Oil prices continued to fall last week, closing at $123 on Friday, a $24 per barrel drop since July 11th. US gasoline consumption continues to slip with MasterCard now reporting that sales are down by 3.3 percent compared to last summer. Analysts are projecting a 200,000 b/d increase in OPEC production for July.
The fundamentals of the world oil balance remain the same, however. The drop in US consumption is well offset by increases in Chinese, Indian, Russian, and Middle East oil consumption. Mexican production continues to decline. Nigerian militants are threatening to blow up more pipelines in the near future and the debate continues as to whether non-OPEC production is about to peak, or can still grow for a couple of years. Speculators can oversell during a dearth of news as well as overbuy during times of heightened tensions.
Increasing electric power and diesel shortages are raising serious questions as to whether India can maintain its rapid economic growth. The root cause is lack of rain and glacier melt for India’s hydro plants coupled with a rapid growth in demand and an aging electric infrastructure subject to increasingly frequent breakdowns.
Until recently the blackouts, which appear to have enveloped much of the country, have been directed to rural and resident areas. As the shortages grow, however, blackouts are increasingly hurting industrial and commercial power users. Some rural consumers are now facing 12 to 18 hours of blackout per day while urban areas are talking of 5 to 7 hours of outages.
As coping with these shortages falls on local and state governments, there has been an array of directives across the country focusing on reducing industrial and commercial consumption or balancing it with residential needs.
The fallout for this has been a greatly increased demand for diesel to power offices and industrial concerns. In some areas, demand for diesel has tripled over last year and has increased by 40 percent in the last week – obviously far more than suppliers can cope with on a sustained basis. A “run on the pumps” has begun with hoarding and black marketeering becoming widespread. In many places supplies only last for a few hours after new deliveries.
There is little Indian governments can do about the shortages except issue optimistic statements about better times ahead. Governments cannot control the rain or the melting of the glaciers and building new, increasingly costly generating facilities will take many years. Increased imports of oil, coal, and LNG are the only possible short term response, but new energy supplies will be hard to find and expensive.
In light of the energy shortages, hopes for a nine percent increase in economic growth are dimming rapidly while prospects for an actual economic decline are appearing ever more likely. India’s economic miracle may be coming to a close more rapidly than anyone thought.
The numbers are now in, and China’s increase in oil product consumption during the first half of 2008 is truly impressive – “apparent consumption” of gasoline was up 16.2 percent, diesel up 14.7 percent and kerosene up 6.6 percent. While some of this increase is related to last winter’s blizzards, the earthquake, and preparations for the Olympics, a lot came from plain old economic growth which was 10.4 percent in the first half.
Currently China is faced with a power shortage partly due to the temporary closing of power plants in the vicinity of Beijing in an attempt to clean-up the air for the Olympics. Most Chinese authorities say the heart of the problem is the inability of China’s railroad system to move enough coal to the rapidly increasing numbers of power plants scattered across the country. Coal stockpiles have decreased by eight percent in recent weeks and two or three percent of China’s thermal power plants are reported to have closed.
To guarantee adequate electricity supplies while attempting to clean up the air during the Olympics, Beijing ordered a number of major industries, most notably aluminum production, to cut back on consumption prior to the games. Despite the shortages, China’s power generation increased 8.3 percent in June over 2007 and thermal power production increased by 6.8 percent.
Price caps on coal and electric power are complicating the situation. While long term coal contracts and retail electricity prices are capped, spot coal prices have doubled recently so that 80 percent of the power companies are sustaining losses.
In another month, the Olympics will be over as will the need for cleaner air and reliable electricity. Power plants around Beijing will resume operation as will the 100s of industrial plants that have been forced to shut down and the 300,000 trucks and 1.5 million cars that have been banned from operating around the capitol.
Increased transportation of coal over the short run seems difficult to achieve as various efforts to increase coal shipments over the past year are likely to have rung the slack out of the transportation system. This suggests that if China is to keep on growing at 10+ percent, there will be a need to import more coal, oil and natural gas. While increases on the order of 15 percent as we saw in the first half of 2008 seem high, continued growth in imports seems likely. Beijing also may seize upon the recent $24 a barrel drop in world oil prices as an opportunity to build its strategic oil reserves.
The rapid run-up in oil prices during the first half of the year and the recent drop may have more to do with Chinese demand in a tight oil market than is generally recognized.
The departure of TNK-BP’s CEO Robert Dudley for a secret location outside of Russia marks another turning point in Russia’s efforts to renationalize its oil industry. The joint partnership of BP and four Russian billionaires is the largest oil firm in Russia still in private hands; it employs 66,000 people and represents about 25 percent of BP’s current production.
The battle within the partnership will soon shift to the courts where it could drag on for years. As the Russian government seems committed to using the levers of state power to drive BP out of the partnership and eventually taking control of its resources, the long-term outlook for BP is not good. BP paid about $8 billion for its share of the partnership in 2003. Sharp increase in prices, however, have increased the value of BP’s share to at least $25 billion and the potential value of half of TNK-BP’s reserves to about $500 billion.
The only asset the British hold in this fight is international opinion and the hope that government’s heavy-handed tactics in driving them out of existing contracts will eventually hurt the prospects for foreign investment in Russia. In recent years, Moscow has taken over assets from Shell and Exxon without any noticeable ill-effects.
(clips from recent Peak Oil News dailies are indicated by date and item #)
World oil exports: despite surging prices, fresh data from the U.S. Department of Energy show the amount of petroleum products shipped by the world's top oil exporters fell 2.5 percent in 2007, despite a 57 percent increase in prices, a trend that appears to hold true this year as well. (7/25, #5)
Russia expects its oil output will rise by 4.6 percent in 2010 compared to 2007, stopping short of making predictions for 2008-09. Oil production in Russia, the world's second largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, fell by 0.3 percent in the first half of this year, prompting some analysts to say the fall might continue until new production starts in East Siberia and the Far East. (7/25, #20)
Oil consumers (IEA) and producers (OPEC) expect a strain on world markets to ease in 2009, if supply rebounds from years of underperformance. Both groups point to rising supply from outside OPEC in 2009 as well as slightly lower growth in global demand. By contrast, Barclays expects non-OPEC supply will fall in 2009 and says a peak in total non-OPEC output including biofuels and non-conventional oil, is "pretty much with us now." (7/25, #4)
Ford announced sweeping changes in its product plans, shifting from trucks to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. But the costs of plant write-downs, caused by the sharp drop in demand for trucks, will likely ripple through the auto industry for some time. So far this year, sales of large pickups are down 25 percent and SUV’s have fallen 32 percent. (7/25, #13)
“Totally misleading” is the way T. Boone Pickens describes attempts to convince the public that if we just opened up offshore areas closed to oil drilling then gas prices would fall. He’s not against new drilling, but he is honest enough to say it wouldn’t do anything. (7/25, #15)
Energy-saving initiatives could easily reduce demand by 4 to 5 million b/d in 10 years, says Stanford professor Hillard G. Huntington, executive director of the Energy Modeling Forum. Americans are driving less—gasoline use was down 5.2% in early July compared with the same period last year. What really drives behavior is not the actual price, but the perception of where costs will be over the long term. (7/25, #22)
Nigerian oil group NNPC has acknowledged paying 12 million dollars (7.56 million euros) in protection fees to Niger Delta militants to enable the repair of a damaged key crude supply pipeline. (7/24, #12) The main militant group in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta said it would attack major oil pipelines in the next 30 days to prove it had not received payment from the government to end its campaign. (7/24, #10)
China's cabinet agreed in principle to raise the consumption tax on cars with large engines in order to help save energy. (7/24, #19)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Persian Gulf nation will resist pressure from world powers to halt its nuclear program, following talks that failed to produce a breakthrough in the dispute over the project. (7/23, #3)
Iran's OPEC governor said world oil prices could reach as high as $500 per barrel in a few years' time if the dollar falls further and political tension worsens. (7/26, #4)
In Tijuana, Mexico, about 40% of the gas stations in the southern and eastern parts of the city ran out of gasoline last Friday. At least 60 percent of the region's gas stations were expected to close after they too run out. Part of the 30% increase in demand for fuel comes from U.S. motorists who fill up on cheaper gasoline south of the border. (7/26, #7)
A 100-mile section of the Mississippi River near New Orleans was shut to traffic after a ship struck a barge, releasing 419,000 gallons of fuel oil into the river—the largest U.S. spill since 2000. About 100 vessels have been "backed up" because of the closure. (7/26, #12)
Senate Republicans blocked action on legislation proposed by the Democrats to curb speculation in energy markets and reduce record oil prices. (7/26, #15)
A US government task force said it had found no evidence that speculators are systematically pushing up the cost of energy. The preliminary study concluded that the rise in oil prices over the last five years was "largely due" to fundamental factors like rapidly rising consumption and sluggish growth in energy supplies worldwide. The analysis was spearheaded by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission with help from six other agencies, including the Federal Reserve and the Treasury. (7/26, #16)
General Motors has joined with more than 30 utility companies across the U.S. to help work out electricity issues that will crop up when it rolls out new electric vehicles in a little more than two years. (7/23, #22)
As motorists cut back on their driving and buy more fuel-efficient cars, the government is taking in less money from the federal gasoline tax. The principal source of funding for highway projects will soon hit a big financial pothole. (7/22, #13)
The looming peak in world oil production will set back international development and threatens to hinder efforts to cut poverty, a report by UK lawmakers said. (7/22, #15)
Oil production in non-Opec countries is set to peak within two years, leaving the world increasingly dependent on supplies from the cartel of exporting nations, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist, International Energy Agency. (7/21, #2)
Growth in global demand for oil will be 47 percent lower this year than forecasted because of declining US consumption and slowing world economies. (Lehman Brothers; 7/21, #4)
"The reality is that the fall of US$20 per barrel has been fast and furious and yet the fundamentals of the market that drove pricing to above $145 really have not changed.”
-- Victor Shum, energy analyst with Purvin & Gertz