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Latest update: Jan. 30, 2024

A key OPEC+ advisory committee, co-chaired by Saudi Arabia and Russia, is set to meet online Feb. 1, with crude prices still stuck below the level that many of the alliance’s major producers need to balance their budgets.

Traders will be seeking signals from the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee meeting on how long the bloc will keep the reins on its production and how it sees supply-demand fundamentals shaping up in the months ahead.

Related story:OPEC+ monitoring committee prepares to meet as group battles sticky oil prices (Subscriber content)

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Potential record-setting hurricane season is forecast and may weaken energy demand, prices

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 23 projected the most tropical cyclones ever in its early hurricane season forecast, and such storms could weaken energy demand and prices in landfall areas during what may be an otherwise warmer-than-normal summer. In particular, NOAA made the following forecast: 17-25 named storms, up from 14.7 for 1991-2023 Eight to 13 hurricanes, up from 7.2 for 1991-2023 Four to seven major hurricanes, up from 3.2 for 1991-2023 At the high end of the forecast, the season could equal 2020's record seven major hurricanes and approach 2020's record 30 named storms and 2005's record 15 hurricanes. "As one of the strongest El Nino ever observed nears its end, NOAA scientists predict a quick transition to La Nina conditions, which are conducive to Atlantic hurricane activity because La Nina tends to lessen wind shear in the tropics," NOAA said. "At the same time, abundant oceanic heat content in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea creates more energy to fuel storm development." Energy market impacts Tropical cyclones making landfall 2021 through 2023 cut peakloads at affected grids an average of 18%, power burns an average of 17%, and power prices -- excluding the Electric Reliability Council of Texas South Hub's extreme case in 2023 -- an average of 38%. ERCOT had one of its hottest summers on record in 2023, so day-ahead on-peak locational marginal prices at the South Hub averaged almost $795/MWh on Aug. 15, the Tuesday before Tropical Storm Harold hit South Texas on Tuesday, Aug. 22, when prices averaged less than $60/MWh. The change was drastic, inasmuch as ERCOT load fell just 1.5% on the week, and natural gas power burn actually increased 10.7%. South Texas has a large wind generation fleet, which may have been taken offline during the storm due to transmission constraints or grid reliability concerns. Grant Gunter, energy markets expert at PA Consulting, said hurricanes "can be a mixed bag for supply and demand" for natural gas. The production impact "used to be the typical thinking for hurricanes," as they would diminish offshore production as platforms shut down and evacuate, Gunter said in a May 23 email. "However, as offshore gas production has fallen and moved more onshore, these impacts have become more muted," Gunter said. "A mild hurricane likely won't impact onshore Gulf Coast production all that much." In contrast, hurricanes can have a big impact on power burn and shut-in LNG exports, Gunter said. The National Weather Service on May 16 forecast enhanced chances – 40% to 60% -- for above-normal temperatures for June, July and August across the US South Atlantic and Gulf Coast. CustomWeather on May 22 forecast temperatures to be zero to two degrees above normal across the region in June. "Power outages naturally reduce power burn demand, which is a significant source of demand in Texas and the Southeast," Gunter said. "LNG facilities, which are situated primarily along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, will usually halt exports during hurricanes due to rough seas and an inability to bring in tankers to load. These shut-ins can last 3-5 days or more depending on the severity of the storm, and a single LNG facility shutting in can result in 2+ Bcf/d of demand going offline. Ian Palao, vice president for strategic energy services at POWWR, an energy management service, advised considering ERCOT's likely heavy heat-driven power demand, despite the hurricane forecast. "Because of the random nature of hurricane landfall, I wouldn't expect an increased level of forecasted tropical activity to nullify the potential heat risk this far out in time," Palao said in a May 23 email. Hurricanes in the past have affected not only the demand side from reduced load due to system outages but also the supply side, due to reduced offshore production. "I would say hurricanes have more of a demand (gas burn for electricity generation) impact than a supply impact as significant swaths of cities can be off the grid for upwards of a week or more (thinking of Hurricanes Harvey and Ida)," Palao said. "Additionally, given that on-shore gas production far outpaces off-shore production, a temporary shutdown of offshore rigs will be but a blip in total supply." Risk management As of May 22, day-weighted average on-peak power forwards for the 2024 hurricane season, June 1 through Nov. 30, were less than day-ahead on-peak prices at relevant hub in ERCOT, but had premiums in comparison with day-ahead on-peak power in the Southeast and at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator's Louisiana Hub. Campbell Faulkner, senior vice president and chief data analyst at OTC Global Holdings, a Houston-based interdealer commodity broker, said "over all forward market seems to mostly be pricing in generalized 'heavy load' season prices that have been driven up" by weather-normalized load growth. "From the risk side, there are some very difficult to predict effects of what a major hurricane would do to any of the Southern control districts," Faulkner said in a May 23 email. "Florida is the best equipped to deal with a major strike. Texas? Well the derecho storms that recently rolled through highlight the extreme risk that a Houston-centered major wind event hurricane could cause." Gary Germeroth, a PA Consulting energy market risk management expert, said the location and strength of such storms affect the risk of lost load the most. "The forward markets, even at a near coastal hub months before the hurricane season begins, do not have any information or data that indicates the timing or severity of hurricane landfall, so the incorporation of a long-term forecast like this is interesting data to the market, but not likely a key component of forward price," Germeroth said in a May 23 email. Another risk to consider is the effect on solar installations, which have grown substantially over the past few years along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Florida and Texas. Tulane Energy Institute Associate Director Eric Smith said Florida's "new solar capabilities will be vulnerable to damage from wind-borne debris." "Texas is also vulnerable to wind damage to both solar and wind assets," Smith said May 23. But Derek HasBrouck, PA Consulting's ReliabilityOne program director in a May 23 email that storm tracks from the more active seasons of 2004 and 2005 show the grid and solar installations are distributed widely over the peninsula, such that "any one hurricane, or even several, are not going to make the sort of direct hits required to cause extensive damage." "And, to the extent those installations have associated storage and/or inverters capable of operating islanded from the grid, any installations that are not damaged are useful resources for consumers and/or the utility," HasBrouck said. Effects on oil, gas, LNG The US Energy Information Administration noted that production of crude oil dipped during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Ida in 2021. Export terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) on the Gulf Coast could be in harm's way as well, the EIA said in a May 22 analysis. The US exports about 13 billion cubic feet of LNG daily, mainly through Gulf Coast facilities. "Although LNG facilities generally have many layers of protection from direct impact, hurricanes can damage electrical and marine infrastructure and hamper ship movement," the EIA analysis said. Hurricane Laura in 2020 temporarily halted LNG exports from Louisiana's Sabine Pass and Cameron LNG facilities. All that said, OTC Global Holdings' Faulkner described forecasts for an abnormally active hurricane season are "borderline useless." "Last year was supposed to be horrible and ended up being rather benign," Faulkner said May 23. "Thus the prognosticating and fear mongering is an exercise designed to drive clicks and induce fear in the wider populace." But Faulkner acknowledged that if a hurricane does approach the Gulf Coast, its effect "could be serious, especially given the importance of LNG exports," causing gas prices to "plummet."


US congressional committee to probe whether oil industry colluded to artificially inflate prices

Investigation centers on former Pioneer CEO Scott Sheffield FTC barred Sheffield from Exxon board over OPEC collusion allegations Demands production plans, communications from seven US oil companies A US congressional committee will investigate whether oil and gas companies colluded to artificially inflate gas prices, US Representative Frank Pallone, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, wrote in letters to seven US oil companies May 22. The letters -- sent to BP America, Shell USA, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Devon Energy, Hess and ExxonMobil -- center on the actions of former Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield, whom the US Federal Trade Commission barred from joining the board of ExxonMobil after it acquired Pioneer, the US' largest shale producer, in a deal worth $64.5 billion. The FTC accused Sheffield of colluding with OPEC and its allies in an attempt to "align US oil production with OPEC and OPEC+ country output agreements." Pioneer disputed the FTC's findings but did not protest them, in order to allow the acquisition by ExxonMobil to proceed. Pallone's investigation will probe whether Sheffield's alleged actions "may represent common practices across the industry," Pallone wrote "If U.S. oil companies are colluding with each other and foreign cartels to manipulate global oil markets and harm American consumers who then pay more at the pump, Congress and the American people deserve to know," he wrote. Pallone called for the six non-ExxonMobil companies to turn over any communications, meeting schedules, legal guidance and strategies on production plans between current or former employees, among or within companies, and between employees and representatives of OPEC and OPEC+. In his letter to ExxonMobil, Pallone also asked for all communications between Pioneer employees who developed production plans or communicated with OPEC. He also demanded details on how former Pioneer employees will be incorporated in ExxonMobil's corporate structure, as well as any guardrails the company plans to erect "to ensure that the alleged behavior by Mr. Sheffield is not replicated within Exxon." An ExxonMobil spokesperson could not be reached for comment. "We learned about this investigation from the Federal Trade Commission," ExxonMobil said in a statement May 2. "They are entirely inconsistent with how we do business." FTC calls Sheffield's actions 'anticompetitive' In its decision released May 2, the FTC said Sheffield had, through public statements and private communications, "campaigned to organize anticompetitive coordinated output reductions between and among US crude oil producers, and others," including OPEC, in ways that were "designed to pad Pioneer's bottom line ... at the expense of US households and businesses." The FTC cited text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and public comments Sheffield made that US oil companies should be aligned about capacity growth. "Everybody's going to be disciplined, regardless of whether it's $75 Brent, $80 Brent or $100 Brent," Sheffield said publicly in 2021. "All the shareholders that I've talked to said that if anybody goes back to growth, they will punish those companies." In 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sheffield allegedly lobbied the Railroad Commission of Texas to impose output restrictions on Permian Basin oil production. "If Texas leads the way, maybe we can get OPEC to cut production," Sheffield said. "Maybe Saudi and Russia will follow. That was our plan -- I was using the tactics of OPEC+ to get a bigger OPEC+ done." The commission also noted that Sheffield described himself as having "followed OPEC closer than almost any CEO in the history of our industry." "This merger would have put an oilman of John Rockefeller's persuasions on the board of a direct successor to Mr. Rockefeller's oil company, which also happens to be the single largest company in the American oil industry," FTC Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya said about ExxonMobil in his concurrence with the FTC's finding. OPEC's ties with US shale producers -- whose surging output challenged OPEC's attempts to maintain price levels -- were a top priority of previous Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo, who began a regular dinner with American company CEOs in March 2017. The cartel continues to engage with US shale producers, who are not legally permitted to coordinate production decisions. Chevron and ExxonMobil's outputs from the Permian Basin have risen in each of the past four years. In 2023, the US produced 12.9 million b/d, more than any other nation for the sixth straight year. Political dynamics The FTC's finding came amid a lengthy push by Democrats and the administration of President Joe Biden to reorient blame for high gasoline prices in Biden's first term. Biden's FTC chair, Lina Khan, was regarded within legal circles as an especially aggressive appointment; Khan was asked by the White House to lead the effort to monitor the US gasoline market and "address any illegal conduct that might be contributing to price increases for consumers at the pump." The Biden administration has aggressively waded into oil trading in its own right, selling off 180 million barrels of oil in 2022 in response to spiking prices in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It has since refilled many of those barrels at significantly lower prices than the 2022 sale, touting the strategy as a good deal for taxpayers while citing a US Treasury analysis that the SPR release reduced gasoline prices by as much as 40 c/gal. On May 21, the Department of Energy shuttered the Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve, as mandated by Congress, with the White House touting its decision to liquidate 1 million barrels of gasoline to help lower pump prices at the start of the summer driving season. "The Biden-Harris Administration is laser-focused on lowering prices at the pump for American families, especially as drivers hit the road for summer driving season," DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm said. Pallone's probe, in focusing on the possibility of collusion among oil companies, will likewise seek to shift the locus of gas costs outside the White House's control as the November US Presidential election draws near. Pallone cannot issue subpoenas on behalf of the committee without the approval of Republican committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers.


Twenty states ask a federal court to halt Biden administration changes to NEPA implementation

A collection of 20 states on May 21 asked a federal court to vacate the Biden administration's recent changes to how infrastructure projects are reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act, with Republican attorneys general asserting that the changes unlawfully alter the requirements of the statute to favor policy goals of the White House. The changes from the White House Council on Environmental Quality allegedly violate the Administrative Procedure Act by substantially altering agency review procedures that will result in higher costs for infrastructure development and delays in adding facilities, according to the states. The lawsuit filed with the US District Court for the District of North Dakota was led by Republican Attorneys General Drew Wrigley of North Dakota and Brenna Bird of Iowa. It asks the court to vacate the May 1 final rule from the CEQ, halt enforcement of it and reinstate the 2020 regulations on NEPA that were adopted by the CEQ under former President Donald Trump. The CEQ's final rule directs agencies to take into account project impacts on climate change and environmental justice communities. It has drawn fire from members of Congress and some in the energy sector, who claim that it will stifle infrastructure development, increase litigation and favor projects aligning with Biden administration clean energy policy preferences. A bipartisan group of lawmakers that includes Representative Garrett Graves, Republican-Louisiana, and Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat-West Virginia, announced plans this month to introduce a resolution under the Congressional Review Act to block the rule from taking effect and force the Biden administration to adhere to NEPA reforms outlined in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. The attorneys general assert that the CEQ is attempting to rewrite legislation through NEPA regulations to create roadblocks for projects that use fossil fuels. "Among other flaws, the final rule creates distinctions between favored and disfavored projects that are intended to reshape national policy (such as the nation's mix of electric generation sources) and are not based on NEPA's text," according to the court filing. 'Hard look' Stating that NEPA is a procedural statute that requires agencies to take a "hard look" at environmental consequences of proposed major federal actions, the states say the new regulations from the CEQ illegally transform procedures into stringent and unworkable requirements that will stymie development of certain projects and resources within their borders and across the country. During a May 16 hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee, CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory defended the rule, stating that it will improve infrastructure permitting at federal agencies, with provisions for agencies to identify impacts on climate change and environmental justice communities. The rule includes page limitations for environmental review documents, faster timelines for agency reviews and categorical exclusions for certain projects that can speed up the permitting process under NEPA, Mallory said. But the CEQ rule frustrates efforts to improve infrastructure development through the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, the states told the court. They asserted that elevating the importance of voices in environmental justice communities without any statutory basis and forcing agencies to examine environmentally preferable alternatives that maximize environmental benefits will be unworkable for agency reviews. "That open-ended obligation and impossible-to-meet standard guarantee regulatory and schedule uncertainty and predictable litigation surrounding any controversial or disfavored project," the states said. "The final rule's injection of ambiguity, new requirements, and unbounded agency discretion will also needlessly foster more development-crippling litigation by opportunistic project opponents using NEPA as a convenient tool to challenge federal agency approvals," the states said. Joining Iowa and North Dakota in the legal petition were attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.


Russian refinery damage escalates after latest Ukrainian drone strike

Strikes affect almost 1 million b/d gross capacity Ukraine using bigger explosives with 'steel balls' in drones Russian oil products exports at postpandemic low Russian refining capacity damaged by Ukrainian drone strikes rose further over the weekend May 18-19 to almost 1 million b/d after the 70,000 b/d Slavyansk oil refinery in the southern Krasnodar region was forced offline, according to local reports. The Slavyansk refinery -- which was previously struck on April 27 and March 17 -- was targeted by six drones May 18-19, Russia's state-run news agency TASS reported May 20, citing a company security official. TASS quoted the security official, Eduard Trudnev, as saying that the Ukrainian drones were bigger and more powerful than in previous attacks. "This time the drones were bigger, the charges were bigger too, and they were stuffed with steel balls," TASS cited Trudnev as saying. TASS cited the press service of the regional administration saying, however, that no fires were recorded after the drone attack. Slavyansk, a small export-oriented plant near the Black Sea, was last targeted three weeks previously, when an April 27 attack was suspected to have left a naphtha separation column damaged. A previous attempt on the site left a crude distillation unit and a vacuum distillation unit offline, though full operations were restored within a month. The attack comes two days after Ukraine launched a major strike on oil infrastructure in occupied Crimea and other Russian Black Sea oil infrastructure. Drone strikes May 17 caused fires at Rosneft's 240,000 b/d Tuapse refinery, which had only recently been restarted following a previous incident in January. Russia has alleged that French-made missiles were discovered in the Yubileiny settlement in occupied Luhansk May 20, while US artillery has been fired over Crimea, according to TASS May 20. Meanwhile, attacks deep within Russian territory continue to be conducted with domestically-produced Ukrainian drones even as its Western allies have stipulated military aid should only be used for defensive purposes. Export impact Combined, Russia's gross refining capacity potentially affected by drone strikes now stands at almost 1 million b/d, up from about 680,000 b/d on May 10, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights estimates. Russian oil products exports slumped to a postpandemic low in April, according to tanker tracking data, as Moscow battles to repair its western refineries under siege from Ukrainian drones. Russia's biggest fuel exports -- diesel and gasoil -- have continued to shrink this month, averaging 686,000 b/d to May 20, down a further 130,000 b/d from April and 405,000 b/d lower than in January, according to S&P Global Commodities at Sea. High stock levels, in excess of 2 million mt, coupled with ample availability on the exchange floor were keeping a cap on gasoline prices in Russia's domestic market and offsetting the upside momentum linked to the expected lifting of the export ban, according to sources May 17. Strikes on the month/ongoing damage: Date Name Capacity (b/d) Impact Status Domestic/export focus Approximate distance from Ukrainian border Previous attacks 18-May, 19-May Slavyansk (Slavyansk Eco) 70,000 Refinery damaged by attack, units unspecified Offline Export 350 km April 27 - suspected damage to naphtha separation column. March 17 - CDU and VDU outages - units back online within a month 17-May IPP oil products export terminal - Operations temporarily suspended Fully operational Export 400 km 17-May Transneft Grushevaya oil depot - Gasoline storage tank damaged Partly operational Export 400 km 17-May Novorossiisk fuel oil terminal - Debris hit two fuel oil storage tanks Partly operational Export 400 km 17-May Tuapse (Rosneft) 240,000 Fire caused by downed drone, suspected to reach CDU Partly operational Black Sea export hub for refinery feedstocks 400 km Jan 25 - VDU outage due to fire. Unit brought online within around 3 months 12-May Volgograd (Lukoil) 314,000 Fire at site Partly operational - AVT-1 CDU expected back online by end of May. Planned works on CDU AVT-6 expected until June Domestic fuel source to Southern Russia, pipeline connection to Novorossiisk for diesel exports 350 km Feb 3 - CDU VDU 5 unit set fire. Unit brought online within around one month 10-May Rovenky, Luhansk oil depot - Fire at site Partly operational Domestic 110 km 10-May First Plant 24,000 Three diesel tanks and one fuel oil container set fire Partly operational Domestic 260 km 9-May Salavat (Gazprom) 200,000 Fire in FCC unit Fully operational Exports to Central Asia, Arctic, Baltic and Black Sea ports 1,300 km 9-May Krasnodar oil depot - Several storage tanks damaged Partly operational Domestic 350 km 8-May Luhansk oil depot - Fire at site Partly operational Domestic 130 km 1-May Ryazan (Rosneft) 342,000 Fire at site Partly operational - one CDU offline though production unaffected Domestic - fuel supply source to Moscow, Pipeline connection to Primorsk for diesel exports 460 km March 13 - Two CDUs damaged. Units brought online within around two months 27-Apr Ilsky (Kubanskaya Neftegazovaya Kompaniya) 132,000 Suspected damage to AT-1 unit Fully operational Black Sea export hub 340 km Feb 9 - CDU, oil products tank damaged. Unit back online within a month 23-Mar Kuibyshev (Rosneft) 140,000 Both CDUs offline after fire One CDU resumed, second undergoing repairs, plant operating around 50% capacity Domestic diesel source, heavy fuel exporter 920 km 16-Mar Syzran (Rosneft) 178,300 Fire at processing unit, CDU offline Main CDU, AVT-6 offline, operating around 30% capacity Diesel exporter to Eastern Europe, domestic supply to central Russia. 700 km 12-Mar Norsi (Lukoil) 340,000 Fire extinguished at site, CDU halted FCC unit repairs expected to last until summer, CDU AVT-6 expected back June Domestic -- key gasoline supply source 800 km Source: S&P Global Commodity Insights, local reports