Peak Oil Notes December 11 2014

Peak oil notes – Dec 11 – by Tom Whipple,

The drop in oil prices continued this week as US crude stocks increased, OPEC lowered its demand forecast for next year, several OPEC countries reduced their selling prices to Asian customers, and the Saudi Oil Minster reaffirmed his intention to maintain production.

By the close on Wednesday London's Brent was down to $64.24 a barrel and NY futures were at $60.94. London’s close, below $65 a barrel, was the lowest in five years.

The drop in oil prices spread to the equities markets on Wednesday which also saw major losses. Shares in shale-drilling companies have dropped sharply as the drillers revenues have gone down. The financial press is filled with stories about “survival of the fittest” as many anticipate that several of the weaker shale oil drillers will go under unless oil prices revive soon.

The OPEC secretariat announced that the cartel’s production in November was 30.05 million b/d down by 390,000 b/d from October, but this was after the October figure was revised up by 190,000 b/d leaving a net drop of only 200,000 b/d. The secretariat has never had much proprietary information on how much oil its members are producing and is forced to rely on third parties and the press for production numbers. The cartel also reduced its forecast for its demand in 2015 to 28.9 million b/d as compared to demand of 29.4 million b/d this year.

This week's stocks report showed that US refiners are taking advantage of the low crude prices to bump up US oil refining to 16.5 million b/d, the highest level in records going back to 1989. Even with the record refining, US crude stocks increased by an unexpected 1.5 million barrels. All the refining last week left US gasoline inventories up by 8.2 million barrels and distillate inventories up by 5.6 million barrels. US “oil” production rose to 9.1 million b/d last week, the highest since 1983.

Months of steady declines in oil prices have lead to consternation across the world. Although oil importers are celebrating lower gasoline prices and the likelihood that their economies will receive an economic boost, other countries are seeing serious problems ahead as oil revenues drop precipitously and budgets must be slashed. In the US, numerous companies have announced plans to cut back on drilling next year, but in general, prices have fallen so fast that there has not been time to see all the implications of the price drop.

Comments on the current situation and just how low oil prices will go continues unabated. Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service says that $35-$50 a barrel is a possibility next year if OPEC does not reduce production. In this case, average US gasoline prices would be below $2 a barrel. Iran’s President says his country is the victim of a gigantic conspiracy that is causing grave damage to his country’s economy. More

Originally published by ASPO-USA

 

How Saudi Arabia Helped Isis Take Over the North of Iraq

How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world?

Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit.

In Mosul, Shia shrines and mosques have been blown up, and in the nearby Shia Turkoman city of Tal Afar 4,000 houses have been taken over by Isis fighters as “spoils of war”. Simply to be identified as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today, has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940.

There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa’ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar’s words, saying that they constituted “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”.

He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent.

Dearlove’s explosive revelation about the prediction of a day of reckoning for the Shia by Prince Bandar, and the former head of MI6′s view that Saudi Arabia is involved in the Isis-led Sunni rebellion, has attracted surprisingly little attention. Coverage of Dearlove’s speech focused instead on his main theme that the threat from Isis to the West is being exaggerated because, unlike Bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida, it is absorbed in a new conflict that “is essentially Muslim on Muslim”. Unfortunately, Christians in areas captured by Isis are finding this is not true, as their churches are desecrated and they are forced to flee. A difference between al-Qa’ida and Isis is that the latter is much better organised; if it does attack Western targets the results are likely to be devastating.

The forecast by Prince Bandar, who was at the heart of Saudi security policy for more than three decades, that the 100 million Shia in the Middle East face disaster at the hands of the Sunni majority, will convince many Shia that they are the victims of a Saudi-led campaign to crush them. “The Shia in general are getting very frightened after what happened in northern Iraq,” said an Iraqi commentator, who did not want his name published. Shia see the threat as not only military but stemming from the expanded influence over mainstream Sunni Islam of Wahhabism, the puritanical and intolerant version of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia that condemns Shia and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists.

Dearlove says that he has no inside knowledge obtained since he retired as head of MI6 10 years ago to become Master of Pembroke College in Cambridge. But, drawing on past experience, he sees Saudi strategic thinking as being shaped by two deep-seated beliefs or attitudes. First, they are convinced that there “can be no legitimate or admissible challenge to the Islamic purity of their Wahhabi credentials as guardians of Islam’s holiest shrines”. But, perhaps more significantly given the deepening Sunni-Shia confrontation, the Saudi belief that they possess a monopoly of Islamic truth leads them to be “deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shia-dom”.

Western governments traditionally play down the connection between Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabist faith, on the one hand, and jihadism, whether of the variety espoused by Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida or by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Isis. There is nothing conspiratorial or secret about these links: 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, as was Bin Laden and most of the private donors who funded the operation.

The difference between al-Qa’ida and Isis can be overstated: when Bin Laden was killed by United States forces in 2011, al-Baghdadi released a statement eulogising him, and Isis pledged to launch 100 attacks in revenge for his death.

But there has always been a second theme to Saudi policy towards al-Qa’ida type jihadis, contradicting Prince Bandar’s approach and seeing jihadis as a mortal threat to the Kingdom. Dearlove illustrates this attitude by relating how, soon after 9/11, he visited the Saudi capital Riyadh with Tony Blair.

He remembers the then head of Saudi General Intelligence “literally shouting at me across his office: ’9/11 is a mere pinprick on the West. In the medium term, it is nothing more than a series of personal tragedies. What these terrorists want is to destroy the House of Saud and remake the Middle East.’” In the event, Saudi Arabia adopted both policies, encouraging the jihadis as a useful tool of Saudi anti-Shia influence abroad but suppressing them at home as a threat to the status quo. It is this dual policy that has fallen apart over the last year.

Saudi sympathy for anti-Shia “militancy” is identified in leaked US official documents. The then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in December 2009 in a cable released by Wikileaks that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorist groups.” She said that, in so far as Saudi Arabia did act against al-Qa’ida, it was as a domestic threat and not because of its activities abroad. This policy may now be changing with the dismissal of Prince Bandar as head of intelligence this year. But the change is very recent, still ambivalent and may be too late: it was only last week that a Saudi prince said he would no longer fund a satellite television station notorious for its anti-Shia bias based in Egypt.

The problem for the Saudis is that their attempts since Bandar lost his job to create an anti-Maliki and anti-Assad Sunni constituency which is simultaneously against al-Qa’ida and its clones have failed.

By seeking to weaken Maliki and Assad in the interest of a more moderate Sunni faction, Saudi Arabia and its allies are in practice playing into the hands of Isis which is swiftly gaining full control of the Sunni opposition in Syria and Iraq. In Mosul, as happened previously in its Syrian capital Raqqa, potential critics and opponents are disarmed, forced to swear allegiance to the new caliphate and killed if they resist.

The West may have to pay a price for its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which have always found Sunni jihadism more attractive than democracy. A striking example of double standards by the western powers was the Saudi-backed suppression of peaceful democratic protests by the Shia majority in Bahrain in March 2011. Some 1,500 Saudi troops were sent across the causeway to the island kingdom as the demonstrations were ended with great brutality and Shia mosques and shrines were destroyed.

An alibi used by the US and Britain is that the Sunni al-Khalifa royal family in Bahrain is pursuing dialogue and reform. But this excuse looked thin last week as Bahrain expelled a top US diplomat, the assistant secretary of state for human rights Tom Malinowksi, for meeting leaders of the main Shia opposition party al-Wifaq. Mr Malinowski tweeted that the Bahrain government’s action was “not about me but about undermining dialogue”.

Western powers and their regional allies have largely escaped criticism for their role in reigniting the war in Iraq. Publicly and privately, they have blamed the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for persecuting and marginalising the Sunni minority, so provoking them into supporting the Isis-led revolt. There is much truth in this, but it is by no means the whole story. Maliki did enough to enrage the Sunni, partly because he wanted to frighten Shia voters into supporting him in the 30 April election by claiming to be the Shia community’s protector against Sunni counter-revolution.

But for all his gargantuan mistakes, Maliki’s failings are not the reason why the Iraqi state is disintegrating. What destabilised Iraq from 2011 on was the revolt of the Sunni in Syria and the takeover of that revolt by jihadis, who were often sponsored by donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Again and again Iraqi politicians warned that by not seeking to close down the civil war in Syria, Western leaders were making it inevitable that the conflict in Iraq would restart. “I guess they just didn’t believe us and were fixated on getting rid of [President Bashar al-] Assad,” said an Iraqi leader in Baghdad last week.

Of course, US and British politicians and diplomats would argue that they were in no position to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. But this is misleading. By insisting that peace negotiations must be about the departure of Assad from power, something that was never going to happen since Assad held most of the cities in the country and his troops were advancing, the US and Britain made sure the war would continue.

The chief beneficiary is Isis which over the last two weeks has been mopping up the last opposition to its rule in eastern Syria. The Kurds in the north and the official al-Qa’ida representative, Jabhat al-Nusra, are faltering under the impact of Isis forces high in morale and using tanks and artillery captured from the Iraqi army. It is also, without the rest of the world taking notice, taking over many of the Syrian oil wells that it did not already control.

Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control. The same is true of its allies such as Turkey which has been a vital back-base for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra by keeping the 510-mile-long Turkish-Syrian border open. As Kurdish-held border crossings fall to Isis, Turkey will find it has a new neighbour of extraordinary violence, and one deeply ungrateful for past favours from the Turkish intelligence service.

As for Saudi Arabia, it may come to regret its support for the Sunni revolts in Syria and Iraq as jihadi social media begins to speak of the House of Saud as its next target. It is the unnamed head of Saudi General Intelligence quoted by Dearlove after 9/11 who is turning out to have analysed the potential threat to Saudi Arabia correctly and not Prince Bandar, which may explain why the latter was sacked earlier this year.

Nor is this the only point on which Prince Bandar was dangerously mistaken. The rise of Isis is bad news for the Shia of Iraq but it is worse news for the Sunni whose leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end.

The Sunni caliphate rules a large, impoverished and isolated area from which people are fleeing. Several million Sunni in and around Baghdad are vulnerable to attack and 255 Sunni prisoners have already been massacred. In the long term, Isis cannot win, but its mix of fanaticism and good organisation makes it difficult to dislodge.

“God help the Shia,” said Prince Bandar, but, partly thanks to him, the shattered Sunni communities of Iraq and Syria may need divine help even more than the Shia. More

 

The Peak Oil Crisis: Iraq on the Precipice

The daily newspapers are now full of stories predicting that Iraq, as we know it, will soon disintegrate into three or more warring states.

Tom Whipple

In the last two weeks Sunni insurgents led by the extremist ISIS have routed a good part of the Iraqi army, taken over much of northern Iraq not controlled by the Kurds, and now are moving close to Baghdad. Despite the dispatch of American and Iranian military advisors to at least assess the situation, most observers say government forces are too weak to drive back the insurgents and retake the lost territory. Washington is refusing to get involved unless the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government makes radical changes in its relations with the Sunnis and Kurds.

Our concern here, however, is what all this has to do with the world’s oil supply and, closer to home, our gasoline prices. In recent days we have been told innumerable times that most of Iraq’s oil is way south of Baghdad where it is relatively immune from the turmoil in the north – so there is little chance that Iraq's 2.5 million barrels a day (b/d) of exports will be affected. While this may true for the next few weeks or even months, the Sunni resurgence in the north is not a short-term problem and in the past week the ISIS has captured some formidable assets which could bring heavy pressure on, if not strangle, Baghdad.

ISIS now has control of one of three major refineries in Iraq which supplies the motor fuel and oil for power stations for the northern part of the country. Lines are already forming at gas stations. The ISIS controls the Euphrates and will likely gain control of the Haditha power dam, which supplies 360 MW to the national power grid. With control of the river dams, reduced flows of water could make life very difficult in southern Iraq before the summer is over. It is doubtful if the thousands of foreign oil workers that are expanding and overseeing Iraq’s oil production would stick around too long. Some non-essential-to-production foreigner oil workers are already leaving the country or moving to safer areas.

Another facet of last week’s developments is that the insurgent forces in Anbar province are getting very close to Baghdad’s airport. All it would take would be a few of the howitzers they captured from the Iraqi army and air travel into Baghdad could be restricted.

While it may be impossible for insurgent forces even of the fanatical variety to fight their way through thousands of Shiite militiamen to the southern Shiite shrines and oil fields, in a prolonged standoff (and this one has been going on for 1,400 years) serious harm is likely to be done to Iraq’s current and prospective oil production. Some observers are already saying that large increases in Iraqi oil production in the immediate future are unlikely, but as yet few are writing off the current 3.3 million barrels of daily oil production.

Let’s assume, however, that before this year or next is out, Iraqi oil exports drop substantially as it has in several other oil-exporting states undergoing similar political trauma. Just what does this mean for the world’s oil supply?

With 2.5 million additional barrels of oil disappearing from the market added to the 3.5 million that have already been lost due to lower production in Libya, Iran, Sudan, and Nigeria, the world markets would clearly be stressed.

The Saudis could probably come up with an extra million b/d for a while, but that is about it. Iran could sign a nuclear treaty this summer and be out from under sanctions, but it will take a while to develop significant increases in production. Libya, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Yemen show no signs of settling their internal political problems and start exporting significantly larger amounts of crude in the foreseeable future.

Keep in mind that global demand for oil has recently been increasing at a rate of about 1.2 million b/d or so every year, while depletion of existing oilfields requires that another 3-4 million b/d be brought into production each year just to keep even.

Many people, including government forecasters, are looking to increasing U.S. shale oil production and more deepwater oil from the Gulf of Mexico to keep the world’s supply and demand in balance without sharp price increases. Somewhere down the line there may be more oil produced from the Arctic; from Kazakhstan; from off the coast of Brazil; from East Africa; and even significant shale oil production from other than in the U.S. But it will be many years before these new sources can start producing significant amounts of crude, and none of these are likely to make up for any shortages that develop in the next few years.

Deepwater oil production from the Gulf of Mexico has been flat recently, and we are starting to get indications that the rapid increases in U.S. shale oil production, which have kept prices under control for several years, may be drawing to a close. The geology of shale oil production dictates that once it stops growing, a rapid decline in production is likely.

In sum, it looks as if there will be higher and possibly much higher oil and gas prices coming soon. If ISIS decides that the way to finish off the Shiite “infidels” is by cutting their oil revenues, then a bombing and terror campaign against southern Iraqi oil installations and oil workers would be a likely result. It would not take much to send the foreigners running. The Chinese are already moving out some of the 10,000 oil workers they have in southern Iraq, and others are likely to follow as we have seen in so many other places.

Where do oil and gas prices go? The official forecasters are only talking about another couple of dollars a barrel this year, but this is clearly too low if significant shortages develop.

By Tom Whipple of Post Carbon Institute


 

IEA says ‘peak oil demand’ could hit as early as 2020

Little more that a year after the International Energy Agency added its voice to the chorus chiming that peak oil was dead, a new report from the uconservative adviser to industrialised nations suggests it has changed its tune. Only this time it is not peak supply that is on its radar, but peak demand.

The IEA’s Medium-Term Oil Market Report 2014 has predicted that global growth in oil demand may start to slow down as soon as the end of this decade, due to environmental concerns and cheaper alternatives, and despite boosting its 2014 forecast of global demand by 960,000 barrels per day.

While supply is forecast to remain strong – thanks largely to the unconventional, or “tight” oil revolution currently underway in north America – the IEA says it expects the global market to hit an “inflexion point”, by the end of 2019, “after which demand growth may start to decelerate due to high oil prices, environmental concerns and cheaper fuel alternatives.”

These factors, says the report, will lead to fuel-switching away from oil, as well as overall fuel savings. In short, it says, “while ‘peak demand’ for oil – other than in mature economies – may still be years away, and while there are regional differences, peak oil demand growth for the market as a whole is already in sight.”

It’s worrying news for the over-invested and under-prepared; not least of all oil importing nations, to which, as Samuel Alexander noted in this article last September, the economic costs of peak oil are especially significant.

“When oil gets expensive, everything dependent on oil gets more expensive: transport, mechanised labour, industrial food production, plastics, etc,” he wrote. “This pricing dynamic sucks discretionary expenditure and investment away from the rest of the economy, causing debt defaults, economic stagnation, recessions, or even longer-term depressions. That seems to be what we are seeing around the world today, with the risk of worse things to come.”

This then adds to the peak oil cycle, increasing governments’ motivation to decarbonise their economies – better late than never – “not only because oil has become painfully expensive, but also because the oil we are burning is environmentally unaffordable.”

This view has been echoed in numerous recent reports. US investment banks Sanford Bernstein raised the prospect of “energy price deflation”, caused by the plunging cost of solar and the taking up of market share by that technology as it displaced diesel, gas and oil in various economies. It predicted that could trigger a massive shift in capital.

Analyst Mark Fulton last month also questioned the wisdom of the private-sector investing over $1 trillion to develop new sources of high-cost oil production. While Mark Lewis, of French broking firm, suggested that $US19 trillion in revenuescould be lost from the oil industry if the world takes action to address climate change, cleans up pollution and moves to decarbonise the global energy system.

The IEA report also includes an updated forecast of product supply, which draws out the consequences of the shifts in demand, feedstock supply and refining capacity.

“Given planned refinery construction and the growth in supply that bypasses the refining sector, such as NGLs and biofuels, the refining industry faces a new cycle of weak margins and a glut of light distillates like gasoline and naphtha as a by-product of needed diesel and jet fuel,” it says.

It also predicts that “the unconventional supply revolution that has redrawn the global oil map” will expand beyond North America before the end of the decade, just as OPEC supplies face headwinds, and regional imbalances in gasoline and diesel markets broaden.

The report projects that by 2019, tight oil supply outside the United States could reach 650 000 barrels per day (650 kb/d), including 390 kb/d from Canada, 100 kb/d from Russia and 90 kb/d from Argentina. US LTO output is forecast to roughly double from 2013 levels to 5.0 million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2019.

“We are continuing to see unprecedented production growth from North America, and the United States in particular. By the end of the decade, North America will have the capacity to become a net exporter of oil liquids,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said as she launched the report in Paris. “At the same time, while OPEC remains a vital supplier to the market, it faces significant headwinds in expanding capacity.”

Beyond ageing fields, the major hurdle facing OPEC producers is the escalation in “above-ground woes,” as security concerns become a growing issue in producers like Iraq, and investment risks deter investment and exploration.

The report notes that as much as three-fifths of OPEC’s expected growth in capacity by 2019 is set to come from Iraq. The projected addition of 1.28 mb/d to Iraqi production by 2019, a conservative forecast made before the launch last week of a military campaign by insurgents that subsequently claimed several key cities in northern and central Iraq, faces considerable downside risk. More