Oil prices have confounded expectations in the first quarter of 2023. Brent – a major global benchmark – hit a low of US$72 (£58) a barrel on March 17, while the world’s other main benchmark, WTI, dropped to less than US$66 a barrel. This is a far cry from the nearly US$114 and US$103 a barrel, respectively, reached on the same day a year before following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a major oil producer.
But oil has now started to retreat again, an unexpected development during a war involving a major oil exporter, and at a time when a giant consumer like China is reopening after three years of economic isolation.
This shows that oil price forecasts continue to be unreliable. The economic outlook and Chinese consumption growth are key to demand expectations, while Russia is the wild card in terms of supply. Until uncertainty around these three factors dissipates, global oil markets will not have a clear direction.
Oil price movements:
US Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg, Author provided
Oil demand is closely linked to economic growth because a slowing economy shrinks income, leading people to curtail expenditure and travel less, and slowing down manufacturing that uses oil. Various economic forecasts have recently highlighted the major challenges facing the global economy, but widely prevailing uncertainty seems to top the list.
In its April 2023 World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) emphasised a high level of uncertainty “amid financial sector turmoil, high inflation, ongoing effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and three years of COVID”.
The World Bank has also warned that “a lost decade could be in the making for the global economy” as “nearly all the economic forces that powered progress and prosperity over the last three decades are fading”.
April’s OPEC+ Monthly Oil Market Report kept its forecast for economic growth and oil demand largely unchanged from previous reports, but said: “The global economy will continue to navigate through challenges including high inflation, higher interest rates particularly in the Eurozone and the US, and high debt levels in many regions.” It stated that “these uncertainties surrounding current oil market dynamics” were behind its decision to cut production.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud (centre), minister of energy, industry and mineral resources of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, speaks at an OPEC press conference in Vienna, Austria, October 5 2022. Christian Bruna/EPA-EFE
The China factor
China is the world’s second-largest oil consumer and the second-largest economy after the US. So all eyes have been on its oil demand since the country ended the nearly three-year zero-COVID policy that severely restricted its peoples’ mobility and economic activity.
Today, it is the main bullish factor in many global economic forecasts. The IMF’s managing director recently said:
China this year is going to contribute about one-third of global [economic] growth. We calculated that 1% more growth in China translates into 0.3% more growth for the economies that are connected to China.
However, such enthusiasm is not universally shared. A Citibank report says China’s post-COVID recovery seems slower than expected. Being an export-driven economy, the Asian powerhouse is exposed to the health of the rest of the world. A weakening global economy will reduce demand for Chinese exports, with negative repercussions on its economy and therefore oil demand.
As a major oil producer and exporter, Russia also has a massive influence on global oil markets. Despite sanctions since the beginning of the war in Ukraine (and following the annexation of Crimea in 2014), Russia continues to be the world’s third-largest oil producer after the US and Saudi Arabia.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, oil prices spiked due to fears of a loss of Russian supply. The IEA warned the resulting 3 mb/d loss (around one-third of Russia’s total and almost 3% of world production) could produce “the biggest supply crisis in decades”. Analysts from investment bank JP Morgan said Russia could cut up to 5 mb/d of production driving global oil prices to a “stratospheric” US$380 per barrel.
Such gloomy scenarios did not materialise. Russian oil continued to flow but changed direction from Europe to Asia, helping to ease price pressure for consumers everywhere. And Russia’s cuts in retaliation for sanctions have so far been smaller than expected. Of course, it could cut more, especially if this would put more economic pressure on the west and affect support for Ukraine.
This cocktail of uncertainties should encourage a more cautious stance when it comes to predicting oil prices, this year at least. Some analysts have already reduced their 2023 price forecasts, with estimates varying between US$81 and US$100 a barrel.
Expect more revisions. As one study that tracked the evolution of oil prices over four decades said: “all price expectations are subject to error”.
In a fairy-tale turnaround that few could have foretold, oil prices have soared to multi-year highs, largely aided by strong post-Covid-19 demand, surprise OPEC+ cuts and the disruption caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The petrodollar windfall has really given a boost to previously battered Gulf economies, allowing some Gulf Arab states to pay down debt and others to diversify their oil-reliant economies in very big ways.
All the six Gulf Arab states – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman – are on track to post budget surpluses, many for the first time in a decade, thanks to buoyant oil prices and years of fiscal reforms.
But it’s not just the Arabian oil giants that will be enjoying the good times. In its latest forecast, the World Bank has predicted that in 2023, the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will grow 3.5%, more than twice the global average growth rate of 1.7%, thanks mainly to high energy prices and increased oil production.
GCC growth is expected to stabilise at 3.7% this year after expanding at a blistering 6.9% clip in 2022.
Although hydrocarbons remain the backbone of MENA’s economy, the realities of climate change, and wild oil price swings have been forcing Gulf nations to restrategise and diversify their economies away from oil, and Saudi Arabia is leading the way, again.
Although Saudi Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, recently made waves in the oil community after telling Bloomberg News that Saudi Arabia intends to pump every last drop of oil and is going to be the last man standing, Saudi Arabia has crafted one of the most ambitious clean energy blueprints: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 economic plan.
In the economic plan, Saudi Arabia has set a target to develop 60 GW of renewable energy capacity by the end of the decade, which compares with an installed capacity of roughly 80 GW of power plants burning gas or oil.
So far, Saudi Arabia has only made limited progress deploying renewables with just 520 MW of utility-scale solar in operation while 400 MW of wind power is under construction.
With its sun-scorched expanses and steady Red Sea breezes, Saudi Arabia is prime real estate for renewable energy generation.
Last year, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, Saudi Aramco, sent shockwaves through the natural gas markets after it announced that it was kicking off the biggest shale gas development outside of the United States.
Saudi Aramco said it plans to spend $110 billion over the next couple of years to develop the Jafurah gas field, which is estimated to hold 200 trillion cubic feet of gas.
The state-owned company hopes to start natural gas production from Jafurah in 2024 and reach 2.2 Bcf/d of sales gas by 2036 with an associated 425 million cubic feet per day of ethane.
Two years ago, Aramco announced that instead of chilling all that gas and exporting it as LNG, it will convert it into a much cleaner fuel, Blue hydrogen.
Saudi Aramco has told investors that Aramco has abandoned immediate plans to develop its LNG sector in favor of hydrogen.
Nasser said the kingdom’s immediate plan is to produce enough natural gas for domestic use to stop burning oil in its power plants and convert the remainder into hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is made from natural gas either by Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) or Auto Thermal Reforming (ATR) with the CO2 generated captured and then stored.
As the greenhouse gasses are captured, this mitigates the environmental impacts on the planet.
Last year, Aramco made the world’s first blue ammonia shipment, from Saudi Arabia to Japan.
Japan, a country whose mountainous terrain and extreme seismic activity render it unsuitable for the development of sustainable renewable energy, is looking for dependable suppliers of hydrogen fuel with Saudi Arabia and Australia on its shortlist.
The Saudi government is also building a $5 billion green hydrogen plant that will power the planned megacity of Neom when it opens in 2025.
Dubbed Helios Green Fuels, the hydrogen plant will use solar and wind energy to generate 4GW of clean energy that will be used to produce green hydrogen.
But here’s the main kicker: Helios could soon produce green hydrogen that’s cheaper than oil.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) estimates that Helios’ costs could reach $1.50 per kilogram by 2030, way cheaper than the average cost of green hydrogen at $5 per kilogram and even cheaper than gray hydrogen made from cracking natural gas.
Saudi Arabia enjoys serious competitive advantage in the green hydrogen business thanks to its perpetual sunshine, wind, and vast tracts of unused land.
Germany has said it needs “enormous” volumes of green hydrogen, and hopes Saudi Arabia will become a key supplier.
Two years ago, Germany’s cabinet committed to invest €9B (about $10.2B) in hydrogen technology in a bid to decarbonise the economy and cut CO2 emissions.
The government has proposed to build an electrolysis capacity of 5,000 MW by 2030 and another 5,000 MW by 2040 over the next decade to produce fuel hydrogen.
The European economic powerhouse has realised it cannot do this alone, and will require low-cost suppliers like Saudi Arabia especially as it doubles down on its green energy commitments following a series of devastating floods in the country.
Back in 2021, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) announced the commissioning of the country’s first-ever nuclear power plant, the Barakah Unit 1.
The 1,400-megawatt nuclear plant has become the single largest electricity generator in the UAE since reaching 100% power in early December, and is now providing “constant, reliable and sustainable electricity around the clock.
“ENEC says Barakah unit 1 is “now leading the largest decarbonisation effort of any industry in the UAE to date.”
Following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia, the UAE is also laying a strong foundation for the energy transition.
Masdar, the clean energy arm of Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, is building renewable capacity in central Asia after signing a deal in April 2021 to develop a solar project in Azerbaijan.
Since its inception in 2006, Masdar has built a portfolio of renewable energy assets in 30 different countries, having invested about $20bn to develop 11GW of solar, wind and waste-to-energy power generation capacity.
And now Masdar says it intends to apply the lessons gleaned abroad to develop clean energy capacity back at home.
“Solutions we have developed in our international operations will definitely have applications here in the UAE”, says Masdar’s El-Ramahi.
With oil and gas prices surging, the countries of Europe face a looming winter energy crisis. Can the Middle East and North Africa help overcome the challenge?
Solving Europe’s energy challenge
Published in partnership with
One of the most apparent aspects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the rapid increase in energy prices brought on by Moscow’s reduction in exports to its European neighbours.
In 2021, Russia was the largest exporter of oil and gas to Europe, supplying some 40 per cent of its energy requirements, including 100 per cent of the total gas imports of five EU states, according to the International Energy Agency.
The continent’s three largest economies – Germany, Italy and France – depended on Russian gas for 46 per cent, 34 per cent and 18 per cent of their energy needs, respectively.
The imposition of sanctions on Russia in March 2022, followed by Moscow’s threat to suspend hydrocarbon exports, has resulted in a surge in energy prices.
Opec’s crude basket price increased from $78 a barrel at the start of the year to $122 in early June, while Henry Hub natural gas prices more than doubled from $3.8 a million British thermal units (BTUs) to $8.7 a million BTUs over the same period.
Expensive energy bills
This rapid energy inflation has been passed on to consumers through higher electricity bills.
In the UK, for instance, the energy regulator Ofgem estimates that the default tariff price cap will more than double from £1,300 ($1,529) in January to £3,580 in October, and reach a peak of £4,266 in the first three months of 2023, when demand will be highest during the colder winter months.
Replicated across the continent, this is likely to result in millions of households entering ‘fuel poverty’ as they struggle to pay their energy bills.
The Mena region is well-positioned to plug the shortfall in Russian gas exports as European governments scramble to source gas from new markets to reduce their dependence on Moscow
The first was that the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) is well-positioned to plug the shortfall in Russian gas exports as European governments scramble to source gas from new markets to reduce their dependence on Moscow.
The GCC alone globally exports almost exactly half of the 411 billion cubic metres of gas that Russia supplies to Europe annually. Most of this is in the form of long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) contracts to east Asia, but there is some limited capacity available – primarily from Qatar – to fill part of the shortfall.
European nations have been quick to recognise this. For example, following a visit to the region by its Vice-Chancellor and Climate & Energy Minister Robert Habeck in March, Germany – Europe’s largest energy market – is now fast-tracking the construction of two LNG import terminals and has entered a long-term energy partnership with Qatar, the world’s largest LNG exporter.
The second principal finding from the Middle East & Africa Energy Week was that the conflict would act as an additional catalyst for renewable energy development as nations globally attempt to diversify their energy sources and reduce their dependence on imported fossil fuels.
This was in keeping with the results of a poll of up to 400 of the event’s participants. The survey, which forms the central component of the Siemens Energy’s Middle East & Africa Energy Transition Readiness Index, revealed that attendees considered the acceleration of renewables as the highest priority among 11 energy policies in their efforts to tackle the climate crisis, as well as the one with the greatest potential impact.
The Middle East is already taking a clear lead in this as it sets ambitious targets for clean, renewable capacity. For example, Saudi Arabia is looking to scale up its share of gas and renewable energy in its energy mix to 50 per cent by 2030.
Similarly, the UAE has set ambitious targets for 2050: to improve energy efficiency by 40 per cent, reduce emissions from the power sector by 70 per cent and increase the share of renewables in the energy mix to 44 per cent.
While Europe is looking for alternative gas supplies to urgently fill the gap in the short term, there is little doubt that in the longer term renewable energies and hydrogen will dominate the energy markets
Dietmar Siersdorfer, Siemens Energy
In the long run, the energy crisis also provides momentum for the development of hydrogen production in the region, one of four other central themes emerging from the Energy Week.
Demand for hydrogen in Europe alone is forecast to double to 30 million tonnes a year (t/y) by 2030 and to 95 million t/y by 2050. Thanks to its geographical position, the Middle East is ideally located to meet this demand either by ship or pipeline.
Today, there are at least 46 known green hydrogen and ammonia projects across the Middle East and Africa, worth an estimated $92bn, almost all of which are export-orientated.
“While Europe is looking for alternative gas supplies to urgently fill the gap in the short term, there is little doubt that in the longer term renewable energies and hydrogen will dominate the energy markets. That the robust mix of the energy (gas and renewables) will make the energy system more resilient and support energy supply security while we, at the same time, move us at a fast pace into a renewable future,” says Dietmar Siersdorfer, Siemens Energy’s Managing Director for the Middle East and UAE.
Electricity to Europe
Another unintended consequence of the Ukraine crisis is to turn attention to direct electricity supply from the Mena region to Europe.
Although plans for exploiting the high solar irradiation levels and space provided by the Sahara desert through initiatives such as DESERTEC have long been mooted as an alternative solution, a combination of the crisis, lower costs and improving technologies are increasing impetus.
Some projects are already capitalising on the trend. For example, a joint venture of Octopus Energy and cable firm Xlinks recently received regulatory approval for a 3.6GW subsea interconnector between Morocco and the UK, using energy produced from vast solar arrays in the desert.
A similar project is the 2GW high-voltage EuroAfrica connector currently under construction linking Egypt with Greece via Crete. Plans are also under way for a third power connection between Morocco and Spain, which today is the only operational electricity link between Africa and Europe.
With the Egyptian-Saudi interconnector now under construction, and agreements recently reached for interconnectors between Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Kuwait and Iraq, the region is growing closer to supplying power to Europe directly.
“The development of regional grids has brought the prospect of direct current connection with Europe ever closer,” says Siemens Energy’s VP and Head of Grid Stabilisation in the Middle East, Elyes San-Haji. “Due to its plentiful solar resources, the Mena region could become an energy hub with a global network of high-voltage highways and super grids.”
Interconnection makes sense on many levels. Not only would Europe benefit from a diversified, economical and renewable energy source, but its season of peak demand, winter, coincides with when supply is lowest in the Middle East, and vice-versa. Power transfer would not necessarily have to be in one direction only.
The Ukraine conflict and ensuing energy crisis have created an unprecedented opportunity for the Middle East and Africa to become more closely integrated with Europe. Whether in the form of fuel exports, either gas or potentially green hydrogen fuels, or direct electricity supply, the Arab world has never had a better chance to become the energy partner of choice for its European neighbours.
Oil exporters of the MENA amongst many others need to breathe with their two lungs: oil and gas, revenues of which account for each country’s earnings and cover all of their household and business needs.
Would a change to clean energy and/or a sharp and lasting drop in the price of hydrocarbons, outlets, or reserves be fatal or beneficial for these countries?
Fossil Fuel ‘Addiction’ Is Sabotaging Every Sustainable Development Goal: Report
“Every day that we burn fossil fuels is one more day that we’re undermining these goals for a sustainable, livable planet,” said one campaigner.
A first-of-its-kind report published Wednesday warns that the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels worldwide—particularly in the rich countries most responsible for planet-warming carbon emissions—is imperiling every single sustainable development goal adopted by United Nations member states in 2015.
The 17 SDGs are far-reaching, ranging from ending global poverty to eliminating hunger to combating the climate emergency, and achieving them by 2030 would require ambitious and coordinated action on a global scale.
But world leaders’ persistent commitment to fossil fuels, which the new report dubs an “addiction,” is rendering such action impossible by “amplifying the impacts of climate change and placing the health and stability of both natural and human systems at risk.”
“Fossil fuel addiction poisons every earnest attempt we make to tackle the sustainable development and climate agendas.”
“Fossil fuel addiction poisons every earnest attempt we make to tackle the sustainable development and climate agendas,” said Tzeporah Berman, chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. “Despite a robust pile of evidence that fossil fuels are core to our problems, governments are not moving and international cooperation is lacking.”
Authored by researchers at the University of Sussex on behalf of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative and other civil society organizations, the report makes use of more than 400 academic articles and advocacy group reports to closely examine for the first time the threat that fossil fuels pose to each of the SDGs.
By 2030, the report notes, the climate crisis could push 122 million more people into extreme poverty worldwide by intensifying extreme weather events, which often cause mass destruction and displacement. Yet globally, “governments spend three times more money on fuel subsidies than the annual amount needed to eradicate poverty,” the researchers observe.
Fossil fuels are also undermining global efforts to combat hunger, which has spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Increases in global temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, extreme weather events, and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations from burning fossil fuels will reduce the yields of key crops,” the report states. “Fossil fuel production, and fossil fuel corporations’ carbon offset schemes, are pulling vast amounts of land away from productive uses, such as agriculture.”
And on down the list. Promoting good health and well-being, guaranteeing quality education for all, achieving gender equality, ensuring clean water and sanitation, transitioning to renewable energy, and securing lasting peace are all tasks that a fossil fuel-dependent status quo has made unachievable, the new report warns.
“By 2030, humanity needs to have halved global emissions, while at the same time achieving all 17 SDGs,” said report co-author Freddie Daley, a research associate at the University of Sussex. “This is an impossible endeavor without concerted global efforts to constrain and phase out fossil fuel production in a fast, fair, and equitable manner, with the wealthy nations that continue to benefit from fossil-fueled economic growth leading the way.”
“This research lays out the incompatibility of sustainable development and fossil fuels—and what is at stake if we fail to address unchecked fossil fuel expansion,” Daley added.
To dramatically change course and put the world on a path toward achieving sustainable development objectives, the report recommends an entirely new international framework, such as a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty with “binding commitments that constrain fossil fuel production globally.”
Such a treaty, the researchers suggest, should include three prongs:
Non-proliferation. End new exploration and production by issuing a worldwide moratorium on the extraction of new fossil fuel reserves.
Equitable Phase Down. Commit countries to phase down production in existing projects, in line with equity and the 1.5°C global temperature goal.
Accelerate a Fair Transition. Provide finance and technological assistance to aid those most dependent on fossil fuel production to climate change to diversify their economies and move away from fossil fuels, scale up access to renewable energy and ensure a just transition for all.
“Every day that we burn fossil fuels is one more day that we’re undermining these goals for a sustainable, livable planet,” Jean Su, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
“The first step to fighting the extinction of countless species and the scourge of global poverty is to turn off the spigot of dangerous fossil fuels,” Su added. “That’s the only way we can build a just, peaceful future that protects the dignity of humanity and all life on Earth.”
America is in a fast pursuit toward achieving President Biden’s stated goal that “we are going to get rid of fossil fuels” to achieve the Green New Deal’s (GND) pursuit of wind turbines and solar panels to provide electricity to run the world, but WAIT, everything in our materialistic lives and economies cannot exist without crude oil, coal, and natural gas.
Everything that needs electricity, from lights, vehicles, iPhones, defibrillators, computers, telecommunications, etc., are all made with the oil derivatives manufactured from crude oil.
The need for electricity will decrease over time without crude oil. With no new things to power, and the deterioration of current things made with oil derivatives over the next few decades and centuries, the existing items that need electricity will not have replacement parts and will ultimately become obsolete in the future and the need for electricity will diminish accordingly.
The Green New Deal proposal calls on the federal government to wean the United States from fossil fuels and focus on electricity from wind and solar, but why? What will there be to power in the future without fossil fuels?
Rather than list the more than 6,000 products made from the oil derivatives manufactured from crude oil, I will let the readers list what is NOT dependent on oil derivatives that will need electricity. They can begin listing them here ______ ________ _______.
And by the way, crude oil came before electricity. The electricity that came AFTER the discovery of oil, is comprised of components made with those same oil derivatives from crude oil. Thus, getting rid of crude oil, also eliminates our ability to make wind turbines, solar panels, as well as those vehicles intended to be powered by an EV battery.
Today, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) divesting in fossil fuels are all the rage with big banks, Wall Street firms, and financial institutions, to divest in all 3 fossil fuels of coal, natural gas, and crude oil. Both President Biden and the United Nations support allowing banks and investment giants to collude to reshape economies and our energy infrastructure toward JUST electricity from wind and solar.
A reduction in the usage of coal, natural gas, and crude oil would lead us to life as it was without the crude oil infrastructure and those products manufactured from oil that did not exist before 1900, i.e., the decarbonized world that existed in the 1800’s and before when life was hard, and life expectancy was short.
Ridding the world of crude oil would result in less manufactured oil derivatives and lead to a reduction in each of the following:
The 50,000 heavy-weight and long-range merchant ships that are moving products throughout the world.
The 50,000 heavy-weight and long-range jets used by commercial airlines, private usage, and the military.
The number of wind turbines and solar panels as they are made with oil derivatives from crude oil.
The pesticides to control locusts and other pests.
The tires for the billions of vehicles.
The asphalt for the millions of miles of roadways.
The medications and medical equipment.
The water filtration systems.
The sanitation systems.
The communications systems, including cell phones, computers, iPhones, and iPads.
The number of cruise ships that now move twenty-five million passengers around the world.
The space program.
Before we rid the world of all three fossil fuels of coal, natural gas, and crude oil, the greenies need to identify the replacement or clone for crude oil, to keep the world’s population of 8 billion fed and healthy, and economies running with the more than 6,000 products now made with manufactured derivatives from crude oil, along with the fuels manufactured from crude oil to move the heavy-weight and long-range needs of more than 50,000 jets and more than 50,000 merchant ships, and the military and space programs.
Open government policies should be focused on reducing our usage, via both conservation and improved efficiencies, to REDUCE not ELIMINATE crude oil, and reduce its footprint as much as practical and possible, is truly the only plan that will work.
Wind and solar may be able to generate electricity from breezes and sunshine, but they cannot manufacture anything. Again, what is the need for the Green New Deal’s electricity from breezes and sunshine when you have nothing new to power in the future?
Ronald Stein, Founder and Ambassador for Energy & Infrastructure of PTS Advance, headquartered in Irvine, California.
Originally posted on HUMAN WRONGS WATCH: Human Wrongs Watch (UN News)* — Disinformation, hate speech and deadly attacks against journalists are threatening freedom of the press worldwide, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday [2 May 2023], calling for greater solidarity with the people who bring us the news. UN Photo/Mark Garten | File photo…
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