Archives for posts with tag: subsea

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.

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Expectations at the start of the year that 2016 would be a tough one for the oil industry, and in particular for offshore, were on the whole fulfilled. Overall upstream E&P spending globally fell for the second successive year, and was down by in the region of 27% year-on-year in 2016. Cost-cutting has been a key focus, whether that be through pressure on the supply chain, M&A activity, job cuts or other means. OIMT201701

Lower Spending

Offshore spending has been particularly reined back on exploration activity such as seismic survey and exploration drilling, although 2016 saw weakness spread further to areas such as the subsea or mobile production sectors which had initially shown some degree of protection from the downturn. This was not helped by a 32% year-on-year decline in sanctioned offshore project CAPEX in 2016, despite a small number of encouraging project FIDs, such as that for Mad Dog Phase 2 in the Gulf of Mexico in Q4.

Dayrate Weakness

Dayrates and asset values in those offshore sectors with liquid markets showed further signs of weakening in 2016. Clarksons Research’s index of global OSV termcharter rates declined by 27% in 2016, whilst that for drilling rigs was down by 25% year-on-year. Potential for further falls are, in general, limited, given that rates levels in many regions are close to operating expenses. Owners are doing what they can to control the supply side: just 81 offshore orders were recorded in 2016: for context, more than 1,000 offshore vessels were ordered at the height of the 2007 boom. Slippage has also remained evident, either due to mutually agreed delays with shipyards, or owing to owners cancelling orders. Offshore deliveries were 34% lower y-o-y in 2016.

Despite the severe industry downturn, the oil price actually firmed during the year. Brent crude began 2016 at $37/bbl, before briefly dipping below $30/bbl. However, the price ended 2016 at $55/bbl, helped by a slow firming in mid-year, and then more rapid gains after the 30th November announcement of a concerted oil production cut by OPEC countries.

This is clearly positive news for oil companies’ cashflow, and marks the abandoning of Saudi Arabia’s policy of targeting market share by accepting low prices as a means to hinder shale oil production in the US. However, US onshore companies were already feeling more comfortable with slightly improved prices in Q3 2016. Early surveys of intentions for E&P spending suggest that onshore spending in the US could increase by more than 20% in 2017. It is likely that offshore spending will decline further in 2017.

Some Way To Go

Nonetheless, it is important to stress that the offshore sector is far from dead. The expected multi-year downturn is occurring. However, important cost-control and consolidation has taken place. IOCs continue to consider strategic investments such as Coral FLNG or Bonga Lite. This shows that these companies are planning for better times. Decline at legacy fields will help to correct the supply/demand balance. Meanwhile, optimism is building in the renewables and decommissioning markets, with for example, announcements even in the first few days of 2017 that China is to make an RMB2.5 trillion investment in renewables over five years, whilst another North Sea decommissioning project plan has been submitted.

Nevertheless, the supply/demand imbalance in many offshore vessel sectors will take time to recalibrate. However, the weakness of 2016 also put in place many longer term trends which could lay the groundwork for an eventual change in market fortunes.

The current conventional wisdom is that the market for subsea installation and maintenance is slightly more insulated from the worst effects of the oil price fall, given the long project timelines and high capex involved. But with new short-term investment set to be cut, and reports of declining vessel utilisation, it seems likely that the potentially positive longer-term trend will be preceded by short-term challenges.

Subsea Construction

A key indicator of subsea construction demand is the backlog for EPC work held by major subsea companies. The growth rate of this year-on-year is shown on the graph (red line). Broadly, this follows the oil price, going into negative territory in Q1 2015, just as it did during 2009.

The remaining two lines on the graph show the year-on-year growth in two parts of the fleet related to subsea construction and subsea support. Growth in both accelerated in 2009 (albeit from a relatively small fleet). A rush of deliveries hit the wrong part of the market cycle and exacerbated the demand weakness caused by the 2009 oil price drop. It is also noticeable that, back then, the growth of the support fleet was more rapid than growth in the fleet of the larger construction assets, despite the fact that the IMR fleet was already 91% larger.

Calm Beneath The Storm?

Of course, the key question now is: will it happen again? The industry is likely to have to weather multiple quarters of declining backlog given that oil price weakness is discouraging IOCs, whilst another major demand source, Petrobras, clearly has issues to resolve. Unfortunately, the answer is, to some degree, yes. Ordering in the last few years means that fleet growth is set to accelerate in 2015.

So will it matter? Again, the answer may well be yes, in the short term. Few would deny that all markets, including subsea, face short-term challenges. However, the longer-term fundamentals give cause for optimism. As subsea well completions age, their maintenance requirements are likely to increase. A decade ago, 15% of installed subsea wells were over 15 years of age: today 35% are, and the volume of such “middle-aged” subsea structures has been growing at 20% per annum. This is a supportive trend for the longer-term future of the IMR fleet, whilst those assets focussed on new construction are more dependent on the fortunes of EPC companies’ backlogs, which, as shown below, are currently in decline.

Beneath The Waves

A wildcard which may help the IMR fleet is the share of smaller-craned units ordered by new, Asian players. The Asian share of the MSV orderbook is now 25%: double that in 2005. The largest areas for subsea production (the North Sea, Brazil, West Africa) are in the Atlantic. If operators there take an attitude of preferring more experienced subsea owners, this could constrain vessel supply in the Atlantic more than the orderbook picture would suggest.

So, weaker markets are already very evident, with declining backlogs, idle vessels and companies announcing job cuts. Yet there are reasons to be optimistic about the longer term future, particularly for maintenance requirements. However, the market will clearly first have to surmount a short-term future of excess supply and muted demand.

OIMT201505

OIMT201405Russia is forecast to account for 13% of world crude oil production and 18% of world natural gas production in 2014. While its prodigious Siberian flows tend to receive most of the credit for this feat, fields located off the country’s 16 million km of coastline are nonetheless projected to produce 390,000 bpd oil and 2.64 bcfd gas in 2014. So where exactly is Russian offshore production to be found? And what is the outlook?

Mastering the Arctic

As the Graph of the Month shows, offshore oil and gas production in Baltic & Arctic Russia stagnated after the break-up of the USSR, declining to 0.03m boepd in 2013, when it accounted for 4% of Russian offshore production. This trend was thrown into reverse when the Prirazlomnoye field came onstream in December 2013. Located 23km from shore in the Pechora Sea, the field is exploited via a ice-class platform and production is scheduled to reach 120,000 bpd by 2019. New technologies and robust oil prices are thus unlocking reserves hitherto stranded, and by 2023 Arctic oil and gas is forecast to constitute 11% of Russia’s offshore production.

Caspian and Crimean Conquests

Russia’s southern offshore fields, mainly in the Caspian, accounted for 9% of Russian offshore production in 2013. In the Caspian, as in the Arctic, harsh conditions have limited field development and disincentivised efforts to halt production decline. However, as in the Arctic, decline is now forecast to be arrested. Lukoil, for example, are planning substantial investment over the next four years at fields like Khvalynskoye and Yuri S. Kuvykin, where ice-class jack-up production units are likely to make development feasible. By 2023, the area is forecast to account for 24% of Russian offshore oil and gas production (excluding gas produced by fields off the Crimea, over which Russia now has de facto control, and which produced 410m cfd in 2013).

Expanding Eastwards

The Russian Far East is a relatively new area of offshore E&P. The Sakhalin-2 project started up in 1996 but offshore activity is still geographically limited, even if production volumes, at 0.78m boepd, are significant. The area accounted for 88% of Russian offshore production in 2013. Moreover, the Far East is Russia’s window on the developing economies of the Asia Pacific region, so companies are seeking to increase activity there, particularly with regards to LNG. In October 2013, the first Sakhalin-3 field, Kirinskoye, a subsea-to-shore development, began ramping up to 580m cfd. Further such field developments are planned out to 2023, when the area is projected to produce 0.95m boepd, its share falling to 65% despite new Capex due to faster Arctic and Caspian growth.

Thus production is forecast to grow in each of Russia’s offshore areas, driven largely by investment in high-spec jack-up, fixed platform and subsea field solutions. Total offshore oil production is projected to grow with a CAGR of 8.9% from 2014 to reach 890,000 bpd in 2023, and gas production likewise at 2.5% to reach 3.36 bcfd. Offshore would then account for 6.7% of the country’s oil and gas production, a far cry from the 2% nadir of post-Soviet decay.

OIMT_2013_09The South East Asia Oil Producing Area, consisting of Brunei, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, accounted for 6.4% (1.6m bpd) and 16.8% (16.5 bcfpd) of global offshore oil and gas production respectively in 2012. Its 409 active offshore fields – 63.8% of those in the Asia Pacific – are mostly fixed platform developments. However, indicators suggest this historical tendency may be changing.

Shallow Water Bonanza

As the Graph of the Month shows, shallow water development types predominate within South East Asia. Together, fixed platforms, subsea tie-backs and extended reach drilling (ERD) accounts for 95% (388) of producing oil and gas fields in the area, reflecting the historical concentration of E&P activity in shallow Malaysian and Indonesian waters. The average water depth of producing fields is 70m and only nine are located in depths of more than 200m. SE Asia is thus comparable to the North Sea, where these development types also equate to 95% (614) of active fields and average field water depth is 91m.

Topsides Upside

Unlike in the North Sea though, active fields in South East Asia are heavily skewed towards fixed platforms: 77% (315) of active fields produce via fixed platforms in SE Asia. For the North Sea this figure is 40% (258). For every field exploited by subsea tie-back or ERD, there are 7.3 (for subsea) or 10.5 fields (for ERD) developed by fixed platforms in SE Asia. The equivalent global ratio is 2.9 or 9.0 fixed field developments per subsea or ERD field. SE Asia is also likely to remain a source of fabrication contracts for the foreseeable future: development by fixed platform accounts for 56% of fields under development in the area.

Subsea Rising

However, the Graph of the Month also shows a pronounced rise in subsea development: 11% of active fields are subsea tie-backs but 24% of fields under development are such. The average water depth of existing subsea fields in SE Asia is 150m whereas for fields under development by subsea tie-back, the average is 806m. The comparable figures for the North Sea are 129m and 168m. Rather than combining with existing platform infrastructure (as in the North Sea), subsea growth in Asia seems to be being driven by deepwater projects like Gehem, Gendalo and satellites like Gandang (off Indonesia).

MOPUs Multiplying

This suggestion is reinforced by the trend in Mobile Production Unit deployment in the region. While 5% of active fields in the OPA are MOPU developments, 15% of fields under development will employ MOPUs. In deep water, satellite fields with subsea producers are often tied to MOPUs, especially in later project phases. South East Asia accounts for 44% of global developments by MOPUs other than FPSOs (e.g. TLPs or jack-ups).

Fixed platforms will remain common in Asia, particularly given a push to develop many marginal Malaysian fields. Yet equipment and service suppliers will be encouraged by the growth in more complex development types, as more fields are developed and then start up in deeper waters.