshore plan, has 84 of its 558 employees available during the shutdown to assist with permitting operations, administrative services or emergency response, according to a contingency plan posted on Interior's website. Of these 84 employees, 76 will be available in an "on-call basis" to help with permitting, the agency said.

BOEM "will not process or review new exploration and development plans, but will process and review certain revised plans if it is related to the ongoing permitting work performed by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement," the plan said.

Roughly half of BSEE's 804 employees remain on the job during the shutdown to oversee offshore permitting and safety, with their salaries paid through "non-lapsing funds," Interior said in its plan.

"Should an extended shutdown occur, exhausting current funding sources, all of the exempt personnel would be designated as excepted as they are essential for life and safety," Interior said.

Sources said that an Interior rule to revise offshore safety rules developed during the Obama administration in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 is unlikely to be impacted by the shutdown since it is already under review at the White House. That rule, known formally as Revisions to the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule, was sent to the White House's Office of Management and Budget on December 13. OMB is not directly affected by the partial shutdown, which began on December 21.

-- Brian Scheid,
-- Edited by Annie Siebert,