Best in Energy – 14 November 2022

Saudi Arabia widens diplomatic relationships ($BBG)

U.S. retailers push back against price increases ($BBG)

China says pre-winter coal stocks comfortable (trans.)

China underground gas storage for Jīng-Jīn-Jì (trans.)

Indonesia explores early retirement of coal-fired plant

China’s iron ore prices bounce on non-residential use

Western Interconnection’s rising reliability challenge

U.S/China presidents try to stabilise poor relationship

U.S./China leaders to meet at G20 ($FT)

OPEC⁺  and the stabilisation of oil prices

U.S. OIL PRODUCERS increased the number of rigs drilling for oil to 622 on November 10 up from 610 two weeks earlier. Drilling increased significantly for the first time since July. The number of active rigs has rebounded from a pandemic low of just 172 in August 2020 and is nearing the pre-pandemic level of 683 in early March 2020.

But the resumption has been much slower than after the two previous downturns. The rig count has risen by a total of +450 (+3.8 per week) over the 117 weeks since August 2020 compared with an increase of +544 (+4.6 per week) at the same point after the last cyclical low in 2016 and +885 (+7.6 per week) after the cyclical low in 2009:

Best in Energy – 2 November 2022

[MUST READ] South Africa’s transition from coal ($FT)

Maersk predicts container volume down 2-4% in 2022

UAE advised against cutting OPEC⁺ output target ($WSJ)

Russia oil exports predicted to fall by 0.5-1.0m b/d ($FT)

Europe’s industrial base at risk from high energy prices

U.S./Europe compete to attract investment ($FT)

United Kingdom tests plan to restart power grid ¹

Black start – planning for a complete grid failure

China’s coal production situation (trans.)

China’s updated city classification list (trans.)

California plans to repurpose gas network ($WSJ)

¹ This article seems to be merging the related but separate concepts of rotating power cuts to cope with possible electricity shortages caused by insufficient gas-fired and renewable generation this winter with restarting the grid after a total failure such as might be caused by an accident or sabotage.

“Yarrow” sounds like a plan for a “black start” of generation, transmission and distribution systems following complete failure. Electricity network managers in the United Kingdom and other countries have planned for a black start for decades. It is one of those remote “high impact low probability” risks commonly used in scenario planning.

The United Kingdom has never had to undertake a nationwide black start though a regional one was necessary in parts of the southeast following damage caused by the Great Storm of October 1987.

Black starts involve a complicated series of steps and would take several days to complete. Designated generating units would have to be started up autonomously, following by limited energisation of the transmission grid, first regionally and then nationally.

Black start sites often have auxiliary diesel-fired generators maintained at a high state of readiness that can restart without external power. The auxiliary generator is then used to start one or more main generators (usually oil, coal or gas-fired) on the same site which are then reconnected to the grid.

Progressively more generators would be started up and synchronised to the network, which would start to provide limited power to the local distribution systems. Protected sites would start to receive power and then more customers as sufficient power becomes available.

The process could take up to 5-7 days in the event of total failure. In the meantime most customers would receive no power or be subject to rotating power cuts to limit demand while generation is restored gradually.

The complexity and time needed for a full black start explains why grid managers attempt to avoid them at all costs. Temporary but controlled load-shedding directed by grid managers is preferable to uncontrolled cascading failure of the power grid leading to collapse and forcing a black start.

Black start should be a very remote risk in a well-run grid. But the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines has focused attention on the risks of deliberate attacks on energy infrastructure and will make black start a higher priority for emergency planners.

EUROZONE manufacturers reported an accelerating decline in activity last month as the region’s economy was hit by inflation, soaring energy prices, supply chain problems, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the EU sanctions imposed in response. The composite purchasing managers’ index slipped to 46.2 in October (12th percentile for all months since 2006) from 48.4 in September (24th percentile) and 58.3 in October 2021 (92nd percentile). The composite index has been below the 50-point threshold dividing expanding activity from a contraction for four months running, confirming the zone’s economy is entering a recession:

Best in Energy – 19 October 2022

Global freight’s peak season is fizzling out ($WSJ)

EU industry at risk from high energy costs ($FT)

OPEC⁺ and the U.S./Saudi diplomatic relationship

EU explores multiple price caps for imported gas

U.S. SPR will buy oil if futures prices fall to $67-72

(see also text of final rule)

MIDDLE DISTILLATES (focusing here on diesel and gas oil but excluding kerosene and jet fuel) are the most cyclically sensitive part of the oil market. If there is a global economic slowdown in 2023 it will hit distillate consumption hardest. Conversely, if distillate shortages ease it must come about through a slowdown in global growth:

EUROPEAN GAS PRICES are softening throughout the remainder of 2022 and 2023 in response to a near-record refill season, high gas inventories, warmer than average weather forecasts for the first part of winter, and the prospect of reduced consumption from energy-intensive industries:

Best in Energy – 17 October 2022

[MUST READ] U.S./China relations in Xi Jinping era ($WSJ)

[MUST READ] Nuclear war lessons from past crises ($WSJ)

[MUST READ] China prioritises energy security ($BBG)

Europe’s gas supply still at risk from cold winter weather

EU tries to reach internal consensus on capping gas prices

OPEC+ officials defend Saudi Arabia after U.S. criticism

NOPEC law would escalate U.S./Saudi tensions ($BBG)

California drought drains Lake Shasta ($WSJ)

China plans to boost coal and oil inventories

China to stop LNG resales to Europe ($BBG)

Retailers accelerate sales as inflation rises ($BBG)

Diesel shortage threatens global economy ($BBG)

EUROPE’s gas futures prices for November and December have continued to fall as regional storage facilities near maximum capacity. There is enough gas in stock to ensure supplies through the first half of the winter. But the risk to supplies in the second half and during next year’s refill season is keeping prices for 2023 high:

Best in Energy – 14 October 2022

U.S./Saudi relationship strained but not broken

U.S./Saudi recriminations over OPEC+ cut ($FT)

EU explores possible gas market interventions

U.S. electric vehicles stimulate battery boom

China tests electric-powered freighter (trans.)

U.S. winter fuels outlook (EIA)

U.S. SERVICES PRICES were rising at an annualised rate of +10.1% between August and September and were +7.4% higher than a year earlier, a sign inflation is proving persistent even as some energy and commodity prices have eased:

U.S. INTEREST RATE traders expect the central bank to increase its target federal funds rate to 4.75-5.00% by April 2023 up from just 3.00-3.25% at present as they try to bring inflation back under control:

U.S. DISTILLATE fuel oil shortages are worsening. Inventories fell -5 million bbl to just 106 million bbl last week and are now at the lowest level for the time of year for more than 40 years:

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Best in Energy – 12 October 2022

U.S. president vows “consequences” for Saudi Arabia

White House to re-evaluate Saudi relationship ($FT)

U.S./Saudi relationship under pressure

U.S./Saudi relations under strain ($WSJ)

U.S./Saudi relations under strain ($FT)

U.S./Saudi relations congressional primer ¹

Global mining and the future energy system

La Niña’s impact on weather in China (trans.)

¹ This briefing paper is the best overview of the strategic relationship and tensions between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) sets the benchmark for non-partisan, fact-driven, insightful and well-written policy research. CRS has always been a major inspiration for best in energy and my own research notes. The late CRS defense specialist Stephen Daggett has been one of the three biggest influences on my own writing.

EU28 GAS INVENTORIES are accumulating at a record rate for such a late date in the refill season. Gas storage increased by almost +3 TWh per day in the seven days ending on October 10, the fastest seasonal increase on record. Total stocks have risen to 1,027 TWh compared with 865 TWh at the same point in 2021 and a prior ten-year average of 919  TWh.

In response to government mandates and exceptionally high prices, the refill season is on course to persist later into October or even November than usual, boosting the volume of gas in storage, and delaying the onset of drawdowns later than usual:

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Best in Energy – 7 October 2022

U.K. electricity winter reliability forecast

U.S./Saudi standoff over oil policy ($FT)

White House fury with oil output cut ($BBG)

France outlines plan for “energy sobriety”

Nord Stream inquiry confirms sabotage

Texas electricity market and volatility

Houston and energy system transition

Luck more important than talent ($WSJ)¹

¹ Luck plays a more important role in determining individual success than talent, according to the study authors. But individuals have to be ready and open to grasp opportunities. The best strategy to maximise the probability of success is therefore “expose, explore, exploit,” which seems sound advice.

GERMANY’s industrial production was down -4.5% in the three months from June to August compared with the same period in 2019 before the coronavirus epidemic. The economy is struggling with multiple shocks stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sanctions, gas shortages, higher energy and raw materials prices, and persistently sluggish growth in China:

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Best in Energy – 6 October 2022

OPEC+ cuts output allocations by -2 million b/d¹

White House criticises OPEC+ cut as shortsighted

Global trade expansion set to decelerate in 2023

Germany plans tax forbearance in energy crisis

Germany warns gas consumption still too high

China’s crude processing slipped in April-June

United States to ease Venezuela sanctions ($WSJ)

U.S. interest rates and financial crises ($WSJ)

¹ Like any cartel, OPEC+ uses a set of production baselines so total group supply can be adjusted in response to changes in market demand while ensuring each member retains a fair pro rata share. Like other cartels, the baselines used by OPEC+ do not necessarily correspond to shares in actual production or capacity in the real world. Cartels often find it very difficult to reach unanimous agreement to change baselines and shares. So in most cases they end up using baselines that have some historical basis but have become out of date.

Between the 1600s and 1800s, England’s Newcastle coal cartel (known as “the limitation of the vend”) allocated larger shares to some mines than they could actually supply. Some of the older, smaller or higher-cost mines had not been able to grow output fast enough to maintain their traditional market shares. But it was easier to keep the baselines and adjust allocations up and down in line with changing market demand than to renegotiate them. OPEC+ has often faced the same problem.

For both the Newcastle coal cartel and OPEC+, total allocations were often above total supply, ensuring changes in notional allocations were normally greater than changes in actual production.

OPEC+ frames its decisions in terms of adjustments to total and individual allocations, not production. The actual change in production is often different. In this case, many OPEC+ countries have been unable to utilise their allocations fully because they have insufficient capacity. These members will not be required to reduce their actual production since it was already well under quota. The actual fall in production is therefore likely to be much smaller than the reduction in the notional allocations.

The difference between production and notional allocations has been a persistent problem in the oil market. OPEC+ decisions are usually reported as “changes in production” when they should be reported as “changes in allocations”. It may seem a harmless simplification but it is deeply misleading.

Sometimes, however, the misdirection is intentional. It allows OPEC+ to announce a large headline increase or decrease, and use it to generate a desired market or diplomatic reaction, even though the actual change in production is much smaller.

But it is more technically accurate and analytically useful to report OPEC+ decisions in terms of production allocations and then report changes in actual production separately.

U.S. PETROLEUM INVENTORIES fell by -16 million bbl in the week to September 30. There were reductions in crude (-8 million), gasoline (-5 million), distillate fuel oil (-3 million) and jet fuel (-1 million). Total inventories have depleted by -480 million bbl since the start of July 2020 and are now at the lowest seasonal level since 2004:

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Best in Energy – 3 October 2022

[MUST READ] Shipping lines cancel dozens of sailings ($WSJ)

United States cannot avert dollar’s rise ($WSJ)

Central banks and “fiscal dominance” ($WSJ)

OPEC+ discusses output cuts to support prices

Europe’s refiners plan extensive maintenance

Permian Basin oil well productivity still rising

Europe gas use still unsustainably high ($BBG)

Emerging markets hit by capital outflow ($FT)

NORTHWEST EUROPE faces the first test of whether it can lower energy consumption this winter. After warmer than normal temperatures in the first half of September, temperatures were below average in the second half, creating the first significant heating demand earlier than normal:

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Best in Energy – 4 August 2022

OPEC+ raises output  by de minimis amount¹

Electricity transmission links undervalued

Freeport LNG to restart partially in October

Autos/semiconductors relationship

Automakers see weakening demand

¹ Higher oil production by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies was briefed as one of the benefits from U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to the region and “reset” of the relationship with Saudi Arabia last month. The tiny output increase of +100,000 b/d was the smallest that could be announced without appearing to snub the president completely. But it raises the question of what diplomatic benefits the president achieved from the trip – if not higher oil output did he secure some other objectives? Who advised the president to make this trip, within the administration and outside? Does the president ultimately see it as a success or a disappointment?

BRENT spot prices and calendar spreads have weakened consistently in recent weeks, a sign the recent upward price cycle has begun to break down. Prices and spreads are softening in response to the increased probability of a recession dampening oil consumption:

BRENT’s calendar spread from December 2022 to December 2023 has softened to a backwardation of $7.20 per barrel, down from $16.50 in early June, and close to its lowest levels since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Traders are anticipating an imminent business cycle slowdown will relieve under-production in the oil market and stabilise inventory levels:

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