Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tech Talk - Projections 2

It is the end of another year, or more optimistically the start of a new one. Last year I was tempted to make a couple of predictions for the future. And while I can make the case that they were not too wrong, they did not include the drop in oil prices, which has now taken the price of our local gas to below $1.85 a gallon. China has, in recent months, seemed less belligerent about claiming large sections of the China Seas. Whether this has anything to do with the relative success of rigs that have drilled in those waters is something that still remains an unknown.

But it is the changing price of gasoline, itself reflective of the drop in oil prices that is the big news. WTI closed at $53.56 today, and Brent at $57.50 a barrel. Predictions include some who would suggest that the price will continue to fall, until it reaches $20 a barrel, and there it may stay for some time. Well it certainly grabs a headline, but that is about all the value that particular forecast contains. The futures prices suggest that the price has yet to bottom out, though it may be getting close to that value.

Figure 1. Crude oil futures prices (EIA TWIP)

None of the recent news suggests that there will be a further increase in supply to sustain the current imbalance between available supply and demand. Libya is descending even further into a mess, with the oil facilities at the port of Es Sider now being destroyed. The likelihood of significant increases in production and the return to export levels achieved earlier this summer seems increasingly nonexistent. Neither Russia nor Saudi Arabia are likely to increase production, although the latter are continuing to produce the increased volume that they originally put on the market to replace Libyan losses. And so this leaves Iraq and the United States as the key producers who can significantly change the current supply:demand balance in any significant way.

It is probable that, with the agreement between the Kurds and the Central Government now having generated a second payment of $500 million to the KRG that the agreement may be sustained and grow. At present the Kurds are to supply about 550 kbd, of which 300 kbd will travel through the new pipeline to Turkey and thence onto the world market. The rest will be supplied to Baghdad. Meanwhile production in the south (which gets exported through Basra) has seen some increase.

Whether the Kurdish production can increase to over 1 mbd by the end of next year remains open to some doubt, given the ongoing conflict, and the target 6 mbd by the end of the decade for the entire country will likely require changes that the current conflict, which shows no signs of ending, will inhibit.

One of my responses, when the drop in price first started, was to note that the oil supply system has a certain inertia to it. And here I am not talking about the fluctuations in price that one sees in the stock market, and in the price of the crude, but rather in the time that it takes to stop current drilling, postpone future plans and to reduce the production from existing and new developments.

Thus the drop in investment in new production, whether in Russia, Iraq or the United States takes some time to have an impact. Unfortunately for those expecting the price to continue to fall, in the face of the overabundant supply, the situation has changed since historic times, where well production was relatively stable and the oversupply situation was corrected by shutting in production (mainly by Saudi Arabia). Even then it was the perception of the response that drove price rebounds, rather than the immediate reality of the changes.

The system this time is different. The increase in production in the United States has been sustained, and over the last two years has produced more than 2 mbd more than at the start of that period.

Figure 2. US crude oil production over the past two years. (EIA TWIP)

The rig count in North Dakota has already fallen to 170 rigs compared with 187 at this time last year. Concern about the oil price has led companies to cut their investment plans for next years, in some case by 20% so that the rig count is likely to continue to fall. And with the short life at high production values for most wells that will soon affect production. The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division of DMR shows the consequences of this:

Figure 3. Future production estimates from the ND DMR Oil and Gas Division.

The blue line requires about 225 rigs in continuous action, so that won’t happen. By the same token the black line is with no more drilling, and that won’t happen either. The result will be somewhere in between, probably moving the peak out beyond the current projection, but also lowering it as the existing baseline drops with less wells significantly contributing. (Bear in mind it is taking 11,892 wells to sustain current production levels.) But in the short term the line will likely dip down until the price rebounds.

The question now becomes how soon that drop in US production will become evident, and have some impact. I doubt that it will be before June of 2015.

On which note may I wish all readers a Happy, Healthy, Successful and Prosperous 2015.


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