Low oil prices separate industry wheat from chaff
OPEC’s unfolding strategy for tolerating cheaper crude has
shifted pricing power away from Saudi Arabia and toward shale
producers in the U.S. If it persists, higher-cost development
projects such as those in the North Sea may be at risk. Operators
with strong balance sheets and room to cut costs are more likely
M&A activity may reappear on a large scale only when price
volatility recedes. The remainder of 2015 may bring more clarity
about the magnitude of Iran’s return to global energy markets.
Shale, emission laws mold a new oil world with many implications
Potential emission limits and the American shale boom are the
most influential factors on global oil markets. Cogent emission
laws may limit oil use and keep the most costly-to-extract resources
underground. This may cap oil prices and trigger harsh cost
competition among suppliers.
Shale may profit from cost flexibility and act as price stabilizer. The
West’s improved energy independence could lead to a stronger
dollar. OPEC has little to throw in the way of the permanent supply
shift shale creates.
North Sea needs higher price or technological miracle to survive
The North Sea is one of the most expensive areas to produce oil and
gas worldwide. Costs already deemed too high when the price of oil
was more than $100 a barrel must be reduced, otherwise the region’s
oil industry is at risk.
While some niche assets and conglomerate operations may
be able to endure, many smaller mature assets are headed for
decomissioning unless a significant cost-saving technology emerges.
Regulatory efforts to foster cooperation and cut costs have had
limited success so far.
If Iran plays along, billions in gas sales beckon
With Europe’s likely imminent lifting of sanctions against Iran,
the country’s authorities must work to create an attractive, legal
investment environment so that oil companies return. While
considerable risks remain, Iran promises vast resources and has the
potential to challenge Russia as a key gas supplier to Europe.
Oil companies will need to invest billions in infrastructure for
pipelines or liquefaction terminals and spend years on construction
before they can turn any plan into reality.
Will Volkswagen scandal be the demise of diesel?
After years of investment into configuring refineries to produce
more diesel, the Volkswagen scandal has prompted the question of
whether diesel cars are here to stay. Europe, where diesel has the
largest market penetration, pioneered the switch to the technology.
European refiners have enjoyed strong refining margins in 2015
thanks to the slump in the oil price, though they are likely to continue
to feel pressure from the new megarefineries in the Middle East,
which are exporting to Europe.
Volkswagen scandal brings dieselization in Europe into focus
A reversal of the switch to diesel cars in Europe, known as
dieselization, has come under the spotlight since the Volkswagen
scandal drew attention to the particulate-matter and nitrogen-oxide
emissions of diesel cars.
The improved efficiency of gasoline cars and the loss of diesel’s price
edge at the pump is bad news for the fuel. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo
said the city will remove diesel cars by 2020. The Volkswagen story
may be a catalyst in other major cities considering the same.
Refiners want low oil to stay, keeping margins, throughput high
Refiners may be able to maintain high refining margins and enjoy
reduced feedstock costs if crude oil prices stay low in 2016. The
industry will probably keep maximizing throughput to reap the
benefits of higher margins.
Yet significant refining margins in 2016 may postpone a much-
needed capacity cull in Europe short-term. Refiners have enjoyed a
very strong year in 2015, with extraordinarily high margins, though
Europe’s fundamental overcapacity problem persists.
Middle East refiners may boost exports, pressure Europe margins
European refiners will continue to feel squeezed by growing supply
from the Middle East with the new megarefineries coming onstream,
and more products being available for export. The Middle East
is more competitive in oil-product exports with the surge in new-
More supply will likely pressure product prices, and, therefore,
refining margins. In Africa, refineries will need to continue more
regularly, and at higher capacity, to meet ever-increasing fuel
demand due to the growing population.
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