Archive for the ‘Oil price’ Category

A leaner, more aggressive shale oil retakes market share from OPEC

March 21, 2017

High oil prices at around $100/barrel fueled the first shale oil boom in the US. Drilling rigs proliferated and the ensuing oil glut led to the sharp drop of price in 2015. Saudi Arabia then started a price war for a variety of reasons:

  1. to attack the shale oil industry (and take away the market share they had won),
  2. to hurt Iran whose return to the international oil market was imminent, and
  3. to hurt Russia because of the vulnerability of their budget to oil revenues

But most importantly they wished to attack the shale oil industry which was thought to have its Achilles heel in its relatively high production cost. With Saudi Arabian production cost at around $3/barrel, even a long period at low oil prices was considered a critical advantage. The strategy backfired and Saudi was forced to participate in OPEC’s production cuts to prop up the oil price. But even that action is now backfiring as the shale oil industry has emerged leaner and meaner and is now ramping up production again. Last week the oil price dropped some 10% as shale oil now retakes some of the market share it had lost.

The glut continues and we are unlikely to see prices much above $50-60/barrel for the next 2 or 3 years. The Saudi attacks have only helped shale oil to reduce its own costs dramatically. They are far less vulnerable to attack now than in 2015. At that time they needed an oil price of around $80 to make any reasonable profit. Now they are so much leaner that they are viable at oil prices even as low as $40/barrel (and some wells are now rivaling the Saudi production costs).

Oil Wars

Has OPEC Underestimated U.S. Shale Once Again?

The U.S. shale cowboys are back on their horses and leading a strong recovery in the oil patch that is not expected to falter even as WTI prices dropped last week below $50 per barrel for the first time in more than two months.

With lessons learned from the oil price crash and budgets streamlined and focused on the most prolific shale plays, U.S. drillers are giving OPEC a hard time by raising output and hedging future production. Meanwhile, the cartel members are trying to cut supply and fix the price of oil at such a range that would allow them to reap higher oil revenues, but not allow the shale patch to recover too much too fast.

Two and a half months into the supply-cut deal, it looks like OPEC is losing the campaign to prop up oil prices. The drop in prices that began last week saw them retreating to almost exactly the same level as on November 30 – just below $52/barrel for Brent – when the OPEC deal was announced, the International Energy Agency said in its monthly report on Wednesday.  

At the same time, reduced breakeven prices in many shale plays and forward locking-in of production is allowing the companies currently drilling in the U.S. to turn in profits even at a price of oil at $40 a barrel. The U.S. shale patch has not only emerged leaner and more resilient from the downturn, it has also hedged future production with contracts guaranteeing the price of the crude they will be pumping a year or two from now, Bloomberg reports, citing industry executives and analysts.

This is a sign that OPEC may have underestimated—yet again—the resilience of the U.S. shale patch when the cartel decided to collectively curtail oil supply.

Last week Saudi officials told American oil producers that there would be “no free rides” and that they should not expect OPEC to extend or deepen the output cuts to make up for the jump in shale production in the U.S.

And U.S. shale output has been steadily growing in the past few months, thanks to, and quite ironically so, OPEC’s cuts that have been supporting WTI prices at above $50 (or at least above $48 this past week). The U.S. shale patch is expected to lift its April oil output by 109,000 bpd, the EIA said earlier this week.


 

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Is Saudi Arabia giving up on its oil wars?

September 29, 2016

There is a faint whiff of realism entering into Saudi Arabian government policy. They have started to curb public expenditure, they have flagged salary cuts for public employees (not just now but in 2 years), they are desperately trying to diversify their economy. Much of the change has been forced due to self-inflicted collateral damage to their various “oil wars” against shale oil, against Iranian oil and against Russian oil. They have tried to use low oil price as a weapon in their political and ideological battles. But Saudi Arabia has not yet developed the capabilities (and competence) among its indigenous work force to cope without the fat cushion of oil revenues. Without foreign competence and labour, Saudi would collapse and the only thing keeping the foreign competence and labour there is oil money.

It may be a faint hint of an increasing pragmatism that for the first time in 8 years the Saudis and OPEC have agreed to a modest cut in oil production.

It is not the end of the  oil wars but it may be the beginning of the end.

Reuters: 

OPEC agreed on Wednesday modest oil output cuts in the first such deal since 2008, with the group’s leader Saudi Arabia softening its stance on arch-rival Iran amid mounting pressure from low oil prices.

“OPEC made an exceptional decision today … After two and a half years, OPEC reached consensus to manage the market,” said Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, who had repeatedly clashed with Saudi Arabia during previous meetings.

He and other ministers said the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would reduce output to a range of 32.5-33.0 million barrels per day. OPEC estimates its current output at 33.24 million bpd.

“We have decided to decrease the production around 700,000 bpd,” Zanganeh said.

The move would effectively re-establish OPEC production ceilings abandoned a year ago.

However, how much each country will produce is to be decided at the next formal OPEC meeting in November, when an invitation to join cuts could also be extended to non-OPEC countries such as Russia.

Oil prices jumped more than 5 percent to trade above $48 per barrel as of 2015 GMT. Many traders said they were impressed OPEC had managed to reach a compromise after years of wrangling but others said they wanted to see the details.

“This is the first OPEC deal in eight years! The cartel proved that it still matters even in the age of shale! This is the end of the ‘production war’ and OPEC claims victory,” said Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst at Price Futures Group. 

Jeff Quigley, director of energy markets at Houston-based Stratas Advisors, said the market had yet to discover who would produce what: “I want to hear from the mouth of the Iranian oil minister that he’s not going to go back to pre-sanction levels. For the Saudis, it just goes against the conventional wisdom of what they’ve been saying.”.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Tuesday that Iran, Nigeria and Libya would be allowed to produce “at maximum levels that make sense” as part of any output limits.

That represents a strategy shift for Riyadh, which had said it would reduce output to ease a global glut only if every other OPEC and non-OPEC producer followed suit. Iran has argued it should be exempt from such limits as its production recovers after the lifting of EU sanctions earlier this year.

…….. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest OPEC producer with output of more than 10.7 million bpd, on par with Russia and the United States. Together, the three largest global producers extract a third of the world’s oil.

Iran’s production has been stagnant at 3.6 million bpd in the past three months, close to pre-sanctions levels although Tehran says it wants to ramp up output to more than 4 million bpd when foreign investments in its fields kick in. … Saudi oil revenue has halved over the past two years, forcing Riyadh to liquidate billions of dollars of overseas assets every month to pay bills and cut domestic fuel and utility subsidies last year.

It may even be that the Iranians and the Saudis are actually talking to each other.

Opec Countries (image pinterest.com)

Opec Countries (image pinterest.com)


 

Saudi Arabia is losing its war against oil shale

August 3, 2016

Saudi Arabia started its war on US shale oil in the autumn of 2014. Oil prices in June 2014 were around $110 per barrel and were on the way down as US shale oil producers were ramping up production. The expectation was that the OPEC cartel would reduce production to hold prices up. The conventional wisdom was that whereas Saudi Arabia had a production cost of about $3 per barrel, shale oil had a production cost of over $50 per barrel and upto close to $100. Oil from Canadian tar sands was thought to have a production cost of above $70 per barrel. Both were though to require oil prices well in excess of $70 and close to $100 to be viable.

But Saudi Arabia decided to strangle the burgeoning shale oil industry and started an oil war. It forced other OPEC members to focus on market share and hold production levels. Even though there was a glut of oil on the market. Oil fell to below $30 per barrel earlier this year before recovering to around $45. Saudi’s strategy was based on the assumption that rock-bottom prices would kill off the upstart non-OPEC, US shale producers. Low production costs would allow the OPEC producers to take some pain for a year or so. Certainly this strategy has had some effect. U.S. oil production is about one million barrels per day lower than a year ago.

Certainly some shale oil producers have gone out of business. But US oil production is much higher than thought possible at the prevailing price. The main effect of the Saudi strategy has been counter-productive. There has been a remarkable burst of innovation among the shale frackers which has drastically reduced shale oil production costs. The costs for shale production that I had reported 2 years ago no longer apply.Then the cheapest shale oil to produce was from Marcellus shale at around $24 per barrel. But the cheapest today costs $2.25 a barrel on horizontal wells in the Permian Basin of West Texas. That is directly – and even favourably – comparable with the Saudi production costs.

Reuters: Improved fracking techniques have helped cut Pioneer Natural Resources Co’s production costs in the Permian Basin to about $2 a barrel, low enough to compete with oil rival Saudi Arabia, CEO Scott Sheffield said on Thursday. 

The comments from Sheffield, who is retiring soon, were perhaps the most concrete sign yet that the fittest U.S. shale oil producers will survive the price crash that started in mid-2014 when Saudi Arabia and OPEC moved to pump heavily to win back market share from higher-cost producers.

Dozens of shale companies, many with marginal assets, have filed for credit protection in the biggest wave of corporate bankruptcies since the telecoms crash of the early 2000s. Sheffield said high costs would continue to make U.S. shale plays outside the Permian basin relatively less competitive. 

On Pioneer’s second-quarter results call, Sheffield said that, excluding taxes, production costs have fallen to $2.25 a barrel on horizontal wells in the Permian Basin of West Texas, so it is nearly on even footing with low-cost producers of conventional oil.

“Definitely we can compete with anything that Saudi Arabia has,” he said.

“My firm belief is the Permian is going to be the only driver of long-term oil growth in this country. And it’s going to grow on up to about 5 million barrels a day from 2 million barrels,” even in a $55 per barrel price environment, he added. …….. 

Pioneer expects output to grow 15 percent a year through 2020 after posting production of 233,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day this past quarter. It sees most of its growth in the Permian, though it also has acreage in the Eagle Ford.

Pioneer helps limit costs by doing much of its oilfield services work in-house. It also has its own sand mine, and uses effluent water from the city of Odessa for frack jobs using pressurized sand, water and chemicals to unlock oil from rock.

Pioneer said it is now introducing its third generation of well completion techniques, called version 3.0, that is using even more sand and water than the super-sized volumes introduced at the start of the price crash to pull more oil out of rock.

permian basin texas

Even at prices less than $20 per barrel, some considerable quantities of shale oil would continue to be produced.

The Saudi strategy is backfiring.


 

Oil price drop fuelling a surge in Indian car sales

March 18, 2016

It has taken a while coming, but the drop in oil price since mid-2014 is finally making its way into the Indian economy. Fuel consumption is growing at 10%. India has now passed Japan and is now the third largest oil consumer. Soon India will pass even China for energy consumption growth. Refineries which were intended for the export of oil have shifted to production for domestic consumption. Car sales which grew by 6% in the last year are now expected to be 12% in the next fiscal year (April – March).

Hindustan Times:

Underpinned by annual economic growth of 7-8 per cent, India’s fuel demand is seen as a key oil price support over 2016-2017, eating into a supply overhang that has pulled down global crude as much as 70 percent since mid-2014.

India has already pipped Japan as the world’s third-largest oil consumer. By 2040, India will have more than doubled its current oil use to 10 million barrels per day (bpd), according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), about on par with China’s consumption last year.

This roar of motor – as well as power and household – fuel use means some refineries initially planned for exports, such as the 300,000 bpd Paradip refinery on India’s east coast, have been flipped to serve domestic oil demand. …… Reflecting India’s rising importance as a buyer, Igor Sechin, chief executive of the world’s biggest listed oil company Rosneft, was in New Delhi this week to sign several deals with Indian companies such as IOC, Oil India Ltd and Bharat PetroResources Ltd.

…. Over April-February – the first 11 months of India’s current fiscal year – fuel demand rose 10 per cent to about 170 million tonnes (4 million bpd), according to a report this week by the oil ministry’s Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC).

For the next fiscal year through March 2017, the PPAC has forecast fuel demand growth at 7.3 per cent. …. India plans to spend Rs 97,000 crore ($14 billion) in 2016-2017 on expanding and improving the country’s road network, which at 4.7 million km is already vying with China as the world’s second-longest after the United States, although highways make up less than 2 per cent of that figure.

A 23.55 per cent increase in the salaries, allowances and pensions of millions of government employees later this year is also expected to shore up consumer spending, boosting purchases of cars and motorcycles. Sales of passenger cars and utility vehicles in India are expected to grow by as much as 12 per cent in the next fiscal year, up from an estimated 6 percent this year. That translates to around 230,000 new passenger vehicles hitting the roads each month.

The main impact has been on gasoline demand, which the PPAC expects to grow to 24.2 million tonnes (560,000 bpd) by next year, up more than 12 per cent from 21.5 million tonnes estimated for this fiscal year. “Gasoline demand has been growing in double digits and we expect this to continue as it depends on sales of two-wheelers and cars,” said Indian Oil Corp’s Singh.

Other fuels are seeing growth as well, and for similar reasons. To meet rising demand, state refiners are planning a 1.2 million bpd plant on the country’s west coast, adding to current overall capacity of 4.6 million bpd, although a fixed timeline has not been set.

I expect India and China to be key contributors to the recovery of the global economy and

Historically – though it is a relatively crude generalisation – low oil price has usually given – or coincided with – consumer-led growth and stability.

crude oil price history 1970-2014

crude oil price history 1970-2014


 

Saudi Arabia seeks bank loans for first time in a decade

March 9, 2016

I am still of the opinion that the oil price war that Saudi Arabia has been waging against shale oil, Russia and Iran, was misguided and due primarily to a geopolitical machismo that was grossly overestimated. It was misguided because shale fracking is not a technology that is going to go away. In the short term some of the more expensive shale wells may close, but they can very soon start up again. But more importantly, shale gas and oil are available all over the world. They just haven’t been developed yet. And those that don’t have access to shale – like Japan – will have access to gas from methane hydrates within a decade. And there is more gas available from methane hydrate than from shale which, in turn, is more gas than all the natural gas resources known.

In the long run I expect the Saudis to be the losers. Their budget deficit climbed to approach $100 billion last year and now, for the first time in a decade, they are looking to borrow.

Reuters: 

Saudi Arabia is seeking a bank loan of between $6 billion and $8 billion, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, in what would be the first significant foreign borrowing by the kingdom’s government for over a decade.

Riyadh has asked lenders to submit proposals to extend it a five-year U.S. dollar loan of that size, with an option to increase it, the sources said, to help plug a record budget deficit caused by low oil prices.

The sources declined to be named because the matter is not public. …

The kingdom’s budget deficit reached nearly $100 billion last year. The government is currently bridging the gap by drawing down its massive store of foreign assets and issuing domestic bonds. But the assets will only last a few more years at their current rate of decline, while the bond issues have started to strain liquidity in the banking system. …….. 

…… Analysts say sovereign borrowing by the six wealthy Gulf Arab oil exporters could total $20 billion or more in 2016 – a big shift from years past, when the region had a surfeit of funds and was lending to the rest of the world.

All of the six states have either launched borrowing programs in response to low oil prices or are laying plans to do so. With money becoming scarcer at home, Gulf companies are also expected to borrow more from abroad.

In mid-February, Standard & Poor’s cut Saudi Arabia’s long-term sovereign credit rating by two notches to A-minus. The world’s other two major rating agencies still have much higher assessments of Riyadh, but last week Moody’s Investors Service put Saudi Arabia on review for a possible downgrade. ……. 

The pricing of the loan is likely to be benchmarked against international loans taken out by the governments of Qatar and Oman in the last few months, according to bankers. Because of banks’ concern about the Gulf region’s ability to cope with an era of cheap oil, those two loans took considerable time to arrange and the pricing was raised during that period.

Oman’s $1 billion loan was ultimately priced at 120 basis points over the London interbank offered rate (Libor), while Qatar’s $5.5 billion loan was priced at 110 bps over, with both concluded in January.


 

Positive effects of oil price drop should kick-in by Q2

February 8, 2016

The net effect of lower oil price has always been expected to be positive.

Although oil price gains and losses across producers and consumers sum to zero, the net effect on global activity is positive. The reasons are twofold: simply put, the increase in spending by oil importers is likely to exceed the decline in spending by exporters, and lower production costs will stimulate supply in other sectors for which oil is an input.

Since June 2014, oil price has dropped by over 70%, but the boost to the global economy has not materialised as yet. The “explanations” being produced include – but are not limited to – the turn-down in China, the collapse of various economic “bubbles”, the fear factor, the reluctance of governments (especially in Europe) of allowing a pass-through of the price reduction to consumers and  the too rapid decline of tax revenues in oil producing countries.

Oil price 8th Feb 2016 - Nasdaq

Oil price 8th Feb 2016 – Nasdaq

Certainly the “fear factor” and the reluctance of governments and private players to plan for any extended period with low prices has been a major factor. The stock markets have not hit bottom yet. But the strange thing is that the money pulled out of the stock markets has not all shifted to gold and has resulted in only a modest increase of gold price.  The other traditional safe havens of government paper are providing very low yields.

While company earnings are down they are nowhere near as bleak as the stock markets would indicate. Dividends are somewhat down but also do not match the decline in valuations. Now I see that sales volumes are also not as far reduced as the valuations and that margins are generally holding up. But the first lot of dividends I have received in 2016 convince me that while absolute values are down, the “yield” based on current valuations has actually increased.

Of course markets can still go down. But the drop in earnings will be far less than the loss of valuations that has already taken place. P/E ratios are beginning to look quite attractive and if earnings can hold up in line with sales volume, I expect that dividends will still provide a good “yield” through 2016.

As the IMF puts it:

Low oil prices provide a window of opportunity to undertake serious fuel pricing and taxation reform in both oil-importing and oil-exporting countries. The resulting stronger fiscal balances would create space for increasing priority expenditures and/or cutting distortionary taxes, thereby imparting a sustained boost to growth. In a number of low- and middle-income countries, energy sector reforms aimed at broadening access to reliable energy would have important development benefits.

Maybe I am just an optimist, but new company budgets – especially those for the year starting April 2016 – are now factoring in some of the 70% drop of oil price as being sustainable (typically an oil price of $45 as being taken as a “safe” but sustainable level). That leads me to expect a change of mood and a corresponding change in markets in the second quarter of 2016.


 

Independent Scotland would have been in dire straits now

January 14, 2016

This morning Brent oil fell to less than $30 for the first time in 12 years.

During the Scotland independence campaign, the Scottish National Party based its projections and campaign on an oil price of $113 going forward and that would have provided revenues of about £7 billion per year.

SNP assumption - actual Brent oil price

At current prices the oil revenue accruing to the Scottish budget would be less than £0.1 billion compared to the planned for £7 billion per year. Back in July 2015, the expected revenue (at $45/barrel) was reduced to be about £0.16 billion per year (£800 million in 5 years). This is just the impact of price. Considering the reduction in market share and reduced volume, the revenue is likely to fall well short of that and not much more than £0.08 billion per year (£400 million over 5 years).

With actual oil revenues at just 10-15% of what was assumed, an independent Scotland would now be close to default and a declaration of bankruptcy. At least Scotland is a little more diverse and not quite as dependent on oil revenues as Norway is. But Norway is now dipping heavily into the huge oil fund it has stashed away over the good years. But even with the fund, the Norwegian kronor has lost about 30% of its value in the last year. Scotland, of course, has no such fund to fall back upon.

It seems highly unlikely that there will be any new independence referendum in Scotland until either

  1. the budget oil dependence is reduced drastically, or
  2. the oil price is over $60 per barrel.

 

Thinking the unthinkable – oil at $10 per barrel

January 12, 2016

Huge stocks, declining consumption and reducing prices. Yet, Saudi Arabian oil production is running at close to maximum, Iraqi oil is increasing and Iranian oil will soon hit the market. Economic theories are being overturned and more than one economist is turning in his grave. (Economists are not, and never have been, very good at forecasts though they are all past-masters at generating theories based on back-casts).

Now, the experts are beginning to contemplate what has been unthinkable so far – oil price diving to $10/barrel.

ReutersCrude oil fell 3 percent on Tuesday, heading toward $30 per barrel and levels not seen in over a decade, with analysts scrambling to cut their price forecasts and traders betting on further declines.

Prices are down around 20 percent since the start of the year, dragged lower by soaring oversupply, China’s weakening economy and stock market turmoil, as well as the strong dollar, which makes it more expensive for countries using other currencies to buy oil.

…… On the supply side, Iraq, which has become the second biggest producer within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), plans to export a record of around 3.63 million barrels per day (bpd) from its southern oil terminals in February, trade sources said on Tuesday, citing a preliminary loading program, up 8 percent from this month.

“The near-term outlook for the oil market is bleak. OPEC is producing flat-out into a market that is oversupplied by over 1 million barrels per day; already decelerating demand growth could further decay with slowing economic activity; and OECD inventories that are already at record levels are likely to expand through at least the middle of the year,” Jefferies said on Tuesday.

Adjusting to the price rout, analysts have been shifting their price outlooks downward, with Barclays, Macquarie, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Standard Chartered and Societe Generale all cutting their 2016 oil forecasts this week.

StanChart took the most bearish view, saying prices could drop as low as $10 a barrel.

“We think prices could fall as low as $10/bbl before most of the money managers in the market conceded that matters had gone too far,” the bank said.

crude oil price 20160112

In my simplistic view, a reducing price for something I consume is fundamentally a “good thing”. But I can’t help feeling that this price drop is not a sound, sustainable reduction based on cost reduction. It is manipulated and artificial and is due to a misguided Saudi strategy against shale oil, Russian oil and Iran. And it is going horribly wrong.

Saudi oil policy has ensured the survival of the shale oil producers

January 1, 2016

WTI Crude Oil Price. $107 in June 2104 and $37 yesterday (graphic Bloomberg).

WTI Crude oil price 2014-2015 (Bloomberg)

WTI Crude oil price 2014-2015 (Bloomberg)

In years to come the Saudi strategy through the last 2 years will form the basis of case-studies in business school about classic strategies which back-fired.

The Saudi overproduction has not managed – as they hoped – to kill off the US shale oil producers during 2015. They have reduced their costs much more sharply than the Saudi’s calculated for. They have also developed the ability to “mothball” and restart their wells at short notice. Iranian oil will come into the market in 2016 and their production costs are even lower than the Saudi cost.

Fighting for market share – while the market is down – is an expensive business. But I think the fundamental error in the Saudi strategy is believing that they will be able to retain market share when the market turns up. Not only will they have to fight off the Iranians but with an increase in demand, all the shale producers will be back. Moreover new shale producers in the UK and Asia are waiting in the wings. The Saudi attack on the shale oil producers has only made them far more competitive, very much faster than they ever expected. With the US experience to draw on, the learning curve for new producers in new countries will be that much easier and faster to traverse.

Reuters:

The U.S. shale industry, meanwhile, surprised the world again with its ability to survive rock-bottom crude prices, churning out more supply than expected, even as the sell-off in oil slashed by two-thirds the number of drilling rigs in the country from a year ago.

The United States also took a historic move in repealing a 40-year ban on U.S. crude exports to countries outside Canada, acknowledging the industry’s growth.

“You do have to tip your hat to the U.S. shale industry and their ongoing ability to drive down costs and hang in there, albeit by their fingernails,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital, an energy hedge fund in New York.

The bottom line is that Saudi oil is no longer without alternatives. That shale oil producers will disappear is a Saudi fantasy. In fact they have now helped the shale oil industry to become lean and mean enough such that their survival is guaranteed. The oil prices during 2015 were insufficiently low to drive an economic recovery but that could well come in 2016. The number of oil producers will only multiply and Saudi oil revenues will be permanently impaired.

Oil price destroys viability of Scottish independence

August 24, 2015

The Scottish National Party (SNP) once had budgeted on the basis of oil price being $115/ barrel. Then at the time of the referendum they assumed a price of not less than $100/barrel giving a tax revenue of not less than £7 billion per year which would offset the “subsidy” that Scotland gets from the rest of the UK of about £9 billion per year. This tax revenue drops to zero with a North Sea oil price of less than $50/ barrel.  But the breakeven price for oil producers is even higher:

Forbes (Jan 2015)Some prospects, including almost all activity West of Shetlands, are considered unprofitable below $100 per barrel. Mature oil wells struggle to be viable below $60, so BP has decided that 200 jobs and 100 contractors’ roles would go following a review of its North Sea operations managed out of Aberdeen, Europe’s oil and gas capital. Looking ahead, BP forecasts the oil price to remain in the $50 to $60 price range for next three years. ………

Either way, BP’s take has darkened the mood in the British and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea. However, it isn’t the first to announce job cuts. If anything, BP’s move is pretty predictable given the company has been quite clear about reducing employee headcount.

Shell, Statoil and Chevron have made similar announcements while ConocoPhillips has also been clear about a need to “streamline operations.” As operators downsize, oilfield services companies would invariably feel the pinch from independent upstarts to market leader Schlumberger.

But reality is biting hard. It is now more likely that Brent oil price will be trapped between $30 and $40 for the next 2 -3 years. Costs of production in the North Sea have not come down much compared to the sharp decline in US production costs of oil from fracking. And now Iranian oil will take its market share. At these prices the North Sea oil producers will be losing money on each barrel produced. Production is likely to be scaled down sharply and investment will drop to a trickle. Onshore jobs involved in both exploration and production (Norway, Holland, Scotland) must decrease. The Norwegian and Scottish production will bear the brunt of this turndown. Norway has built up a huge reserve fund and can weather a storm but not a permanent downturn, The UK economy can take the hit but an independent Scotland would be very hard hit. The introduction of shale fracking in England – which could take advantage of the the production cost reductions achieved in the US – could not only mitigate the risk but add a new source of jobs and tax revenue. The largest cost reductions in the production of oil from shale have come in the non-unionised part of the industry. There is considerable oil shale in Scotland as well, but I expect the SNP and the UK unions to be far too short-sighted and to do their damndest to prevent the introduction of fracking.

Nasdaq brent oil 10 year chart Aug 2015

Nasdaq brent oil 10 year chart Aug 2015

At less than $40/barrel, the SNP would need to create some very strange, fantasy budgets to prove the viability of an independent Scotland. Perhaps they could just nationalise everything and print money.


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