Archives for posts with tag: offshore

After reporting on a range of gloomy statistics in 2016, has shipping been able to pick itself up from ‘rock bottom’? Strong trade volumes, a record S&P market and improving bulker and containership markets have all provided some welcome relief. But challenges in the tanker, gas and offshore markets continue while uncertainty around environmental regulation builds. As ever, it’s been an interesting year!

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.


While offshore production activity in Myanmar began in 1998, deepwater E&P in the country is arguably still nascent. However, recent deepwater gas discoveries off Myanmar seem to have bolstered the confidence of oil companies sufficiently for them to start planning deepwater drilling campaigns, in spite of weaker energy prices. Could these first steps be indicative of Myanmar’s deepwater E&P potential?

For the full version of this article, please go to Offshore Intelligence Network.

The North Sea and even more so the frontiers west of the Shetlands and in the Barents Sea are known for their often challenging operating conditions of rough seas, stormy skies and limited visibility. Unfortunately, the native climate could be seen as something of a metaphor for the region’s offshore markets at present, though a keen observer might spy mercurial signs of fairer weather on the distant horizon…

For the full version of this article, please go to Shipping Intelligence Network.

Now that half the year has passed, a review of offshore project sanctioning might be timely. Activity has picked up in 2017, especially for larger projects with CAPEX allocations of at least $500m. The uptick in FIDs has coincided with improved E&P budget guidance from many IOCs. So oil price volatility notwithstanding, could this be an sign of generally improving prospects for larger offshore projects?

Large Projects On The Rise

Offshore field project sanctioning reached a peak of 120 FIDs in 2012. Since then, sanctioning activity has been under pressure from a range of factors, most notably the weaker energy price environment that has prevailed since 2H 2014. Indeed, oil company E&P spending cuts induced by the falling oil price in 2015 precipitated a 33% decline in FIDs that year. Larger projects (with an estimated CAPEX of at least $500m) have been hit the worse, with the number of such developments in 2016 to receive an FID down by 60% on 2012. In comparison, the number of smaller projects sanctioned in 2016 was down by a less severe 32% on 2012.

However, 2017 is (so far) looking rather more promising: 31 offshore field projects received FIDs in 1H 2017, of which 48% were larger projects. Among these were Coral FLNG Ph.1 ($7bn), Leviathan Ph.1 ($3.75bn), Liza Ph.1 ($3.2bn) and Njord A Upgrade ($1.6bn). FIDs have been stimulated by the higher (albeit volatile) oil price, as well as by successes in reducing offshore project costs (by around 30-40% on start 2014, on average).

Small Runs Rule

That being said, while it is true that sanctioning of larger projects seems to be on the rise, it is important to note that many such projects (including all those named above bar Liza Ph.1) were conceived pre-downturn and were on the verge of obtaining an FID in 2014. This implies that the recent uptick in large-project activity may not be sustainable, especially as the backlog of such projects continues to fall. Indeed, the history of start-up delays and cost over-runs at mega-projects such as Kashagan Ph.1 ($48bn) and Greater Gorgon Ph.1 ($55bn) had already prompted operators to rethink the viability of larger offshore projects even before the oil price downturn. Onshore US basins are also potentially problematic for offshore projects, insofar as they compete (quite effectively) for scarce investment dollars.

Efficiency Matters

As a result of these considerations, operators have been downsizing many of the other large-scale projects planned prior to the fall in the oil price. Browse is set to use two FPSOs instead of three FLNGs, for example, while Bonga SW “Lite” now entails an FPSO with a processing capacity 33% smaller than before. Many operators are also placing more emphasis on subsea tiebacks to existing facilities, instead of major new offshore hubs (even if this means lower production volumes). Adapting to the potential “lower for longer” oil price outlook thus seems to be a priority for many upstream players.

So although FIDs at larger projects have picked up, looking beyond the backlog of projects from before the downturn, such developments seem to be less in favour. Scratching the surface, small projects are at least an offshore outlet for upstream investment and in the long run, perhaps cost savings cemented post-2014 might make large projects more competitive.


A few weeks ago, OPEC and other major oil producers agreed to extend 1.73m bpd of production cuts until the end of Q1 2018. Despite this, oil prices have continued to slide, with Brent failing to close above $50/bbl this week. While a range of factors have contributed to this trend, perhaps the most important is US tight oil production. So what is going on in the shale patch? And why does it matter to shipping?

How Unconventional!

If nothing else, US tight oil production retains the ability to surprise. As was noted after the OPEC meeting in May (SIW 1,273), “it remains to be seen if shale production quickly offsets” the cuts. Well, if the early signs are anything to go by, this is clearly not an impossibility.

Tight or shale oil is oil extracted from otherwise almost impermeable geology via “fracking”, a process wherein fluids mixed with sands are pumped at pressure into well bores, creating fractures in the rock through which oil and gas can flow. In terms of oil price dynamics, the key aspect of shale projects is speed: they can have lead times measured in weeks and so are very responsive to changes in oil prices. But in turn, as tight oil production ramps up, it can put pressure on prices, as recent history shows.

Remarkable Resilience

The US tight oil sector really took off in 2011, with production more than tripling from 1.70m bpd to reach a peak of 5.47m bpd in March 2015, as the graph shows. At this point, tight oil accounted for 6% of global oil supply (96m bpd) and equated to 55% of the net growth in supply from 2011. Such rapid supply growth had not been priced into markets, a key factor in the 2014 oil price plunge. A partial revival in mid-2015 was smothered as US drilling was stimulated again. And, since the US land rig count hit a new low of 380 units in May 2016, activity has again been on the up; the November 2016 OPEC deal accelerated this and the land rig count now stands at over 900 units. Tight oil production growth now equates to around 35% of the OPEC cuts. Its resilience (via cost deflation) in the face of lower oil prices continues, it seems, though it may prove self-defeating yet again. Even so, tight oil could now be a long term part of the oil price context. A few years ago, forecasters saw US tight oil production peaking circa 2020. Revised projections taking into account new technologies and updated resource surveys do not see US tight oil output peaking before the 2030s.

More Surprises?

The negative and positive implications for shipping of higher oil prices were covered in detail previously (SIW 1,273). The converse applies to lower oil prices, with offshore suffering from reduced E&P activity but the merchant fleet perhaps seeing benefits from cheaper bunkers and crude oil trade growth. Tight oil also has implications for trade flows. For example, now that export restrictions have been lifted, around 0.7m bpd of crude oil was exported from the US via tankers in Q1 2017.

So a factor that was barely on the radar a decade ago has become a key determinant of oil prices, potentially for the long haul. Moreover, tight oil has a range of ramifications for shipping that merit close monitoring. Once again, shipping appears inextricably linked to a key facet of the global economy. Have a nice day.


Global oil prices were buoyed in Q4 2016 by OPEC’s decision to cut production. Perhaps more surprising still was the extent of compliance with quotas, for an organisation with a past track record of over-production. At their recent meeting, OPEC overcame some members’ objections and agreed to extend the cuts until March 2018. How will this affect the oil price and how does it impact the shipping industry?

Cutting To The Quick

Twenty years ago, OPEC had substantial control over the supply side of the oil market. Today, the rise of shale oil has created doubts that OPEC retains the power to influence the market in a lasting way. This question is still to be resolved, though it is true that the cuts have allowed shale producers a new lease of life in terms of spending (up c.50% in 2017) and drilling (the US land rig count is up 120% y-o-y). However, OPEC are making the most concerted attempt for more than a decade to control supply. As the Graph of the Month shows, past quota compliance has been poor, and indeed for a decade this was effectively acknowledged by the lack of a formal quota.

Cutting Down

The difference recently is that OPEC has actually succeeded in cutting to below the level of the quota, despite allowing some members (such as Iran) to avoid formal cuts. The collective reduction has partly been down to outages (notably in Nigeria and Venezuela). However, it also reflects Saudi Arabia shouldering a lion’s share of cuts (c.0.75m bpd or 55%).

Expectations of an extension to cuts boosted oil prices in the run up to the announcement (though after the meeting, prices fell as investors took profits). Higher prices have a range of ramifications for shipping. One consequence is higher fuel prices, increasing shipowners’ costs unless they can pass this on. Previous periods of high fuel costs pushed owners to slow steam. This mitigated the problem, to some extent, but few ships sped up when prices came down. So currently this would be a difficult trick to repeat.

Cut And Run?

The cuts could also affect tanker demand, either via lower crude and product exports (27% of seaborne trade), or lesser import demand if high prices moderate demand growth. So far, price increases have been moderate, and it seems as if the Saudis in particular have been doing their best to curtail domestic oil usage to protect long-haul export customers (more than 18m bpd, of 47%, of crude trade is exported from the Middle East Gulf).

Perhaps most obviously, the OPEC cuts have brought a modicum of more bullish sentiment to oil companies’ E&P investment decisions. This has helped offshore markets a little, notably through a small upturn in tendering and fixing activity for drilling rigs (Clarkson Research’s average rig rate index is up 2% since end-2016). However, there has been little to no effect on rates in related markets such as OSVs, and most would acknowledge the extreme fragility of any improvement.

So, the widely-trailed extension to OPEC production cuts boosted oil prices during May, although it remains to be seen if shale production quickly offsets this. Oil price dynamics have a mixture of positive and negative effects for shipping, but certainly remain crucial given the key role of oil both for shipping and for the wider economy. Have a nice day!


The fundamental lying beneath the shipping industry is cargo and its journey, and in many cases the cargoes are the world’s key commodities. In 2014, prices across a range of commodities took a sharp dive, but over the last year or so they’ve started to improve again. So, what do the trends in the prices of the commodities underlying the shipping markets tell us about the shape of things today?

Oiling The Wheels?

Most followers of commodities will be aware of the oil price downturn, with the price of Brent crude falling from an average of $112/bbl in June 2014 to reach a low of $32/bbl in February 2016. However, it has since improved, to an average of $52/bbl in March 2017, with the key driver the implementation of oil output cuts by major producers. Despite this recent price rise, in this case the underlying commodity price trend does not appear to be supportive for shipping, with seaborne crude oil trade growth subsequently slowing, having risen by an average of 3.9% p.a. in 2015-16, and tanker markets easing back. On the other hand, rising oil prices might start to help support an improved offshore project sanctioning environment, though the stimulation of increased shale production in the US poses a risk to its seaborne imports.

Bulk Bounce

On the dry bulk side, the iron ore price fell from $155/t in February 2013 to reach a low of $40/t in December 2015 but has since recovered robustly to an average of $87/t in March 2017. Meanwhile, the coal price fell from $123/t in September 2011 to a low of $50/t in January 2016 but has since improved firmly to an average of $81/t in March 2017. In China government policies and domestic output cuts drove shipments of ore (up 7%) and coal (up 20%) in 2016, helping to support international prices. Demand growth has continued in the same vein in 2017, with ore and coal imports up 13% and 48% y-o-y respectively in the first two months. Average Capesize spot earnings recently hit $20,000/day, and some industry players have appeared cautiously optimistic about the possibility of better markets.

Spending Power?

What does all this mean for the third main volume sector, container shipping? Well, in this case, the previous downward pressure on commodity prices had been felt in the form of pressure on imports into commodity exporting developing economies faced with reduced income and spending power. This had a clear negative impact on volumes into Latin America, Africa and eventually even the Middle East; overall north-south volume growth fell below 1% in 2016. Although it’s early days yet, the recovery in commodity prices should suggest a gradual improvement even if the benefits lag commodity pricing, and the positive impact might not be evenly paced across the regions.

From The Bottom Up

So, it appears that commodity prices have now departed the bottom of the cycle. Alongside the impression of a generally firmer background, inspection of the underlying drivers suggests a mixture of messages for shipping, less beneficial in some instances, but in many ways more positive for volumes. As ever, it’s interesting to take a look at what lies beneath…

SIW1267:Graph of the Week