Battered by war, Iraq now faces calamity from dropping oil prices

The New York Times reports: Iraqis seeking to withdraw money from banks are told there is not enough cash. Hospitals in Baghdad are falling back to the deprivation of the 1990s sanctions era, resterilizing, over and over, needles and other medical products meant for one-time use.

In the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, the economic crisis is even worse: government workers — and the pesh merga fighters who are battling the Islamic State — have not been paid in months. Already, there have been strikes and protests that have turned violent.

These scenes present a portrait of a country in the midst of an expensive war against the Islamic State that is now facing economic calamity brought on by the collapse in the price of oil, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the Iraqi government’s revenue.

Analysts and officials, though, say much tougher economic times are ahead, even as they insist the war will be largely unaffected because of help from foreign powers determined to defeat the Islamic State. The United States, for instance, recently extended new loans to Iraq to buy weapons, and other countries are stepping up with donations of arms and ammunition. [Continue reading…]

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Iran sanctions: Middle East stock crash wipes £27bn off markets as Tehran enters oil war

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The Telegraph reports: Stock markets across the Middle East saw more than £27bn wiped off their value as the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran threatened to unleash a fresh wave of oil onto global markets that are already drowning in excess supply.

All seven stock markets in the Gulf states tumbled as panic gripped traders. London shares are now braced for a second wave of crisis to hit when they open on Monday morning after contagion from China sent the FTSE 100 to its worst start in history last week.

Dubai’s DFM General Index closed down 4.65pc to 2,684.9, while Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index, the largest Arab market, collapsed by 7pc intraday, before recovering to end down 5.44pc at 5,520.41, its lowest level in almost five years. [Continue reading…]

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Armed with intel, U.S. strikes curtail ISIS oil sector

Iraq Oil Report reports: An intensifying campaign of U.S. air strikes on the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) has nearly shut down its oil operations in Iraq and has hampered its more lucrative business in Syria, eroding the group’s largest source of financing and threatening its ability to govern territory.

Iraq Oil Report has compiled a comprehensive history of the IS oil sector based on the organization’s own records, details of which have just been declassified by the U.S. government and are being published here for the first time. Those accounts have been broadly corroborated by the first-hand testimony of residents and oil workers in IS-occupied territory.

They show that, until recently, nearly 2,000 IS oil workers, many recruited from abroad, were able to outfox early U.S. attempts to derail the group’s oil operations. From the end of 2014 through May 2015, even after being hit by a series of air strikes, the highly bureaucratic and organized operation generated as much as $40 million per month from the sale of crude oil. (The IS organization generated millions more by taxing transportation and refining, though the U.S. officials declined to give more detailed figures.)

“From the documents, we see this: oil has traditionally been approaching 50 percent of their profits. And the other 50 percent was the total of all the other things,” said Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s Special Envoy for International Energy Affairs, who is at the center of the U.S. government’s efforts to identify weaknesses in the IS group’s oil sector. [Continue reading…]

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Chaos in Libya: It’s the oil, stupid

Issandr El Amrani writes: There seems no end to the bad news coming out of Libya.

UN-led negotiations to unite the divided country — it has two parliaments, two governments, two militia coalitions that have been competing for control of a rapidly failing state since summer 2014 — are stalling. Fighting continues apace in Benghazi, the city that was the first to rebel against the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011 and is now a byword for extremism. The Islamic State is growing by the day in the Gulf of Sirte in the center of the country, imposing its cruel dictates and making inroads elsewhere in the country. Criminal gangs – often the same militias that have had the run of the country since Gaddafi’s fall – are doing a brisk trade in people smuggling, sending off desperate migrants and refugees on rickety boats across the Mediterranean.

Oh, and by the way, Libya is also going broke.

That last tidbit should be surprising. Libya has Africa’s largest oil reserves and has long been an important supplier of light sweet crude, the kind made into gasoline and kerosene. It also had tons of money in both hoards of cash reserves and investments across the globe.

But the oil, which used to bring in 96 percent of the country’s income, is not flowing anymore. From a high of at least 1.6 million barrels per day at the beginning of 2011, Libya is lucky to export a fourth of that today. Militias have taken control of oil fields, pipelines and export facilities across the country. At first, they sought to extort the central government to keep the oil flowing. But since the country was divided into two rival governments, they are simply fighting to keep oil revenue from each other: you take over my oilfield, I block your pipeline. Since earlier this year, IS has jumped into the fray, simply destroying facilities to keep any government from getting its revenues — although, in the longer term, it may very well want to control the oil itself. [Continue reading…]

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The prize: Fighting for Libya’s oil wealth

International Crisis Group reports: Libya’s economic conditions could turn sharply for the worse, as rival authorities vie to control rapidly shrinking national wealth. The struggle affects oil fields, pipelines and export terminals, as well as the boardrooms of national financial institutions. Combined with runaway spending due to corruption and dwindling revenue because of falling exports and energy prices, the financial situation – and with it citizen welfare – faces collapse in the context of a deep political crisis, militia battles and the spread of radical groups, including the Islamic State (IS). If living conditions plunge and militia members’ government salaries are not paid, the two governments competing for legitimacy will both lose support, and mutiny, mob rule and chaos will take over. Rather than wait for creation of a unity government, political and military actors, backed by internationals supporting a political solution, must urgently tackle economic governance in the UN-led talks.

Since the Qadhafi regime fell in 2011, Libya has been beset by attacks on, labour strikes at and armed takeovers of oil and gas facilities, mostly by militias seeking rents from the fledging central government. Initially brief and usually resolved by government concessions, the incidents gradually took on a life of their own, in an alarming sign of the fragmentation of political, economic and military power. They show the power accrued by militias during and since the 2011 uprising and the failure of efforts to integrate them into the national security sector. The dysfunctional security system for oil and gas infrastructure presents a tempting target for IS militants, as attacks in 2015 have shown.

One aspect of the hydrocarbon dispute is a challenge to the centralised model of political and economic governance developed around oil and gas resources that was crucial to the old regime’s power. But corruption that greased patronage networks was at that model’s centre, and corrupt energy sector practices have increased. A federalist movement some consider secessionist controls a number of the most important crude-oil export terminals. It exploits the situation by pursuing its own sale channels, adding to the centrifugal forces tearing Libya apart. [Continue reading…]

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Taking stock of ISIS oil

Matthew M. Reed writes: The early estimate for ISIS oil revenues was $2-3 million a day. Media coverage ran with that number and so did U.S. officials for a time. However, the price/volume assumptions built into it were never clear. “It’s not an estimate that the U.S. intelligence community or the Pentagon is endorsing or has come up with,” a Pentagon spokesman said in September 2014.

The first official U.S. government estimate for ISIS oil revenue came in October last year. Then-Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen estimated that ISIS probably earned $1 million a day in June—before the anti-ISIS coalition intervened. That estimate held up until February 2015 when Cohen said ISIS revenues had fallen to just $2 million a week (or ~$300,000 a day). At that point, U.S. officials became convinced oil was not the top money maker for ISIS; instead the group relied more on taxation, tolls, ransom and theft. Official estimates came with big caveats but the U.S. government apparently believed it had cut down ISIS oil revenues by two-thirds.

That estimate lasted until July, when Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Daniel Glaser concluded that oil ranked third among ISIS revenue streams, but it was still significant. “Earlier this year ISIL made about $40 million in one month, off of the sale of oil. So if you want to extrapolate that out, you get to about $500 million in the course of a year,” he said. $500 million a year works out to almost $1.4 million a day, which is almost a five-fold increase from the lowball claim made in February. (FT estimates revenue at $1.5 million a day as well.) [Continue reading…]

See also Part Two of this report.

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Saudis risk draining financial assets in 5 years, IMF says

Bloomberg reports: Saudi Arabia may run out of financial assets needed to support spending within five years if the government maintains current policies, the International Monetary Fund said, underscoring the need of measures to shore up public finances amid the drop in oil prices.

The same is true of Bahrain and Oman in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, the IMF said in a report on Wednesday. Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have relatively more financial assets that could support them for more than 20 years, the Washington-based lender said.

Saudi authorities are already planning spending cuts as the world’s biggest oil exporter seeks to cut its budget deficit. Officials have repeatedly said that the kingdom’s economy, the Arab world’s biggest, is strong enough to weather the plunge in crude prices as it did in similar crises, when its finances were under more strain. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia targets Russia in battle for European oil market

Reuters reports: From global majors such as Shell and Total to more modest Polish energy firms, oil refiners in Europe are cutting their longstanding use of Russian crude in favour of Saudi grades as the world’s top exporters fight for market share.

Russia has for years been muscling in on Asian markets where Saudi Arabia was once the unchallenged dominant supplier. But now Riyadh is retaliating in Moscow’s backyard of Europe with aggressive price discounting.

This has nothing to do with Western sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine, which apply to energy industry equipment but not to oil or gas itself. Instead it is a commercial battle for customers as both exporters ramp up their output despite weak world oil prices. [Continue reading…]

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Oil nations feel the strain of  OPEC’s continuing price war

The Telegraph reports: Oil is arguably Saudi Arabia’s best weapon against both Russia and Iran. Although the kingdom’s finances are under severe strain from the collapse in export revenues it can still fall back on its $655bn (£423bn) of foreign assets while Russia and Iran will feel the impact of another year of weak oil prices more acutely.

After a year of carnage in the oil industry, it is now clear that it will take more time for Al-Naimi’s strategy of allowing weaker prices to do the job of totally shutting down higher cost producers.

A 60pc slump in oil prices since last November has caused havoc but the main target of Opec ‘s campaign, shale oil in the US, has so far proved to be remarkably resilient.

Hardest hit have been the high cost producers in areas such as the North Sea where prices below $50 per barrel have placed the entire offshore industry at risk.

Energy consultant Wood Mackenzie now fears that 140 fields in the waters off north-east Scotland, where oil has been pumped since the 1970s, could be closed down over the next five years if oil prices remain so low. [Continue reading…]

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Indigenous Canadians take leading role in battle against tar sands pipeline

The Guardian reports: Chief Na’Moks stood in the dark of a small smokehouse nestled in the Coast range of British Columbia. Hanging above him were nearly a thousand fish which glinted over the fire below.

“For us, it’s one of the most highly prized commodities that we have,” he said, pulling one of the glistening candlefish off the rack. “People don’t get why we want to keep what we have. We don’t want anything from anyone. We just want to keep what we have.”

Not so long ago, the chief’s ancestors traded fish oil along the grease trails up and down the coast of British Columbia. Today, however, Chief Na’Moks and many other First Nations leaders are at the forefront of a struggle against a very different kind of oil business: Canada’s largest proposed tar sands pipeline, the Northern Gateway.

It is the country’s environmental battle of the decade, uniting a wide variety of citizens’ groups against the billions of dollars of investment by oil companies and millions in secret funding from the government. First proposed in 2004, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was planned for a 731-mile (1,177km) stretch from the center of Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. [Continue reading…]

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How ISIS became a petrostate

The Financial Times reports: Minutely managed, Isis’ oil company actively recruits skilled workers, from engineers to trainers and managers.

Estimates by local traders and engineers put crude production in Isis-held territory at about 34,000-40,000 bpd. The oil is sold at the wellhead for between $20 and $45 a barrel, earning the militants an average of $1.5m a day.

“It’s a situation that makes you laugh and cry,” said one Syrian rebel commander in Aleppo, who buys diesel from Isis areas even as his forces fight the group on the front lines. “But we have no other choice, and we are a poor man’s revolution. Is anyone else offering to give us fuel?”

Isis’ oil strategy has been long in the making. Since the group emerged on the scene in Syria in 2013, long before they reached Mosul in Iraq, the jihadis saw oil as a crutch for their vision for an Islamic state. The group’s shura council identified it as fundamental for the survival of the insurgency and, more importantly, to finance their ambition to create a caliphate. [Continue reading…]

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Oil shock: Fears of unrest in petro economies as oil prices drop

The New York Times reports: While the price has been declining for months, forecasts have always been hedged with the assumption that oil would eventually stabilize or at least not stay low for long. But new anxieties about frailties in China, the world’s most voracious consumer of energy, have raised fears that the price of oil, now 30 percent lower than it was just a few months ago, could remain depressed far longer than even the most pessimistic projections, and do even deeper damage to oil exporters.

“The pain is very hard for these countries,” said René G. Ortiz, former secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and former energy minister of Ecuador. “These countries dreamed that these low prices would be very temporary.”

Mr. Ortiz estimated that all major oil exporting countries had lost a total of $1 trillion in oil sales because of the price decline over the last year.

“The apparent weakness in the Chinese economy is radiating out into the world,” said Daniel Yergin, the vice chairman of IHS, a leading provider of market information, and the author of two seminal books on the history of the oil industry, “The Prize” and “The Quest.”

“An awful lot of producers who enjoyed good times were more dependent on Chinese economic growth than they recognized,” Mr. Yergin said. “This is an oil shock.”

Although the price drop has most directly hurt oil exporters, it also may signal a new period of global economic fragility that could hurt all countries — an anxiety that already has been evident in the gyrating stock markets.

The price drop also has become an indirect element in the course of Syria’s civil war and other points of global tension. Countries that once could use their oil wealth as leverage, like Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, may no longer have as much influence, some political analysts said. Iran, which once asserted it could withstand the antinuclear embargo of its oil by the West, appeared to have rethought that calculation in reaching an agreement on its nuclear activities last month. [Continue reading…]

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Arctic drilling approval threatens Obama’s climate legacy

InsideClimate News reports: The Obama administration’s final approval of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea provoked an angry reaction on Monday from environmentalists who had come to consider President Obama a champion in the fight against climate change.

The decision comes two weeks after the release of the United States’ most aggressive attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan, and just days after Obama announced he will visit Alaska later this month to highlight the impacts of climate change, which he recently referred to as “one of the greatest challenges we face this century.”

“I’m flummoxed,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder and director of strategy and communications of the green group 350.org. “Arctic drilling is so blatantly out of line with the President’s stated goals that the only possible explanations seem to be that he truly doesn’t understand the issue or that the White House is somehow convinced that the project won’t go forward.” [Continue reading…]

Mashable reports: The warmest year on record so far may have claimed another milestone, and this time it’s a big one.

According to preliminary data from NASA along with information from the Japan Meteorological Administration, July 2015 was the warmest month on record since instrument temperature records began in the late 1800s.

Research using other data, such as tree rings, ice cores and coral formations in the ocean, have shown that the Earth is now the warmest it has been since at least 4,000 years ago. [Continue reading…]

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Oil demand will dry up faster than oil supply

Amory Lovins writes: Why would anyone want to be in the oil business? Like airlines, it’s a great industry but a bad business. Here are the most obvious challenges to its business model:

  • Oil companies are extremely capital-intensive; they can’t charge a high enough price to pay for Arctic oil because to deliver energy at a given rate takes more capital investment than photovoltaics do.
  • They have decadal lead times and high technological, geological, and political risks.
  • National oil companies own about 94 percent of global reserves and can take or tax away the major oil companies’ remaining 6 percent at any time, holding their most basic assets and expected profits at risk.
  • Resource owners force major oil companies into riskier and costlier plays even as investors demand lower risks and higher returns.
  • The industry is politically fraught, unpopular, interfered with, and reputationally damaged by its worst actors.
    Its service companies (like Schlumberger and Halliburton) and the national oil companies are becoming formidable competitors.
  • Its permanent subsidies are coming under greater scrutiny and criticism.
  • It must sell its products at world oil prices that are highly volatile and beyond its control.
  • Much of the reserve base underlying its market valuation is unburnable for climate reasons, potentially wiping trillions off balance sheets.
  • The costly Arctic, deep-sea, and otherwise remote reserves that until a year ago got half the new investments by the biggest oil companies are also economically stranded assets  — at least four times costlier than demand-side competitors and increasingly challenged even by some supply-side competitors.

What a recipe for headaches! No wonder savvy investors are starting to shift their money into assets with rapid growth, wide benefit, solid public acceptance and even enthusiasm, modest risk, and durable value. Energy efficiency and renewables lead the pack. Increasingly they poach investment, momentum, and people from major companies’ deep talent pools. Even my own nonprofit organization’s CEO is a ten-year Shell veteran.

Yet I think these widely recognized challenges are easier to handle than others the industry is only just starting to realize. Having advised oil companies for 42 years, I’m worried that many don’t yet grasp how their competitive landscape is being transformed far faster than their cultures can comprehend or cope with.

Most importantly, their demand is going away — not incrementally but fundamentally. Like whale oil in the 1850s, oil is becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high prices. [Continue reading…]

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Scientists call for halt to Canadian oil sands expansion

Climate Central reports: The controversial proposed Keystone XL Pipeline put Canada’s vast carbon-laden tar sands on the map for many Americans, with its builders promising that it would carry 800,000 barrels of petroleum per day from Alberta’s tar sands to oil refineries in Texas.

But a group of 100 scientists on Wednesday called for a moratorium on further oil sands development, saying it isn’t compatible with stabilizing the climate and meeting greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets.

“We shouldn’t be doubling down or quadrupling down on the tar sands going from 2 million barrels per day to four, six, eight as industry is calling for by proposing expansions and proposing pipelines,” Simon Fraser University energy economist Mark Jaccard said.

Many scientists, environmental groups and President Obama have voiced concern about the effect of tar sands, or oil sands, on the climate. The U.S. State Department concluded that oil sands are more than 17 percent more carbon-intensive to extract than the average barrel of oil.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers announced Tuesday that oil sands will account for most of a 43 percent increase in Canadian crude oil production through 2030. Production is expected to grow from 3.7 million barrels per day to 5.3 million barrels. Of those, 4 million barrels will come from oil sands. [Continue reading…]

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