Category Archives: Faja of the Orinoco

What’s keeping foreign oil firms out of Iran? IRG? [CNNMoney quotes me]

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To put Iran’s recent production increases in perspective: On its own, for 37 years, Iran has struggled to produce two-thirds of its pre-revolutionary level of 6 million barrels/day. Now, domestic opposition is again limiting foreign oil companies’ participation to boost production.

Since the Obama-administration’s and Europe’s nuclear sanctions were lifted early this year (marked ‘e’ on the chart), Iran has been expanding its production and exports more rapidly than most experts had expected. Tehran has actually tripled exports since late-2015 (see point ‘f’).  But, here’s the big question: Can Iran sustain this years’ production gains?
If to, this could seriously undermine Saudi Arabia’s global oil-market share, and boost Iran’s sanctions-damaged economy to a long-awaited recovery.
The short answer: Now that foreign sanctions are finally lifted, the battle to boost Iran’s oil exports has shifted to a domestic clash over whether to allow foreign oil companies to have significant upstream involvement. This is a domestic Iranian issue with a long history.
Historical perspective
Let’s start with some historical perspective: The Iranian National Oil Company (NIOC) can only do so much on its own to boost production. After decades of sanctions, it lacks the needed technology and finance.  I told CNNMoney‘s Matt Egan, on Wednesday, that the faster Iran expands on its own, the faster production will plateau. (His CNNMoney article today quotes me .).
This was what happened after the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.(‘b’ on the chart). By about 1992, production had plateaued at almost 4 million barrels/day, under 2/3 of the pre-revolutionary, late-1970’s level of roughly 6 million barrels per day. (‘a’ on chart).  The Iranian president at the time, Rafsanjani, argued to religious conservative and nationalist members of the Majilis that only foreign oil companies’ technology and investments could expand production further. However, he only won grudging approval for an offshore project due to fears that foreigners would bring their irreligious ways ashore and/or undermine the hard-won nationalization of Iran’s oil sector.
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Latin American Oil: Beijing Still Lending, But for How Long? – I’m quoted by Energy Compass

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Last week, Energy Intelligence (EI) quoted me on China’s continued appetite for oil and gas investments in Latin America even with its own  economic slowdown and LatAm’s many political upheavals. (Sincere thanks to EI for a PDF of their proprietary Energy Compass to share on my blog. You can access it below here.)

Some thoughts on China’s strategy: In the case of Venezuela, as the price of oil fell, Beijing quickly eased up on PDVSA’s repayment terms for its huge outstanding loans which are repayable in oil. This shows some willingness to help Venezuela cope with the falling market value of oil. Why? Because, mainly, it is the oil that China has always been laser-focused on – not making interest on these loans.

Generally, it is clear that new Chinese investments or loans are still possible in Latin America. In Venezuela however, Continue reading

My AQ piece: “Russia Is Beating China to Venezuela’s Oil Fields”

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Russian Production & Stakes in Venezuelan Oil Projects (40% stake is limit)

Last October & November I succeeded in interviewing several people in the Venezuelan private sector directly knowledgeable of Russian oil projects with PDVSA. Many Venezuelans wonder what all the Russians-known for their secrecy-are up to there.  Some of my key findings are in Americas Quarterly‘s Winter 2016 edition. Read on … 

Russia Is Beating China to Venezuela’s Oil Fields – By THOMAS W. O’DONNELL

The profits, politics and luck behind Russia’s growing footprint.

Russian companies produce more oil in joint projects with PDVSA than their Chinese counterparts This article is adapted from our 1st print issue of 2016. 

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, had long envisioned China becoming Venezuela’s biggest oil-sector production partner. So when Rafael Ramírez, then president of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), announced in January 2013 that Russia would produce enough oil with PDVSA by 2021 to become “the biggest petroleum partner of our country,” very few people believed him. It sounded like empty hype.

Yet it turns out that Ramírez was serious. Three years later, Russian companies are already producing more oil in joint projects with PDVSA than their Chinese counterparts. Official figures are either unreliable or unavailable, but according to field data provided by Global Business Consultants (GBC), a Caracas-based energy consulting firm, Russia-Venezuela production as of late 2015 was 209,000 barrels per day (bpd), compared to China-Venezuela’s at a bit over 171,000 bpd.

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Venezuela: Default risks grow (I’m quoted in Platts)

PDVSA president, Eulogio Del Pino, leads a meeting to

PDVSA president, Eulogio Del Pino, meets to “consolidate the new PDVSA.” (‏@delpinoeulogio Aug 11)

Mery Mogollon quotes me several times on PDVSA’s trajectory in Platt’s September Energy Economist.  Here it is:

Venezuela, South America’s biggest oil producer, has seen the value of its oil exports fall to its lowest level since 2004. The economy faces hyperinflation and increasing shortages of basic goods. Debt default seems highly likely. State oil company PDVSA has neither the institutional capacity nor the funds to expand oil production. It is a downward spiral that will lead to political change.  Continue reading

Paralyzed on Economic Reforms, Venezuela Will Mortgage Citgo [My Americas Quarterly analysis]

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Photo:: Listverse.com

[My post at Americas Quarterly, 5 Feb 2015]  Since before the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in March 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has remained paralyzed to enact reforms needed to escape the economic dysfunction Chávez left behind.

In his latest national address on the economy on January 21, Maduro finally acknowledged the recession and shortages faced by Venezuelan citizens. Yet, he failed again to clearly implement any of the pragmatic economic reforms[1] advocated by Rafael Ramírez, the former minister of energy and former president of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (Petroleum of Venezuela—PDVSA)— such as a de facto bolívar-to-dollar devaluation via unification of Venezuela’s multi-tier foreign exchange (FX) system, measures to attract more foreign financing for oil production, and removing internal price controls, especially for gasoline.  Meanwhile, in September 2014, Ramírez was demoted to foreign minister, and then to UN ambassador several months later.

According to insiders, Maduro’s failure to implement pragmatic reforms stems principally from two sources.
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Aside

Last week, I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on why Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) is looking to sell its Citgo refining affiliate in the USA. The key motivation, in my estimation, is to finance projects critical to … Continue reading

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Venezuelan state’s economic response to protests: Rationing plus Chinese and Russian loans to float a liberal dollar market

The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police BBC
The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas 13 March ended in clashes with Venezuelan police. Three more died in widespread protests. BBC

As protests continue against Venezuela’s faltering “oil revolution,” the political strategy of the chavista administration is striking for its intransigence. President Maduro has refused to recognize any grievances by students or other protesters. He calls protesters “fascists” and blames them for all the ills of the economy.  Protests are attacked by the national guard and often by state-organized paramilitary gangs on motorcycles who are praised by the president.

The administration’s strategy so far appears to be that protests will burn themselves out if they can be delegitimized and contained within middle-class areas.  Accordingly, the president’s rhetoric aims at inciting poorer citizens against protesters.  All in all, this is a risky strategy.  Protests have constantly intensified, with perhaps 25 persons dead now.
After a month of protests, the administration has taken urgent economic measures it hopes will undermine the protests and prevent their spread to poor and working-class barrios.
1. Ramirez announces Chinese and Russian loans and the launch of a very liberal Sicad 2

Petrobras of Brazil v. Pdvsa of Venezuela – Reply to press interns in Sao Paulo

Lula and Petrobras

Lula and Petrobras

I had a pleasant exchange with an intern – in the end a class of interns – at the Brazilian newspaper “O Estado de São Paulo” a couple of weeks ago.  The questions were insightful. I tried to answer in an informative and direct manner.  Indeed, things are not going well at Petrobras lately, and looking at the politics of Pdvsa and Petrobras next to one another is a useful exercise. Here’s the interview.

1) Do you agree that PDVSA and Petrobras have both had political mishaps in their administrations? Why?

Yes. Hugo Chavez used Pdvsa as the “goose that lays the golden eggs.” However, he took so much from Pdvsa — especially to support his frequent election campaigns, before each of which he increased public spending to win votes — that the “goose” has been left to starve.

Chavez’ revolution was, in his own words, an “oil revolution” and “oil socialism.” However, he did not understand how to run the national oil company. While he distributed largess from the country’s oil wealth to the poor, he was incapable of introducing a new, higher productivity of labor in Venezuelan society, which is what any real social revolution requires for success. He left the country in a very dangerous situation with a shortage of foreign exchange. If the price of oil falls further due to a US & EU accord with Iran and/or an improvement in the oil production situation in Libya, and Iraq, then Venezuela will face a deep crisis.

Petrobras too, under Lula, began to be viewed as a cash cow after it discovered the pre-salt. As a president. Lula was much more competent organizationally and in economic matters than Hugo Chavez. However, Continue reading

Beijing ups Venezuelan oil investments, but refuses Chavista leaders’ plea for a cash bailout

folha_header_08apr13folha_quote of the day_venez-and-china_08apr13Back in April, Brazil’s Folha de SaoPaulo ran an article entitled: The Future of Venezuela Depends on China and highlighted this quote:  Translation: “If Maduzo wins, he’ll have to regain the confidence of the Chinese.”  TOM O’DONNELL, petroleum consultant

Indeed, it is now clear that the short-term strategy of the post-Chavez Maduro-Cabello administration was to escape the country’s severe dollar crisis: convincing Beijing to extend it a $5 billion cash loan alleviating food-import shortages before 8 December elections.  In particular, the cash was to fund a new dollar exchange system (see El Nacional,25 Sept 2013). Continue reading

AQ Follow-up | Caracas & Maracaibo: Venezuela’s Private Sector Anxious to Invest if PDVSA Builds Confidence

Americas Quarterly today carries a followup that to my 29 August piece on Post-Chavez changes at PDVSA.

Drilling rig (PDVSA)

Drilling rig (PDVSA)

NOTE:  During the past couple weeks, while in Maracaibo and Caracas, I was repeatedly told of a new offshore payment mechanism that PDVSA has begun offering to its Joint Venture foreign partners.  Venezuelan private sector leaders took credit  for the general idea. Continue reading