It was a big, and historic, week in this country as the 46th President of the United States, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., was ushered into the White House. It was also a week that rocked the oil and gas industry. On his first day in office, Biden signed a series of executive orders that underscored his Clean Energy Revolution — rejoining the Paris Climate Accord; revoking approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada; blocking drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge; and telling agencies to immediately review dozens of Trump-era rules on science, the environment, and public health. In addition, on his second day in office, the Biden administration announced a 60-day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits for U.S. lands and waters. Ironically, Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL project comes just days after the owners of the pipeline, TC Energy, announced their commitment to become the first pipeline to be fully powered by renewable energy; delivering affordable, reliable energy resources we all rely upon.
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.
Progress towards global decarbonization is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics in 2021 following the momentum experienced in 2020. Dozens of countries, multitudes of cities, and countless companies have announced their goals to achieve net-zero emissions on their path towards decarbonization by mid-century. The problem is, most of these announcements lack any specific path forward. As a part of this movement, the International Energy Agency announced that it will produce the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the energy sector to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 as it further strengthens its leadership role in global clean energy transitions. But is the world prepared for such a transition as the clean energy infrastructure is clearly not yet capable of supplying reliable energy on a global scale as seen in the recent blackouts in China and California?
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.
After failing to come to a consensus Monday, Tuesday’s extension of the OPEC+ meeting ended at long last with a solution. The meeting saw members of the OPEC+ group agree to lift oil production by 75,000 barrels per day over January levels. But there was also a surprise twist that sent oil prices soaring. Saudi Arabia announced they would voluntarily cut an additional 1 million barrels per day in February and March above its current cuts while its OPEC+ allies get to ramp up production. “We are the guardian of this industry,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said as he gleefully announced the cut on Tuesday. He emphasized that the decision was made unilaterally by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman himself. Such actions caused crude prices to jump to a 10-month high and adds stability to an ever imbalanced market.
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.