Home » Posts tagged 'ExxonMobil'
Tag Archives: ExxonMobil
Peak Oil is Real and the Majors Face Challenging Times « Breaking Energy – Energy industry news, analysis, and commentary
The idea that global oil production was nearing its peak, only to plateau and then decline was a common view in the energy world for many years. The geophysicist M. King Hubbard predicted in the 1950’s that US oil production would peak in the 1970’s, a forecast that held true until technology allowed companies to economically extract oil and gas from tight geologic formations like shale.
The recent surge in US liquids output – crude plus natural gas liquids (NGLs) – quieted the peak oil community. A well-known, largely peak oil-focused website – The Oil Drum – shut down in 2013, an event some considered the death knell of the peak oil theory.
But not so fast says Steven Kopits from energy business analysis firm Douglas-Westwood. Total global oil supply growth since 2005 – 5.8 million barrels per day – came from unconventional sources, shale oil and NGLs in particular, Kopits recently told the audienceat Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
“Not only US, but global, oil supply growth is entirely leveraged to unconventionals right now,” and the legacy, conventional system still peaked in 2005, he said. This gets a bit technical, as shale oil and liquids produced with natural gas are fed into the main crude oil stream and priced as such. But the strong degree to which increasing oil supply growth is dependent on unconventional sources is important to remember and often gets lost in the exuberance over top-line output figures.
And despite prolific incremental oil and gas production made possible by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling advances, maintaining legacy production has been expensive and arguably of limited success.
Total upstream spend since 2005 has been $4 trillion, of which $350 billion was spent on US and Canadian unconventional oil and gas, with an additional $150 billion spent on LNG and GTL, according to Kopits’ presentation. About $2.5 trillion was spent on legacy crude oil production, which still accounts for about 93% of today’s total liquids supply. And despite that hefty investment, legacy oil production has declined by 1 mmb/d since 2005, said Kopits.
By comparison, between 1998 and 2005 the industry spent $1.5 trillion on upstream development and added 8.6 mmb/d to total crude production. The industry “vaporized the GDP of Italy,” with its $2.5 trillion upstream spending for oil since 2005, which barely maintained the legacy oil production system. Kopits argues this level of investment by the major oil companies appears unsustainable, and the major’s current cost structure is troublesome.
Collective oil production of the world’s largest listed oil companies has faltered, while upstream capex soared, Kopits said. Profits have suffered because costs are rising faster than revenues in a range-bound crude oil price environment. “E&P capex per barrel has been rising at 11% per year,” he said, but Brent oil prices have largely been flat. As a result, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Statoil and BP all recently put major projects on hold or cancelled them outright.
“If your costs are rising faster than your revenues, do you sell your assets? The majors have been doing this, but is it sustainable?” asked Kopits. The industry was able to maintain conventional crude oil production levels by throwing $2 trillion dollars at the system – essentially “putting it on steroids” – but now that’s run its course and capex is being curtailed, a trend that looks set to continue, in his view.
February 14, 2014 – Richard Swann in London
* Top seven western majors all seeing liquids output fall
* Supermajors’ share of global market dropping every year
* BP reports fastest decline of 30% from 2009-13
* Production becoming more evenly split between oil and gas
The biggest western oil companies are continuing to see their oil output decline, despite record investment in recent years spurred by sustained crude prices in excess of $100/barrel, according to data released by the companies.
Furthermore, with total world oil output continuing to rise every year, the western majors are seeing their share of the global market fall even faster, with new volumes coming largely from their rivals in places like Russia and a host of smaller companies at the heart of the shale oil boom in the US.
Analysis continues below…
|Request a free trial of: Oilgram News|
|Oilgram News brings you fast-breaking global petroleum and gas news on and including:
Combined output of crude and other liquids by the seven biggest western majors — ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Total, ConocoPhillips and Eni — amounted to 9.517 million b/d last year, down 2.2% from 2012 and marking the fourth consecutive year of decline.
Liquids output from the same group has been falling every year of late, having been as high as 10.865 million b/d in 2009.
As a group, the seven have seen their combined liquids output fall by 1.348 million b/d, or 12.4% over the period from 2009 to 2013.
The most notable contribution to the overall decline comes from BP, whose production of oil and other liquids has fallen by more than 30% from 1.695 million b/d in 2009 to 1.176 million b/d in 2013.
These figures do not include production associated with BP’s current 19.75% stake in Russia’s Rosneft or its previous 50% stake in Russian oil producer TNK-BP.
This is a much sharper fall than other majors have experienced, and is evidence of the scale of the asset divestment program the company has been going through to cover its actual and potential liabilities in the wake of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.
While its peers have not seen production fall by the same degree, they have nonetheless all experienced declining oil production since 2009.
Even ExxonMobil, the biggest of the group in terms of production and profitability, saw its oil output fall by 4.5% in 2011 and 5.5% in 2012, the two years with the highest average international oil prices of all time.
In 2013 ExxonMobil’s oil output rose by 0.8% to 2.202 million b/d, but it still remained more than 200,000 b/d below where it was in 2010.
Shell, Chevron, Total, ConocoPhillips and Eni also all saw their liquids production fall in 2013.
Total’s output declined by 15.5% between 2009-13, Eni’s by 17.3% and ConocoPhillips’ by 12.4%. Shell has seen the smallest fall of 2.5% over thesame period.
Dwindling share of global output
According to the International Energy Agency, total world oil supply has risen in recent years from 85.66 million b/d in 2009 to an average of 91.53 million b/d in 2013.
As a result, the seven leading western majors have seen their share of this total supply fall from 12.7% to 10.4% over the same period.
While this group is seeing its production fall, others have clearly been heading in the opposite direction.
The most obvious is Russia’s Rosneft, which has grown at breakneck pace in recent years on the back of a debt-funded acquisition spree, including the purchase of former rival TNK-BP.
Rosneft is now the world’s biggest publicly listed oil producer with total crude and liquids output of close to 4.2 million b/d.
In other words, Rosneft alone now produces almost as much oil as ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips combined.
The western majors are not short of either the expertise to produce more oil or the money to fund developments after 2013 marked the third consecutive year of Dated Brent prices above $108/barrel.
The recurring challenge for the western companies in recent years has been to find attractive investment opportunities, with several of the world’s leading oil reserves holders offering limited, or even no access to international operators.
“It’s an access question,” said an official from one of the western majors, who asked not be identified. “Who will let us in? They’ll only let us into the difficult bits like the deepwater projects, or tight gas, that kind of thing,” he said.
With their liquids output falling, the so-called “oil majors” are gradually becoming less oily and more reliant on gas production.
Oil accounted for more than 60% of ExxonMobil’s total hydrocarbons output in 2009, but by last year this figure had fallen to less than 53%.
It is a similar story for Total, where oil’s share of total production has fallen from 60.5% in 2009 to 50.8% in 2013.
Shell produced more gas than liquids last year, the third time in the last four years this has happened, and BP is not far away from a 50:50 split.
Of the seven majors who embody the image of “Big Oil” the only one bucking the trend towards greater gas exposure is Chevron, where oil continues to account for two thirds of all production — a full 10 percentage points more than any of the rest of the peer group.
Production of oil and other liquids by leading western companies
(all units in million b/d)
Source: company statements
We project that by 2035 the US will be energy self-sufficient while maintaining its position as the world’s top liquids and natural gas producer.
This illustrates the optimism which BP are projecting in their image of future production. But it carries with it a lot of inherent assumptions, some of which are relatively easy to identify in the summary graphic presentation that accompanied the initial presentation of the new report. Perhaps the most illustrative of their optimism is this plot, which shows the increasingly decoupled changes in energy supply relative to projected increases in GDP.
Figure 1. The reducing dependence on Energy growth as a control on GDP. (All figures are from the new BP Energy Outlook for 2035)
Each year there are significant projections for the future of energy over the next few decades. Recent posts have reviewed this year’s projections from the IEA and ExxonMobil. These projections, were also reviewedlast year and those reviews included the previous BP projectionalthough that only projected forward to 2030 – the current review has added five years to this.
The relative contributions of the different fuel sources to the overall mix have not changed appreciably in the past year. Oil is anticipated to continue to shrink in percentage contribution, and coal will also decline in relative contribution after around 2020. Natural gas and renewables are anticipated to make up the supply needed.
Figure 2. Relative contributions of the different fuel sources to overall global energy supply to 2035.
BP have made it a little easier to see how this breaks down by plotting the ten-year increments in fuel contribution as well as the overall totals.
Figure 3. Changes in projected fuel supplies over the period to 2035.
Changing the plot to show the ten-year incremental changes illustrates how coal, now surging as an international fuel source, is anticipated to decline beyond 2020.
Figure 4. Projected ten-year incremental changes in fuel supply through 2035.
Note that in overall total BP is projecting that global consumption will rise by 41% over today’s numbers, most of which increase will come from the rapidly-developing countries of the world.
Figure 5. Regional increments of energy consumption growth over the decades to 2035.
The reliance on the improvements in energy efficiency to stall further growth in energy demand from the OECD countries is evident in this picture.
BP notes that the decade from 2002 to 2012 saw the “largest ever growth in energy consumption in volume terms,” but anticipates that this rate will never be exceeded in the decades to come. And they anticipate that as Chinese growth fades in the decades, so the growth of the Indian and adjacent economies will almost match that of China by the end of the period. As the nations of the world complete their industrialization, so the growth in the demand for fuel will see a greater emphasis on transportation demands.
Interestingly the decline in the demand for coal that BO projects is linked to the completion of industrialization in China, and this assumption is, of course, predicated on oil and natural gas remaining available to meet the demand at a reasonable cost.
Figure 6. Anticipated primary sources for generation of electric power.
The projections for changes in liquid fuel supply are also relatively simply presented. First one can see the projected changes in demand, with the OECD countries declining, as demand increase seems to focus in the Eastern nations.
Figure 7. Anticipated changes in global demand for liquid fuels
It is where this growth in supply is to come from that is of the greatest concern, and BP suggest the following:
Figure 8. The anticipated sources for growth in liquid fuel supply through 2035.
BP note the largest sources of these gains as being:
The largest increments of non-OPEC supply will come from the US (3.6 Mb/d), Canada (3.4 Mb/d), and Brazil (2.4 Mb/d), which offset declines in mature provinces such as the North Sea. OPEC supply growth will come primarily from NGLs (3.1 Mb/d) and crude oil in Iraq (2.6 Mb/d).
One of the more interesting plots in the report shows how, over last year, the changes in US production more than compensated for the declines in production from the MENA countries.
Figure 9. The ability of increased US production to balance declines in production from the nations in turmoil in MENA.
BP anticipates that continued US increases in production will more than balance the anticipated increases in global demand, so that the continued disruptions will not significantly affect global supply even though, as they have historically, they extend for more than ten years. The US gains are anticipated to continue to such an extent that OPEC will be required to rein in their supplies in order to sustain global prices.
Figure 10. Changes in the demand for OPEC oil and the result on their production reserve capacity.
One anticipates, given that KSA has said that they will not increase overall supply much above current levels, that the increases in production that BP anticipate will likely come from Iraq, and Iran if the sanctions are lifted. Given the current situation in those parts the latter seems increasingly more likely than the former. Further BP note that the increasing populations in these countries and their consequent increases in demand for energy is likely to constrain the levels at which these countries can continue to export.
In conclusion, and to justify the heading at the top of this piece, BP anticipate a continued growth in US oil production such that, by 2035 imports are virtually eliminated, being more than offset by the gains in the export of natural gas products. BP anticipates that the latter will increase by 2025 to around 12 bcf/d and continue at about that level.
Figure 11. BP projections for changes in the US oil supply sources for the period to 2035.
Water shortages have put the US oil and gas industry on a “collision course” with other users because of the large volumes needed for hydraulic fracturing, a group of leading investors has warned.
Almost 40 per cent of the oil and gas wells drilled since 2011 are in areas of “extremely high” water stress, according to Ceres, a network of investors that works on environmental and social issues. It highlights Texas, the heart of the US oil boom, and companies including Chesapeake Energy, EOG Resources, ExxonMobil and Anadarko Petroleum as the heaviest users of water.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is essential for extracting oil and gas from the shale formations that have been responsible for the US boom of the past decade, and it requires large volumes of water: typically 2m gallons or more per well. The water is mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped underground at high pressure to open up cracks in the rock so the oil and gas will flow more freely. The water that flows back out again is often poured away into separate disposal wells.
Water shortages can create tensions with local communities and force companies into expensive solutions such as bringing the water to the wells by truck.
Monika Freyman of Ceres said water was a risk that was often overlooked. “People don’t worry about it until it’s gone,” she said. “If you are an investor in a company that is in a water-stressed area, you have to ask questions about how it is managing their water risks.”
Shareholders including the employee pension funds of New York city and state said this week they would file resolutions for the annual meetings of companies including Exxon, Chevron, EOG and Pioneer Natural Resources, calling for more detailed disclosure of their environmental impact, including water use.
Ceres identified Anadarko, Encana, Pioneer and Apache as the companies with the greatest exposure to water risk, meaning the greatest volume of water use in areas with extremely high stress. In those areas, 80 per cent or more of the available water has been committed for other users including homes, farms and businesses.
Exxon said XTO, its shale oil and gas subsidiary, “works with local authorities to ensure there is adequate supply.” It added that coal needed ten times as much water as gas produced through fracking for an equivalent energy content, and corn-based ethanol needing up to 1,000 times as much water.
Anadarko said it was “on the leading edge” of efforts to manage and conserve water, including recycling it wherever possible, and drawing on a range of sources such as municipal effluent and produced water from oil and gas wells. It is also working with environmental groups and others to develop best practices for water use.
Fracking accounts for a relatively small proportion of US water demand: less than 1 per cent even in Texas, according to a University of Texas study, compared to 56 per cent for irrigation. However, in some areas with the greatest oil and gas activity, such as the Eagle Ford shale of south Texas, it can be much more significant.
The potential problem in Texas is exacerbated by the protracted drought that has affected the state and the growth in its population caused by the strength of its economy.
Jean-Philippe Nicot of the University of Texas said the state’s farmers were using less water for irrigation and shifting to crops that could cope with drier conditions. “More and more water is needed for urban centres, and fracking is part of the picture,” he said.
“All the Texas aquifers are heavily taxed right now.”
Wood Mackenzie, the consultancy, argued in a report last year that the industry would need to address the issue to be able to develop shale oil and gas production around the world, with many of the most promising reserves in China, Africa and the Middle East in areas of water scarcity.
Jim Matheson of Oasys Water, a company that develops water treatment technology, predicted an “inexorable but slow” movement towards recycling.
“We’re very early in the evolution, but the future is one in which we’re going to have to figure out how to clean and reuse the same water resources,” he said.
Scrolling through the website of the World Economic Forum – convening this week in Davos, Switzerland – one might confuse the premier platform for global capital with a savvy and hip think tank, or perhaps a philanthropic aid and development charity. The content is carefully curated to sedate and comfort. The right buzzwords are there: “impact investing”, “embracing democracy”, “our oceans”, and “sustainability.” In the Issues section, one finds Environmental Sustainability, Health for All, and Social Development. An article by Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz (a critic of globalization) is featured front and center, as if to proclaim, ‘challenging the stodgy status quo through edgy, unorthodox economic thinking – that’s what we do here.’
There’s nothing to indicate that this is, in fact, a platform for multinational corporations, among them human rights abusers, political racketeers, property thieves and international environmental criminals. But then, that wouldn’t exactly make for a very inviting homepage.
Here, for example, is the WEF mission statement:
The World Economic Forum encourages businesses, governments and civil society to commit together to improving the state of the world. Our Strategic and Industry Partners are instrumental in helping stakeholders meet key challenges such as building sustained economic growth, mitigating global risks, promoting health for all, improving social welfare and fostering environmental sustainability.
Rather than getting bogged down in a detailed evaluation of WEF’s high-minded claims and eco-populist rhetoric, it may be more efficient to consider the behavior of those corporations and banks that comprise the Forum’s list of Industry Partners – described as “select Member companies of the World Economic Forum that are actively involved in the Forum’s mission.”
Among them are Shell, Nike, Syngenta, Nestlé, and SNC Lavalin – companies you’ll also find on Global Exchange’s list of the Top 10 Corporate Criminals of 2013, based on offenses like unlivable working conditions, corporate seizures of indigenous lands, contaminating the environment, and similar transgressions. At least seven other companies “actively involved in the Forum’s mission” are recentalumni of the Corporate Criminal list.
Or consider Corporate Accountability International’s Corporate Hall of Shame, comprised of “corporations that corrupt the political process and abuse human rights, the environment and our public health.” Seven of the ten – Walmart, ExxonMobil, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Monsanto, and Nestlé (which has the dubious distinction of making both lists) are WEF Industry Partners.
How about climate change? This is now an issue that regularly features ominously in the WEF’s “Global Risks” annual report. Curious, then, that in addition to Shell and ExxonMobil, the Forum’s Industry Partners include most of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, from BP and Chevron to Gazprom and Saudi Aramco.“Carbon Majors” a peer-reviewed study in the scientific journal Climatic Change, lists the 90 entities most responsible for extracting the fossil fuels burned over the past 150 years. The top six are WEF Industry Partners.
Despite the carefully crafted words of concern for the poor and hungry, the WEF’s many food corporations – from Unilever and Pepsico to Cargill and General Mills – have actually parleyed the misery of the food crisis into further control over the food system, as well as spectacular profits. During the 2008 food crisis, the organization GRAIN released a report revealing that “nearly every corporate player in the global food chain is making a killing from the food crisis …. Such record profits … are a reflection of the extreme power that these middlemen have accrued through the globalisation of the food system. Intimately involved with the shaping of the trade rules that govern today’s food system and tightly in control of markets and the ever more complex financial systems through which global trade operates, these companies are in perfect position to turn food scarcity into immense profits.” (1)
Global banks also played a pivotal role in precipitating – and making a killing off – this food crisis. According to an investigative report by Frederick Kaufman, Goldman Sachs instigated a “global speculative frenzy” on food which “sparked riots in more than thirty countries and drove the number of the world’s “food insecure” to more than a billion …. The ranks of the hungry had increased by 250 million in a single year, the most abysmal increase in all of human history.” (2) Needless to say, scroll down to “G” in the Industry Partners list, and Goldman Sachs is there.
The fact is, digging into any of the crises we face will reveal the complicity of the very corporations that the World Economic Forum represents. A study conducted for the UN, for example, estimated the combined environmental externalities of the world’s 3,000 biggest companies to be $2.2 trillion in 2008, “a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.” (3)
These are just a few of innumerable possible examples. The corporations represented by the World Economic Forum are the agents principally responsible for destroying the planet, ravaging livelihoods, and literally starving people, all while aggrandizing unprecedented profits into the hands of an ever-tinier super elite. Seen in this light, all the burnished social and environmental concern-speak of the WEF is so much vacuous corporate swagger, the crudest sort of greenwash. Even though these companies actually spend huge amounts of capital and energy fighting environmental regulation and the citizen’s groups who are suffering their abuses, they simultaneously pursue a strategic embrace of environmental discourse and narratives; they accept the existence of the problems while promoting privatized, technocratic strategies for addressing them. These strategies pivot between those that assign responsibility for causing and fixing the problems to individual consumers, and those that position the corporations themselves as crucial players in the common cause of “improving”/”cleaning” the environment – the same one, incidentally, that they destroyed.
The absurdity of this schizophrenia reaches extreme limits: the WEF is solemnly concerned about global warming because – get ready for it – it represents one of the biggest threats ever to global trade and corporate capitalism! The primary perpetrator of global warming is now portraying itself as a victim. In WEF-land, global warming is like a mysterious, autonomous, alien force invading from afar, without cause or explanation. It “affects us all”, so we must all roll up our sleeves and unite – fossil fuel corporations included – in the battle against a common external foe.
There is, however, one part of the WEF’s mission that is being genuinely fulfilled: “building sustained economic growth”, code for increasing the power and wealth of its corporate partners. That this is the first of the “challenges” described in the WEF mission statement is no accident. Economic growth might seem an odd mismatch to the other issues, like social welfare and environmental sustainability, but the WEF has clearly embraced the notion that endless growth is not only compatible with environmental sustainability, it is actually necessary for it. That this myth has been thoroughly debunked seems to have conveniently escaped the WEF’s notice. (4)
This farce would be laughable but for the immense power and enormous control commanded by the corporations and banks the World Economic Forum represents. When the WEF promises to address agriculture, food security, environmental sustainability, and the like, we should be very worried for exactly those things. Peel away the eco-charity veneer and the WEF’s actual mission stands naked: advance the power, growth, and wealth of the corporate rulers of the world.
In no way should The World Economic Forum be allowed to insert itself as a legitimate voice on the resolution of the very issues that its agenda – the perpetual growth of its partners – precipitates. On the contrary, it should be fiercely resisted – precisely what the alternative World Social Forum, Occupy WEF, and other anti-globalization groups were created to do. (5)
Alex Jensen is Project Coordinator at the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC). Alex has worked in the US and India, where he coordinated ISEC’s Ladakh Project from 2004 to 2009. He has collaborated on the content of ISEC’s Roots of Change curriculum and the Economics of Happiness discussion guide. He holds an MA in Globalization and International Development from University of East Anglia. He has worked with cultural affirmation and agro-biodiversity projects in campesino communities in a number of countries and is active in environmental health/anti-toxics work.
(1) GRAIN (2008) ‘Making a Killing from Hunger’, 28 April,http://www.grain.org/article/entries/178-making-a-killing-from-hunger, and
(2) Kaufman, F. (2010) ‘The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It’, Harper’s Magazine, July,http://frederickkaufman.typepad.com/files/the-food-bubble-pdf.pdf
(3) Jowit, J. (2010) “World”s top firms cause $2.2tn of environmental damage, report estimates”, The Guardian, 18 February, 2010.
(4) see, e.g.: Jorgenson, A. and Clark, B. (2012) ‘Are the Economy and the Environment Decoupling?: A Comparative International Study, 1960–2005,’ American Journal of Sociology 118(1),1–44; Jorgenson, A. and Clark, B. (2011) ‘Societies Consuming Nature: A Panel Study of the Ecological Footprints of Nations, 1960-2003’, Social Science Research 40:226-244; Stern, D. (2004) ‘The Rise and Fall of the Environmental Kuznets Curve’, World Development, 32(8):1419–1439; Hornborg, A. (2003) ‘Cornucopia or Zero-Sum Game? The Epistemology of Sustainability’, Journal of World-Systems Research IX(2): 205-216.
The largest, most-consistent money fueling the climate denial movement are a number of well-funded conservative foundations built with so-called “dark money,” or concealed donations, according to an analysis released Friday afternoon.
The study, by Drexel University environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, is the first academic effort to probe the organizational underpinnings and funding behind the climate denial movement.
It found that the amount of money flowing through third-party, pass-through foundations like Donors Trust and Donors Capital, whose funding cannot be traced, has risen dramatically over the past five years.
– Robert Brulle, Drexel University
In all, 140 foundations funneled $558 million to almost 100 climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010.
Meanwhile the traceable cash flow from more traditional sources, such as Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, has disappeared.
The study was published Friday in the journal Climatic Change.
“The climate change countermovement has had a real political and ecological impact on the failure of the world to act on global warming,” Brulle said in a statement. “Like a play on Broadway, the countermovement has stars in the spotlight – often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians – but behind the stars is an organizational structure of directors, script writers and producers.”
“If you want to understand what’s driving this movement, you have to look at what’s going on behind the scenes.”
To uncover that, Brulle developed a list of 118 influential climate denial organizations in the United States. He then coded data on philanthropic funding for each organization, combining information from the Foundation Center, a database of global philanthropy, with financial data submitted by organizations to the Internal Revenue Service.
According to Brulle, the largest and most consistent funders where a number of conservative foundations promoting “ultra-free-market ideas” in many realms, among them the Searle Freedom Trust, the John Williams Pope Foundation, the Howard Charitable Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation.
Another key finding: From 2003 to 2007, Koch Affiliated Foundations and the ExxonMobil Foundation were “heavily involved” in funding climate change denial efforts. But Exxon hasn’t made a publically traceable contribution since 2008, and Koch’s efforts dramatically declined, Brulle said.
Coinciding with a decline in traceable funding, Brulle found a dramatic rise in the cash flowing to denial organizations from Donors Trust, a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation, the assessment found, now accounts for 25 percent of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations promoting the systematic denial of climate change.
[updated Dec. 24] Jeffrey Zysik, chief financial officer for DonorsTrust, said in an email that neither DonorsTrust nor Donors Capital Fund “take positions with respect to any issue advocated by its grantees.”
“As with all donor-advised fund programs, grant recommendations are received from account holders,” he said. “DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund ensure that recommended grantees are IRS-approved public charities and also require that the grantee charities do not rely on significant amounts of revenue from government sources. DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund do not otherwise drive the selection of grantees, nor conduct in-depth analyses of projects or grantees unless an account holder specifically requests that service.” [end update]
Matter of democracy
In the end, Brulle concluded public records identify only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars supporting climate denial efforts. Some 75 percent of the income of those organizations, he said, comes via unidentifiable sources.
And for Brulle, that’s a matter of democracy. “Without a free flow of accurate information, democratic politics and government accountability become impossible,” he said. “Money amplifies certain voices above others and, in effect, gives them a megaphone in the public square.”
Powerful funders, he added, are supporting the campaign to deny scientific findings about global warming and raise doubts about the “roots and remedies” of a threat on which the science is clear.
“At the very least, American voters deserve to know who is behind these efforts.”
Originally published at the Daily Climate. The Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service that covers climate change. Find us on Twitter @TheDailyClimate or email editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] DailyClimate.org.
– Douglas Fischer, the Daily Climate
There is a lot of confusion about which limit we are reaching with respect to oil supply. There seems to be a huge amount of “reserves,” and oil production seems to be increasing right now, so people can’t imagine that there might be a near term problem. There are at least three different views regarding the nature of the limit:
- Climate Change. There is no limit on oil production within the foreseeable future. Oil prices can be expected to keep rising. With higher prices, alternative fuels and higher cost extraction techniques will become available. The main concern is climate change. The only reason that oil production would drop is because we have found a way to use less oil because of climate change concerns, and choose not to extract oil that seems to be available.
- Limit Based on Geology (“Peak Oil”). In each oil field, production tends to rise for a time and then fall. Therefore, in total, world oil production will most likely begin to fall at some point, because of technological limits on extraction. In fact, this limit seems quite close at hand. High oil prices may play a role as well.
- Oil Prices Don’t Rise High Enough. We need high oil prices to keep oil extraction up, but as we reach diminishing returns with respect to oil extraction, oil prices don’t rise high enough to keep extraction at the required level. If oil prices do rise very high, there are feedback loops that lead to more recession and job layoffs and less “demand for oil” (really, oil affordability) among potential purchasers of oil. One major cut-off on oil supply is inadequate funds for reinvestment, because of low oil prices.
Why “Oil Prices Don’t Rise High Enough” Is the Real Limit
In my view, our real concern should be the third item above, “Oil Prices Don’t Rise High Enough.” The problem is caused by a mismatch between wages (which are not growing very quickly) and the cost of oil extraction (which is growing quickly). If oil prices rose as fast as extraction costs, they would leave workers with a smaller and smaller percentage of their wages to spend on food, clothing, and other necessities–something that doesn’t work for very long. Let me explain what happens.
Because of diminishing returns, the cost of oil extraction keeps rising. It is hard for oil prices to increase enough to provide an adequate profit for producers, because if they did, workers would get poorer and poorer. In fact, oil prices already seem to be too low. In years past, oil companies found that the price they sold oil for was sufficient (a) to cover the complete costs of extraction, (b) to pay dividends to stockholders, (c) to pay required governmental taxes, and (d) to provide enough funds for investment in new wells, in order to keep production level, or even increase it. Now, because of the rapidly rising cost of new extraction, oil companies are finding that they are coming up short in this process.
Oil companies have begun returning money to stockholders in increased dividends, rather than investing in projects which are likely to be unprofitable at current oil prices. See Oil companies rein in spending to save cash for dividends. If our need for investment dollars is escalating because of diminishing returns in oil extraction, but oil companies are reining in spending for investments because they don’t think they can make an adequate return at current oil prices, this does not bode well for future oil extraction.
A related problem is debt limits for oil companies. If cash flow does not provide sufficient funds for investment, increased debt can be used to make up the difference. The problem is that credit limits are soon reached, leading to a need to cut back on new projects. This is particularly a concern where high cost investment is concerned, such as oil from shale formations. A rise in interest rates would also be a problem, because it would raise costs, leading to a higher required oil price for profitability. The debt problem affects high priced oil investments in other countries as well. OGX, the second largest oil company in Brazil, recently filed for bankruptcy, after it ran up too much debt.
National oil companies don’t explain that they are finding it hard to generate enough cash flow for further investment. They also don’t explain that they are having a hard time finding sites to drill that will be profitable at current prices. Instead, we are seeing more countries with national oil companies looking for outside investors, including Brazil andMexico. Brazil received only one bid, and that for the minimum amount, indicating that oil companies making the bids do not have high confidence that investment will be profitable, either. Meanwhile, newspapers spin the story in a totally misleading way, such as, Mexico Gears Up for an Oil Boom of Its Own.
US natural gas is another product with a similar problem: the price is not high enough to justify new production, especially for shale gas producers. The huge resource that some say is there is simply too expensive to extract at current prices. Would-be natural gas producers cannot tell us this. Instead, we find a recent quote in the Wall Street Journal saying:
“We are not dealing with an era of scarcity, we are dealing with a situation of abundance,” Ken Cohen, Exxon’s vice president of public and government affairs, said in an interview. “We need to rethink the regulatory scheme and the statutory scheme on the books.”
Cohen could explain that without natural gas exports, there is no way the natural gas price will rise high enough for Exxon-Mobil to extract the resource at a profit. Without exports, Exxon Mobil will lose money on the extraction, or more likely, will have to leave the natural gas in the ground. With low prices, the huge resource that Obama has talked about is simply a myth–the prices need to be higher. Of course, no one tells us the real story–it seems better to let people think that the issue is too much natural gas, not that it can’t be extracted at the current price. The stories offered to the news media are simply ways to convince us that exports make sense. Readers are not aware how much stories can be “spun” to make the current situation sound quite different from what it really is.
What Goes Wrong with “Climate Change” and “Limit Based on Geology” Views
The Illusion of Reserves. Oil and gas reserves may seem to be “be there,” but a lot of conditions need to be in place for them to actually be extracted. Clearly, the price needs to be high enough, both for current extraction and to fund new investment. Other conditions need to be in place as well: Debt needs to be available, and it needs to be available at a sufficiently low rate of interest to keep costs down. There needs to be political stability in the country in question. Something as simple as a continuation of the uprisings associated with the Arab Spring of 2010 could lead to the inability to extract reserves that seem to be present. Other requirements include availability of water for fracking and the availability of skilled workers and drilling rigs.
In the past, we have been far enough away from limits that issues such as these have not been a big problem. But as we get closer to limits and stretch our capabilities, these become more of a problem. Right now, availability of debt at low interest rates is a particularly important issue, as is the need for adequate oil company profitability–things that are easy to overlook.
Wrong Economic Views Leading to Wrong Oil Views. Economists have put together economic models based on a world without limits. A world without limits is the easy approach, because mathematical relationships are much simpler in a world without limits: a relationship which held in 1800 is expected to hold in 1970 or in 2050. A world without limits never offends politicians, because growth always seems to be possible, meaning a never-ending supply of jobs and of goods and services for constituents. A model without limits produces the simple relationships that we are accustomed to, such as “Inadequate supply will lead to a rise in price, and this in turn will tend to create greater supply or substitutes.” Unfortunately, these models omit many important variables and thus are inadequate representations of the world we live in today.
In a world with limits, there are feedback loops that cause high oil prices to lead to lower wages and more unemployment in oil importing countries. Thus “demand” can’t keep rising, because workers can’t afford the higher oil prices. Oil prices stagnate at a level that is too low to maintain adequate investment. High oil prices also feed back into slower economic growth and a need for ultra-low interest rates to raise demand for high-priced goods such as cars and homes.
When prices remain in the $100 barrel range, they are still high enough to damage the economy. Businesses are not much damaged, because they have ways they can work around higher oil prices, especially if interest rates are low. Most of the ways businesses can work around high oil prices involve reducing wages to US workers–for example, outsourcing production to a lower cost country, or cutting the pay of workers, or laying off workers to match lower demand for goods. (Lower demand for goods tends to occur when oil prices rise, and businesses raise their prices to reflect the higher oil costs.)
Workers are still affected by costs in the $100 barrel range, and so are governments. Governments must pay out higher benefits than in the past, to keep the economy afloat. They must also keep interest rates very low, to try to keep demand for homes and cars as high as possible. The situation becomes very unstable, however, because very low interest rates depend on Quantitative Easing, and it does not appear to be possible to continue Quantitative Easing forever. Thus, interest rates will need to rise. Such a rise in interest rates is likely to push the country back into recession, because taxes will need to be higher (to cover the government’s higher debt costs) and because monthly payments on homes and new car purchases will tend to rise. The limit on oil production then becomes something very remote from geology–something like, “How long can interest rates remain low?” or “How long can we make our current economy function?”
The Interconnected Nature of the Economy. In my last post, I talked about the economy being a complex adaptive system. It is built from many parts (many businesses, laws, consumers, traditions, built infrastructure). It can operate within a range of conditions, but beyond that range it is subject to collapse. An ecosystem is a complex adaptive system. So is a human being, or any other kind of animal. Animals die when their complex adaptive system moves out of its range.
It is this interconnectedness of the economy that leads to the strange situation where something very remote from the real problem (oil limits) can lead to a collapse. Thus, it can be a rise in interest rates or a political collapse that ultimately brings the system down. The path of the downslope can be very different from what a person might expect, based on the naive view that the problems will simply relate to reduced supply of oil.
A Case Study of the Collapse of the Former Soviet Union
The Soviet Union was major oil exporter and a military rival of the United States in the 1950s through 1980s. It also was the center of a huge economic system, involving many other countries. One thing that bound the countries together was the use of communism as its method of government; another was trade among countries. In effect, the group of communist countries had their own complex adaptive system. Things seemed to go fine for many years, but then in December 1991, the central government of the Soviet Union was dissolved, leaving the individual republics that made up the Former Soviet Union (FSU) on their own.
While there are many theories as to what all caused the collapse, it seems to me that low prices of oil played a major role. The reason why low oil prices are important is because in an oil exporting country, such as the FSU, oil export revenues represent a major part of government funding. If oil prices drop too low, there is a double problem: (1) it becomes unprofitable to drill new wells, so production drops and, (2) the revenue that is collected on existing wells drops too low. The problem is then a huge financial problem–not too different from the financial problem the US and many of the big oil importing countries are experiencing today.
Figure 1. Oil production and price of the Former Soviet Union, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013.
In this particular situation, oil prices (in inflation adjusted prices) hit a peak in 1980. Once oil prices hit a peak, FSU oil production very much flattened. There was a continued small rise until 1983, but without the very high prices available until 1980, aggressive investment in new oil extraction dropped back.
Not only did FSU oil production flatten, but FSU oil consumption also flattened, not long after oil production stopped rising (Figure 2). This flattening helped maintain exports and the taxes that could be collected on these exports.
Figure 2. Former Soviet Union Oil Production and Consumption, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2013.
Even though total exports were close to flat in the 1980s (difference between consumption and production), there were some countries where exports that were rising–for example North Korea, shown in Figure 4. This mean that oil exports for some allies needed to be cut back as early as 1981. Figure 3 shows the trend in oil consumption for some of FSU’s allies.
Figure 3. Oil consumption as a percentage of 1980 consumption for Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, based on EIA data.
A person can see that oil consumption dropped off slowly at first, and increased around 1990. All of these countries saw their oil consumption drop by at least 40% by 2000. Bulgaria saw is oil consumption drop by 65% to 70%.
The FSU exported oil to other countries as well. Two countries that we often hear about, Cuba and North Korea, were not affected in the 1980s (Figure 4). In fact, Cuba’s oil consumption never seems to have been severely affected. (It is possible that exports of manufactured goods from the FSU dropped, however.) Cuba’s drop-off in oil consumption since 2005 may be price-related.
Figure 4. Oil consumption as a percentage of 1980 oil consumption for Cuba and North Korea, based on EIA data.
North Korea’s oil consumption continued growing until 1991. Its drop-off was then very severe–a total of an 83% reduction between 1991 and 2010. In most of the countries where oil consumption dropped, consumption of other fossil fuels dropped as well, but generally not by as large percentages. North Korea experienced nearly a 50% drop in other fuel (mostly coal) consumption by 1998, but this has since somewhat reversed.
By 1991, the FSU was in poor financial condition, partly because of the low oil prices, and partly because its oil exports had started dropping. FSU’s oil production left its plateau and started dropping about 1988 (Figure 2). The actual drop in FSU oil production meant that oil consumption for the FSU needed to drop as well–a big problem because industry depended upon this oil. The break-up of the FSU was a solution to these problems because (1) it eliminated the cost of the extra layer of government and (2) it made it easier to shift oil consumption among the member republics, so that those republics that produced more oil could keep it for their own use, rather than sending it to republics which did not produce oil. This shortchanged non-oil producing republics, such as the Ukraine and Belarus.
If we look at oil consumption for a few of the republics that were previously part of the FSU, we see that oil consumption was fairly flat, then dropped off quickly, after 1991.
Figure 5. Oil consumption as a percentage of 1985 oil production for Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013.
By 1996 (only 5 years after 1991), oil consumption had dropped by 78% for the Ukraine, by 61% for Belarus, and by “only” 47% for Russia, which is an oil-producing state. At least part of the reason for the fast drop off was the fact that in the years immediately after 1991, oil production for the FSU dropped by about 10% per year, necessitating a quick drop off in consumption, especially if the country was to continue to make some money from exports. The 10% drop-off in oil production suggests that the decline in oil production was more than would be expected from geological decline alone. If the decline were for geological reasons only, without new drilling, one might the expect the drop off to be in the 4% to 6% range.
When oil consumption dropped greatly, population tended to decline (Figure 6). The decline started earliest in the countries where the oil consumption drop was earliest (Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria). The steepest drop-offs in population occur in the Ukraine and Bulgaria–the countries with the largest percentage drops in oil consumption.
Figure 6. Population as percent of 1985 population, for selected countries, based on EIA data.
Some of the population drop is from emigration. Some of it is from poorer health conditions. For example, Russia used to provide potable water for its citizens, but it no longer does. Some is from conditions such as alcoholism. I haven’t shown the population change for North Korea. It actually continued to increase, but at a much lower rate of growth than previously. Cuba’s population has begun to fall since 2005.
GDP growth for the countries shown has tended to lag behind world economic growth (Figure 7).
Figure 7. GDP compared to world GDP – Change since 1985, based on USDA Real GDP data.
Nearly all of the countries listed above have had financial problems, at different times.
Belarus’s GDP seems to be doing better than the rest on Figure 7. Belarus, like the Ukraine, is a pipeline transit country for Russia. In Belarus, natural gas consumption has increased, even as oil consumption has decreased. This increase is likely helping the country industrialize. Inflation occurred at the rate of 51.9% in 2012 according to the CIA World Fact Book. This high inflation rate may be distorting indications.
We can’t know exactly what path our economy will follow in the future. I expect, though, that the path of the FSU and its trading partners is closer to the path we will be following than most forecasts we hear today. Most of us haven’t followed the FSU story closely, because we wrote off most of their problems to deficiencies of communism, without realizing that there was a major oil component as well.
The FSU situation may, in fact, be better that what the Industrialized West is facing in the next few years. The FSU had the rest of the world to support it, offering investment capital and new models for development. Oil production for Russia was able to rebound when oil prices rose again in the early 2000s. As situations around the world decline, it will be harder to “bootstrap.”
One of the things that hampered the recovery of the FSU was the fact that the communist economic model proved not to be competitive with the capitalistic model. In a way, the situation we are facing today is not all that different, except that our challenge this time is competition from Asian economies that we have not had to compete with until the early 2000s.
Asian economies have several cost advantages relative to the Industrialized West:
(1) Asian competitor countries are generally warmer than the industrialized West. Because of this, Asian workers can live more comfortably in flimsy homes. They also don’t need much salary to cover heating and can more easily commute by bicycle. It is often possible to produce two crops a year, making productivity of land and of farmers higher than it otherwise would be. In other words, Asian competitor countries have an energy subsidy from the sun that the Industrialized West does not.
(2) Asian competitors are often willing to ignore pollution problems, reducing their costs relative to the West.
(3) Asian competitors generally depend on coal to a greater extent than we do, keeping their costs down, relative to countries that use higher-priced fuels.
(4) Asian competitors are less generous with employee benefits such as health care and pensions, also holding costs down.
Economists, through their wholehearted endorsement of globalization, have pushed industrialized countries into a competitive situation which we are certain to lose. While oil prices tend to push wages down, competition with Asian countries makes the downward push on wages even greater. These lower wages are part of what are pushing us toward collapse.
To solve our problems, economists have proposed a shift toward renewable energy and the implementation of carbon taxes. Unless these changes are done in a way that actually reduces costs, these “solutions” are likely to make us even less competitive with low-cost competitors such as those in Asia. Thus, they are likely to push us toward collapse more quickly.
To support this position, economists point to climate change models based on the view that the burning of fossil fuels will increase greatly in the decades again. In fact, if collapse occurs in the next few years in the Industrialized West, carbon emissions are likely to fall quickly. Because of the interconnectedness of the world system, the rest of the world will likely also encounter collapse in not many more years, and their carbon emissions are likely to fall quickly, as well. Even the “Peak Oil” emissions that are used in climate change models are way too high, relative to what seems likely to be the case.
If I am right about collapse being a possibility for the Industrialized West, then our problem will be that we as nations become so poor that we can no longer find goods to trade with Asian countries. Most of our goods will not be competitive as exports, and we won’t be able to simply add more debt to rectify the situation. Thus, we will become unable to buy many goods we depend on, including computers and replacement parts for wind turbines.
Breakups of many types are possible. The European Union may cease to operate in the way it does today. The International Monetary Fund is likely to cease operating in the way it does today, because of the collapse of many of its members who provide funding. The US will be subject to strains of the type that lead to break up. If nothing else, oil producing states will want to withdraw, so that they are not, in effect, subsidizing the rest of the US economy.
It is unfortunate that economists are tied to their hopelessly out-of-date economic models. Part of the problem is that the story of “collapse around the corner” doesn’t sell well. The alternate story economists have come up with really isn’t right, but it is pleasing to the many who benefit from subsidies for renewables, and it makes politicians look like they are doing something. The specter of climate change in the distance gives an excuse to cut back oil use, among other things, so has at least some theoretical benefit.
It is unfortunate, however, that we cannot look at the real problem. Unless we can understand the problem as it really is, it is impossible to find solutions that might actually be helpful.
Plagued by almost a decade of slumping output that has degraded Mexico’s take from a $100-a-barrel oil market, President Enrique Pena Nieto is seeking an end to the state monopoly over one of the biggest crude resources in the Western Hemisphere. The doubling in Mexican oil output that Citigroup Inc. said may result from inviting international explorers to drill would be equivalent to adding anotherNigeria to world supply, or about 2.5 million barrels a day.
That boom would augment a supply surge from U.S. and Canadian wells that Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) predicts will vault North American production ahead of every OPEC member except Saudi Arabia within two years. With U.S. refineries already choking on more oil than they can process, producers from Exxon to ConocoPhillips are clamoring for repeal of the export restrictions that have outlawed most overseas sales of American crude for four decades.
“This is going to be a huge opportunity for any kind of player” in the energy sector, said Pablo Medina, a Latin American upstream analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. in Houston. “All the companies are going to have to turn their heads and start analyzing Mexico.”
An influx of Mexican oil would contribute to a glut that is expected to lower the price of Brent crude, the benchmark for more than half the world’s crude that has averaged $108.62 a barrel this year, to as low as $88 a barrel in 2017, based on estimates from analysts in a Bloomberg survey. Five of the seven analysts who provided 2017 forecasts said prices would be lower than this year.
The revolution in shale drilling that boosted U.S. oil output to a 25-year high this month will allowNorth America to join the ranks of the world’s crude-exporting continents by 2040, Exxon said in its annual global energy forecast on Dec. 12. Europe and the Asia-Pacific region will be the sole crude import markets by that date, the Irving, Texas-based energy producer said.
Exxon’s forecast, compiled annually by a team of company economists, scientists and engineers, didn’t take into account any changes in Mexico, William Colton, the company’s vice president of strategic planning, said during a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Dec. 12.
Opening Mexico’s oilfields to foreign investment would be “a win-win if ever there was one,” said Colton, who described the move as “very good for the people of Mexico and people everywhere in the world who use energy.”
$15 Billion Boost
The bill ending the state monopoly was approved by the Mexican Congress Dec. 12. Before becoming law, the proposal must be ratified by state assemblies, most of which are controlled by proponents of the reform. Oil companies will be offered production-sharing contracts, or licenses where they get ownership of the pumped oil and authority to book crude reserves for accounting purposes. The contracts will be overseen by government regulators.
Though some foreign companies already operate in Mexico under service contracts with Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, the reform could increase foreign investment by as much as $15 billion annually and boost potential economic growth by half a percentage point, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a Nov. 28 report.
A doubling in production as suggested by Citigroup’s Ed Morse would put Mexican output at 5 million barrels a day, an unprecedented level for Pemex, the state oil company created during nationalization in 1938.
U.S. crude production will expand to 9.5 million barrels a day in 2016, the highest since the nation’s peak in 1970, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said today. That contrasts with last year’s EIA forecast that production would reach 7.5 million in 2019 before gradually declining to 6.1 million in 2040. U.S. output reached an all-time high 9.6 million in 1970.
A doubling of Mexico’s output maybe be slower to realize than the most bullish predictions as companies confront barriers in accessing capital and human resources needed for development, Riccardo Bertocco, a partner at Bain & Co. in Dallas.
An increase of 1 million barrels a day in output is the most realistic upper limit of what Mexico could achieve by 2025 based on the cost for new infrastructure, competition for new fields and opportunities all over the U.S., Bertocco said in a telephone interview Dec. 12.
“The opportunities are there, but they are still far from being materialized,” he said.
Drilling in Mexico will be held back by a lack of infrastructure, such as pipelines, in some of the potential shale developments. The government will need to decide on details for development such as tax rates, royalty structures and standards for booking reserves, Kurt Hallead, an analyst atRBC Capital Markets, wrote in a Dec. 12 note to clients.
It will take time to organize and conduct bidding rounds for licenses, and additional exploration, such as seismic tests, will need to be done, Hallead said.
“We are not expecting any significant impact from the reform to be felt in the next two years,” he wrote.
Foreign oil companies will face a backlash from Mexicans opposed to sharing the nation’s oil wealth, said Ricardo Monreal Avila of Movimiento Ciudadano Party, who sees the reform as violating Mexico’s constitution.
“We are going to see serious problems in the operations of these reforms. Indigenous communities and places chosen by foreign companies for extraction will not allow them on their property. There are going to be serious operational problems.”
Brent crude futures, the benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, rose as much as 1.8 percent to $110.80 a barrel in London today, the biggest intraday gain in two weeks, after Libyan rebels refused to relinquish control over oil ports to the central government. Libya, home to Africa’s largest proven reserves, has seen output tumble to the lowest since 2011 amid civil strife.
The first assets that will attract foreign investment will be mature oil fields drilled decades ago and reservoirs that need injections of steam or carbon dioxide to coax more crude out of the ground, Medina said. Deep-water prospects, shale and other technically challenging endeavors will follow later, he said.
The level of investor interest will be partly determined by which assets Pemex chooses to keep and which it will put up for auction, Medina said.
The Chicontepec field northeast of Mexico City may be among the richest prizes Pemex surrenders after its problems overcoming low pressure and disconnected crude deposits that have limited output, Medina said. Production that has averaged about 60,000 barrels a day may be increased to more than 100,000 by an international producer experienced in handling such fields, he said.
Chicontepec is just one of the over-budget, long-delayed projects for which Pemex will be eager to find partners, said Jose Antonio Prado, a former general counsel of Mexico’s energy ministry and Pemex official.
“The Mexican state will be able to incorporate private participants in projects that are already in force as well as new opportunities,” said Prado, now a partner at the law firm Holland & Knight LLP in Mexico City.
The reforms are especially important to open up exploration in Mexico’s deep-water fields, where additional capital, as well as better technology and expertise are needed, Carlos Solé, a Houston-based partner at Baker Botts LLP, said in a telephone interview. Pemex estimated the country’s deep-water Gulf of Mexico prospects may hold the equivalent of 26.6 billion barrels of crude.
Onshore, the potential is even greater with more than 60 billion untapped barrels, according to a Pemex presentation last month.
Some of the potential shale production sits across the border from Texas’s prolific Eagle Ford formation. The most resource-rich area studied so far is around the city of Tampico, a coastal city about 300 miles (480 kilometers) south of the bottom tip of the Texas border.
“I can’t tell you the amount of banks and investment funds coming from the U.S. and Europe that have been talking to us and are trying to have an expectation of what’s going to happen with the energy reform,” Prado said. “All those guys are going to be in Mexico next year in various forms trying to seek new opportunities.”
Tank cars offload crude, likely from the North Dakota Bakken formation. Photo by Roy Luck. Creative Commons licensed.
One of Canada’s top energy analysts has warned investors and geologists that “the shale revolution” will not meet conventional expectations as a so-called game-changer in energy production.
Speaking at the Denver meeting of the Geological Society of America and later at Queen’s University and an energy conference in Toronto, David Hughes challenged the assumptions of industry cheerleaders by spelling out startling depletion rates for high-cost unconventional shale and tight oil wells.
“The shale revolution has been a game-changer in that it has temporarily reversed a terminal decline in supplies from conventional sources,” said Hughes in both talks given in late October and early November. “Long-term sustainability is questionable and environmental impacts are a major concern.”
The geoscientist, who now lives on Cortes Island, has studied energy resources in Canada for four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a coal and natural gas specialist.
After reviewing data from unconventional oil wells, Hughes found that these difficult and high-cost operations deplete so rapidly that between 47 to 61 per cent of oil from plays like the Bakken, the first major tight oil play developed, is recovered within the first four years.
Hughes noted that the Bakken and Texas’ Eagle Ford plays, which currently produce two-thirds of U.S. tight oil and are supposed to take the country into energy independence territory, will actually peak in production by 2016 or 2017.
Incredibly, most tight oil wells, such as in North Dakota’s booming oilfields, will become “stripper wells” (producing less than 10 barrels a day) and be ready for abandonment within 11 to 24 years.
Shale no panacea
Shale gas wells follow a similar decline profile. In Louisiana’s Haynesville play and Pennsylvania’s contentious Marcellus fields, producing wells decline by as much as 66 per cent after the first year.
More than 3,500 wells have been drilled in the Haynesville play, which in 2012 was the top-producing shale gas play in the U.S., yet production is falling owing to the 47 per cent yearly field decline rate. The current price of gas is not high enough to justify the 600-plus wells needed annually to offset the steep field decline (each well costs between $8 to $10 million).
Data from Drilling Info/HPDI.
“The shale revolution has provided a temporary respite from declining oil and gas production, but should not be viewed as a panacea for increasing energy consumption… rather it should be used as an opportunity to create the infrastructure needed for a lower energy throughput to maximize long-term energy security,” warned Hughes.
Hughes also told investors that they can no longer ignore the real and high-cost environmental issues associated with hydraulic fracturing, including high water consumption; groundwater contamination; methane leakage; land fragmentation; air pollution and property devaluation.
“There has been a great deal of pushback by many in the general public, and in state and national governments, to environmental issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing,” he said.
Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland have declared moratoriums on the technology of high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. In addition, Canada’s largest private sector union representing a high percentage of energy works hascalled for a national moratorium.
Although the number of gas-producing wells in Western Canada has reached an all-time high of 230,000 wells, actual gas production has been in decline since 2006.
Hughes also noted that the quality of shale oil and gas plays varies greatly. A few are prolific because they have sweet spots, he said. These special zones are targeted first and lead to an early rise in production followed by a decline, often within five years or less.
As a result, 88 per cent of shale gas production comes from just six of 30 plays, while 70 per cent of all tight oil production comes from two of 21 plays: North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’ Eagle Ford.
Bad omens for BC
Rapid depletion rates, high capital costs and low market prices do not bode well for British Columbia’s much-hyped plans to export shale gas to Asian markets via a liquefied natural gas (LNG) system that currently does not exist.
“In terms of B.C., the well depletion will be similar. All of the fields outside of the Horn River and Montney plays are in decline,” Hughes told The Tyee in an interview.
“The province would have to nearly quadruple gas production just to satisfy the demands of five LNG terminals.” As many as 12 terminals have been proposed for B.C. “It’s a huge scaling problem.”
The government of Premier Christy Clark has championed LNG development as the province’s new economic miracle by subsidizing geoscience, roads and water for shale gas companies.
It has also lowered royalties. Income from shale gas peaked in the province in 2006 at more than $2 billion and has since fallen to less than $400 million, excluding government subsidies.
Data: BC Ministry of Finance, Economic and Financial Review and Budget 2013.
The Business Council of British Columbia whose executive council includes representatives from Encana and Kinder Morgan, supports accelerated LNG development on the grounds that global markets will likely not need the gas in the future: “Overall, there is sufficient evidence in the marketplace to suggest that, if the current LNG contract window closes before B.C. is able to secure final investment decisions, there would be potentially lengthy delays before B.C. and Western Canadian natural gas would have another LNG export opportunity.”
Hughes told investors that the shale gas revolution follows a predictable life cycle.
A land-leasing frenzy follows discovery. Then comes a drilling boom, necessitated by lease requirements, which locates, targets and depletes the sweet spots. Gas production grows rapidly and is maintained “despite potentially uneconomic full cycle costs.” (Production provides cash flow even though the well may not have been economic in its own right).
After five years, fields such as the Haynesville reach middle age. At that point geology takes over from technology, and it takes progressively more wells to offset field declines as drilling moves out of sweet spots to lower quality areas.
‘It’s all in the red’
Due to depressed natural gas prices, the shale gas industry has written down billions of dollars worth of assets and refocused drilling on more lucrative liquid rich formations. Other companies have lobbied strongly for government subsidies for LNG exports.
Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, a multi-billion dollar shale gas investor,exclaimed last year that the industry was making no money: “It’s all in the red,” he said.
Royal Dutch Shell has written down $2 billion in shale assets and even put its Texas Eagle Ford properties up for sale. Meanwhile, one of its senior executives has complained that the industry has “over fracked and over drilled.”
Encana, one of the largest holders of shale gas real estate in B.C., has sold off many assets and laid off 20 per cent of its workforce due to poor investments in uneconomic shale gas plays.
The company pioneered the transformation of landscapes across the West, with industrial clusters of wells combining horizontal drilling with multistage hydraulic fracturing. The 10-year-old mining technique blasts large volumes of water, sand and toxic chemicals into dense rock formations up to two miles underground.
Hughes, head of Global Sustainability Research Inc., will be one of the experts addressing the Transatlantic Energy Forum in Washington, D.C. on Monday. The forum brings together energy and climate change experts from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Native American tribe battles corporations – Al Jazeera Blogs. (FULL ARTICLE)
A highway twisting through the wilderness of northern Idaho lies at the heart of a battle pitting some of America’s most powerful corporations against a small tribe of native Americans and their allies. And the corporations are losing.
“We are not gonna stand by and let this happen,” declares Nez Perce tribal chairman Silas Whitman.
“We are not gonna go away. It affects our homeland, and our resources, and our way of life, our treaty culture, everything that we are about, and we are not going to see a re-visit of what happened to us in the past. No more.”
US Highway 12 runs through the Nez Perce reservation and the tribe’s historic cultural territory, along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. It’s also the cheapest route for the Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips and General Electric corporations to transport giant oil-processing equipment, from manufacturers in Asia for use in the tar sands of Alberta, in Canada. The shipments, called “mega-loads”, are too big to fit beneath overpasses on larger highways. They take up the entire width of the two lane highway.
The highway 12 corridor is protected from development under Federal law as a place of unique natural beauty and environmental value. Plans to run hundreds of mega-loads through the corridor appalled Lin Laughly and Borge Hendrickson, who’ve live nearly all their lives along the river….
- Native Americans Take Lead in Tar Sands Resistance (ipsnews.net)
- Judge halts tarsands megaloads through Nez Perce land! (bsnorrell.blogspot.com)
- Govt. Shutdown ‘Wake-Up Call’ To Native Americans (npr.org)