By Todd Royal
The Abqaiq attack in Saudi Arabia by Iran, or one of its proxies is the largest oil and petrochemical disruption in over fifty years. Over 5.7 mb/d was lost, and estimates believe it will take months or weeks to return to full production. The interruption highlights Saudi Aramco’s vulnerabilities, and how energy infrastructure can be shut down via military forces or environmental demonstrations that recently occurred in Houston, Texas (U.S.).
The world needs U.S. fracking to continue unabated. No other country has the stability, and proven reserves like the U.S. Russia. Iran, and Saudi Arabia want higher oil prices to balance their budgets. However, the U.S. shale revolution that has upended global oil supplies and geopolitics is the deterrent to energy attacks. American fracking has changed the world, and the U.S. led, liberal order in place for over seventy-five years for the better.
U.S. fracking’s forward march will have negative and positive consequences. The geopolitical risk premium and international tensions now affect supplies in a way that we haven’t seen since the 1973 OPEC embargo. The International Energy Agency (IEA) perceives oil being tight now (even before Iranian hostilities), but considers a huge surplus is in the offering for 2020. OPEC’s ability to stabilize oil prices will be offset by unabated drilling coming from U.S. states such as Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. An oil glut could crash prices in 2020 unless war breaks out in the Middle East.
Even before the oil field and infrastructure bombings, the new Saudi oil minister wants to rebuild trust within OPEC, and the Russian relationship from OPEC + take a lower priority. A source told Reuters, “The new minister likes decisions to be unanimous instead of being presented as just Saudi-Russian agreements. He wants a united front.” This realignment has caused member OPEC states to seek further compliance in cuts to boost prices. It will be difficult for markets to decide if the minister is hawkish or diplomatic in his bid to protect the Kingdom and prepare for the Saudi Aramco IPO.
An interesting decision came from the Netherlands when the Dutch government announced stopping all exploration and production (E&P) to their massive Groningen field by 2022. Earthquake severity is the reason, and there hasn’t been an announcement as to what replaces this large source of energy and electricity.
Will the controversial Nord Stream 2 step in to fill the void since this is Europe’s largest onshore gas field? U.S. LNG from fracking will likely displace Russian natural gas. European allies who dismiss America over political differences will need natural gas to heat their countries during brutal, winter months, and power their economies.
Columbia’s high court newly upheld a temporary ban on fracking; environmentalists cheer, and the oil industry is upset. According to Argus Media and Ecopetrol data, Columbia’s Middle Magdalena Valley basin, “hold between 4 and 7 billion barrels of oil equivalent.” U.S. fracking can fill that void. Additional political influence in a volatile region of the world using soft power of fracked fossil fuels is an added bonus for U.S. frackers.
U.S. natural gas production hit a new production record by rising to 9.1 Bcf/d in August. This is an all-time monthly high, and surprisingly the increase despite low prices, squeezing profit margins. IHS Markit issued a report in mid-September stating, “natural gas prices could average below $2/MMBtu in 2020,” making it the lower price point since the 1970s.”
Whatever natural gas is lost from shutdowns, or trade wars, it doesn’t seem to matter to U.S. energy companies. They gain efficiency, and seek new production ways. “Electric fracking” is now the new cause du jour for U.S. shale companies, “which uses natural gas to power fracking operations rather than costly diesel.” E-frac, as the technology is called, can reduce the cost of $6-8 million shale well by over $350,000. Oilfield service companies such as Halliburton who have billions tied up in traditional producer technologies will be deeply affected if E-frac is the new norm.
Political issues are the largest variables against U.S. fracking displacing OPEC, Russia, Iran, and China off the world energy stage. British Petroleum is giving in to the deeply flawed flawed Paris Climate Agreement (PCA), and selling oil projects to align with an agreement without enforcement mechanisms. This thinking has led to approximately 45 global financial institutions and banks signing up for “voluntary commitments to lower their emissions profiles in their lending.”
Oil majors are also under pressure from white men like renewable tycoon Al Gore, and coal investment billionaire turned California environmentalist Tom Steyer to make unprofitable decisions based upon a low-carbon or carbon-free society. No individual, environmental organization, or government has given the specifics of how this future will be achieved, or how to eliminate the over 6,000 products that come from a barrel of crude oil.
They are betting on a renewable future, which is harder on the environment than fossil fuels or nuclear, and still isn’t close to having reliable energy battery storage systems at a scalable level for sale on global markets. Renewable energy to electricity led by solar panels and wind turbines are chaotically intermittent, and they don’t work to bring reliable, affordable, scalable, and flexible energy to our planet. Renewables will not save our planet – only natural gas and nuclear have that ability – to power nations and lower emissions simultaneously.
U.S. fracking brings stability and counters Russian geopolitical meddling since the Russians are now aggressively excavating, exporting and using coal to power their military and economy. Basing energy policies, and national security on climate change is dangerous, and upends the global, political order to placate faux-environmentalists whose motives are suspect. Cynicism abounds in the global-warming-consensus movement that seemingly is more about gaining political and economic power instead of saving the climate.
Understanding U.S. fracking movements will be decided as much by environmentalists, as it will geological reports from shale basins. Global economic prosperity is riding on oilfield roughnecks defeating elite, environmentalists, and uninformed global warming advocates. Otherwise China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are waiting to bring a new order to our budding, prosperous, stable planet.