Best in Energy – 14 July 2022

Smart sanctions on Russia’s petroleum exports¹

EU prepares for gas shortages in winter 2022/23

Biden wants sanctions and lower oil price ($FT)

Berkshire Hathaway boosts Occidental ownership

China studies ending Australia coal ban ($BBG)²

ERCOT again appeals for electricity conservation

(see also ERCOT’s alert notice

Bolton boasts about helping plan coup attempts⁴

Urban heat islands and summer electricity ($BBG)

¹ This paper by Harvard’s Craig Kennedy published in April appears to be an early version of the price-cap plan the U.S. Treasury Department is advocating to the European Union, Japan, India and China.

² Bloomberg reports Chinese officials are preparing to recommend the lifting of the country’s ban on coal imports from Australia. The proposal is framed as a policy response to concerns about coal shortages stemming from sanctions on Russia. But China does not need Australian coal at the moment given the slowdown in the domestic economy, rapidly rising domestic coal production, and the huge increase in hydropower generation. The proposal therefore appears to be primarily diplomatic – part of détente between China and the new government in Canberra. The question is what China would hope to receive in return: de-escalation of the conflict, generalised goodwill and a reset in the relationship, or something more concrete?

³ Visible only to IP addresses in the United States or via a VPN

⁴ U.S. government involvement in the overthrow of foreign governments is widely known, including Iran (1953) and Chile (1973). But it is rare for a recently serving senior official to acknowledge the fact. There is always a large gap between what we “know” in the sense of being overwhelmingly probable and what we “know” in the sense of being able to prove to the satisfaction of audiences, editors and lawyers. Indiscretions by former officials are useful because they move topics from the known-suspected to the known-proven category which makes it much easier to analyse and write about them.

U.S. SERVICE SECTOR prices climbed at an annualised rate of almost +10% in the three months from April to June, a clear sign the economy is overheating. Services inflation is running at some of the fastest rates for 60 years. The three-month rate is in the 93rd percentile for all similar periods since 1960:

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Recommended reading on energy

The energy bibliography contains the books and articles I have found useful in my own research on energy – defined broadly to include production, consumption, transportation, markets and pricing, but also risk management, technology, elements of economic history and geography, international relations and strategy. The bibliography started out as an aide-memoire and in response to requests for recommendations on particular topics. It has since grown very large so I have introduced an index page with hyperlinking. I update the list every three months with new items. 

The selection is a personal one. These are books and articles I have found most useful and insightful (and well-written in most cases). The latest version contains a lot of new entries about the rise of the coal industry in Britain, including changes in mining technology, transportation, market management, cartels, the economy and society. The expansion of the coal industry provides a lot of lessons about the oil industry in later centuries as well as some of the industries emerging rapidly in the 21st century. 

The latest version can be downloaded here: 

Best in Energy – 5 July 2022

REUTERS has appointed Guy Faulconbridge as its new bureau chief for Russia and the CIS. Guy is one of the most talented journalists of my generation and an outstanding choice for the toughest job in journalism at the moment. For the most accurate, insightful and unbiased coverage of Russia, I strongly recommend following him on Twitter @GuyReuters

U.S./China hold round of economic discussions (trans.)

Coal consumption hits new high in 2021 ($WSJ)

Russia’s coal exports increase despite sanctions

Europe’s seaborne coal imports surge ($BBG)

Semiconductor makers signal slower demand ($WSJ)

GLOBAL COAL-FIRED power generation rose to a record 10,244 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2021, passing the previous peak of 10,098 TWh set before the pandemic in 2018. Coal combustion is set to rise further in 2022 as China and India focus on indigenous energy resources to improve their energy security and reduce the cost of imports, and Europe tries to reduce its consumption of Russian gas:

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Best in Energy – 14 June 2022

Pakistan hit by long blackouts as EU diverts LNG ($BBG)

Northeast Asia’s tepid LNG imports offset Freeport blast

U.S. shale producers opt not to accelerate drilling

U.S. finances construction of rare earths plant

Yang/Sullivan hold another round of talks (trans.)

(see also far briefer statement from White House)

U.S. INTEREST RATE traders expect the federal funds rate to reach 3.50-3.75% by January 2023 up from 0.75-1.00% at present as the central bank attempts to bring inflation under control. If they prove necessary, increases on this scale would result in a significant slowdown in the business cycle:

DATED BRENT calendar spreads are signalling exceptional tightness over the next two months. The extreme backwardation is consistent with the disruption of Russia’s exports and the maintenance season for platforms, pipelines and fields in the North Sea. But it could also be a sign the market is being squeezed. Strong fundamentals create ideal conditions for a squeeze. “Always squeeze with the grain of the market not against it,” as a veteran trader told me over lunch many years ago:

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Best in Energy – 8 June 2022

U.S. president invokes defense production act to accelerate energy transition

(see also official statements on insulation, heat pumps and fuel cells)

Governments rethink intervention in energy markets

La Niña threatens to disrupt U.S. energy and agriculture

China’s leaders focus on transport and logistics (trans.)

U.S./Venezuela relations start to thaw ($BBG)

U.S. RETAIL GASOLINE prices have climbed to an average of almost $5 per gallon, the highest after adjusting for wages since June 2014, when Islamic State fighters were threatening to capture the giant oilfields of northern Iraq. Wage-adjusted pump prices are in the 92nd percentile for all months since 1994, up from the 60th percentile in December 2021 and the 53rd percentile in June 2021:

U.S. ROAD FUEL prices are rising even faster than crude benchmarks, resulting in an increasing premium first for diesel and now gasoline, as refineries prove unable to keep pace with demand from freight hauliers and private motorists:

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Best in Energy – 7 June 2022

Global output growth set to decelerate sharply

Pakistan cuts work-week to reduce energy use

Russia’s long-term oil and gas challenge ($FT)

U.S. LNG exports rerouted to Europe from Asia

Hubris/nemesis in international relations*

* This RAND study for the CIA was produced in 1994 but has some interesting implications for the current conflict between Russia and the U.S./NATO over Ukraine.

EUROPEAN gas futures prices for deliveries in January 2023 have converged with those for deliveries in Northeast Asia. Europe’s gas prices are no longer trading at a premium as the region’s storage fills up at record rates alleviating some concerns about a supply shortfall this winter:

Best in Energy – 6 June 2022

Texas grid anticipates record electric load this week

OPEC⁺ and the growing gap between rhetoric and reality

U.S./Saudi rapprochement forced by rising oil prices ($FT)

Argentina struggles to boost Vaca Muerta shale play ($FT)

Germany’s policy conflicts over LNG expansion ($FT)

Africa’s shortage of local crude oil refining capacity ($FT)

MISO’s generation reserve could fall very low this summer

MISO prepares for power shortages and demand reductions

Russia/Ukraine war will reshape global energy flows ($WSJ)

TEXAS ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION has increased at a compound rate of +1.70% per year over the last five years, notwithstanding the pandemic and recession in 2020. Electricity sales to end-users in the state totalled 433 TWh between April 2021 and March 2022 (the latest data available) up from 398 TWh between April 2016 and March 2017:

U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES including the strategic petroleum reserve depleted by another -5 million bbl to 1,681 million bbl in the week to May 27. Stocks have fallen in 74 of the last 100 weeks by a total of -436 million bbl since the start of July 2020:

U.S. EAST COAST DISTILLATE stocks fell by another -0.6 million bbl to just 21.0 million bbl in the week to May 27. Regional distillate inventories are now -23 million bbl (-52%) below the pre-pandemic five-year average and the supply position shows no sign of improving:

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Best in Energy – 27 May 2022

White House articulates strategy towards China

U.K. announces windfall tax on oil and gas firms

Europe protects households from energy prices

EU runs into problems negotiating Russia oil ban

Offshore drilling experiences cyclical recovery

U.S. hot economy has unwanted side effects ($FT)

Thailand/Vietnam explore rice cartel ($BBG)

Space-based solar power – how realistic is it?

BRENT’s six-month calendar spread is moving into an increasingly steep backwardation again as traders anticipate a growing shortage of crude. High margins for diesel and gasoline are encouraging refineries to maximise crude processing which is intensifying the downward pressure on already-depleted crude inventories:

U.K. DIESEL and gasoline inventories depleted further in March as late-cycle tightness was intensified by the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and some panic-buying by consumers and road haulage firms. Diesel/gas oil stocks were at the lowest seasonal level since 2014 and before that 2006:

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Best in Energy – 20 May 2022

China accelerates purchases of Russian crude*

China increases crude inventories*

China boosts energy imports from Russia ($BBG) *

U.S./China talks on Russia strategic oil purchases*

U.S./China top diplomats hold telephone talks*

United States open to Russia oil secondary sanctions*

China cuts mortgage rates sharply to boost economy

Italy boosts Russian oil imports ($FT)

Germany prepares for rationing industrial gas supply

China completes Daqing coal rail maintenance (trans.)

U.K. postal service to raise prices again as costs surge

U.K. consumer confidence lowest since at least 1974

Finland prepares for end of Russian gas flows ($BBG)

U.K. grid practises black start with renewables ($BBG)

* An interesting cluster of stories has emerged over the last 24 hours about China increasing crude oil purchases from Russia, but using the extra volumes to replenish strategic reserves, which the White House says would not violate any sanctions. The first six items should all be read in this context.

China does not report commercial or strategic reserves and there is less distinction between them than for IEA countries, so there is no way of ascertaining whether extra crude is really going into strategic inventories or being added to commercial stocks to be refined or depleted later. The concept of “replenishment” of strategic stocks is also curious because China did not join the U.S.-led emergency oil releases in late 2021 and early 2022.

An outside observer might conclude China is boosting its purchases of deeply discounted Russian crude, but the White House has decided to ignore it, at least for the time being, because it does not want to risk triggering a further rise in prices, especially before congressional elections in November, where inflation is emerging as the dominant political issue.

U.S. FINANCIAL CONDITIONS were tightening rapidly even before this week’s tumble in equity prices, as access to credit and risk capital becomes more restricted and expensive:

EUROPE’s GAS FUTURES summer-winter calendar spread from July 2022 to January 2023 has moved into a small contango of €2/MWh, down from a record backwardation of more than €70 in early March, as storage fills at record rates and inventories become more comfortable:

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Best in Energy – 18 May 2022

EU cannot be a green island in a dirty world ($FT)

Oil consumption and moderate recessions ($BBG)

U.S./EU examine Russia oil embargo + tariff plan

U.K. inflation accelerates to 9% fastest since 1982

China’s LNG imports set to rise from August ($BBG)

U.K. explores extensions for coal and nuclear ($BBG)

Texas electricity supply hit by congestion on grid

German refinery at risk from Russian oil ban ($BBG)

Austria tries to encourage industry to store gas

U.K. orders competition probe into fuel retailing

U.S. MANUFACTURING output in the three months Feb-Apr was almost 6% higher than in the same period a year earlier, showing momentum in the business cycle but also why supply chains are struggling to cope and prices are escalating rapidly. Rapid growth in manufacturing explains why diesel is short supply and prices are escalating:

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