Category Archives: Oil producers

Welfare Kings? Study Finds Half of New Oil Production Unprofitable Without Government Handouts

Repost from DeSmogBlog

Welfare Kings? Study Finds Half of New Oil Production Unprofitable Without Government Handouts

By Justin Mikulka • Tuesday, October 3, 2017 – 13:03
Oil derrick with 'welfare' spelled on Scrabble tiles.
Oil derrick with ‘welfare’ spelled on Scrabble tiles. [Main image is a derivative of “Creative Commons Oil Rig” by SMelindo, used under CC BY 2.0]
new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Energy found that 50 percent of new oil production in America would be unprofitable if not for government subsidies. The study, performed by researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute and Earth Track, Inc., found that, at prices of $50 per barrel, light oil produced by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) was heavily dependent on subsidies.

In fact, forty percent of the Permian basin in Texas would be economically unviable without subsidies, and for the home of Bakken crude production, Williston Basin, that number jumps to 59 percent, according to the researchers.

In addition, the study highlights what this additional fossil fuel production means for impacts to the climate:

…continued subsidies for oil investment could produce oil (and associated gas) that, once burned, will yield CO2 emissions equivalent to nearly 1 percent of the remaining global carbon budget for all sectors of all economies.”

At current oil prices, perhaps the most effective “keep it in the ground” strategy might be to stop subsidizing oil production.

But what happens with these subsidies when the price of oil is over $100 per barrel, as it was several years ago? The authors of the study report that, under such a scenario, government subsidies are simply “transfer payments” to oil investors. The oil would be profitable without the subsidies, which become, at that point, simply free cash for investors.

While this study provides valuable insight into how subsidies affect oil production and the climate, it notes that its conclusions are not unique. The authors point out: “As others have found regardless of the oil price, the majority of taxpayer resources provided to the industry end up as company profits.”

US Taxpayers Subsidizing Oil Exports to China

Since the U.S. crude oil export ban was lifted in 2016, exports have risen much faster than most purported experts predicted, with volumes recently topping 1.5 million barrels per day. Much of these exports are the heavily subsidized light sweet oils produced by fracking in the oil fields of Texas and North Dakota.

And while major oil producers such as Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources and major Trump donortestified in Congress that it was unlikely U.S. oil would be exported to China, that has quickly proven to be false.

Bloomberg recently reported that Wang Pei, an executive for Chinese oil and gas company Sinopec, said, “Our refining system really likes U.S. crude.”

That appetite for oil in China and other nations like India isn’t shrinking, spurring the U.S. oil and gas industry to ramp up production to export far greater amounts.

Why are U.S. oil producers so keen to export their oil to other countries? Terry Morrison of Occidental Petroleum recently made the answer clear, saying, “It’s an alternative outlet for your production, i.e. better prices.” Better prices. At this point, American taxpayers are now subsidizing oil production so that oil companies can sell it to other countries like China for higher prices.

As the Midland Reporter-Telegram notes, “analysts are forecasting Permian Basin crude production will increase between 400,000 and 700,000 barrels per day in the coming years,” with the majority likely for export. However, as the Nature Energy study pointed out, 40 percent of that production is dependent on subsidies making it economically viable in the first place.

Taxpayer-funded subsidies don’t just incentivize oil production for export. As previously noted on DeSmog, taxpayers are also subsidizing the expansion of ports in Texas to provide access for loading oil onto the largest oil tankers, also destined for foreign shores.

India just received its first shipment of American oil and as DNA India reported, “Officials here said the U.S. crude supply will help India to keep oil prices low and stable to benefit consumers.” Then, U.S. taxpayers are ponying up money for oil production to benefit foreign consumers. This seems like a bad deal for U.S. taxpayers and a horrible deal for the climate — but another big win for the oil industry.

Subsidies Impact Everything

The oil industry, led by its lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute, has long denied that it receives anything akin to a “subsidy.” In January former ExxonMobil CEO and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated this industry talking point during a Senate confirmation hearing. In response to a question from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tillerson said, “I’m not aware of anything the fossil fuel industry gets that I would characterize as a subsidy.”

Yet this new study notes that subsidies aren’t simply cash being handed to oil companies. Subsidies often come in the form of tax breaks, which is just one of the many ways oil companies receive government handouts.

Another subsidy of sorts noted in the report relates to the fact that the oil industry isn’t required to have nearly enough insurance to cover accidents like the deadly crude oil train explosion and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The study notes that “the July 2013 crude oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec involved a Class II railroad with only $25 million in liability insurance. Costs of $2 billion or more will likely be shifted to the public.”

However, some of the main impacts of this ongoing support of the oil industry are the ongoing impacts to the climate, the environment, and public health. Should America be subsidizing oil for India and China, two countries that have crippling air pollution issues? What additional costs will be incurred due to climate change thanks to these subsidies?

Increased oil and gas production in the U.S. also means increased water consumption, increased contaminated fracking wasteincreased spills, increased oil trains, increased earthquakes, and increased flaring.

newly released poll from the University of Chicago and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 61 percent of Americans “think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address.” This latest study points to one major way the government could do that: by making the oil and gas industry pay the true costs of production instead of relying on U.S. taxpayers to insure its profits.

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Oil firms dig deep to battle Colo. anti-fracking initiatives

Repost from The Coloradoan

Significant funding gap in Colorado fracking fight

By Jacy Marmaduke, August 18, 2016 11:17 a.m. MDT
Anti-fracking protesters
Anti-fracking protesters

Committees fighting proposed Colorado ballot measures that would limit fracking have raked in about $15 million in donations this year, more than 35 times the contributions of groups backing the measures.

About 90 percent of the anti-ballot measure donations have come from energy companies, including $10.5 million from Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Noble Energy alone.

“We’ve never seen a number like this from the opposition,” said Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, the state government watchdog group that released the numbers confirmed by the Coloradoan. “It shows that (businesses) are ready to spend a lot of money in the best interest of the company’s bottom line.”

In contrast, individual donations of less than $1,000 have been the primary fuel for the pro-ballot measure efforts, bolstered by support from U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, his father and the executive director of the fundraising committees. The pro-ballot measure committees have received about $424,000 in donations this year.

Petitioners submitted signatures for proposed ballot measures 75 and 78 on Aug. 8, the day they were due. The Secretary of State will declare the signatures sufficient or insufficient by Sept. 8. If the office confirms petitioners collected about 98,500 valid signatures for each measure, they’ll appear in the November election.

Measure 75 would amend the state constitution to allow local control of oil and gas development, effectively overturning the Colorado Supreme Court’s denial of Fort Collins’ fracking moratorium and Longmont’s fracking ban.

Measure 78 would amend the state constitution to increase setbacks for oil and gas development from 500 feet to 2,500 feet from occupied structures. The measure would also require a 2,500-foot setback from “areas of special concern,” a category that includes most water sources and riparian areas, parks, sports fields, playgrounds and public open spaces.

The current setback of 500 feet is about the length of 1 1/2 football fields. The proposed setback of 2,500 feet is about a half-mile. It would apply only to new development — but the ballot measure includes reentry of existing wells in its definition of “new development.”

Two committees are working on each side of the proposed ballot measures: Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking and Yes for Local Control Over Oil and Gas are on the pro-ballot measure side. Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence and Vote No on 75/78 are on the anti-ballot measure side.

About 30 percent pro-ballot donations were in the form of services from organizations like Food and Water Watch and Greenpeace. Those services are assigned cash values for record-keeping purposes.

“A successful ballot initiative usually costs at least a million dollars,” Toro said. “That might be an indication of where they’re headed.”

The committees could see a cash infusion if they’re approved for the ballot, Toro added. Committee representatives weren’t available for comment.

The anti-ballot measure committees have received about $15 million in donations this year, not including about $746,000 Protect Colorado had on-hand on Jan. 1. About 10 percent of those donations were in the form of services.

“These measures are so extreme and such a threat to Colorado’s economy that we’ve got the commitments to spend $24 million to fight them,” Protect Colorado spokeswoman Karen Crummy said. “We’ve been very upfront about that from the beginning.”

The anti-ballot measure committees have spent 20 times more than the pro-ballot measure groups as of Aug. 1 — $5 million versus about $250,000, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. Also as of Aug. 1, the anti-ballot measure side had roughly $9.1 million to the opposition’s $43,000.

Lists of top monetary donors for each side of the issue give you a good idea of how their fundraising has taken shape.

Top monetary donors for pro-ballot measure committees:

  1. Patricia Olson (founder of both committees): $60,300
  2. J. Christopher Hormel (Boulder philanthropist): $60,000
  3. (tie) Lush Cosmetics: $25,000
  4. (tie) Jared Polis: $25,000
  5. (tie) Fracking Fund of the New World Foundation: $25,000
  6. (tie) Stephen Schutz (physicist, greeting card designer, Jared Polis’ father): $25,000

Top donors make up 52 percent of 2016 contributions.

Top monetary donors for anti-ballot measure committees

  1. Anadarko Petroleum Corporation: $5.5 million
  2. Noble Energy: $5 million
  3. PDC Energy: $750,000
  4. Synergy Resources Corporation: $650,000
  5. Bayswater Exploration and Production: $500,000
  6. Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation: $300,000

Top donors make up 85 percent of 2016 contributions.

The American Petroleum Institute, the national trade group representing the oil and gas industry, funded about $1.1 million worth of consulting and other services for Vote No on 75/78 but isn’t on this list because the donations were considered non-monetary.

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Dakota Access pipeline to upend oil delivery in U.S. – Losers to include struggling oil-by-rail industry

Repost from Reuters

Big Dakota pipeline to upend oil delivery in U.S.

By Catherine Ngai and Liz Hampton | NEW YORK/HOUSTON, Aug 12, 2016 12:46pm EDT
Dead sunflowers stand in a field near dormant oil drilling rigs which have been stacked in Dickinson, North Dakota January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen
Dead sunflowers stand in a field near dormant oil drilling rigs which have been stacked in Dickinson, North Dakota January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

It may seem odd that the opening of one pipeline crossing through four U.S. Midwest states could upend the movement of oil throughout the country, but the Dakota Access line may do just that.

At the moment, crude oil moving out of North Dakota’s prolific Bakken shale to “refinery row” in the U.S. Gulf must travel a circuitous route through the Rocky Mountains or the Midwest and into Oklahoma, before heading south to the Gulf of Mexico.

The 450,000 barrel-per-day Dakota Access line, when it opens in the fourth quarter, will change that by providing U.S. Gulf refiners another option for crude supply.

Gulf Coast refiners and North Dakota oil producers will reap the benefits. Losers will include the struggling oil-by-rail industry which now brings crude to the coasts.

The pipeline also will create headaches for East and West Coast refiners, which serve the most heavily populated parts of the United States and consume a combined 4.1 million barrels of crude daily. They will have to rely more on foreign imports.

The pipeline, currently under construction, will connect western North Dakota to the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline Project (ETCOP) in Patoka, Illinois. From there, it will connect to the Nederland and Port Arthur, Texas, area, where refiners including Valero Energy, Total and Motiva Enterprises operate some of the largest U.S. refining facilities.

“That’s a better and cheaper path than going out West and down through the Rockies,” said Bernadette Johnson, managing partner at Ponderosa Advisors LLC, an energy advisory based in Denver.

CHEAPER THAN RAIL

Moving crude by pipeline is generally cheaper than using railcars. The flagging U.S. crude-by-rail industry already is moving only half as much oil as it did two years ago: volumes peaked at 944,000 bpd in October 2014, but were around just 400,000 bpd in May, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Rail transport has become less economical for East and West Coast refiners when compared with importing Brent crude, the foreign benchmark, because declining supply out of North Dakota made that grade of oil less affordable.

“If you look at the Brent to Bakken arb, it’s tight,” said Afolabi Ogunnaike, a senior refining analyst at Wood Mackenzie in Houston. “If you look at the spot rate, it’s uneconomical to move crude by rail right now.”

Ponderosa Advisors estimated that the start-up of the pipeline could reroute an additional 150,000 to 200,000 bpd currently carried by rail to the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast.

Crude imports into the East Coast are now on the rise, averaging 788,000 bpd this year, with nearly 960,000 bpd in July, the highest level in three years, according to Thomson Reuters data.

On the West Coast, refiners like Shell, Tesoro and BP may have to commit to some railed volumes for longer because of shipping constraints, although it will largely depend on rail economics. They also face declining output from California and Alaska.

Tesoro’s top executive Gregory Goff told analysts and investors last week he expects rail costs to drop as much as 40 percent from the current $9-to-$10 barrel cost to compete with pipelines, in order to move Bakken to its Anacortes, Washington, refinery.

CHANGING TIDES

Rail companies have been trying to adapt. CSX Corp, which runs a network of lines in the eastern part of the country, said it was evaluating potential impacts of the pipeline. BNSF Railway declined to discuss future freight movements, but said that at its peak, it transported as many as 12 trains daily filled with crude, primarily from the Bakken. Today, it is moving less than half of that.

In a recent earnings call, midstream player Crestwood Equity Partners said it was working to capitalize on the pipeline and not be dependent on loading crude barrels onto trains. That includes building an interconnection to its 160,000 barrel-per-day COLT crude rail facility in North Dakota.

As refiners bring in more barrels from overseas, Brent’s premium over U.S. crude will eventually widen. On Thursday, December Brent futures settled at a 97-cent premium to U.S. crude, one of its widest premiums this year.

Separately, Bakken crude, a light barrel, could rise further due to the additional competition, especially as production is still falling. Bakken differentials hit a six-month low earlier this week of $2.65 a barrel below WTI, according to Reuters data, but rose to a $1.80 a barrel discount by Thursday.

(Reporting by Catherine Ngai in New York and Liz Hampton in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio)
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