In reviewing BP’s latest Statistic Review of World Energy, the big story for world oil last year was obvious: the USA’s third straight record-breaking increase in average annual production. Just over 75% of the net increase in world oil production during 2014 came from the USA; add in Canada and 90% of the total increase came from North America. Throw in Brazil’s first significant increase in three years and you have all the world’s net gain in world oil production accounted for by three non-OPEC players. Production from all other producers combined was flat. So the question for 2015 is straightforward: will we see a repeat of those gains…and the flat-liners?
Tom Whipple is the editor of ASPO-USA’s two flagship publications, Peak Oil News and Peak Oil Review. Tom is a former senior analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Since retiring from the CIA, Tom has become a well-known researcher and writer on energy and oil issues. Tom writes a weekly column on peak oil for the Falls Church News, a daily newspaper based in northern Virginia. Tom holds degrees from Rice University and the London School of Economics.
Last week oil prices remained in the month-old trading range of around $45 a barrel in New York and $48 in London despite several major geopolitical developments and much news affecting oil’s fundamentals. However, the general situation of too much oil production and slowing economic growth remained intact. During the week, Russia announced that its production hit a new post-Soviet high of 10.74 million b/d, and along with the Saudis, Moscow shows no indication of being willing to cut oil production. US production is now down about 500,000 b/d from the high set in June, but this still seems inadequate to ease the oil glut. US oil stocks have climbed in eight of the last ten Octobers due to refinery maintenance, and there is no reason to believe that this will not happen again this year.
“If we stay at this [sub-$50 oil] price longer, then a third to a quarter of the [US] industry will go bankrupt. More activity could drive production, but that takes money and the US industry doesn’t have it anymore. We don’t believe that US production can grow at $50, $60, or even $70. It will likely take $80 per barrel cash flows to return the US from decline to growth.”
Walker Moody, Managing Director of Energy Investment firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.
Oil prices closed out the week about in the middle of the range where they have traded for the past month — $45.70 in New York and $48.60 in London. During September, prices bounced a dollar or two on news suggesting that demand for oil could increase or production might decline. Conversely, news suggesting that demand might sink or production might increase sent prices back down about the same amount. It appears we could be stuck in this trading range until there are better indications that the oil glut is shrinking; or more definitive news about the course of the global economy – particularly China’s; or there is some major geopolitical upheaval.
After some intra-week volatility, New York oil prices were unchanged for the week closing at $44.68. Brent, however, suffered a 3.2 percent weekly loss closing at $47.47. Much of the week’s oil-price action came on Friday after the US Federal Reserve announced on Thursday it was postponing any increase in interest rates. While such an announcement would normally support oil prices by lowering the value of the dollar, the oil markets jumped to the conclusion that the US economy must be in worse condition than is apparent and fell 5 percent in sympathy with the equity markets. A third weekly drop in the rig count did little to stem the tide as traders are getting use to the idea that small changes in the oil-rig count no longer have much impact on production.
Oil traded in a narrow range last week between $44 and $46 per barrel in New York and $48 to $50 a barrel in London. Increases mostly came from news suggesting that better economic times might be ahead in some part of the world, while declines came when concerns about high inventory numbers, oversupply, and the outlook for China took precedence. US natural gas futures have cycled steadily between $2.73 per million BTUs and $2.64 for over a month now with little news to drive prices out of their trading range.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Chukchi and Beaufort seas hold 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil. “It’s probably fair to say, this [Shell’s drilling effort in the Chukchi sea] is the most scrutinized, analyzed project — oil and gas project — probably anywhere in the world. I’m actually sure of that. We can’t afford to have a problem here.”
Marvin Odum, CEO Shell Oil Co.
The three day, nearly 30 percent, price surge which began the week before last continued through last Monday, then slowed as the week progressed with New York crude closing Friday up 1.8 percent and Brent down by 0.9 percent. New York futures settled on Friday at $46.05 and London at $49.61.