oil & gas

Even inside the labyrinthine central circle of Algeria’s governing regime, the magnitude of last month’s failure to auction off shares in the country’s energy reserves has not been lost.

While the officials that head the Agence Nationale pour la Valorisation des Ressources en Hydrocarbures (Alnaft) frantically try to determine why just four of the 31 oil and natural gas concessions the country offered to international energy companies this year were taken, former state energy executives are openly expressing their dismay. 

Argentina’s energy sector is a constant headache for the government – the fact that there are tankers charging hefty daily fees as they queue up offshore to unload liquefied natural gas because there is nowhere to store it is just the most recent example.

But YPF, Argentina’s biggest energy company, has been a beacon of light in the gloom, with the country’s energy deficit being the single biggest reason why it is running out of dollars.

YPF has notched up a string of achievements since the state took back a majority stake in 2012, most recently announcing on Wednesday a $170m deal with Ecuador’s Petroamazonas to optimise production in the mature Yuralpa oilfield

On Valentine’s Day 2011, a court in Ecuador ordered Chevron, the US oil major, to pay $19bn to indigenous peoples and villagers to compensate for pollution caused between 1964 and 1990 by Texaco, which Chevron had bought in 2001. It was the biggest award ever against a corporation outside the US and was hailed by environmental and other campaigners worldwide as a landmark victory for usually voiceless and defenceless peoples over the usually all-powerful Big Oil.

But Chevron felt it had been treated unfairly and counter-sued in the US. On March 4 this year, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the US District Court in New York found Steven Donziger, the US lawyer who represented the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, liable for leading a multifaceted racketeering conspiracy. 

Poor forward planning and political manipulation of energy prices look likely to leave Turkey facing gas shortages this winter, even before the prospect of regional gas cuts due to the on-going hostilities in Ukraine.

Turkey last week experienced an unexplained drop in pressure in its western import line, through which it receives 14bn cubic metres (bcm) of gas from Russia, or about 30 per cent of Turkish demand. That sparked fears of further cuts during the peak mid winter demand period should a working ceasefire not be concluded.

But Turkey’s gas woes are not confined to one import line through Ukraine. 

Ever pragmatic, the boss of Pemex, Mexico’s revamping state oil company, knows the first barrels of oil extracted from the enticing deepwater prospects in the Gulf of Mexico under the country’s historic energy reform will probably be processed and shipped through existing US infrastructure.

But don’t be tempted to think that Pemex is taking its eye off Asia. 

By Ben Aris of bne

The chances of a lasting ceasefire in the conflict in eastern Ukraine are looking better.

But the cessation of military hostilities will only mark the outbreak of a new fight: the gas war between Russia and Ukraine is about to restart and will probably come to a head in January, when Ukraine risks running out of gas. 

By Mat Youkee of UK Colombia Trade

Colombia’s oil and gas industry – the key driver of the country’s growth over the last decade – is stuttering. In 2012 it reached its goal of producing 1m barrels per day, up from 600,000 bpd in 2008. But in 2014 attacks by insurgents on a key pipeline hit production figures and delays in obtaining drilling permits have prevented the development of new projects.

Most worryingly for the long-term health of the industry, however, has been a lack of major new discoveries. A handful of junior firms have made significant finds but much of the recent growth in production has been the result of optimizing previously discovered deposits, either by bringing online marginal fields or by boosting recovery rates through the application of new technology. At current production levels, the country’s 2.4bn barrels of proven reserves will last less than seven years. 

As secondary legislation to enact Mexico’s historic energy reform chugs through Congress and the clock ticks towards a December 2015 deadline for state oil company, Pemex, to be transformed into a “state productive enterprise”, a new report from the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) makes for interesting reading.

The think-tank has studied a dozen national oil companies and distilled its findings into key recommendations. Pemex, a company about to discover competition as its nearly eight-decades-old monopoly on the sector is flung open, currently hands over the bulk of its revenues to the state in the form of taxes, and will face the challenge of how to invest like a private company while still propping up the state for years to come (the government says a transition to a lower tax burden will take a decade). 

Medvedev out

Gazprom has been struggling to adapt to the tectonic changes in global gas markets and has finally decided a fresh face is needed at its foreign trade division. After 12 years in service, Alexander Medvedev has lost his job as head of Gazprom Export and been replaced by one of his former deputies.

Elena Burmistrova, formerly deputy director general for petroleum products, LNG and new gas markets at Gazprom Export has been appointed deputy director of Gazprom Export, replacing Medvedev, Gazprom said on Wednesday. 

In the run-up to his election victory in 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto pledged to create a new 40,000-strong paramilitary gendarmerie for Mexico to help combat security problems stemming from the country’s war on drugs.

Plans for the force were whittled back to 10,000, and seemed to be eternally delayed. But next month Mexico’s new police force is finally ready for launch, albeit with a more slimmed-down starting line-up of 5,000 new officers. 

Although the violence in Iraq has so far had a muted impact on global oil markets, if prices continue to rise there could be some nasty consequences in store for the more fragile of emerging market economies (see chart below).

And while a spike would hurt countries that rely on energy imports, it won’t necessarily translate into quick and easy economic gains for EM hydrocarbon exporters, say analysts. 

Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries but the discovery of gas reserves off its coast could change that. The FT’s Andrew England looks at the preparations for a commodities boom and what impact upcoming elections could have on investor sentiment.

European advocates of shale gas – and they do exist – have been hoping that the Ukraine crisis might galvanise governments into dropping objections to controversial fracking. But despite a growing and belated recognition that Europe must do more to diversify its energy sources, in Bulgaria at least the unpopular shale movement is going backwards.

Last month, US energy giant Chevron quietly closed its Sofia office, three years after it was awarded a licence for shale exploration that was scrapped months later. The company did not publicise its withdrawal and it has gone largely unreported. But the move is indicative both of the political challenges that frackers still face and of Bulgaria’s frustratingly inconsistent treatment of energy investors. 

Turkey and Azerbaijan have further cemented their close relations with the signing of a $3.29bn credit agreement for the Turkish subsidiary of Azeri state oil company Socar, for the construction of a 10bn tonnes a year oil refinery to be constructed at Aliaga on Turkey’s Aegean coast.

The credit package, formally agreed on Friday, is both the largest single project finance agreement in Turkish history and, at 18 years, the deal with the longest maturity to date. 

It’s not often a country’s president flies more than 1,000 miles to inaugurate a gas storage tank – more of a job for the local mayor, you might think. But that’s what Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s president, has just done: in a country as energetically-challenged as Chile, a new gas tank is a big deal.

This one, the biggest in Latin America, represents one more step in Chile’s efforts to solve its chronic energy shortfall once and for all.