oil & gas

On Wednesday July 15, Juan Carlos Zepeda, the president of Mexico’s National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), announced the results of bidding for exploration contracts in 14 shallow water blocks in the Gulf of Mexico, the first time in over 75 years that production-sharing contracts have been awarded in the country. The results were eagerly awaited by energy industry analysts the world over. As the envelopes began to be opened, the president’s office and the CNH tweeted an inforgraphic stating that the process would be deemed a success if four to seven contracts were successfully awarded. Read more

The 2014 Ukraine crisis reinforced the EU’s quest for security of gas supply. The European Commission released an Energy Union Communication in February, calling for intensified work on the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) and for the establishment of a new strategic energy partnership with Turkey.

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Germany – and its chancellor Angela Merkel – deserve credit for the continuation of the EU’s sanctions regime against Russia. But Germany happens also to be home to the energy giant E.ON, which recently signed a (non-binding) memorandum, together with Russia’s Gazprom, Austria’s OMV, and Shell from the UK and the Netherlands, agreeing to the extension of the Nord Stream pipeline, which brings Russian gas into the European Union (EU).

The extension, to be completed by 2020, would double the transit capacity of the pipeline, currently at 55bn cubic meters per year. Together with Turkish Stream, another project Gazprom is toying with, it would make gas transit through Ukraine redundant by the time the country’s current contract with Gazprom expires in 2019. Read more

Even prior to Russia’s invasion of Crimea, energy security was a hot buzzword in Europe. But while many of the continent’s leaders frequently called for reduced dependence on Russia and greater diversification of energy supplies, practical progress on the issue was slow. The Ukraine crisis, however, has brought new momentum for a concerted push towards energy security. Talk of an “energy union” now surfaces high on the political agenda in Brussels, along with proposals for several infrastructure projects to connect Europe’s disjointed energy networks and build away bottlenecks. Read more

On June 7, Mexican voters will go to the ballot box in mid-term elections that will be viewed as a test of the Enrique Pena Nieto presidency and of the ruling PRI party. Despite the many challenges facing the government, it is likely that the president and his party will pass that test by winning a majority in the national Chamber of Deputies, as well as a number of gubernatorial races across the country.

However, a few weeks after the electorate takes to the polls, the government faces another, more demanding examination of its most important achievement thus far: the opening of the nation´s hydrocarbons industry to private and foreign investment, when companies submit bids on the first batch of contracts under Round One. The outcome of that test is far from certain, and there endure substantial concerns in the oil industry over the contract terms that have been issued by the government to date. In fact, there is a growing sense that, unless the government makes major changes to the contract terms, few foreign companies will choose to participate on this occasion. Read more

A long awaited plan by the European Union to import Caspian gas moved forward this week as construction work began on the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (Tanap) in Turkey.

Tanap is the central link in the EU-backed Southern Gas Corridor, a jigsaw of existing and planned pipelines designed to diversify Caspian energy export routes and reduce European dependence on Russian gas. Initially, the 3,500km SGC network will transport gas from the giant, BP-led Shah Deniz field in offshore Azerbaijan, but could in future draw supplies from other Caspian and central Asian countries and even the Middle East, changing the energy map of the whole region. Read more

By Riccardo Puliti of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

With energy security once again a paramount geopolitical concern, the rich energy resources of the Caspian are coming into focus.

In its newly published Energy Union Package, outlining the industry’s biggest shake-up in half a century, the European Union is looking hard at the Caspian region as a diversified source to meet the bloc’s energy requirements. Read more

By David Clark of the Russia Foundation

For all the attention given to the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk, it is clear that Ukraine cannot solve its problems by military means alone. If there is a route to national salvation it lies in the field of domestic reform and the quest to find a new model of internal development. It is only by emulating the achievement of neighbouring Poland and becoming a well-governed country with a strong, dynamic economy that Ukraine can hope to escape from its current predicament. As a ‘Slavic tiger’ it could provide a source of attraction strong enough to regain eventual control over the territories it has lost and perhaps even become a catalyst for change in Russia itself. Stuck in a post-Soviet rut of dysfunctional institutions and economic stagnation, it will remain weak and vulnerable to Putin’s policy of divide and rule. Read more

You’ve sunk your wells, started drilling; have extracted tens of millions of barrels of oil for export. But a year down the line, you still haven’t been paid.

This is the predicament faced by several leading European oil companies – including the Genel Energy, run by ex-BP boss Tony Hayward, Norway’s DNO and the UK’s Gulf Keystone – caught in the stand-off between the Iraq’s central administration in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) over how the spoils of Kurdistan’s oil reserves should be shared. Read more

By John Sfakianakis, Ashmore Group

The Gulf economies are in a position of strength to weather the recent plunge in oil prices. Many are better cushioned than at previous times in their economic history despite growing domestic populations. Oil prices are a principal revenue source for most Gulf economies and they serve as an essential litmus test for business confidence in the region.

At US$60 per barrel, the region is still fiscally sound even if more than US$280bn in oil export losses will be incurred in 2015. The move in oil prices has been excessive on the way down but it seems to be bottoming out. Read more

Oil is popularly known as black gold. Now the world’s biggest miner of another shiny precious metal is jumping on Mexico’s ambitious energy reforms to get in on the dirty black stuff.

Alberto Baillères, head of Grupo Bal, which counts silver producer Peñoles y Fresnillo among its companies (as well as upscale department store the Palacio de Hierro), has launched a new oil company, called Petrobal. Read more

There are very few things on which economists overwhelmingly agree: free trade and apple pie are about it. But almost all of them will say that across-the-board subsidies for households and companies to lower the price of fuel are a terrible idea.

While advanced economies in general tax fossil fuels – or the carbon emissions that emanate from its use – emerging markets are still big users of subsidies and price caps. The IMF estimates that consumption of petroleum, electricity, natural gas and coal were subsidised by about 2 per cent of total government revenue in 2011 – and much more if compared to a hypothetical efficient tax system. Hydrocarbon exporters accounted for about two-thirds of the total. The subsidy of fossil fuels by oil producers and particularly within the Middle East and North Africa is extreme.  Read more

By Emad Mostaque of Ecstrat

With oil trading at $50 a barrel, the immediate prognosis for Gulf nations looks grim. However, the future may not be as bad as it first appears. There are several changes that could be made to enable these nations to emerge in a stronger, more stable position than before. Read more

You don’t have to look far to see the impact on Mexico of falling oil prices (now close to a five-year low): just take a look at the trade balance of state giant Pemex . It slumped by half in one month, to $656m in October from $1.3bn in September, and that was before the combination of Mexico’s lower production and lower world prices really began to bite.

So now would be a good time to take a cold look at how much damage falling prices could really do to Mexico as it prepares to open up its oil sector to private investment, what Mexico could do about it, what wider impact that could have, and what the US and the International Monetary Fund could do to help. Read more

By Alan Riley of City Law School

Following South Stream’s demise the Danube nations must look again at their energy vulnerability. These low income states, locked into antique energy infrastructure and facing high renewable bills, face a major energy dilemma – a dilemma shared, in a less acute form, with the rest of the European Union. One way forward is to look again at whether a deal on gas between Russia and the EU could be made to work as a means of encouraging economic growth and helping to settle the dispute over Ukraine. Read more

By David Clark of the Russia Foundation

Marcos Sefcovic, the new European Commission vice-president responsible for energy, was in optimistic mood last week when he predicted a winter without any disruption to gas supplies from Russia. In truth, the trilateral agreement on gas signed by Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in Brussels five weeks ago has yet to be tested and the underlying tensions that made the agreement necessary are far from resolved. Ukraine and Russia remain in a state of undeclared war and this week’s manoeuverings over the proposed South Stream pipeline show that Russia’s desire for a controlling influence over the European energy market is undiminished. To imagine that Vladimir Putin will refrain from playing the energy card as demand for Russian gas reaches its annual peak requires a bold leap of faith, especially since he has just cut off coal supplies to Ukraine. Read more

Timothy AshBy Timothy Ash of Standard Bank

The drop in the oil price has been long coming but the surprise over the speed and extent extent of the fall reflects how we tend to get cosy with established norms. In the past few years there has been an entrenched idea that with EM growth and the rise of the EM middle class, structural demand for oil and commodities was a long term, one way trend.

This ignores one of the first lessons we should all have learned in Economics 101. Read more

“The Ant and The Grasshopper”, one of Aesop’s darker fables, is a cautionary tale about forward planning. An industrious ant works hard all summer to lay up enough food to survive the winter, while a feckless grasshopper makes merry in the sun. When the cold weather comes, the ant survives and the grasshopper starves.

The chill winter winds of falling crude prices are blowing for the world’s oil exporters, who have seen the price of their product slide by 30 per cent since the summer. Today, the members of OPEC are meeting in Vienna to consider a cut in production. Oil exporters have proved to be a mixture of ants and grasshoppers, with some of the idler insects of previous decades now having learned the virtues of hard work. How well their economies – and asset prices – survive is likely to depend not just on whether they have saved enough of their earnings to smooth domestic demand, but whether their broader economies and political systems are strong enough to take the strain.

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Bahrain, Angola, Ecuador and Venezuela rank as the emerging markets (EM) most vulnerable to a downgrade in their sovereign credit ratings if oil prices do not recover in 2015, Fitch Ratings said in a report published on Tuesday.

With benchmark Brent crude prices close to $80 a barrel, down from $115 a barrel in mid-June, the revenues of all oil producers are under pressure. But due to differing levels of fiscal reliance on oil income, the speed of deterioration in domestic budgetary conditions varies sharply among EM producers. Read more