Friday, September 26, 2008

Saudi Oil, OPEC's Ire

Saudi Oil, OPEC's Ire
Saudi King Abdullah wants to bring prices down to ensure long-term demand, but other OPEC ministers disagree
by Stanley Reed

It happens almost like clockwork. A few days before the end of every month, marketing executives from Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's national oil company, ring up the likes of ExxonMobil (XOM) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDS), sounding them out about the oil they need and the price they would be willing to pay. The Saudis crunch the numbers, set a price, then call the global customers back to see how much they'd be willing to buy. By the 10th of the following month, customers—there are about 80 in all—are told how much crude they'll actually get.

It's all part of an elaborate dance that goes on continually at OPEC's biggest producer. While the cartel may set production quotas for each member, the Saudis and a few other top suppliers frequently exceed those limits in order to meet world demand. And these days, the dance looks more like a tug-of-war, as the Saudis and their allies in the organization seek to contain crude prices while Iran and others want to keep them as high as possible. Saudi relations with OPEC "depend on where prices are; when prices are too high [the Saudis] side with consumers," says Vera de Ladoucette, senior director of consultancy Cambridge Energy Research Associates in Paris.

The tug-of-war is a key factor in the extraordinary volatility in prices lately. After soaring to $147 per barrel this summer, crude plummeted to below $90 in early September. On Sept. 22 it jumped again to $130 as traders scrambled to cover short positions and fretted about the U.S. economy, then fell to $107 as those pressures eased.

Why wouldn't the Kingdom want to squeeze the maximum out of customers? The Saudis have long memories and recall how high prices can cut into consumption; it happened in the 1980s and it's happening again now. Any threat to oil's leading role as a source of energy is a big worry for a country that sits on reserves of some 260 billion barrels. "We are concerned about the permanent destruction of demand," says a senior Saudi official. "Those who buy hybrid vehicles are not going back to SUVs."

OPEC hardliners such as Iran and Venezuela, by contrast, have less oil in the ground and are running short on cash, so they're more interested in maximizing revenues today. Friction within OPEC has been growing because Saudi Arabia has been pumping almost 10% more than its OPEC quota of 8.9 million barrels per day. The Saudis and other Persian Gulf states believe a price of $90 per barrel is about right, while the hardliners don't want to see anything less than $100 per barrel. "The current market is not balanced; it is oversupplied," Iranian OPEC representative Mohammad Ali Khatibi told Reuters.

Talk to the Saudis privately and they often express frustration with OPEC. Saudi negotiators complain that some members come to meetings with rigid political positions that don't take the real world into consideration. And the Saudis dismiss the likes of Venezuela and Iran for talking big without having the oil to back it up. Venezuela can't produce its quota of 2.5 million barrels per day, while Iran struggles to pump its 3.8 million. Only the Saudis have significant unused capacity that they can tap to influence the markets, and they are working to add to this margin.

The conflict flared this summer. Fearing that sky-high prices could blight oil's future, King Abdullah convened a conference of energy ministers and oil executives in the port city of Jeddah on June 22. At the meeting, the Saudis unilaterally announced a 200,000-barrel-a-day hike in production, on top of an increase of 300,000 barrels daily a few weeks earlier, annoying others in the producers' club. Algerian oil minister and current OPEC President Chekib Khelil called reporters to his hotel room to say he saw no need for the Saudi move.

It's clear the Saudis and Khelil don't see eye-to-eye. At a Sept. 9 OPEC conclave in Vienna, the Saudis went along with vague language promising a cut. But after the meeting they put out the word that they didn't feel bound by it. Khelil, meanwhile, held a 4 a.m. press conference at which he said the agreement required OPEC to cut output by 520,000 barrels per day—apparently violating an agreement with the Saudis, who would bear the brunt of any cut, not to mention a specific number.

The Saudis aren't about to abandon OPEC. But when it comes to pumping what the world needs to keep going, they will generally deliver what their customers want even if it goes against other members' wishes—which likely means more conflict in the producers' club. The Saudi production increases, says Christophe de Margerie, CEO of French oil giant Total (TOT), "are a coup de knife in the OPEC system."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

ASPO-USA Prediction

The following was taken from an article by Dave Cohen of ASPO-USA:

Saudi Aramco Update

Business Week published Saudi Oil: A Crude Awakening on Supply? on July 10, 2008. Steve LeVine's story should leave us with no doubt about what to expect from the Kingdom in coming years. Mysteriously, this story was not Front Page News in every media outlet all over the world.

IMAGE:Businessweek Saudi Fields projections to 2013

Business Week received a "detailed document obtained from a person with access to Saudi oil officials." The new information simply confirms what I already knew, but independent confirmation helps us reach firm conclusions. PFC's Roger Diwan, a respected oil analyst, vetted the Business Week document.

The data describes Saudi maximum sustainable capacity (table above). Capacity remains around 12 million barrels per day (b/d) for the next 5 years. An important shift occurs which should give us all pause.

One dramatic part of the data concerns a site called Ghawar, which has been the kingdom's workhorse field for decades. It shows the field producing 5.4 million barrels a day next year, but the volume then falling off rapidly, to 4.475 million daily barrels in 2013. "That's why Khurais is so important—to make up for that decrease," said the oil industry executive who released the data.

The long anticipated decline ("twilight") of Ghawar, the world's largest oil field, is reflected in the Saudi Light data (blue circle). If these numbers are accurate, Ghawar output declines 17% between 2009 and 2013. This works out to about 4%/year for each of the next 5 years. Production of "good oil"—not Manifa heavy sour oil (gray circle)—to offset these declines is supposed to come from Shaybah.

Though 2014 is not included in the data, one of the fields listed—Shaybah—is to have a volume increase to 1 million barrels a day that year, from 750,000 barrels a day from 2009 to 2013, according to the oil executive.

Simple arithmetic tells us that additions from Shaybah after 2013 will not offset Ghawar declines for more than one year. Business Week's source indicates that 10.4 million b/d is Saudi Arabia's maximum sustainable production level between 2009-2013. This number confirms what I wrote in The Saudis Are Blowing Smoke Again (ASPO-USA, March 12, 2008). Whether the Kingdom will actually produce at their maximum sustainable capacity is another question. See Sleepwalking Toward the Oil Precipice to learn about setting correct expectations about OPEC production in the coming decade (ASPO-USA, April 30, 2008). This passage is from Blowing Smoke—

Khurais and Manifa are very likely the last large (about 1 million b/d) increments that Saudi Arabia will be able to put on-stream—ever. A "paradigm shift" means the Kingdom is not going to knock itself out raising crude oil production to (best case) levels beyond 10.5 million b/d in the medium term out to 2012 or so, and will likely not be able to do so thereafter—Ghawar will not last forever, despite what Mr. al-Naimi or CERA think. Investment in additional capacity available after 2011 would have to be on the drawing board now, but there is no indication that Saudi Arabia has thought that far ahead.

[I should add now that Khurais and Manifa must meet capacity expectations for the Business Week scenario to come true. Also, most Manifa oil will likely be refined in Saudi Arabia, not exported. The Saudis will export refined products beyond what they use themselves.]

The Saudi peak is now in sight. Saudi Arabia is the only OPEC member that can raise production by any significant amount in the medium-term to 2013. The longstanding argument about the Saudis is over.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Saudi Arabia Pumps 9.53 mbpd in June

Oil Trades Near Record as Investors Seek Alternatives to Stocks
By Christian Schmollinger
July 4 (Bloomberg)

Crude oil traded near a record in New York above $145 a barrel, set for a second week of gains, as investors purchased commodities as an alternative to flagging equities markets.

Oil has risen 19 out of 27 weeks this year as money managers bought crude futures rather than U.S. stocks, which yesterday completed the longest streak of weekly declines in four years. The International Energy Agency said July 1 that spare OPEC capacity will shrink by 2013, keeping the market ``tight''.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries increased production 1 percent in June, as Saudi Arabian output rose to a two-year high, a Bloomberg News survey showed.

OPEC pumped an average 32.52 million barrels a day in June, up 320,000 barrels from May, according to the survey of oil companies, producers and analysts. May output was revised down by 80,000 barrels a day. Output by the 12 members with quotas, all except Iraq, rose 380,000 barrels to 30.09 million barrels.

Saudi Output

Saudi production increased 280,000 barrels to an average 9.53 million barrels a day last month, the highest since March 2006. It was the biggest gain among OPEC members last month and represented 88 percent of the overall OPEC increase.

The world has as much as 5 trillion to 7 trillion barrels of oil yet to be developed, located in ``challenging'' areas or acreage closed to exploration, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said.

``The limits to future supplies have more to do with politics than with geology and resource availability,'' al-Naimi said in Madrid, speaking at the World Petroleum Congress, where he is receiving an industry award. Concern over supply can be overcome by allowing ``explorers to explore and find hydrocarbons where they aren't allowed,'' he said.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Saleri and Husseini

Global Oil-Supply Worries Fuel Debate in Saudi Arabia
Former Officials at Odds Over 'Peak' Theory; Crude Hits High
June 27, 2008
WSJ Online

Sadad al-Husseini and Nansen Saleri raced up the ranks at Saudi Aramco, the world's most powerful oil company, working together for years to squeeze more crude from Saudi Arabia's massive fields. Today, the two men have staked out opposite sides of a momentous industry debate.

Mr. Husseini, Aramco's second-in-command until 2004, says the world faces a brute reality of depleting resources and ever rising prices. Mr. Saleri, until recently the company's oil-reservoir manager, insists that with enough ingenuity and investment, plenty more oil can be found.

With oil prices having doubled over the past year, political leaders, Wall Street investors, commuters, airlines and car makers are all scrambling to divine where prices will head next. The disparity of opinion between two of the most knowledgeable men in the industry shows how much fog hangs over the most basic question of all -- whether oil can be unearthed any faster than it currently is.

At the moment, Mr. Husseini's pessimistic view is clearly ascendant. Even before this year's surge in oil prices, there were gloomy industry predictions that world oil output would soon hit a ceiling. U.S. benchmark crude hit a record high on Thursday, propelled by Libyan threats of possible supply cuts, closing at $139.64 a barrel, up more than threefold since 2004. (Please see related article.)

But Mr. Saleri isn't alone in dismissing the gloom as misplaced. Optimists, from Exxon Mobil Corp. to the U.S. Energy Department, argue that high prices propel companies to innovate and invest more. As supplies rebound, prices will fall from today's levels.

Saudi Arabia itself, producer of 12% of the world's oil, has vacillated for years over whether to try to extract oil faster than it already is. Last weekend, urged on by Saudi King Abdullah, it appeared to move into Mr. Saleri's camp. Fearful that supply jitters were damaging the world economy, the kingdom said it was ready to invest tens of billions of dollars to boost its capacity to unprecedented levels -- to 15 million barrels a day over the next decade, from just over 11 million now.

Opinions within the region on the health of the Persian Gulf's remaining petroleum riches vary more widely than many realize. Messrs. Husseini and Saleri disagree over whether the new Saudi production target is either feasible or wise -- echoing a debate that has swirled behind the scenes at Aramco for years.

That the two men worked side by side at the company that controls one-quarter of the world's proven oil reserves makes their divergent outlooks all the more striking.

Mr. Husseini, now an independent consultant, has jetted around the world spreading his views, including recently over dinner with George Soros and a clutch of other top financiers. Mr. Saleri has lectured, written opinion pieces and buttonholed top oil officials from Latin America to Kuwait.

Mr. Husseini, 61 years old, lives across the street from the Saudi oil minister, Ali Naimi, in a leafy neighborhood of Dhahran, the Aramco company town on Saudi Arabia's east coast. The suave but sharply opinionated petroleum geologist says most of the big oil repositories have been found, and no amount of gadgetry will restore bubbly youth to aging fields from Indonesia to the Gulf of Mexico. War, politics and soaring costs, he adds, are slowing development in many of the most promising regions.

"The fact is, we have to work harder and harder to get the oil we need," he says. Those who contend otherwise, he insists, "claim to have some magic potion, like voodoo, that doesn't exist."

Mr. Saleri, who is a year younger, shrugs off his former boss's pessimism. A self-described "technology nut" who resigned as Aramco's top reservoir manager last fall to set up his own consulting shop in Houston, Mr. Saleri has become a vociferous opponent of the "peak oil" view, which holds that global oil production is about to enter a permanent slump due to shrinking resources and limited investment.

"We have consumed only one trillion of the 14 or 15 trillion barrels of oil that are out there," says Mr. Saleri, citing a personal estimate for all types of oil that is far higher than most. "For the next 40, 50 or 60 years, I see no problem at all."

Aramco Outsiders

Both men started their careers at Aramco as outsiders. Mr. Husseini's family moved to Saudi Arabia from Syria in 1961, when he was 14. The royal family had invited his father to help establish the Saudi National Guard under the command of Prince Abdullah, who is now the Saudi king. Prince Abdullah became a guardian of sorts to the six Husseini children after their father died in a car wreck in 1968.

After graduating from Brown University, Mr. Husseini took a job with Aramco, which was then in American hands. By 1980, when the Saudi government took over the company, the young geologist was rising fast. "Sadad was one of the best engineers I worked with anywhere in the world," says Edward Price, Aramco's president at the time.

Mr. Saleri's route to Aramco was more circuitous. Born to a prominent Armenian family in Istanbul, he studied in the U.S., then joined Standard Oil of California, now Chevron Corp. His job was to take all the known data on an oil field -- well-flow rates, geological core samples, seismic charts -- and predict how the reservoir would behave under different production scenarios. "I basically sat in a dark room and crunched data," he says.

In 1978, Chevron sent him to Saudi Arabia for a seven-year stint as a consultant to Aramco, where he met Mr. Husseini. The oil world was about to experience a price spike that began with the Iranian revolution. For three years, starting in 1979, Aramco pushed its oil production to nearly 10 million barrels a day -- still its all-time record.

What happened next bears directly on Mr. Husseini's current view. The effort to draw out so much more oil, he says, nearly crippled the kingdom's mightiest fields. The pressure in many of them plummeted. Water seeped into oil zones.

"They were going hellbent for leather to take care of world demand," he says. "And then we spent the next seven or eight years cleaning up the mess."

After Aramco began cutting back on output in 1981, Mr. Husseini worked to mend its huge reservoirs -- and to understand them better. In 1992, he persuaded Mr. Saleri to join Aramco full-time to help create computer-simulation models of all Saudi oil fields. The two men worked side by side on some of Aramco's most ambitious projects, including the development of a vast oil field called Shaybah, deep in the country's remote and forbidding Empty Quarter.

It was at Shaybah that Mr. Saleri had what he calls his "big eureka moment." Aramco had developed the field using hundreds of wells that went down, then snaked horizontally. But when Shaybah came on stream in 1998, its production fell short of the planned 500,000 barrels a day.

Mr. Saleri led an aggressive campaign to drill a new batch of extraordinarily long wells, many with multiple branches shooting off in all directions. Shaybah's production shot up. "That was a true engineering breakthrough," says Rick Chimblo, Aramco's chief geophysicist at the time.

That success helps explain why Mr. Saleri is now such an optimist. "Shaybah brought me fame," says Mr. Saleri. "And it made me realize how the old rules no longer applied."

Mr. Husseini applauded Mr. Saleri's accomplishment. But soon, the two executives were disagreeing on key forecasts. In 2001, Aramco was looking to open the kingdom's vast Empty Quarter to foreign natural-gas exploration. Mr. Husseini estimated that the area contained at most about 30 trillion cubic feet of gas -- not large by Saudi standards. Mr. Saleri predicted the area would yield 10 times that much. So far, drilling in the area has found no commercial quantities of gas.

At around that time, rising oil demand revived discussion within Aramco over when and how to boost the kingdom's production capacity, then just over 10 million barrels a day. Then, as now, Messrs. Husseini and Saleri had sharply different views on the issue.

Recalling his experience in Shaybah, Mr. Saleri argued that the kingdom could hit 15 million barrels a day and hold that level for decades. Mr. Husseini, remembering the missteps of the late 1970s, pushed for what he calls "a realistic, gradual approach." Fifteen million barrels a day would be sustainable only briefly, he said, and then only with huge effort and expense.

"My view is that you produce a field for the longest period of time at the least capital cost," says Mr. Husseini. "Nansen comes from the international-company school of thought, which is to get the maximum amount of oil you can in the shortest time."

International Pressure

In recent months, Saudi leaders appeared to have adopted Mr. Husseini's view. Local reports quoted King Abdullah saying that some new discoveries should stay in the ground. "With grace from God, our children need it," he said. Mr. Naimi, the oil minister, announced that Aramco saw no need to go beyond 12.5 million barrels a day next year.

But on Sunday, under heavy international pressure, the kingdom revived its earlier promise to push for the far higher target of 15 million barrels a day.

Mr. Husseini, once viewed as a shoo-in to be Aramco's top executive, left Aramco in March 2004 after clashing with other senior managers over production targets and other matters, others at the company say. Mr. Husseini declines to explain why he left, saying only: "I'd done all I could to support all our collective objectives without having to do anything I would feel embarrassed about."

Months later, he issued his first gloomy take on the world's oil. Forces ranging from resource nationalism to depletion rates in the biggest fields, he wrote in Oil and Gas Journal, meant that oil prices will "continue to escalate through the end of the decade."

By fall he was warning that consumers shouldn't expect any big Saudi production increases over the next decade. His statements earned him several sharp rebukes from the Saudi Oil Ministry, though Mr. Husseini insists that his relations with the country's top oil officials remain warm.

Mr. Husseini says he often bumps into Mr. Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, in their Dhahran neighborhood or at parties. "We are great friends. I see him all the time," he says. Mr. Naimi declined to comment.

By last fall, anxiety was growing within the industry and on Wall Street over whether long-term supplies could keep pace with the rising world demand. Mr. Husseini stoked those fears at a London conference in October. The major oil-producing nations were inflating their oil reserves by as much as 300 billion barrels, about one-quarter of the world's proven reserves, he said, while the giant fields of the Persian Gulf region are 41% depleted.

Mr. Saleri, who left Aramco in September, doesn't share those worries. He has hired a half dozen former Aramco and Chevron officials and opened a business in Houston. His company, Quantum Reservoir Impact, says it has the reservoir-modeling and management know-how to revive declining oil fields. Mr. Saleri is now shopping his services to big national oil companies in Latin America and the Middle East, though he has yet to sign any contracts.

Peak-Oil Dispute

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in March, he dismissed the peak-oil theory. "The world has plenty of oil," he wrote.

Three weeks later, Mr. Husseini flew to New York at the invitation of a clutch of high-powered financiers, including Mr. Soros, Leucadia National Corp. Chairman Ian M. Cumming and Aubrey McClendon, the chief executive of natural-gas company Chesapeake Energy Corp.

The group of about 20 met for dinner in the 21 Club's wine cellar. Mr. Husseini declines to comment on the session. One guest says he spoke mainly about the geopolitical thunderclouds hovering over the oil market, especially the U.S. and Israeli standoff with Iran.

In a longer presentation the following morning, he argued that the world will have to work hard just to keep its oil production where it is. Conservation, not new oil discoveries, will be "the primary source of overall energy availability" going forward, he said.

He delivered the same message to oil magnate T. Boone Pickens over lunch in Chicago. "It was just two oil guys talking," says Mr. Pickens, adding that Mr. Husseini's views dovetail with his own.

Messrs. Husseini and Saleri remain collegial, though they haven't spoken for months. Both see the other's views as largely a matter of personal disposition.

"Sadad by nature sees the dark clouds overhead," says Mr. Saleri. "He's a pessimist."

His former boss laughs at the description. "The problem with Nansen," he says, "is that he loves his theories, even when they run up against reality."

Write to Neil King Jr. at

Corrections & Amplifications

Edward Price was formerly senior vice president for exploration at Saudi Aramco. This article incorrectly said he was formerly the company's president.


Giant Saudi field is key to boosting oil output
Remote Khurais project should be supplying crude by June of next year
The Associated Press
June. 29, 2008

This massive oil field surrounded by the desolate sands of Saudi Arabia's vast eastern desert feels like the middle of nowhere.

But what happens over the next year at Khurais, one of Saudi Arabia's last undeveloped giant oil fields, could hold the key to what drivers will pay at the pump for years to come.

Under way at Khurais and two other smaller fields nearby is what Saudi Arabia calls the single largest expansion of oil production capacity in history.

With consumers howling over record fuel prices and the United States pushing Saudi Arabia to produce more oil, this patch of sand 100 miles west of the Saudi capital of Riyadh has become one of the most important places in the world economy.

Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company, Aramco, is spending $10 billion to build the infrastructure to pump 1.2 million barrels of oil per day by next June from the Khurais field and its two smaller neighbors. That alone would be more than the total individual production of OPEC members Qatar, Indonesia and Ecuador.

The project forms the centerpiece of the Saudi plan to increase the total amount of oil it can produce to 12.5 million barrels per day by the end of 2009 — up from a little more than 11 million barrels per day now.

Consuming nations have pushed Saudi Arabia to boost production capacity even further and also want the world's top oil exporter to begin pumping more crude immediately to bring down record oil prices hovering near $140 a barrel. They say oil production has not kept up with increased demand, especially from China, India and the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia plans to produce 9.7 million barrels of oil per day, or 11 percent of the world's total, in July. It is the only nation with significant excess capacity that it could put on the market quickly.

But the kingdom has resisted calls to increase production further, saying financial speculators and the falling dollar are to blame for high oil prices, not a shortage of supply.

These disagreements came to a head June 22 at a rare meeting of oil producing and consuming nations hosted by Saudi Arabia. In the end, Saudi Arabia said it could increase oil production capacity to 15 million barrels per day if needed in future years. But it gave no indication that step, or an immediate increase in output, was necessary or planned.

The political tussle over output masks the challenge Saudi Arabia faces in boosting production capacity by developing giant fields like Khurais.

"That is what people don't appreciate," said Manouchehr Takin, an oil expert at the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies. "These are major projects, and people don't realize they aren't that easy."

The Saudis estimate Khurais and the nearby smaller Abu Jifan and Mazalij fields hold a total of 27 billion barrels of oil encased in solid rock 5,000 feet below the baking desert.

Saudi Arabia is no stranger to developing giant oil fields. Its massive Ghawar field, with an estimated 70 billion barrels of remaining reserves, is the world's largest.

But oil experts say Khurais, which was discovered in 1957, is geologically more difficult to tap.

Aramco is using hundreds of mostly South Asian workers to build a massive processing facility at the field. More than 150 wells will pump crude to the surface, where water and gas will be separated out. The oil then will be funneled to the country's east-west pipeline for delivery to ships in the Red Sea.

Workers are also building a huge sea-water injection system to pump more than 2 million barrels of water per day from the Gulf into 120 wells. That will maintain the necessary pressure underground to push the oil to the surface.

Disputes over Saudi's decisions aside, "when you talk about the fields and the engineers and so on, I think you have to respect their technical ability," Takin said.

With its twisting maze of metal, the half-finished facility rises out of the desert like a massive space station. Workers wear gloves and wrap bandanas across their faces to hide from the searing sun as they work 10-hour shifts in temperatures well above 100 degrees.

Aramco officials say that in addition to geological challenges, they also face difficulty finding enough qualified workers and equipment. The project will use 145,000 tons of steel — almost enough to build two Golden Gate bridges.

"We are trying to do it in a world market where contractors are in high demand," said Muhammed al-Rubeh, head of Aramco's project department.

When completed, the processing facility also will be protected by two layers of fences, crash barriers, security cameras and government forces, Aramco says. Al-Qaida has called for attacks against Saudi Arabia's oil facilities to disrupt the flow of crude.

Aramco officials insist that despite the tight construction market, the Khurais project will be ready to produce 1.2 million barrels per day by next June.

But equipment and labor shortages have delayed production at another field, Khursaniyah, which was originally scheduled to begin pumping 500,000 barrels per day at the end of 2007. Aramco officials now say Khursaniyah will come online in August.

Also in the works is the development of the Manifa field, which sits offshore in the Gulf and is Saudi Arabia's only other giant oil field still untapped.

If all goes as scheduled, Aramco forecasts more than 50 billion barrels of fresh reserves from the giant fields by 2011. That amount alone would give Saudi Arabia the ninth largest oil reserves in the world, not even counting its existing reserves.

Outside analysts estimate the kingdom's total current reserves at about 260 billion barrels. But Saudi Arabia refuses to provide detailed data to allow independent verification.

Amin Nasser, senior vice president for production and exploration at Aramco, acknowledges the company sometimes faces criticism for that secrecy. "We have a tradition of letting our actions and accomplishments speak for themselves," he said.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mixed Signals

Saudis See No Reason to Raise Oil Production Now
May 16, 2008

Saudi Arabian leaders made clear Friday they see no reason to increase oil production until their customers demand it, apparently rebuffing President Bush amid soaring U.S. gasoline prices.

During Bush's his second personal appeal this year to King Abdullah, Saudi officials stuck to their position that they are already meeting demand, the president's national security adviser told reporters.

"What they're saying to us is ... Saudi Arabia does not have customers that are making requests for oil that they are not able to satisfy," Stephen Hadley said on a day when oil prices topped $127 a barrel, a record high.

The Saudi government indicated that it is willing to put on the market whatever oil is necessary to meet the demand of its customers, Hadley said.

But even then, he said, Saudi leaders say increased production would not dramatically reduce pump prices in the United States.

The Saudis are investing in ways to increase oil production over time. Officials told Bush they are doing "everything they can do" for now to address a complicated market.

Hadley said the Bush administration will take the explanation back to its own experts and "see it if conforms."

When Bush and Abdullah met in the kingdom in mid-January, the president also sought more Saudi output but got a chilly response to that plea. Saudi Arabia said it would increase production only when the market justified it and that production levels appeared normal.

Bush acknowledges that raising output is difficult because the demand for oil -- particularly from China and India -- is stretching supplies. Also, economists say prices are being driven up by increased demand, not slowed production.


Saudi Hikes Output by 300,000 bpd in May
May 16, 2008

Contrary to earlier reports, Saudi Arabia has increased its oil production by 300,000 barrels per day in response to orders from customers, mostly from the United States, and will pump 9.45 million bpd in June, Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi said on Friday.

"Every month, we receive (orders) from our customers worldwide. On May 10 we increased our response to our customers by 300,000 barrels because they asked for it," Nuaimi told reporters during a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush to Saudi Arabia.

He said additional demand came from about 50 customers, mostly U.S. clients, "and we responded to it on May 10."

"Our production for June will be 9.45 million barrels per day," he added.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


No Need for Further Saudi Oil Capacity Expansion — Al-Naimi
ROME, 20 April 2008

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia has no plans to embark on further capacity expansion as long-term oil demand forecasts fall and alternative fuel supplies rise, the Saudi oil minister told industry newsletter Petroleum Argus.

The holder of the world’s largest oil reserves sees no need to go beyond its 2009 capacity target of 12.5 million barrels per day “at least up to 2020,” Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi said.

Long-term future energy demand forecasts have fallen sharply, he said in the interview given to the weekly on April 11, casting doubt on the need for more Saudi oil.

Demand forecasts have fallen as low as 106 million bpd in 2030, down from previous estimates as high as 130 million bpd. The world currently consumes around 86 million bpd.

“The projection of demand is on the decrease,” Al-Naimi said. “The projection of alternative fuels is on the rise. Therefore, it behoves us to pause, instead of expending unnecessary funds on expanding capacity that will probably not be needed,” he said. “We will watch what happens in the coming years. It is a pragmatic position.”

Saudi Arabia has spent tens of billions of dollars on projects to meet growing world demand and maintain spare production capacity of 1.5 million-2.0 million bpd to deal with any unexpected outages in global supply. The Kingdom has previously said it could take output capacity of 15 million bpd.

The Kingdom is the only oil producer with substantial spare capacity that can be brought online quickly.

“We are idling at around 9 million bpd and we will reach capacity of 12.5 million bpd by 2009,” Al-Naimi said. “That is substantial spare capacity. As far as I know, all the latest projections, at least up to 2020, do not require anything higher than that.”

A Saudi oil official said earlier this month that output stood at around 9 million bpd. Current capacity is around 11.3 million bpd.

Al-Naimi said the oil market did not need more oil and crude inventories were “fairly high”.

“Today there is no reason to jump up and down and say ‘we will supply more crude’ — because that request from consuming countries is probably politically driven rather than a fundamental requirement,” he said.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week said he wanted to see collective action to persuade the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to boost output and bring down prices. US President George Bush has also repeatedly urged OPEC to supply more oil.

But boosting Saudi oil output would destabilize the market, Al-Naimi said.

“We would be flooding the market,” he said. “The market cannot handle it, there is no demand.”

The price of oil was divorced from oil market fundamentals, Al-Naimi said. Oil has become a hedge for investors, like gold, against the falling value of currencies, he added.

“That is the reason for the pressure on the price of oil,” he said.

US crude hit a record of $117 a barrel on Friday.

Rising costs for materials, construction and oil service contracting has pushed up the cost of adding new oil output capacity in Saudi Arabia to between $5000 and $8000 per barrel, Al-Naimi said.

Capacity additions at the Shaybah oilfield, where state oil firm Saudi Aramco is adding 250,000 bpd to current capacity, cost around $5000 per barrel he said. At the giant Ghawar field, additional capacity costs were around $2000 per barrel.

Costs for new refineries had almost doubled from initial estimates, Al-Naimi said, although he did no refer to any specific plants. The cost of new joint venture refineries between Aramco and France’s Total and US major ConocoPhillips has risen above $10 billion from initial estimates of $6 billion, industry sources have said.

The highest depletion rates at Saudi oilfields were around 2-3 percent per year, Al-Naimi said. Reservoir management and drilling prevented higher decline, he added. Decline rates at existing wells were around 6-8 percent per year.

The only capacity addition that Saudi Arabia has detailed beyond 2009 is the 900,000 bpd Manifa field, which is to replace decline at other fields, Al-Naimi said.

“Manifa is really a ‘maintain potential’ facility, Al-Naimi said. “It does not add to our spare capacity.”

Monday, April 14, 2008

Saudi King says keeping some oil finds for future

Saudi King says keeping some oil finds for future

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said he had ordered some new oil discoveries left untapped to preserve oil wealth in the world's top exporter for future generations, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

"I keep no secret from you that when there were some new finds, I told them, 'no, leave it in the ground, with grace from god, our children need it'," King Abdullah said in remarks made late on Saturday, SPA said.

The U.S. President George W. Bush in January urged the Saudi king to help tame soaring prices by encouraging OPEC to pump more oil. On separate trips to Saudi Arabia this year, the U.S. energy secretary also asked for more oil, while the vice president discussed high prices with the king.

The kingdom has spent billions on building over 2 million bpd of spare crude capacity and is the only country in the world able to bring online large volumes of crude supply quickly to deal with unexpected supply shortages.

OPEC held production steady at meetings in February and March despite calls for more oil from the U.S. and other consumers. OPEC officials blame the high price on factors beyond the group's control such as the weak dollar, investment flows into commodities and speculation. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said last week that global oil markets were well supplied and there was no need to put more oil on the market, despite prices hitting a record of over $112 a barrel last week.

Saudi Arabia has trimmed its output to around 9 million bpd to reflect lower customer demand, a Saudi oil source said on Friday. The kingdom had in previous months pumped around 9.2 million bpd. Crude demand traditionally dips at this time of year after the end of winter as refiners carry out maintenance and prepare to meet summer demand.

Saudi production capacity stands at around 11.3 million bpd, and is scheduled to rise to 12. 5 million bpd next year. (Editing by Will Waterman)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Saudi Oil Minister Says “Not Enough Buyers”

Saudi Oil Minister Says “Not Enough Buyers” to Increase Production
By Tom Waterman
April 10, 2008

Paris, France - On the sidelines of an international conference in Paris this morning, it was widely reported that Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said "there were not enough buyers of oil to justify an increase in oil production, despite high prices."

This is a direct and accurate statement from the Saudi oil minister, but his next comment is even more telling. He said "that if more buyers emerged, then 'we' would sell. But there were no such buyers."

If you have followed OPEC for the past 30 years as we have, you would understand his logic. Frankly, OPEC will sell all the oil it can, if there are willing buyers. The fact is, Al-Naimi should have told reporters what he told VP Dick Cheney recently. He informed Cheney that they have no room to put any increased output. There are not enough buyers for the oil produced by OPEC and non-OPEC producers, much less if more oil was produced.

Other OPEC nations continue to produce, but they won't admit it. Reports that OPEC produced 100,000 bpd less oil in March than in February is a smokescreen. They certainly produced the same or more, they are just storing the excess until the market might need it, which they hope will be later in April or in May as refineries worldwide start gearing up for the summer driving season.

That's the hope. The reality is this self-defeating marketplace is overflowing with crude oil and even in normal times it might take until the end of June to right itself. With today's dynamics, it might not be resolved during the driving season at all.

That's why the Saudis refuse to pump more oil. What the market will not admit is that the reason OPEC did not officially cut production in the second quarter was due to high prices, and how bad the PR would be.

In our weekly editorial meeting, we could not come up with a time when oil fundamentals were as weak as they are today. And we're talking many decades of experience. Oil stored on vessels, all land-based storage facilities bulging, a series of geo-political factors that provide artificial support without ever removing a barrel of oil from the market.

Perhaps it will take the collapse of the U.S. economy, which is on the horizon unless energy and food prices fall, for the U.S. government to radically change and enhance the regulations that govern commodities and speculation. Increasing the cost of speculation will not solve the problem, only forcing out smaller traders. The large financial institutions that have the biggest stake, and are taking billions in profits can afford any increases. The answer is speculative limits on both the exchanges and the companies that manage these speculative funds. They must find a way to limit how much influence these firms have on baseless prices increases for profit.

Commodity markets are all tremendously affected. Grain tightness does not justify the price of corn, wheat, soybeans or other crops to double, triple and quadruple in price. The oil markets are fundamentally weak, yet prices rise. These financial institutions sell the dollar based on perceptions the Fed may keep lowering interest rates, and buy oil as a hedge. The result? A weaker dollar and justification for higher oil prices. If it were not such a dire situation, it would be comical.
Three years ago, a statement similar to the one uttered by the Saudi oil minister this morning would have sent crude oil crashing, by perhaps $1.50 per barrel, which based on the changes in perception and volatility, would mean about $6.00 per barrel today.

These speculative firms keep the cycle of greed alive and growing while at the same time, sending the U.S. economy into a death spiral. I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. I just won't use the "D" word just yet. We were using the "R" word in October, 2007.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

OPEC Production Cut?

Oil Falls, When Will We Hear From OPEC?
April 1st, 2008
By John Troland, Tom Waterman

Houston, TX - May Nymex prices have fallen this morning, continuing the long liquidation that began Friday.

The Iraqi hype ended on Monday when Iran told Shiite antagonists to cool it, as a spread of that violence would certainly have brought the U.S. into a more involved role.

On April Fools Day, it's ironic that the great lie of the past two years, that oil is worth $100 and more, may finally be giving way. But the day is young and we can't help but wonder which OPEC country will step up and announce that the cartel needs to reduce production in the second quarter, just one day into that quarter.

Crude oil has been at glut levels for more than two months and if prices tumble to the mid-$90s, there will be an immediate reaction from the hawks within OPEC. The early money favorite is Hugo Chavez, with Iran running a close second. We need to include Algeria in this equation, despite the fact that it really doesn't want to cut a single barrel of production. Then again, neither do Iran or Venezuela. No, all OPEC countries will look to Saudi Arabia to provide the necessary restraint.

It's hard to calculate just how much production needs to be scaled back. We had once predicted that OPEC would announce a 500,000 bpd cut for the second quarter, but based on current demand trends in the U.S., Europe, and yes Asia, plus some additional non-OPEC supply in the near term horizon, the cut to refuel this market might need to be 750,000 to 1 million bpd. Anything short of that level probably won't avert what seems destined to be a steady decline in oil prices.

So where did the speculators go? Apparently, with the announcement by the Fed that more oversight in all financial markets, including commodities, is needed helped induce long liquidation in virtually all commodities on Monday, although natural gas was a notable exception. Today natural gas joins the liquidation party.

Or, the U.S. dollar improved, probably on the government's announcement Monday, which hastened an exit from long positions. In either case, if speculators are moving away from commodities, fearing that the government may be catching on to the scam they have engineered over the past two years, there is a chance that the fundamentals of supply and demand might have to be considered once again, after a long period of total disregard.

Friday, March 28, 2008

OPEC Oil Supply Rises 100,000 bpd in March

OPEC Oil Supply Rises in March, PetroLogistics Says
By Grant Smith
March 28 (Bloomberg)

OPEC's crude-oil supply has probably increased by 100,000 barrels a day, or 0.3 percent, in March, according to preliminary estimates from PetroLogistics Ltd.

The 13 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries have supplied 32.9 million barrels a day this month, up from 32.8 million a day in February, data from the Geneva-based tanker-tracking service showed.

Iranian output accounted for most of the gain, rising to 4.05 million barrels a day from 3.92 million a day, the consultant said. Iran is OPEC's second-largest producer.

``Iran had rather a difficult time in February due to weather-related loading delays, and this month they're bringing it back up again,'' Conrad Gerber, founder of PetroLogistics, said in a telephone interview from Geneva.

Iraqi exports from the southern port of Basra have dropped by about 70,000 barrels a day this month to 1.65 million barrels a day because of interruptions including an explosion on the Zubair-1 pipeline yesterday, Gerber said. The two main pipelines serving the Basra oil terminal were unaffected by the blast, an Iraqi official said.

PetroLogistics estimates the quantity of crude supplied to the market, including to consumers in the producing countries themselves, rather than well-head output.

OPEC, the producer of more than 40 percent of the world's oil, has no plans to increase output even if ministers meet informally next month, group President Chakib Khelil said, according to Algeria's state-run news service APS.

Analysts and banks including Societe Generale SA and London's Centre for Global Energy Studies said before OPEC's last gathering on March 5 that the group would probably make unofficial production cuts in the coming quarter to avert a supply glut.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Saudi Arabia Output Above OPEC Quota

Saudi Arabia Output Above OPEC Quota, Al-Naimi Says
By Maher Chmaytelli and Alexander Kwiatkowski
March 5

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, is producing above its OPEC quota because the market needs more crude, Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said.

Saudi Arabia is producing 9.2 million barrels a day of oil, al-Naimi said today in an interview in Vienna, where the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is meeting to decide production targets. Bloomberg calculates that Saudi Arabia has a production target of about 8.9 million barrels.

``That's what the market needs,'' he said.

OPEC will study the ``fundamentals'' when deciding what to do with production and customers aren't indicating that demand for oil is weakening, he said.

``Our aim is to keep supply and demand balanced with stocks standing at 5-year average,'' al-Naimi said. The Saudi minister earlier told al-Hayat newspaper that a change to production isn't justified because supply and demand are stable.

Al-Naimi said he wouldn't be ``surprised'' if OPEC held an emergency meeting before it meets again in September. ``The aim would be to ensure market balance,'' he said.

OPEC will leave production targets unchanged at today's meeting, according to 10 of the group's 13 members. Representatives including ministers from Iran, Venezuela and Algeria have told Bloomberg that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will hold output steady.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Construction Site Called Saudi Arabia

The Construction Site Called Saudi Arabia
January 20, 2008
The New York Times

RABIGH, Saudi Arabia — The alarm bell sounded the end of the lunch break here one November afternoon, and suddenly thousands of workers — on foot, on bicycles and in buses — streamed in, seemingly from out of nowhere, and jolted this huge construction site to life.

Amid a forest of cranes, towers and beams rising from the desert, more than 38,000 workers from China, India, Turkey and beyond have been toiling for two years in unforgiving conditions — often in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees — to complete one of the world’s largest petrochemical plants in record time.

By the end of the year, this massive city of steel at the edge of the Red Sea will take its place as a cog of globalization: plastics produced here will be used to make televisions in Japan, cellphones in China and thousands of other products to be sold in the United States and Europe. Construction costs at the plant, which spreads over eight square miles, have doubled to $10 billion because of shortages in materials and labor. The amount of steel being used is 10 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower.

“I’ve worked on many big things in my life, but I’ve never worked on anything this big,” an American project manager mused during a bus tour of the project, called Petro Rabigh, a joint venture of the state-run oil company Saudi Aramco and Sumitomo Chemical of Japan.

Size isn’t the only consideration. The project is Saudi Arabia’s boldest bet yet that this oil-rich kingdom can transform itself into an industrial powerhouse. The plant is part of a $500 billion investment program to build new cities, create millions of jobs and diversify the economy away from petroleum exports over the next two decades.

“The Saudi economy was in idle mode for 20 years,” said John Sfakianakis, the chief economist at SABB, formerly known as the Saudi British Bank, who is based in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “Today, the feeling here is, ‘We’ve won the lottery; let’s not waste it.’ ”

The kingdom’s lofty economic goals would have been unthinkable without the surge in energy prices that has filled the coffers of oil producers. Oil prices have quadrupled since 2002 and reached $100 a barrel in New York this month.

Persian Gulf countries earned $1.5 trillion in oil revenue from 2002 to 2006, twice as much as in the previous five-year period, according to the Institute of International Finance, a global association of banks that is based in Washington. As the top exporter, Saudi Arabia has been the main beneficiary.

Despite all the recent headlines about Middle East investors bailing out troubled American banks like Citigroup, a growing share of today’s petrodollars are staying at home to finance megaprojects like Petro Rabigh, analysts say. That money is financing the biggest economic boom in a generation, helping to build not only the high-rises of Dubai, where the world’s tallest tower is going up, but also telecommunications networks, roads and universities throughout the Middle East.

Abu Dhabi is planning to spend close to $1 billion for a new museum with the help of the Louvre, in Paris. Dubai’s latest grandiose idea is to build a small-scale replica of the French city of Lyon, complete with residential housing, a museum, a culinary school and a soccer club.

In Saudi Arabia, Riyadh looks like a boom town: sprawling over 40 miles, it is teeming with shopping malls, electronics stores and luxury boutiques. But while times are good today, many Saudis realize that their country is locked in a race against time to create industries that produce more than just oil in order to keep a young and growing population employed. The kingdom, which has a population of 24.5 million, including nearly 7 million foreigners, has what one analyst called a “human time bomb.” About 40 percent of Saudis are under 15, and because the country has one of the world’s highest birth rates, the population is expected to reach nearly 40 million by 2025.

“It has been a social, and therefore a political, imperative of the Saudi government to develop the economy and to create employment opportunities,” said Timothy S. Gray, the chief executive of HSBC Saudi Arabia.

That could well mean that higher oil prices are here to stay. One paradox of modern-day Saudi Arabia is that while it seeks to reduce the importance of petroleum to its economy, it needs those exports more than ever.

TO be sure, the region’s economies are too small to absorb all the oil riches on their own. Too much money is chasing too few assets, analysts say, forcing oil producers to invest some of their revenue abroad and diversify their holdings, either through opaque state-owned investment funds or through direct private investments.

Last year, for example, a fund controlled by the government of Abu Dhabi bought a stake in Citigroup for $7.5 billion, while another run by Dubai’s ruler bought a large share in Sony, the Japanese consumer electronics giant. Sabic, a major Saudi petrochemical company, bought the plastics division of General Electric for $11.6 billion, and the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation bought half of Dow Chemical’s commodity-plastics unit for $9.5 billion.

In recent weeks, other big banks plagued by losses from the mortgage crisis, like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, have raised tens of billions of dollars from a variety of Middle Eastern and Asian funds, including ones from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg News, overseas investments by Persian Gulf countries reached a record $75 billion in 2007. Arms deals, a time-worn way of recycling petrodollars, remain popular in the region; the United States is pushing for a $20 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, for example. But while oil-rich states are still buying American Treasury bonds or military hardware from the West, analysts say the more significant trend is for a growing share of their investments to be pumped into local projects.

“The vision is to turn the kingdom into a major industrial power by 2020,” said Jean-François Seznec, a professor at Georgetown University who is a specialist in industrial policies in the Persian Gulf. “A billion dollars here and a billion there, and soon you’re talking about real money.”

Projects like Petro Rabigh, Mr. Seznec said, will allow Saudi Arabia to become one of the top three chemical producers in the world within a few years. Unlike Kuwait or Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia does not have a sovereign fund responsible for investing the country’s petroleum riches.

Ali Al-Naimi, the kingdom’s energy minister and one of the grand architects of Saudi industrial policy, summed up the country’s goals at the dedication ceremony for Petro Rabigh in 2006.

“I would like to highlight the fact that the Petro Rabigh project is part of a bigger picture,” Mr. Naimi said at the time. “This strategy includes expanding the base of the Saudi economy, diversifying national income sources, attracting international investments and reaping the direct and indirect benefits that these types of projects will accrue to the Saudi citizen.”

The trend to modernize and develop the economy is not entirely new, of course. Saudi Arabia has been trying to diversify itself for over two decades. It famously tried to make the desert bloom in the 1970s and ’80s by investing heavily in water desalinization plants and growing crops.

But a long period of low oil prices, from the mid-1980s through the 1990s, stalled much of its effort. The government still relies on petroleum exports for 90 percent of its revenue; oil sales account for half of the country’s gross domestic product.

The current level of oil prices has given the country’s industrialization strategy a new spring, allowing the government to improve its finances while investing in large infrastructure projects. The Saudi G.D.P. has doubled in the last five years. Not counting oil, economic growth has been 4 percent to 6 percent a year since 2002.

Oil has not been the only engine of growth. The country’s private sector has also thrived and now accounts for 45 percent of the economy, compared with just 20 percent about 20 years ago. Since the 1990s, the share of private Saudi money invested at home has doubled, and now represents about 20 percent of total holdings, according to SABB.

“There is a lot of money looking for investment opportunities,” said Mr. Gray at HSBC.

The financial turnaround has been spectacular. In 1999, the Saudi government’s debt amounted to 120 percent of G.D.P. That number has dropped to less than 20 percent as the government paid back its obligations and put its finances in order.

Last year, the government recorded a budget surplus of $48 billion, five times the surplus of 2003. This year, it has built its biggest budget to date around a conservative estimate of oil prices of $45 a barrel; that will almost certainly yield a substantial surplus at the end of the year.

All of that is a far cry from the 1990s, when oil averaged $20 a barrel, thanks mostly to Saudi concerns at the time to keep oil prices low.

One of the most noticeable illustrations of the industrialization push is a plan championed by King Abdullah, the 83-year-old Saudi monarch, to build six new cities throughout the country — including the King Abdullah Economic City on the western coast, near the city of Rabigh; the Knowledge Economic City, near Medina; and the Prince Abdulaziz bin Mousaed Economic City, in the north.

The intent is to create industrial centers that double as housing and commercial hubs for the country’s young and growing population. The Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, a government agency, expects these cities to add $150 billion to the country’s G.D.P. by 2020, create one million new jobs and be home to as many as five million people.

Drawings of these new towns depict a cross of the futuristic “Blade Runner” and traditional Arabic design. But the new cities are also expected to become new industrial centers that focus on four main sectors: petrochemicals, aluminum, steel and fertilizers.

According to SABB, these cities together will have four times the geographical area of Hong Kong, three times the population of Dubai, and an economic output equal to Singapore’s. Other plans include building four refineries, two petrochemical plants and a modern graduate-level university with an endowment of $10 billion.

The frenzied growth of the economy has had some serious downsides. Inflation has been rampant in the last year; food prices and rents have risen sharply. Traffic jams in Riyadh and other Saudi cities have become a constant affliction, while real estate values have soared and the construction sector is strained by a lack of workers.

The stock market, meanwhile, has yet to recover from its collapse two years ago. From 2000 to early 2006, the local Tadawul stock index surged from 2,000 points to a peak of 19,870, a return of almost 900 percent. But the overvalued market went into a panicky free fall that caused it to lose two-thirds of its value in a matter of months.

After being flat for most of 2007, the market has recovered in the last quarter, gaining more than 40 percent. Still, its value is only about half that of its peak two years ago.

One reason for the partial rebound was anticipation of the sale of shares in Petro Rabigh earlier this month. For the first time, Saudi investors had a chance to buy a major asset linked to Aramco. The initial public offering, for 25 percent of Petro Rabigh, raised $1.23 billion and was the largest stock sale in Saudi history. The stock is expected to begin trading at the end of the month.

The project itself is still about a year away from completion. Once in operation, it will produce 2.4 million tons of plastics a year. This venture, along with dozens of other megaprojects, will firmly anchor Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s top suppliers of chemical products as well as oil.

“Saudi Aramco has a vision of itself as Exxon Mobil,” Mr. Seznec of Georgetown said, “except much bigger.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bush To Push Saudi On Oil In Mideast Talks?

ENERGY MATTERS: Bush To Push Saudi On Oil In Mideast Talks? 1/8/2008 7:31:00 AM

NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--The last time U.S. President George Bush met face-to-face with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, crude oil prices were nearly half their current price and Saudi oil output was 5% higher than it is now.

Bush heads off Tuesday for a Middle East trip aimed at advancing efforts for a negotiated peace between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. After the Holy Land, he stops in Bahrain and Egypt and OPEC members Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia before returning to Washington on Jan. 16. Oil markets will be watching closely for signs on whether he leans on the Saudis to open the spigots.

The meeting with the leader of the world's biggest oil exporter - the first since the Saudi king came to Bush's Texas ranch in April 2005 - comes next week.

Despite crude oil prices reaching $100 a barrel in the U.S., the world's largest oil consumer, in recent days, energy issues are only one of several interlocking agenda items, along with the peace process, Iraq, Iran and, most likely, a major arms sale, analysts said.

Bush's national security advisor took 30 questions about the upcoming trip at a Jan. 3 press briefing: Not one was about oil.

Both the president and Saudi Arabia's oil minister, have sounded nonchalant about triple-digit crude prices in recent days, using similar language.

"Hundred-dollar oil is a reflection of supply and demand," Bush told Reuters in a Jan. 3 interview, though he did fret about people "paying a lot for gasoline." He alsorepeated his position that the U.S. emergency crude oil stockpile, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, should be used only to quell supply crises, not high prices.

"The market decides the price of oil," Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali Naimi said Sunday.

While the kingdom and its fellow OPEC members lost the power to dictate official crude oil selling prices 20 years ago with the advent of the futures market, production decisions greatly impact prices.

Bumpy Relationship

Since the last Bush-Abdullah meeting, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries first cut output to shore up sliding oil prices and later boosted supplies.

But output from Saudi Arabia, now around 9 million barrels a day, is about 450,000 barrels a day lower than back in April 2005. The Saudis are planning to lift output capacity to about 12 million barrels a day by 2009, even as short-term plans to increase output of light crude by 500,000 barrels a day have been delayed by a few months into the first quarter of 2008.

Despite calls from U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to boost output, OPEC decided to keep output steady at its December meeting and set its next gathering for Feb. 1. OPEC has said it believes current inventories and supplies are adequate, that speculators are driving up oil prices, and has expressed some concerns about the potential for an economic slowdown, or worse, in the U.S.

In the years since the last U.S.-Saudi summit, the oilrelationship has suffered some bumps and some high points. Bush upset the Saudis in his 2006 State of the Union address, calling for the replacement of "more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." The Saudis, accounting for about 14% of U.S. crude imports, are the biggest Mideast oil supplier to the U.S.

Bush aides backtracked, emphasizing that it was the volume reductions, not specifically Saudi supplies, that ambitious targets for use of renewable fuels were targeting.

Elsewhere, the Saudis have given the green light for a $7 billion project to more than double the size of the Port Arthur, Texas refinery they run as a joint venture with Royal Dutch/Shell to 600,000 barrels a day, making it the biggest refinery in the U.S.

Industry analysts said they believe the Saudis would be more comfortable with a lower oil price, as it would be easier to digest for the global economy. The Saudis are thought to be willing to make available all the medium and heavy grade crudes requested by oil companies, but aren't expected to dramatically turn up the taps if buyers are absent.

Intertwined Issues

How much the issue of Saudi oil output becomes a matter of contention in the upcoming talks remains to be seen. The Saudis, who hold the bulk of OPEC's spare production capacity, have said in the past that high oil prices have been necessary to pay the high costs of fighting the war on terror. But $100 crude is clearly an undesirable region for both countries, maybe more so for the Saudis, analysts said.

"I think the White House is likely to maintain some ambiguity about whether or not he'll broach the matter of oil prices with the Saudis," said Antoine Halff, energy analyst at NewEdge Group in New York.

Halff said he doubts strongly "that it will be at the center of the conversations," noting that the federal Department of Energy's forecasts call for crude oil prices to fall back from historic highs this year.

"I think oil will take a back seat to Iran and the Israel-Palestinians, those issues being closely intertwined," Halff said. "If oil is at the center of conversations, it will be mostly inasmuch as what happens with Iran affects energy markets, whether directly or indirectly."

The U.S. has been pushing for tougher economic sanctions on Iran, as it fears the country would use its efforts to develop nuclear energy into nuclear weapons capabilities, which it would use to threaten Israel.

Iranian and U.S. forces faced off in an incident in the Strait of Hormuz, the vital Gulf oil shipping channel on Saturday, but oil markets shook off the matter on Monday. Extremely warm temperatures in the Northeast U.S. - the world's largest heating oil market - and fresh concerns about the unemployment rate, igniting fear that the U.S. may be heading into a recession, sent crude oil futures down nearly 3% to $95.09 a barrel.

Guns, Oil On Tap

Greg Priddy, analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington, D.C., said he expects Bush will push the Saudis on oil output next week and a major U.S. arms sale to the Saudis also will be key to the discussions.

The Bush administration is expected to formally notify Congress on Jan. 15 - when the president is in the kingdom - of the $20 billion high technology arms sale that was agreed last autumn. "That sets in motion a 30-day period in which Congress can pass a resolution to block the sale. The timing of the event, given the controversy surrounding the arms deal, could also play into the decision making," Priddy said.

Source: David Bird, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-4423; (David Bird is senior energy correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Naimi says market sets oil price

Naimi says market sets oil price

January 7, 2008 - Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Naimi was quoted January 7 as saying that oil markets, not producers, determine the price of oil, in his first comments since oil futures traded above $100/b, following comments by OPEC president Chakib Khelil predicting further price rises in the first quarter.

"Prices are determined by the market," Naimi told the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper on the sidelines of an energy conference in Riyadh.

This was Naimi's only comment since oil prices spiked to $100/b last January 2. The front-month light sweet crude oil futures contract in New York traded at an all-time high of $100.09/b the next day but has since fallen back. The February NYMEX contract closed at $97.91/b on January 4.

OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia is the most influential voice within the producers' club.

Naimi's comment echoed remarks made by OPEC president Chakib Khelil, who told reporters in Algiers on Saturday that oil prices might rise further in the first quarter due to violence in Nigeria, political turmoil in Pakistan and strong demand, before stabilizing in the lower-demand second quarter, though he did not consider $100/barrel high in real terms.

He said oil prices currently a few dollars below $100/b did not reflect fundamentals of supply and demand but rather geopolitics, stock drawdowns in the US and heavy investment by funds in commodities markets.

The next OPEC meeting in Vienna would consider all these factors, not just price, before deciding whether to change its production target, said Khelil, who took over the rotating OPEC presidency on January 1.

"The recent price rally is due mainly to the violence in Nigeria, where production has been shut in, and the turmoil in Pakistan, which is considered by market players to be a geopolitical problem, and of course US stock levels, which are at their lowest in four years," Khelil said.

"Furthermore, it has been a very difficult winter not just in the US but also in Europe, so the combination of these factors led to the price rise," he said, when asked if OPEC would consider raising production.

"There is an extraordinary meeting in Vienna in February which will review the market up to February. We will assess the situation, see whether stocks have fallen further. The decision will be by consensus whether we increase or whether we keep production as is. Only the meeting will decide," said Khelil, refusing to predict what action the group might take.

Pressed further on the issue of an increase in supply, Khelil replied: "This is a question for ministers to decide in the light of market developments. There are so many parameters to consider and to determine the role of fundamentals, whether it is due to supply and demand or all other factors." But he added: "At the moment, prices do not at all reflect supply and demand...There is a balance between supply and demand."

Khelil, who is also the Algerian oil minister, later told French news agency AFP that $100/barrel "was not necessarily very high" given high demand for oil and rising production costs.

The $100/b price should be seen in real terms, taking inflation into account, he said.

The current oil price was therefore below its 1980 record of "between $102 and $110, depending on estimates," he said.

Khelil said that high oil demand was being pushed by "China and India but also by the Middle East," where he said consumption had risen immensely. "When you take that into account, $100 is not necessarily very high."

Saudi Aramco Raises Crude Oil Prices to the U.S.

Saudi Aramco Raises Crude Oil Prices to the U.S. for February
By Nesa Subrahmaniyan
Jan. 7 (Bloomberg)

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest state oil company, increased its official selling prices for crude shipments to the U.S. for a second month in February.

The discount of Arab Light, the most common variety exported by Saudi Arabia, to Saudi Aramco's benchmark price narrowed to $4.15 a barrel from $6.85 a barrel in January, the Dhahran-based company said in a faxed statement on Jan. 5. Discounts for Extra Light, Arab Medium and Arab Heavy were also reduced. Aramco raised prices of Arabe Medium and Arab Heavy grades for Asian customers, while cutting them for Europe.

For U.S. customers, prices for all grades were raised by between $2.50 and $2.80 a barrel. Arab Extra Light's discount narrowed to minus $1.10 a barrel from minus $3.90 a barrel, Arab Medium to minus $7.45 from $10.05 and Arab Heavy grade to minus $10.75 from minus $13.25, Aramco said.

Prices to the U.S. are set as a discount to the West Texas Intermediate benchmark.

For Asian customers, Saudi Aramco cut its premiums for Arab Super Light, Extra Light and Arab Light by between 20 cents and $1 a barrel. Asian prices are quoted in relation to the average of Oman and Dubai grades, the two Arabian Gulf benchmarks used by Asian oil refiners and traders. Aramco started linking its prices to the average of Oman and Dubai crudes in 1986.

Aramco cut the premium for Arab Super Light by $1 to $6.05 a barrel, by 40 cents to $4.95 for Extra Light and by 20 cents to $1.55 for Arab Light. It narrowed discounts for Arab Medium by 10 cents to minus $1.75 a barrel and by 30 cents to minus $4.80 a barrel for its Arab Heavy grade.

Europe Shipments

Refiners in Europe and the Mediterranean would pay less for Saudi Arabian crude oil shipments in February.

For its Northwest European customers, Aramco widened Arab Light's discount to the benchmark by 25 cents to minus $3.15, Arab Medium was lowered to minus $5.70 and Arab Heavy reduced to minus $7.90, while Extra Light was cut to a premium of $1.20 from $1.55.

Oil refiners in the Mediterranean would pay between 50 cents and 70 cents less for their shipments from Saudi Arabia.

Mediterranean and European prices are expressed as a differential to Intercontinental Exchange's weighted average of North Sea Brent crude oil. All prices are free-on-board, where the buyer has to pay for shipping costs.

Saudi Aramco's most expensive oil variety is Arab Super Light and the cheapest is Arab Heavy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Vela Orders 4 VLCCs for $600 million

Daewoo Shipbuilding Wins Order for Oil Tankers at Record Price
By Kyunghee Park
Nov. 14 (Bloomberg)

Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co., the world's third-largest shipbuilder, received an order to build four crude tankers at an industry record price from Vela International Marine Ltd. of Saudi Arabia.

The 317,000-deadweight-ton tankers were priced at about $151 million each, Seoul-based Daewoo said in an e-mailed statement today. A 300,000-ton vessel cost $142 million at the end of September, according to Clarkson Plc, the world's biggest shipbroker. The order was announced yesterday.

Shipyards in South Korea, the world's biggest shipbuilding nation, have received record orders this year as global demand for iron ore, fuel, toys and computers increase the need vessels. Ship prices have more than doubled to a record since 2003, when they came off from a 10-year low.

``The order will help further improve Daewoo Shipbuilding's profitability,'' the shipbuilder said in the statement.

Including the latest order, Daewoo Shipbuilding now has a total of $18 billion in new contracts this year, surpassing its target of $17 billion. The company's backlog rose to about $39 billion, representing more than three years of work.

Daewoo Shipbuilding added 2.6 percent to 50,800 won as of 9:48 a.m. in Seoul, compared with a 2.4 percent advance in the benchmark Kospi index. The stock has climbed 74 percent this year, about double the Kospi's gain.

Saudi pipeline blast kills 28

Saudi pipeline blast kills 28
The Associated Press
Nov. 18, 2007

An explosion set a gas pipeline ablaze and killed 28 workers in eastern Saudi Arabia, the Saudi national oil company Aramco said Sunday.

"The fire broke out while contractor workers where linking a new pipe" to the pipeline during maintenance late Saturday, Aramco said in a statement.

It said 28 workers, including five Aramco employees, had died in the fire, which was put out early Sunday some 30 kilometers from its Hawiyah gas plant.

The company did not specify how many people had been injured in the blaze, or give the victims' nationalities.

"The company is taking all necessary measures to guarantee the continuation of the normal gas output," it said.

Saudi Arabia's national oil company, Saudi Aramco is the world's largest oil producer, located on the country's east coast.

The Hawiyah plant produces 310,000 barrels of ethane and NGL daily.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

IEA Cuts Oil Demand Forecast

IEA Cuts Oil Demand Forecast as High Prices Curb Use
By Bill Murray
Nov. 13 (Bloomberg)

The International Energy Agency, the adviser to 26 oil-consuming nations, cut its forecast for global demand for the rest of this year and 2008 as prices near $100 a barrel slow consumption in the U.S., Europe and Japan.

Global demand next year will be 87.69 million barrels a day, the IEA said today in its monthly report, 300,000 barrels a day less than its previous estimate. The Paris-based agency reduced its estimate for the fourth quarter by 500,000 barrels a day, to 87.14 million barrels.

The IEA has cut its fourth-quarter forecast three times since August on expectations higher gasoline prices and an economic slowdown in the U.S. will restrain demand in the world's largest energy consumer. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week the U.S. economy is likely to ``slow noticeably'' this quarter.

``We are certainly seeing a downward revision for 2007 and 2008, and high prices starting to have an effect,'' Lawrence Eagles, chief author of the monthly report, said.

``Consumer spending on transportation fuel in the U.S. is reaching the type of levels in the 1980s'' when inflation- adjusted prices were at similar levels, he said in an interview.

India, China

Oil prices have risen 53 percent this year on surging demand from developing countries led by China and India. Futures reached a record $98.62 a barrel in New York on Nov. 7. Chinese and Indian demand for crude could create a supply ``crunch'' as soon as 2015, the IEA said in a separate report last week.

``The whole fact that we've approached $100 has created a scare for some people,'' said Michael Davies, an energy analyst with Sucden (U.K.) Ltd. in London. ``The underlying fundamentals are that we're expecting tighter markets through 2015.''

Oil demand in the U.S. will be slower than previously expected next year as near-record fuel prices and a slumping housing market depress consumer spending, the IEA said.

Still, while the rapid increase in global prices this year has affected demand, especially in the U.S., ``it is too soon to believe that significant structural changes have taken place to make this lower level of demand permanent,'' the report said.

Stockpiles Fall

Industry stockpiles in the world's most developed economies fell 29.5 million barrels in September to 2.6 billion barrels. Global inventories are 113.9 million barrels lower than a year and Japanese crude stock levels are at their lowest in at least 20 years, the report said.

``The warning flags on demand are out there and we're not into the winter yet,'' said Mike Wittner, a commodities analyst with Societe Generale in London. ``Even with the revisions the IEA has made, the market still expects stock draws into the winter and the first quarter, and that's what the market is keying on.''

In addition, half of the world's growth in oil demand is in China and the Middle East, where consumers benefit from government fuel subsidies, the report said.

Chinese oil demand is expected to remain ``strong,'' driven by economic growth, while rising oil revenue in the Middle East mean that subsidies are ``more easily financed and unlikely to be removed,'' the IEA said.


The ``call on OPEC,'' an estimate by the IEA of how much crude is needed from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to balance global markets, was reduced by an average 400,000 barrels a day for 2008 to 31.3 million barrels a day, in part because of lower demand in the world's most developed economies.

The IEA cut its estimate of non-OPEC oil production for 2007 by 35,000 barrels a day to 50.1 million barrels a day, and left unchanged its estimate for 2008 at 51.2 million barrels a day on supply from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Russia.

Production of crude oil from OPEC's 12 members, including new member Angola, rose 410,000 barrels a day in October to an average 31.2 million barrels a day, the IEA estimated, with half the increase coming from Iraq and Angola.

Crude output from Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest member, rose 100,000 barrels a day last month, to 8.57 million barrels a day, while Iraqi supply gained 120,000 barrels a day to 2.3 million barrels a day, the highest since April 2004, the IEA said.

Excluding Angola and Iraq, which are exempt from OPEC's output targets, the producer group pumped 27.15 million barrels a day last month, a gain of 195,000 barrels daily. OPEC spare capacity slipped in October to 2.46 million barrels, the report said.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Saudi Arabia Pushes for Extra 500,000 bpd OPEC Hike

Saudi Arabia Pushes for Extra 500,000 bpd OPEC Hike
by Adam Smallman and Spencer Swartz
Nov 12th, 2007

Saudi Arabia is to push for an extra 500,000 barrels-a-day hike in output by OPEC, or 1.8%, as soon as this week if oil prices drive toward $100 a barrel, an official familiar with the situation said Monday.

Speaking the day after Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali Naimi indicated that the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may discuss a production increase, an official close to the group's policy discussions told Dow Jones Newswires: "The Saudis want another 500,000 barrels a day in the market. They don't like these prices for consumers."

Leaders from the world's top oil producers will meet this weekend in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh to discuss the challenges a potential global recession and an anemic dollar present to their estimated $1.8 billion a day in revenue.

Presidents, sheikhs and a king from the OPEC cartel, which meets more than 40% of the world's needs, are to discuss a raft of challenges to their core business, including soaring costs to projects, heightened environmental concerns that spur a push toward alternative energies, and what, if anything, they can do to prevent record oil prices from destabilizing the global economy.

Senior officials within the Saudi Arabian delegation have made it plain they don't feel comfortable with current oil prices, which have almost doubled from a low of $49.90 a barrel in January to a record $98.62 a barrel for U.S., light, sweet crude last week, and that something must be done.

In Kuwait Sunday, Naimi, OPEC's de facto leader, told reporters: "It is premature" to speak of a production hike, but "when OPEC meets, we will discuss this issue," though it was unclear if he was referring to this week's summit or formal OPEC policy talks by oil ministers due Dec. 5 in Abu Dhabi.

One sticking point is the timing of any such a move. The official said the timing would hinge on talks with other OPEC oil ministers, who will meet Thursday or Friday in a closed session ahead of the summit of heads of state in Riyadh at the weekend.

"If the market progresses (and rises above) $100 a barrel, I think the Saudis will push for something then and not wait until the December meeting," the official said.

But a source familiar with OPEC thinking said Monday that insiders "really don't want this summit to turn into an OPEC policy meeting" and senior officials "are not getting any indication that they'll do anything" this week. It was, the source added, perfectly possible that oil ministers might agree to something late this week.

OPEC Revenue

OPEC's revenue may climb 9% this year to $658 billion, the Financial Times reported Monday, citing the U.S. Energy Information Administration, but, with rising economic concerns driven by a worsening global credit crunch, it is oil and the associated costs of heating fuel and gasoline that some economists now say could be the trigger for a full scale economic meltdown.

But the oil leaders may have little wiggle room when it comes to averting such an event, as many believe a wall of investment cash, not constrained oil flows, lie behind the record prices. Any move to add, say, a million barrels a day of additional oil, or around 3% more than they currently pump, would eat into Saudi Arabia's spare capacity ahead of the worst of winter, and at a time of heightened concern over OPEC member Iran's nuclear program and the future stability of U.S. ally Pakistan.

OPEC members at their last meeting on Sept. 11 agreed to raise output by 500,000 barrels a day from Nov. 1, shared among the 10 members with production quotas, amid growing concerns high oil prices may adversely affect global economies and that demand could outstrip oil supplies as the northern hemisphere's energy consuming nations head into winter season.

According to estimates by Dow Jones Newswires, the OPEC-10 in October were already pumping roughly in line with their new target of 27.25 million barrels a day, with Iraq and Angola, which don't have quotas, pumping a further 3.9 million barrels a day.

"However, OPEC's announcement has not yet dampened upward price pressure, and it is unlikely that these higher volumes will be enough to halt the downward trend in commercial inventories over the next several months," the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

Indeed, recent output hikes by OPEC have tended to be followed by record high oil prices as investors assume spare capacity is shrinking and demand will outstrip supply.

With no OPEC hike agreed this week, leaders, many of whom hold competing political views, may be forced into issuing a bland communiqué that insiders say seeks to reassure customers they are reliable suppliers of oil and are increasingly responsible toward the environment.

© 2007 Dow Jones Newswires.