Monday, January 31, 2011

World Watch: [Oil/Gas Markets and Egypt]

by Jim Washer, EI
Geopolitics is making a comeback in oil markets. WikiLeaks revelations in December about Arab support for a US nuclear strike against Iran gave a modest boost to crude oil futures, and now civil unrest in Egypt has provided the impetus to push prices above $100/bbl for the first time since September 2008. Egypt is a significant oil and gas producer, but is more important as an energy transit point -- together, the Suez Canal and the Sumed [Suez-Mediterranean] pipeline handle around 2.8 million b/d of crude and products as well as 7% of the world’s LNG trade. [See remarks below -- D.R.]. While Egypt is therefore an important chokepoint, energy markets are in unusually good shape to cope with any disruption. Oil prices may have revisited $100/bbl, but there is plenty of slack in global energy infrastructure -- Opec is sitting on some 6 million b/d of spare upstream capacity, and commercial and strategic inventories remain ample. [Full story]

(Closure of the Suez Canal and the Sumed Pipeline---see map, sorry for the blurriness and the proportion, and photo below---would divert tankers around the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, adding 6,000 miles---or 9,656 kilometers---to transit, according to the Energy Information Administration--EIA, increasing both costs and shipping time. According to a report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA), shipping around Africa would add 15 days of transit to Europe and 8-10 days to the United States. On the other hand, energy analysts believe the real risk is not a closure of the desert conduits---the Suez Canal and the Sumed Pipeline---but that the unrest gripping Cairo will spread to neighboring nations or other Arab countries. Barclays Capital Research report---accessed via Platts, here---noted that around 14% of the world's LNG trade transits the Suez Canal each day with the vast majority of cargoes originating in the Middle East and heading towards Atlantic Basin markets. Also, Egypt exported around 2 Bcf/d of gas in 2009, the majority [some 70%] in LNG form, accounting for around 3.2% of global LNG supply. "In the event of a disruption of LNG exports from Egypt, the greatest implications for gas markets would be for Spain," Barclays Capital said, adding that global LNG markets were well supplied with "ample" production capacity available to meet any potential Egyptian shortfall. The report also noted that Egypt exports gas via the Arab Gas Pipeline, or AGP, and its El Arish-Ashkelon branch, which has the capacity to carry about 1 Bcf/d to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. "Most Egyptian [oil] drilling activity has been halted as a result of the political instability, as several international E&P companies have announced staff evacuations," Barclays said. "Gas production, however, has not been affected so far, and there have been no reports of force majeure on LNG deliveries. Egypt's sea ports are officially open, although staff shortages and an absence of customs officials at the Alexandria and Damietta ports are reported to cause traffic disruptions." Egypt has two LNG plants at Idku and Damietta and operations have so far not been affected despite the evacuation of foreign staff. Gas flow to Israel has also not been interrupted. Israel received an estimated 2.1 billion cubic meters, i.e. bcm, in pipeline gas from Egypt in 2010, up from 1.7 bcm a year earlier. -- D.R.)

                                             Source: Oil Capital Ltd. via EIA

                                    Photo: Suez Canal

Source: National Geographic. Description: A tanker carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) passes through Egypt's Suez Canal in 2007.

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