Geopolitical Risk Rises Again
The unrest in Egypt reverberated across oil markets to a degree, and a cloud of an unknown magnitude hangs over the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region once again. Some analysts expect oil prices, which have already risen to account for the high-octane volatility of Egypt’s political situation, to rise further. The Egyptian military’s crackdown on pro-Morsi supporters in mid-August has led to a significant death toll, with government condemnations ringing across the globe.
Brent crude oil prices have already risen by $10 per barrel since the military took over Egypt’s government in early July. However, conflict in Syria and unrest in Libya have also played a role in rising oil prices. WTI crude was trading at $107.33 per barrel, up 0.45 percent, and Brent up 0.34 percent, at $110.58 per barrel, on the morning of August 15th (GMT), after pro-Morsi supporters were just overrun. By the end of the day, Brent crude futures for September delivery traded at $111.11, the highest since March. A spokesperson for the Suez Canal, which transports oil from the Middle East to global markets, says oil transportation infrastructure security has been re-fortified. The Suez Canal and SUMED (Suez-Mediterranean) Pipeline are strategic routes for Persian Gulf oil and gas shipments to Europe and North America.
Jaunt Through West Texas Reveals Oil’s Revival
It was a 102 degree-hot, mid-July, typical summer day travelling on the road to West Texas; a nine-hour, high-speed journey made with numerous gasoline pit stops. Passing by Midland-Odessa, the commercial hub of the Permian Basin, was a stretch of energy mecca some 20 miles or more, filled to the brim on either side with oilfield services firms — transmission gear, pump equipment, fracking services, and other oil and gas-related businesses. Pumpjacks, also known as nodding donkeys, scattered across swathes of the expansive oilfields. Signs with “Home for Your Workforce” in Pecos and Odessa cropped up a couple of times. Workers, and their firms, are settling in for a boom which could last for many years to come, like the second boomlet in the 1970s and early ’80s that followed the Middle East oil crisis. Bust followed boom in Texas to the mid-1990s.
The scale of energy production in the Permian Basin looks mammoth. The Permian Basin produced more than 270 million barrels of oil in 2010, over 280 million barrels in 2011, and 312 million in 2012. In percentages, production increased 10% in 2011 and 35% in 2012. Texas’ oil production represents about 25% of the U.S. oil production, with the Permian housing 57% of Texas’ oil production, according to the Texas Railroad Commission.
Where there are higher prices or margins possible to justify accessible resources, production will follow. The ability to recover more oil, thanks to technological advances, which include multi-stage hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and carbon dioxide injection, has reversed the declining U.S. production trend of 20-years prior.
Recycling and Reusing Becoming an Imperative
There is no greater example of the water-energy nexus than the juncture where water meets the hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, of natural gas and oil. This nexus has created a public-private crossroads, with both sides attempting to further their goals. For legislating and rulemaking bodies, their goals revolve around protecting public safety and natural resources needed by society.
For energy firms, producing energy to meet demand in a profitable way is the target. Non-governmental organizations play a public advocacy role as well, sometimes positively and constructively and sometimes losing sight of their mission. Increasingly, the challenge is about producing energy in the most environmentally-friendly manner, using less water more efficiently and responsibly, and utilizing natural resources as if a sustainable imperative were upon us. It may well be.
Many believe that the effects of climate change will be felt through water — extremes of floods and droughts, rising sea levels, and warming oceans, to name a few challenges. Whether viewing the water-energy nexus through the lens of climate change or resource sustainability, the impact of energy development on water resources has reached an inflection point.
Unique Energy Opportunity if Smart Policies Continue
In the early part of 2008, I began delving into the big story of the day in North Texas and Dallas, the prolific activity from the recovery of natural gas in the Barnett Shale. At the time, other shale plays were being explored as well, such as the Fayetteville play that confirmed the Barnett’s results; the Marcellus was just being sized up. I was challenged with attempting to figure out how to communicate what shale could be physically described as — in essence, a dead ocean from a geologic perspective.
Three things came together that gave tailwinds to today’s “shale revolution.” One was that the government stepped out of the way after many decades of nearly regulating natural gas out of existence. It had created artificially low gas prices, which killed production and confidence in the market until the 1980s and ’90s. The second force was the entrepreneurial spirit in oil and gas exploration, which presides in Texas. A powerhouse of expertise exists here, and these newfound unconventional gas production techniques and know-how spread to the rest of the country and the world. For producers, it was their Google moment.
And finally, technological advances in drilling technology —hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling— combined in the Barnett with independent producers’ experimentation, the innovators like Trevor Rees-Jones of Chief Oil and Mitchell Energy. Their efforts, and those of other operators in the 1980s and ’90s, paved the way for the U.S. gas revolution and its ripple effects across the globe. It was the right combination of economics, opportunity and efforts coming together.
U.S. Power Producers Offer Insight for Investors and Policymakers Worldwide
As the number two carbon emitter on the globe, behind only China, U.S. power generation’s impact on carbon emissions can shed light on our progress. U.S. data can also inform other countries as they make choices regarding their energy portfolio mixes, particularly in power generation fuel source decisions. It would seem easier to start cleaner than to become cleaner.
Carbon emissions, a chief culprit in the warming of the planet, crossed a new threshold with uncertain consequences in May to 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time concentrations were this high was 3 to 5 million years ago — featuring an earth with higher sea levels and forests extending to the Arctic Ocean, according to an atmospheric scientist. It was a reminder to those concerned about the effects of climate change and others supportive of a lower carbon economy that considerable heavylifting lies ahead. A goal of 450 ppm is considered a threshold to ward off temperature rises higher than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit.
While U.S. benchmark (WTI) crude-oil futures were up 4.6% since the start of 2013, the futures prices of the global benchmark Brent was down. Analysts suggest that the investment demand for exposure to oil prices was supporting these numbers, not physical demand growth. So what information content is behind oil prices, and how do we parse reality from the hype?
Introducing Markets and Routes
Greetings — I’m Jennifer Warren, the latest columnist for Energy Trends Insider.
My space involves financial aspects and economics of energy resources and markets. The areas of natural resources, the environment and sustainability are also of importance to me. Dissecting global trends that criss-cross these subject areas are fair game, when appropriate. Much of my prior work has a research-based orientation or underpinning, with the goal of delivering actionable insights or context for decision making.
An overall theme in my work is understanding how complex systems interact — with energy being a vast subject to analyze. And incidentally, energy producers and innovators surround me in Dallas. The many wind, natural gas and oil producers here have influenced my thinking, with my most trusted sources graciously spending countless hours of interview time with me.
But first, a little about how I got involved in energy.
In 2002, my work with an academic institution led to the creation of a faculty research website, where the finance department produced outsized amounts of research. My work in energy began then. I realized energy was the most global industry sector that existed, with players spanning from the most sophisticated to the true-grit entrepreneurs to the brilliant financial economists I had the privilege of interviewing. Here was a field that one could spend their lifetime exploring. Being exposed to cutting edge research has definitely given me the impetus and curiosity to apply this line of thinking to the world of energy.