Category Archives: Trade and Commerce

China’s big NOCs slash prices to take market from private oil refiners ~ I’m quoted in “China Oil Week”

sinopec_station_china_newsbase_21jul17

A Sinopec station in China.  Sinopec and other big NOC’s are slashing prices to take business from Chna’s small private “Tea Pot” refiners.

Last week, I was quoted on my assessment of how China’s “Tea Pot” refineries (small, private outfits) will fare in the face of  China’s big National Oil Companies (NOCs) cutting  prices to grab the Tea Pots’ business.  My main point to Newsbase reporter Saw Wright was that China is far from a completely “free market” and the state can be expected to weigh in on one side or another, complicating any outcome predictions based on market and/or tech strengths and weaknesses.  I’m quoted a couple times near the article’s end, here: 

The developments with Tea Pots in China now have ramifications for the Global Barrel oil market in this time of oversupply and low prices driven especially by US shale’s constant productivity improvement and its continued high-level production, … all of which OPEC and non-OPEC (esp. Russia) producers — the so-called “Vienna Group” — are desperately trying to counteract.

Feedback is always welcome!

 

Pipe Dream? Polish ruling complicates Nord Stream 2 pipeline for Gazprom & EU partners [My Berlin Policy Journal piece]

bpj_online_odonnell_nordstream2_cutHere’s my latest analysis in Berlin Policy Journal (German Council on Foreign Relations -DGAP).Pipe Dream? The Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is in danger of being derailed.
THOMAS W. O’DONNELL , SEPTEMBER 22, 2016 

A pipeline project to double Gazprom’s export capacity to Europe has always been controversial. A recent ruling by Poland’s competition authority could seriously undercut the support it has accrued, leaving its European backers at odds.

The proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline project has bitterly pitted European states that back the project, including Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and France, against project opponents, including Ukraine, Poland, and other former Soviet-bloc states. The project aims to double the capacity of the existing huge, 55-billion-cubic-meter-per-year Nord Stream 1 pipeline, running in parallel to it under the Baltic Sea from near St. Petersburg in Russia directly to Greifswald in Germany.

This dispute has exposed two very different views of Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas-export monopoly, and of Vladimir Putin’s Russia itself – one side sees it as a “necessary” and “reliable” energy supplier, the other a dangerous and manipulative adversary. This dispute is but one more collision inflicting lasting harm on the European Project.

Polish competition authority rejects project

The latest row involves a ruling in late July by the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (Urzed Ochrony Konkurencji i Konsumentow, or UOKiK) rejecting an application by five private western European energy firms proposing to partner with Gazprom to build and operate Nord Stream 2. The firms are Germany’s E.ON (soon to be Uniper) and Wintershall, Austria’s OMV, Anglo-Dutch Shell, and France’s Engie.

Shortly before the Polish announcement, the five companies agreed to withdraw their association proposal to avoid UOKiK initiating a legal process against them. The commission’s president, Marek Niechcial, declared categorically on August 12 that the Polish rejection was definitive, asserting “This will stop the [Nord Stream 2] deal.” The five firms have nevertheless made it clear they are seeking a strategy to work around the decision, and expect to proceed as planned. Gazprom has said the same.

So why go through this proceeding in the first place? To understand these events better, I spoke with several experts and diplomats working on these matters in Moscow, Berlin, Washington, Paris, and Warsaw.

Commercial Arguments

An often-heard line of argument is that at least some of the five companies might actually have little commercial interest in the project, but need to preserve their relationships in Russia where they have large investments in energy projects. After all, the Kremlin has a track record of taking over projects from foreign partners with whom it has fallen out. A further theme in this vein is that Nord Stream 2 is not really needed in northwestern Europe, even though the Groningen field in the Netherlands and Norway’s reserves in the North Sea are declining, because future demand in northwestern Europe is overestimated and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will be available from the United States. This view led to press speculation that the five firms likely welcomed the Polish decision, allowing them a graceful exit.

However, virtually all the experts I spoke with had no doubt Nord Stream 2 would be a lucrative commercial enterprise over the long run, and that the five firms seem genuinely enthusiastic. Continue reading

Falling oil price & Saudi strategy: My Sky News interview (London)

Here’s my live interview recently on Sky News – the all-news UK channel. It just went up.

Here’s the gist: Years-long high prices brought the US shale revolution and other new higher-cost oil online like offshore of Brazil and Africa. This glut was already dropping prices when the Saudi’s decided in November 2014 that OPEC alone could not cut enough production to reverse the slide. So what to do if Russia and Mexico won’t join an OPEC cut? Continue reading

Bypass Operation: Nord Stream 2, Russia-to-Germany pipeline deal, raises questions

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Here’s my latest at Berlin Policy Journal (DGAP):  With Nord Stream 2, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is nearing his goal of cutting Ukraine out of the gas supply picture.  October 20, 2015

On 18 June, during the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an agreement was signed to build a controversial new “Nord Stream 2” pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would go directly from Russia to northern Germany, with a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters (bcm). The project, which consists of two segments that would run along the same route as the existing two segments of the 55 bcm Nord Stream line, completed in 2011, has met with strong opposition from energy officials in Brussels, as well as leaders in Ukraine and some other EU states.

Indeed, the agreement between Russia’s Gazprom and a consortium of German, Austrian, French,, and Anglo-Dutch companies came as a surprise. After all, in January 2015 Gazprom announced it had abandoned the project, blaming both the falling price of gas over the previous year and anti-monopoly restrictions in the EU’s Third Energy Package, which prohibit suppliers of gas from also owning pipelines delivering it. This provision has prevented Gazprom from ever filling the original North Stream more than half way.[1] In retrospect, the sudden signing of a Nord Stream 2 agreement only six months after the project was supposedly abandoned, plus the fact that the consortium foresees a quick start reveals the prior cancellation to have been a political ruse. Continue reading

USA Oil Seminar 5.0 | USA as Rising Energy Superpower?

us_air_force_jets_oil_buring_iraqNote: These “USA Oil Seminar” posts are extra readings for my students to better understand how US energy policy is developed and to hear the views of US experts.  The seminar is: “The Global Oil System & US Policy” at JFK Institute of FU-Berlin. 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. This Friday, watch live (or the recording later on): Is the U.S. a Rising Energy Superpower? Implications for Global Markets and Asia, the Middle East, Russia, and Europe.  CSIS upcoming talk by Fereidun Fesharaki.  FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2014 | 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM .  Moderated by David Pumphrey.
  2. Read the paper: Fueling a New Order? The New Geopolitical and Security Consequences of Energy |April 15, 2014. By: Bruce Jones, David Steven and Emily O’Brien.  Brookings Institute; Washington, DC.

BACKGROUND:  This week, the class reading assignments are a couple conference papers I wrote a few years ago on the history and structure of today’s global oil system, and how it grew to replace the neo-colonial oil system. Continue reading

My IP Journal article | Addressing Europe’s Energy Dependence on Russia: Gas globalization?

 25371_460x259Globalizing gas market, creating OECD strategic reserves could make embargoes history | By Thomas W. O’Donnell  6May14| Post-war Western Europe was twice the target of energy embargoes, each dramatically altering its energy landscape. A lesson for today is that Europe’s present natural gas dependence on Russia can be addressed with a gas policy like that adopted by the OECD for oil in 1973 – one that launched today’s collective, market centered, and embargo-proof global oil security system.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote a letter made public April 10, 2014, warning several EU heads of state that Ukraine must pay its past due gas bill of $2.2 billion or Russian energy giant, Gazprom, “will completely or partially cease gas deliveries” to the country and be “compelled” to insist on payments one month in advance for any future deliveries – including $5 billion to refill Ukraine’s gas reserves before next winter.  CONTINUE READING AT: IP Journal of The German Council on Foreign Relations.

USA Oil 3.0 | US energy experts on Europe, Russia & Ukraine

Note: I’m teaching a post-graduate course “The Global Oil System & US Policy” at JFK Institute of Freie U. in Berlin. In order to give students a feel for how US energy policy is developed–and to see the views of important US actors–I’m sending them frequent e-mails with supplemental readings and videos  from US think tanks, US government offices and from the US media on energy topics.

These are not my own in-depth analysis like I usually post on GlobalBarrel.com.  However I think they are worthwhile sharing with especially non-USA followers of my blog.  I’ll title these posts “USA OIL” plus a number to label them).  I hope these are useful.  Here’s today’s ‘optional material’ I sent to my students:

How is US energy policy developed? You might find this video of interest.

Some background: The CSIS (Center for Study of International Security) is a non-partisan (i.e., not Democratic or Republican) think tank in Washington, DC. It performs an important role in US foreign policy. Continue reading