The Oil Big Five: Trends, Market Drivers, and Global Issues

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This is our second installment of The Oil Big Five, where we ask Platts oil experts around the globe to outline five big trends or factors affecting the oil industry. We were glad to hear from you, our readers, on our first post, and we featured your top responses in our follow-up post. Be sure to leave us a comment and tell us what you think about our picks as well as what you see as the biggest influences in your part of the industry.

Here’s a listing of our current big five issues, in no particular order.

1. The rebirth of the Permian Basin in Texas

Only a few years ago, the Permian Basin was considered played out by vertical drilling, a dry expanse of communities that had already been put through several iterations of the boom-and-bust wringer. But the US horizontal rig count hit 1,248 (a new record) in mid-May, with the Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico expected to take up a large chunk of new state-of-the-art land rigs now under construction. Horizontal drilling has unlocked the oil potential of at least half the geologic formations that underlie the basin, and it looks like drilling will only increase as midstream buildout plans are being unveiled. The question some have raised, though, is whether the rock quality is as good as in the Eagle Ford. Can the Permian make a comeback and rival the newer Texas plays?

2. China’s crude

Buzz around the planned Shanghai crude futures contract has reached a crescendo, and the Shanghai Futures Exchange is saying it will definitely be launched this year. The Shanghai International Energy Exchange has swung into top gear and is engaging with exchanges and traders to finalize details of the contract. Meanwhile, Moscow’s $400 billion deal to supply gas to China showed China can drive a hard bargain, and the country’s crude oil imports in April soared to a record 6.81 million b/d, spurred by volumes from Iran and Iraq. How much more crude will China import this year, and from where? A senior official of state-owned CNOOC said at the Shanghai Derivatives Markets Conference that he was against changing the current system of crude imports because new entrants with small quotas would pay top-dollar for imports and thus raise China’s purchase costs. How will the crude markets shake out?

3. Seasonality driving North Sea crude

At the beginning of May, trading was brisk and field maintenance halved the combined output from the Statfjord, Gullfaks and DUC complexes in June, which supported differentials. At the end of the month, crude differentials softened with poor demand from European refiners. And on May 29, North Sea medium sulfur crude grade Forties faced poor refining margins and was assessed at its lowest since April 16 of 2013. Traders are also reporting nearly all of the North Sea’s June-loading crude oil cargoes have sold out, leaving physical activity quiet as the market awaits the release of the programs for July. What will the rest of the summer hold for North Sea crude?

4. The legalities of oil exports between Turkey and Iraq

In May, 1 million barrels of crude was piped from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, where the cargo was sold and exported. It was the first time Kurdish crude had been sold and loaded out of Ceyhan independently of Iraqi state oil marketer SOMO, but Iraq considers the sale illegal under its constitution and is threatening to take Turkey to court over the sale. Kurdistan has been pumping crude via its own independent pipeline to Turkey since the start of 2014, but the ongoing dispute between Iraq’s central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region has made the crude movements a legally fraught issue. Will politics put a stop to future Kurdish cargoes out of Turkey?

5. The future of India under the Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP decisively won India’s general elections, and the oil industry is now waiting to see what the new government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will do to encourage more activity in the energy sector. Among the expected changes are deregulation of diesel prices, cuts to government subsidies, more support of domestic oil and gas exploration, and different policy incentives for deepwater and ultra deepwater exploration. There’s also hope of more transparency, a more streamlined process to operate in the country, and a unification of all the various players, from upstream to downstream. The election results were just announced mid-May, and time will tell whether the BJP will live up to its initial plans. (You can hear more about the BJP’s energy plans in this Platts podcast.)

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