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The start of the geopolitical year 2020 is worrying, and not only because of events in Iran and Iraq. The growing importance of Turkey’s role in the Near and Middle East should not leave one indifferent; the country’s plans in the Levant Sea are notable due to this maritime region’s rich natural gas resources which already play a major role in the geopolitics of energy.
Lest We Forget
The Suez crisis of 1956 was such a momentous event for Great Britain that it reduced a great and proud country from a major player on the international stage to a second rate power, caused its economy to shrink and devalued its currency.
The War on Iraq in 2003
Almost seventeen years ago, a group of neoconservative hawks among them John Bolton, President Trump’s current national security adviser, persuaded President George W. Bush to mount a quick invasion of Iraq because, they alleged, it had “weapons of mass destruction.” That decision, based on dubious intelligence and taken against the advice of many of America’s closest allies, triggered a huge refugee crisis, destabilized the entire Middle East and cost the global economy an estimated $12.584 trillion of which the US economy’s share was $6.52 trillion according to a research paper titled: ”The Oil ’Price Rise’ Factor in the Iraq War: A Macroeconomic Assessment” I wrote and was published by the United States Association for Energy Economics (USAEE) on the 4th of June 2008. Moreover, nearly 5,000 Americans lost their lives in Iraq with hundreds of thousands more injured and receiving lifetime disability compensation.
The great rivalry between the United States and China will shape the 21st century. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a great power will never voluntarily surrender pride of place to a challenger. The United States is the pre-eminent great power. China is now its challenger.
The escalating trade war has been casting dark clouds over the global economy creating uncertainty and depressing the global demand for oil and therefore oil prices.
The shift from the pure commodities to the Value-added services (VAS) in the Smart Cities.
All industry players are migrating to innovative services; Power and Gas providers to the energy monitoring, Telcos to the smart home services, device producers to the smart devices. These sectors (VAS) are more and more overlapped. Let's consider the offered range of VASs of an Energy provider, a Telco or a device producer...they are mostly the same.
Despite efforts by John Bolton the hawkish neo-conservative National Security Adviser to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu to push the United States to go to war with Iran, war is neither an option for Iran nor for the United States.
Iran is not seeking a war with the United States but it will retaliate if its crude oil exports were prevented from passing through the Strait of Hormuz. And while it will be virtually impossible to block the Strait completely, Iran can nevertheless mine it and wait for an oil tanker loaded with oil to hit a mine. That alone could deter oil tanker owners and insurance companies from sending their tankers across the Strait. Alternatively, Iran could threaten to sink an oil tanker. That could have the same effect like mining the Strait.
Last month Saudi Aramco hit the news when it was named as the world’s most profitable company with revenue of $224 bn, a net income of $111 bn and a free cash flow of $86 bn against a total debt of $27 bn in 2018.
There was a lot of fanfare about Saudi Aramco created by investment banks which benefited hugely from Saudi Aramco’s launch of a major bond issuance to help finance its acquisition of 70% stake in Saudi petrochemical Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC).
The evolution of battery-powered vehicles
The coming of battery-powered cars has a long history. In 1799, the Italian Alessandro Volta established the scientific principles regarding storage of electricity in electrochemical form by putting two different types of metals—electrodes and the electrolytes—into contact, which led to the creation of the first electric cell. In 1859, the French physicist Gaston Planté developed the first acid battery. Electric vehicles (EVs) appeared with the advent of the automobile and accounted for one third of vehicles in the United States in the 1900s, before being displaced by more competitive internal combustion engines (ICEs) (1).
In recent years, there has been a rekindling of interest in EVs, as governments look to tackle carbon emissions from transportation sectors, contributing over 20% of total global emissions (2). The quest for energy independence and technological ownership are also factors driving government support for EVs (3). Norway and California have implemented subsidy programmes towards such ends. The United Kingdom and France have recently announced that they will ban the sale of fossil-fuel automobiles after 2040.
Within the European Union (EU), one of the key aspects of its energy strategy is to ensure the security of supply. This objective was introduced in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, in its article 176A:
“The Union policy on energy shall aim, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, to ... ensure security of energy supply in the Union” (1).
As a significant portion of the energy consumed in Europe is imported from Russia, it is crucial for the EU to reduce its dependency. The Lisbon Treaty vows to procure to the EU a roadmap to build a resilient energy network within its territory, as well as to diversify import channels.
The global oil market and its leaders
2018 had seen oil prices buffeted by bullish and bearish influences with oil prices seesawing from $66.87 a barrel on the first day of the year, to a high of $87 in early November then slumping before Christmas to a disappointing $54.10.
Who gets what?
But there were other forces at play that significantly influenced the price of oil in 2018. These forces were personalities whose decisions, utterances and in some cases farsightedness impacted directly on oil prices and the global oil market and may equally do so in 2019 as well.
The Founding of OPEC
The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an intergovernmental organisation of 15 nations founded in 1960 in Baghdad by the first five members (Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela) and headquartered since 1965 in Vienna, Austria. OPEC accounts for an estimated 42.6% of global oil production and 71.8% of the world’s proven oil reserves giving it a major influence on the global oil market and prices that were previously controlled by the so-called “Seven Sisters” (Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Gulf Oil, Texaco, BP & Shell) cartel of the world’s largest multinational oil companies.
Sustainability is the practice of maintaining processes of productivity indefinitely—natural or human made—by replacing resources used with resources of equal or greater value without degrading or endangering natural biotic systems. Sustainable development binds together concern for the natural systems with the social, political, and economic challenges faced by humanity.
The three pillars of sustainable development are the economy, energy and the environment. Interaction between these three pillars sustains a growing global economy which provides employment for millions of people and a decent standard of living in a healthy environment and the energy means that help enhance the quality of our life and mobility. The global economy has to be in a continuous state of healthy growth if it is to be able to feed 7.5 billion of people.
Since the withdrawal of the United States from the Nuclear Deal with Iran and its decision to re-introduce sanctions on Iran particularly Iranian oil exports, analysts and experts alike have been competing with each other in their projections about how much Iran will lose from its oil exports as a result of the sanctions. Their projections have ranged from 500,000 barrels a day (b/d) to 1.5 million barrels a day (mbd) out of estimated Iranian oil exports of 2.125 mbd.
Most of these projections were, in my opinion, based on faulty assumptions and lack of understanding of the dynamics of the global oil market and virtually bordering on daydreaming and wishful thinking.
Some experts are projecting a peak oil demand by 2036. Others like Fitch Ratings are saying that greater product awareness and technological changes could fast track the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) that could plausibly lead to a peak oil demand before 2030.
It is, however, debatable as to whether a peak oil demand could be reached during the 21st century. The one certain thing is that oil is expected to remain the world’s primary energy source throughout the 21st century and probably far beyond. A major underpinning factor is the growing world population.
The recent attack by the Houthi rebels in Yemen on two Saudi oil tankers each carrying 1 million barrels of oil in the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb and Saudi Arabia’s suspension of oil shipments through the Strait have demonstrated how vulnerable the world’s key oil chokepoints are and how easy it is to disrupt global oil traffic.
US President Trump broke all norms of diplomacy and protocol during the NATO meeting in Brussels on the 11th of July 2018, when he accused Germany of being “a captive of the Russians” because of its dependence on Russian energy supplies. He went on to say that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting 60-70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline”.
He was, of course, referring to the jointly European and Russian-financed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that would deliver a total of 110 billion cubic metres per year of Russian gas supplies under the Baltic Sea, to Germany and the European Union (EU) thus bypassing the Ukraine. It will be completed by the end of 2019.
Oil prices don’t lie. They reflect the true picture in the global oil market from an economic and geopolitical angles. In the aftermath of the historic summit between US President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, oil prices were flat. What does this tell us?
The fact that the oil markets largely ignored the much-anticipated summit could mean that they viewed the summit as all flash with little substance. And though both sides hailed the summit as a breakthrough, there was nothing to show except a declaration pledging to work towards denuclearization with no details about how this is to be achieved.
US President Trump announced on the 8th of May 2018 that he is walking away from the 2015 nuclear Iran deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) into which the United States had entered with Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) in order to exclude the prospect of Iran developing an indigenous nuclear weapons capability until at least 2028.
But the Trump decision is unlikely to bring about a meaningful improvement in the security situation of the US, Israel, or the Middle East generally, nor significantly damage Iran’s strategic capabilities. However, it changes some of the dynamics with regard to the President’s anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
The 26th of March 2018 will go in history as the most momentous day for the United States’ economy, China’s economy and the petrodollar and also for China’s status as an economic superpower. In that day China launched its yuan-denominated crude oil futures in Shanghai thus challenging the petrodollar for dominance in the global oil market. And in that very day 15.4 million barrels of crude for delivery in September 2018 changed hands over two and a half hours—the length of the first-day trading session for the contract.
Exactly one week after China launched its crude oil futures, the petro-yuan surpassed Brent trading volume. How long will it take it before overtaking the petrodollar? (see Chart 1).
In February 2018, an international consortium led by France’s Total and also comprising Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek, signed two exploration and production agreements covering Blocks 4 and 9 offshore Lebanon, providing for the drilling of at least one well per block in the first three years. The consortium’s priority will be to drill a first exploration well on Block 4 next year, Total said.
As for Block 9, Total and its partners are fully aware of the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border dispute in the southern part of the block that covers only a very limited area (less than 8% of the block’s surface). Given that the main prospects are located more than 25km from the disputed area, the consortium confirms that the exploration well on Block 9 will have no interference at all with any fields or prospects located south of the border area,” the French company said (see Figure 1).