The recent and dramatic decline in the price of oil illustrates the risk every oil and gas producer faces with energy commodity price volatility. Although depressed prices forced operators to shut-in production to save their bottom lines, companies with hedges were left in a much better position than those who had forgone the option to reduce the impact of unanticipated revenue declines. Without the protection of an effective hedging program, an upstream company’s cash flows are wholly subject to the volatility of the market. Luckily, with upward price projections for the coming year, institutions distributing hedges to major oil companies for a portion of anticipated production may see greater returns than recent years, most certainly greater than 2020. As the story of 2021 continues to show upward crude price projections, it will be important to keep a close eye on which companies choose to hedge early for guaranteed revenue protection and those that hold out or hold off in hopes of a better tomorrow.
E&P companies have driven away investors in the energy sector by not delivering returns amongst a global pursuit for decarbonization. While investor disenchantment within the United States oil industry isn’t new, it appears to have worsened with the COVID-19 market environment. From 2015 to 2016 at the start of the “lower-for-longer” downturn, the market seemed optimistic about the industry. By 2020, the double impact of the global pandemic and the Russia/Saudi price war seems to have led many investors to avoid oil stocks and as they start seeking new opportunities. Moving forward into 2021 and 2022, capital will be difficult to source until investors feel comfortable that the industry can develop resources without squandering their money again.
At the end of October, natural gas prices soared to a 19-month high and after such impressive upward price movements, the RARE PETRO team predicted prices would sustain prices near the $3 per MMBtu range for the final months of 2020 and into 2021. With a cold winter ahead, a historic Hurricane season in full swing, depressed oil production, and soaring LNG exports; the gas futures market appeared to have plenty of price support to maintain its upward momentum into the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the final months of 2020 were fairly lackluster for the surging gas market but luckily, the new year brings new hope for the struggling sector.
Data shows world crude oil demand in the first quarter of 2020 declined by the largest volume in history – even exceeding declines during the 2009 financial crisis. As economic recovery resumes, the demand for hydrocarbons will begin to rise and will quickly surpass pre-pandemic levels. While the timeline has been delayed as a result of a second wave of lockdowns and sustained travel restrictions, people around the world will still need plastics for their daily activities, roads and vehicles to travel from place to place, goods and services created and shipped with hydrocarbons, and other consumables derived from crude oil. While initial recovery estimates by RARE PETRO, the IEA, and EIA have changed, hydrocarbon demand will still eventually recover to pre-pandemic levels for several reasons.
The year 2020 has certainly been a wild one in all aspects of both society and the global economy, but has also left the global petroleum industry in disarray. When global oil demand eventually returns to pre-pandemic levels and ultimately continues to grow, will the world have enough crude to meet demand for the upward trajectory of energy consumption? According to Rystad Energy, the answer is no. They predict the world is on track to run out of sufficient oil supplies to meet its needs through 2050, despite lower future demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the accelerating energy transition. There may not be enough supply in the next 30 years unless exploration speeds up significantly and exploratory capital expenditures of at least $3 trillion is put to the task.
With global economies opening back up with the release of a vaccine for the global pandemic, global oil demand is returning and with it, higher oil prices. Unfortunately for consumers, higher oil prices mean higher prices at the pump in addition to increased costs of many manufactured goods. Since hydrocarbons are wound deep into nearly every facet of our society, price changes are inevitably felt in many sectors of the economy. As oil prices rise, associated production costs will be passed through to consumers rather than kept at the bottom line of operators or refineries. When oil prices rise in the near term, it will be better for investors and the remaining companies in the industry at the expense of people consuming the final products produced.
As the world continues down the path of the energy transition, there arises an opportunity to deliver new, clean energy and industry jobs with the potential to sustain economies well into the future. As fossil fuels continue to sustain the global energy mix, carbon capture and storage has emerged as a frontrunner in the race against climate change. This technology can be a key, cost effective option for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from industrial applications where deep emission reductions can only be achieved through CCS. The road ahead is challenging, but if policies are set to meet standards mitigating climate change, CCS is an additional tool to make significant and necessary contributions towards achieving net-zero emissions around mid-century.
Impacts from oil and gas development on air quality is a growing issue across the United States as the sector contributes additional amounts of greenhouse gases to those naturally occurring in the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect and global warming. Since climate change has a huge effect on personal livelihood, health, and future plans, it is not surprising that air quality regulations have become some of the most prevalent legislative changes in recent years. With the federal government taking a bit of a step back on these issues, several states have made significant changes to create stricter regulations on emissions, air quality, and flaring rules recently. These new requirements may impact E&P operators in several ways, while providing opportunities for other areas of the oil and gas sector.
There is no denying global oil demand is on the rebound, and unfortunately it may be slowed by a new round of lockdowns gripping the United States and Europe from a second wave of the global pandemic. Even though many countries in the OPEC+ group rely on oil revenues to support their national economies, RARE PETRO anticipates they will most likely continue overall production cuts instead of boosting output in January. Regardless of whether or not the current production cuts of 7.7 MMBPD are extended, any move by OPEC+ to keep cuts above 5.8 MMBPD beyond January should be received favorably by the market and may give oil prices additional upward momentum.
As the world continues to consume more and more energy, a sustainable energy source is needed to meet growing demand. As climate change continues to be a hot topic, the world has begun “the energy transition.” This refers to the energy sector’s shift from a fossil-fuel based system of energy production and consumption, namely crude oil, natural gas, and coal, to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and lithium-ion batteries. As the world continues down this path, it becomes clear that the energy transition should gradually shift allocation for the leading source of power in a cumulative energy mix, and to pursue a single source of energy for the globe is not only foolish but irresponsible.
The global refining landscape has been changing over the past decade, but the rapid demand destruction associated with the global pandemic has flipped the sector on its head. Many refineries in the U.S. and around the world have been changing their refined products or closing entirely. Luckily the wave of closures in the United States and Europe does not signal an end to global refining, but more of a shift in output priority and refining location. Companies and countries are moving away from refineries only designed to make gasoline and diesel, favoring those with the additional capability to refine crude into petrochemicals and plastics.
A highly contested election, global pandemic, and historically low oil prices have grabbed headlines in recent months but there has been little focus on the surging natural gas market. In recent weeks, natural gas rose to prices not experienced in over a year and a half when the Henry Hub gas benchmark climbed to a 19-month high in late October. With a cold winter ahead, a historic Hurricane season in full swing, depressed oil production, and soaring LNG exports; the gas futures market remains strong and will maintain its upward momentum into the foreseeable future.
A second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is tearing its way through Europe and there is no question whether or not the rest of the world will eventually follow. The surge in coronavirus cases in many major developed oil-consuming economies has rekindled fears that oil demand recovery is again off track, and market balancing is still further away. Luckily, those fears are misplaced as a second wave of shutdowns may not take as large of a dent out of global demand as individuals have begun to resume their day to day lives. Therefore, global oil demand recovery will not be derailed as fear of the virus is likely not going to keep people locked up anymore.
Falling oil prices and a surge in green energy policies have breathed new life into an old idea: to nationalize the fossil fuel industry. The problem is, nationalizing oil and gas would be a radical step, and alone it would not be enough to deliver a comprehensive energy transition that can meet climate goals as well as the social objectives of the Green New Deal. While calls have been made to nationalize oil and gas development in the U.S., the inefficiency of government oversight cannot do a better job than private enterprise at developing and managing these natural resources.
The price spread between the world’s most traded crude oil blends and the most actively traded commodities in the world generally track one another, but divergences often reflect technical, supply/demand, or geopolitical issues. Over the course of history, the spread between Brent crude and WTI blends has grown, shrunk, crossed paths, and reversed again countless times. As a result of reduced U.S. pipeline constraints, ongoing OPEC+ production cuts, and China purchasing record amounts of WTI crude oil, the spread between Brent and WTI crude oil prices has begun to shrink close to zero. The future may hold a reversal giving WTI prices the upper hand.
Crude oil prices are ridiculously cheap when compared to the cost of other commodities and equities. For the industry to survive and provide the world with its most important commodity, the price of crude oil must increase dramatically in the near future to break out of the lower tercile historical range it has been caught in since the start of 2020. Another two years of “lower for longer” can only exist if other asset bases devalue themselves to close the gap between crude. A more likely scenario is the positive feedback loop of reduced investment and tightening supply will cause a violent movement upwards for the intrinsic value of oil.
When the coronavirus pandemic destroyed global crude oil demand, supply was slow to respond until dramatic actions were taken. Now, with demand picking up at a rapid rate, supply is again being outpaced by its counterpart drawing down crude oil inventories around the world. While global forecasting agencies and oil companies alike predict slow demand growth to pre-pandemic levels, the supply picture will continue to lag behind well into the foreseeable future.
COVID-19’s impact on the aviation industry has been significant, but the decrease in demand for jet fuel is a only drop in the crude oil bucket. With the media focusing so much of their attention on jet fuel decimation, market participants are associating this fact to the overall global demand picture. Until the media’s portrayal of oversupply in processed aviation fuels is corrected, the negative demand outlook for the oil industry as a whole cannot be fixed.
As crude oil demand was decimated at the start of the global coronavirus pandemic, storage around the world began to rapidly fill causing commodity prices to tank. The supply and demand imbalance was corrected when producers came together to make global production cuts thus stabilizing prices. When economies began to restart and consumers began to leave their homes, demand started to climb to outpace supply. As storage levels began to fall, prices remained constant but when there was a tiny inventory build at the beginning of September, prices went into a freefall highlighting the growing disconnect between free market principles of supply and demand and emotion driving the actual price of crude oil. Instead of following commodity principles, pricing has become largely influenced by market sentiment.
A growing distaste for the oil industry among potential young employees, combined with the economic crisis of the pandemic, is making it difficult to attract the talent of the future. This growing perception problem of hydrocarbon based energy is causing young and experienced individuals alike to leave the industry in pursuit of different careers. The boom and bust nature of oil in addition to pandemic related layoffs have made it difficult to attract and maintain the talent and experience that has pushed the industry to new heights. If oil and gas companies don’t start taking perception related issues seriously, they will find themselves in a experience vacuum that stagnate any progress into the future.