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LOSS OF SOCIAL LICENSE TO OPERATE: THE TOP RISK FACING EXTRACTIVE SECTOR IN 2019/2010

Ernst and Young has assessed the loss of a Social License to Operate (LTO) as the top business risk for the extractive sector in 2019/2020.

This exponential rise has come about because the current approach taken by boards and CEOs is not broad enough. Indeed, the stakeholder landscape is changing and miners need to adapt. Furthermore, there has been a dramatic rise in resource nationalism globally, and the necessity of digital transformation highlights needs for a stronger LTO.

Whilst most sections of the metals and mining industry say the right things with regard to LTO issues, few actually take action. Today, LTOs extend well beyond social and environmental issues, into the realm of issues relating to Shared Value. If mining/metals companies are to remain competitive and keep their stakeholders on side, they need to focus more greatly on how they can Create Shared Value, to the point where this mindset needs to become deeply embedded within a company’s fundamental DNA.

LTO issues cannot be delegated to a department within the business. Rather, LTO concerns must be integrated into a Company’s core decision making process. There is more information about, and bigger platforms for the sharing of that information – just one disaffected shareholder has the ability to destroy a Company’s reputation for good.

Wider society is increasingly participative in multiple issues that directly concern mining/metals operations – social media and the internet rally issues-based stakeholder participation en masse, especially in relation to issues such as sustainability, pollution and workers rights.

Social media has given minority groups, such as indigenous communities, global reach in respect of their issues of concern.

New business models are increasingly focussed on community owned operations, as opposed to more traditional models, whilst host nation governments have higher expectations of shared value outcomes. Essentially, governments want much more than tax and employment opportunities in return for the granting of access to resources. Increased transparency, as a result of more disclosure regimes, means that positive and negative impacts of mining operations are subject to much closer scrutiny than previously. Increasingly, projects are assessed on the basis of the quality and extent of stakeholder engagement. Kenya, for example, has enshrined the principle of public participation into its constitution, under Articles 10, (2) and 69 (d). Further, disaffected stakeholders are pursuing litigation in respect of past damages, and provisioning for such eventualities will become a key issue for companies and regulators.

Click on the links below to read Mark’s previous articles on Shared Value

The Creation of Shared Value – The Need for a Long-Term Perspective

Creating Share Value in Complex Environments:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

About the Author

Mark Jenkins advises clients on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), security and risk management issues affecting the viability of on and off-shore energy, mining and infrastructure sector projects in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Mark’s experience has been focussed on creating reliable community support for projects through the development of a Social License to Operate (SLO) based on effective CSR initiatives. The success of these initiatives has been based on a thorough understanding of local environmental, commercial, and cultural dynamics, especially Islamic ones.

Prospect Law is a multi-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy and environmental sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energy sector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and finance experts.

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law Ltd and Prospect Advisory Ltd and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory.

This article is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice and it should not be relied on in any way.

For more information or assistance with a particular query, please in the first instance contact Adam Mikula on 020 7947 5354 or by email on adm@prospectlaw.co.uk.

For a PDF of this blog click here

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WHOLESALE ENERGY PRICES: OCTOBER 2018

In this article, Dominic Whittome covers recent changes to wholesale energy prices.

Oil

Despite the efforts of the US to almost brow-beat Saudi Arabia into increasing output, crude oil continued to march upwards and rose a further 9% amid open talk in trading circles of a possible three digit oil price at some point this winter, especially if crude or petroleum product inventories look like tightening further.

Paradoxically the latest intervention will have made the Saudis even less inclined to raise output, lest it reinforce the perception it is know-towing the US and working at odds with its cartel partners. There are other reasons why high prices (though below $100/bl) remain a policy goal for the kingdom, not least the delayed floatation of Aramco, for which a robust oil market remains essential.

There are also physical limits as to how much more oil it can produce. No OPEC oil producer should ever want its geo-politically priceless ‘swing capacity’ put to the test unless absolutely necessary. The same holds true for many North African and South American oil producers who may be strong on reserves but still have quite limited capacity to export more oil amid creaking infrastructure and worsening economic outlooks that will thwart foreign investment.

With the Russians and Iranians incentivised to rattle the cages of Western economies, this winter could see further stockpiling that alone will cause the market to tighten. The petro-dollar meanwhile has strengthened through the year, magnifying energy inflation effects in many oil importing countries. Indeed, inflation is a key factor to watch for general energy consumers, with rises in petroleum product prices evidently feeding to gas and liquid fuel markets with contract prices fixed against oil and escalation terms indexed to oil in a stronger petrodollar.

Gas

Natural gas prices increased another 12%, following on from their 15% climb over the May and June period amid expectations of continuingly high crude prices and a cold and protracted European winter that might extend into the shoulder months of March and April, when the Forward Market is generally at its most volatile and gas storage close to depletion in some regions.

In particular, the UK is now without a major gas storage facility following the closure of Centrica’s Rough platform. Whilst concerns over the security of supply from Russia and other Eastern countries may have been overstated in the past year, the forward market is probably now building, amid clearly rising East-West tensions, a higher risk-premium into prices out on the curve. Last month the UK’s annual gas contract hit a ten year high, breaking past 70 pence per therm at one stage.

However, today sees gas prices being influenced by an ever-expanding mixture of global supply & demand factors, with LNG playing a marginal supply role, including recent hurricanes in the USA which drove up crude and spot gas prices up in tandem. In fact, there has been no shortage of bullish news to keep the prompt market strong and this is now affecting gas prices further out on the curve, even if the actual justification for rising long-term gas prices is tenuous. Indeed from a resource perspective there is no actual or expected shortage of gas. The commodity enjoys an increasingly wide geographical spread as far as production is concerned and, according to the latest BP figures, the world has well over 300 years of forward supply at current rates of consumption. In reality however, short-term security of supply concerns, together with persisting long-term indexation to oil, have served to keep driving gas prices higher. The NBP traded over-the-counter price for gas has since risen by over 75% in the last eighteen months.            

Electricity

Although it had been hoped that most of Europe’s reactors would be back up after the summer hiatus, when a lack of cooling water supplies forced many to go offline, there have been reports of persisting outages. The age of nuclear fleets across the Continent is now a growing concern. In the UK too, all existing nuclear power stations, bar Sellafield, are due to close within five to ten years.

It is also becoming clear that renewable electricity and sub-sea interconnectors will not plug the gap, with new-build reactor projects arriving late, due to construction and safety problems, or not even getting off the ground at all amid concerns over technology, rising costs and funding.

In the backdrop, several European countries are quietly permitting the building of new fossil-fuelled power stations. Germany is currently installing coal-fired plants at a faster rate than the Chinese and last month it sanctioned the felling of an entire tree forest to produce the lignite dedicated to power generation.

The UK government itself has just given the go-ahead for a mammoth 2,500 MW gas-fired power station at Eggborough, the site of a former coal-fired plant that was closed only recently. This new power plant will produce some 80% of the output of Hinckley Point C; it will come on line sooner and it will not entail any meaningful subsidy, not from government or from the consumer by way of price-support under CFD tariffs added to bills.

Whether or not these examples mark a general policy shift towards fossil-fired generation remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, the market is tightening.                                                                                                                                 
About the Author

Prospect Law is a multi-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy and environmental sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energy sector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and finance experts.

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory.

Prices quoted are indicative and may be based on approximate or readjusted prices, indices or mean levels discussed in the market. No warranty is given to the accuracy of any view, statement or price information made here which readers must verify.

Dominic Whittome is an economist with 25 years of commercial experience in oil & gas exploration, power generation, business development and supply & trading. Dominic has served as an analyst, contract negotiator and Head of Trading with four energy majors (Statoil, Mobil, ENI and EDF). As a consultant, Dominic has also advised government clients (including the UK Treasury, Met Office and Consumer Focus) and private entities on a range of energy origination, strategy and trading issues.

For more information or assistance with a particular query, please in the first instance contact Adam Mikula on 020 7947 5354 or by email on adm@prospectlaw.co.uk.

For a PDF of this blog click here

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WHOLESALE ENERGY PRICES: MAY – JUNE 2018

In this article, Dominic Whittome covers recent changes to wholesale energy prices.

Oil

Despite reports of US influence, and of OPEC agreeing a relaxation in quota to offset supply problems from Venezuela and sanctions on Iran, crude prices extended their gains to end the period 11% higher.

This output increase is essentially a token gesture anyway, given that most OPEC and non-OPEC countries are already producing at or close to capacity whilst the global supply cushion stands below 4%, the lowest it’s been for 30 years. Consequently, Vienna’s meeting of minsters has done little to reverse the price trend. However, the recent levels also raise questions about the authenticity of the ‘shale oil’ argument.

It was barely two years ago when investment banks were issuing research papers declaring ‘$30 – $40 /bbl – the new norm’ amid expectations of fracked oil and gas keeping the world over supplied. As things turned out, oil prices doubled and many forecasts were promptly re-written. Perhaps a reasonable question to ask is that if there is (or ever was) close to this amount of surplus shale, then why are prices this high now, despite the actions or inactions of OPEC producers?

Prices might soften over the coming months but they are very unlikely indeed to return to anywhere close to the levels discussed in the market barely two years ago. Meanwhile, rising world inflation, which will add to transport, production costs and enhanced recovery budgets, could also drive oil prices higher, whilst the talk of US fiscal tightening and the strong petro-dollar have taken some of the sting out of oil price rises in nominal/dollar terms. Any relapse though, or renewed money printing that sees the dollar fall, could repeat the surge in oil prices last seen in the aftermath of the First Financial Crisis, which witnessed a flight into safe assets, hard commodities, including oil, that then dragged the market above $80/bl when demand was actually weaker than now. The forward outlook therefore appears stable and the current ‘high prices’ environment may be with us for a while.

Gas

Forward gas prices climbed a further 15% amid an unreasonably strong prompt market, with even spot prices trading over 50 p /th and sharply rising petroleum product prices. Oil prices themselves last fell below $40/bbl in April 2016, although their main assent (from $ 45 to $ 75) took place within the past 15 months. This timing may be significant and it may partly explain why wholesale gas prices are rising as fast as they are now.  The ‘low’ gas prices in 2016/17 are due to fall completely out of most long-term contract price escalation formulae soon, if not already. There will therefore be a contractual readjustment for gas via key take-or-pay Russian, Norwegian and LNG gas contracts, most of which account for marginal supply and will dictate forward prices as we move into the next buying round or into the next Gas Year on 1st October.

The OTC market has also seen carbon prices soaring. Today the EUA is trading above € 15/ tonne CO2 versus € 5/tonne CO2 exactly a year ago. While a sharply higher carbon price might be expected to depress gas demand, its overall (and certainly more immediate) effect will be to increase the principal feedstock price for gas generators. Events in the EU ETS will therefore be doing nothing to support any renaissance in new-build gas-fired generators, which may well be needed before long as the national generation margin shrinks further.

Electricity

Forward power prices surged 13% over the period. However, with the medium-term outlook for gas and most other indigenous power generation looking fairly soft, the grid will be relying increasingly on new interconnector imports from the Continent, Norway and potentially Iceland further down the line.

As previous articles have commented, this energy strategy may be unsound, not so much for ‘import/export’ reasons per se but basic reliability. Leaving to one side the question of plant reliability and ability or willingness of European suppliers to offer peak power when needed, the reliability of sub-sea cables needs to be considered as such systems are themselves prone to outages, even the newest cables with the latest electrical technology.

However, with the Hinkley Point power station (which when ready will barely supply 5% of the market) unlikely to produce at capacity before 2025, and other nuclear plants also delayed and unlikely to come online until ca. 2030, the short-term and medium-term generation outlooks are tight. However, rather than higher wholesale prices, the impact will be expressed in sharp rises in premiums and the cost of shape in end-users’ commodity prices, i.e. on top of capacity price increases and increasing eco levies and taxes (now seven in total).

The recent changes discussed above suggest that, if anything, the average businesses will now see power bills rising by 40 – 45% (the top end of the range estimate) within just three years. This prospect should spur end-users to look at energy reduction, demand-side management, on-site generation and profile-correcting batteries.

Prospect Law is a multi-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy and environmental sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energy sector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and finance experts. 

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory.

Prices quoted are indicative and may be based on approximate or readjusted prices, indices or mean levels discussed in the market. No warranty is given to the accuracy of any view, statement or price information made here which readers must verify.

Dominic Whittome is an economist with 25 years of commercial experience in oil & gas exploration, power generation, business development and supply & trading. Dominic has served as an analyst, contract negotiator and Head of Trading with four energy majors (Statoil, Mobil, ENI and EDF). As a consultant, Dominic has also advised government clients (including the UK Treasury, Met Office and Consumer Focus) and private entities on a range of energy origination, strategy and trading issues. 

For more information or assistance with a particular query, please in the first instance contact Adam Mikula on 020 7947 5354 or by email on adm@prospectlaw.co.uk.

For a PDF of this blog click here

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OIL & GAS: VOLATILITY – ATTENTION TO DETAIL – THE KEY TO SUSTAINABILITY, PART I

In the following series of articles Alex Bakhshov will examine the challenges that come with negotiating key legal and contractual terms and managing legal risks across infrastructure operations comprising major oil and gas projects (Projects) in developing oil and gas markets and in turn a means through which to mitigate the impact of inflated barrel production costs (Barrel Price) by Independent Oil Companies (IOC), Oil Field Service Providers (OFP) and other market participants seeking to make strategic decisions relating to foreign direct investment (FDI).

Introduction:

Alex Bakhshov will seek to contrast the contractual challenges for both IOC’s and OFP’s delivering goods and services in those markets, providing examples where relevant of how savings were made in respect of Barrel Price.

In the first three of this series of introductory articles, Alex will seek to identify the key challenges faced by market participants seeking to invest in developing markets, focusing on the common barriers and determinants for FDI.  Each Project and jurisdiction presents its own challenges and further guidance will be addressed in subsequent articles dealing separately with each of the key contractual terms and legal risks identified in the third article of this introductory series.

Having attained over ten years of experience of working on Projects in markets as diverse as Latin America, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Asia Pacific during a period of oil price volatility, Alex hopes to demonstrate the benefits of giving careful consideration to legal as well as fiscal risks at the inception of a Project.

Need for Internal Controls & Corporate Governance

Controls for legal risk factors should also be implemented at the outset, adopting a collaborative approach with domestic policy makers (Regulators) and local content requirements (LCR) as it can contribute to ensuring effective crisis management in the event of dispute, political upheaval or environmental catastrophe. Additionally, for listed companies, a joined up approach should be adopted as part of the internal controls for the purposes of governance, reporting requirements and greater transparency for capital market participants – this should also ensure corporate level engagement and ownership and thus confidence for third party investors and other market participants.

The importance of having robust internal controls and a rigorous interface for corporate governance in developing countries cannot be stressed enough where the Project requires engagement with LCR’s. Issues hampering development of the private sector of some developing countries frequently include the absence of a comprehensive credit reporting system, which “compromises banks’ ability to distinguish good from poor performers and makes them reluctant to lend in the absence of collateral” per World Bank’s biannual ‘Mozambique Economic Update’ report dated July 2017. The Report also states “Similarly, equity finance is constrained by a corporate governance regime that provides few incentives for firms to make financial information and audited reports of their activities available. As a result, investors are hesitant to invest because they cannot assess the viability of firms seeking finance.”

Financial Controls:

For listed companies, financial controls in some developing countries are essential for compliance with anti bribery legislation, which in many cases now imposes strict liability on corporations as well as partners, agents, suppliers and indeed throughout the supply chain irrespective of whether the company itself has fallen foul of the anti-bribery legislation.  Under regulations, for example, large and EU-listed, UK-registered oil and gas companies must report their payments to governments worldwide annually for financial years starting from January 2015, country-by-country and Project by Project. At times of oil price volatility when profit margins are threatened, the pressure to cut capital expenditure can impact the risk of non- compliance with anti–bribery regulations  – robust controls and governance can ensure that this risk is mitigated. Risks of anti-corruption non-compliance and exposure are a significant barrier to FDI.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI):

FDI may include mergers and acquisitions, the building of new facilities and the expansion of existing production capacity. FDI usually involves control or participation in management, joint venture, management expertise and technology transfers. It excludes investment through purchase of securities or foreign portfolio investment, a passive investment in the securities of another country such as shares and bonds.

There are three main types of FDI contracts in the upstream oil and gas sector:

  1. concessions or licenses;
  2. production sharing contracts or agreements (PSCs or PSAs); and
  3. risk-service contracts.

Although legal risks are often addressed upfront through ‘stabilization clauses’, these, though advisable, provide limited comfort.  Preference should be given to pursuing a collaborative strategy with Regulators to help support the roll out of infrastructure, as well as active pursuit of a joint strategy for transfer of knowledge and technology. This approach will not only mitigate Barrel Price and thus profitability but also promote an environment for sustainable business growth. Any meaningful engagement with the Regulator in this regard early in the assessment process can also help support a competitive bid.

Large proven reserves, relatively modest Barrel Prices and attractive concessions for FDI can mean that, in periods of oil price volatility, market participants can reap benefits by focusing their resources in developing markets.

FDI Investment in the Oil Sector:

With high oil and gas dependent economies, many developing countries have historically provided opportunities for IOCs to spearhead oil exploration and production activities, and to acquire interests in fields with unexplored economic potential. As an example, the oil and gas sector has been the largest beneficiary of FDI in most oil exporting Arab countries. In Oman for instance, around 50 per cent of FDI is invested in the oil sector.

As manufacturing and service export bases remain limited in many of these countries, specialization and entrances in a specific segment of the global production chain could also benefit from FDI, while also improving export quality, sophistication and accelerating technology and knowledge transfers, specifically in the form of FDI. Improving the climate for FDI in non-oil industries may involve lowering entry requirements, creating investment promotion intermediaries, and streamlining tax structures. (See International Monetary Fund, Economic Diversification in Oil-Exporting Arab Countries (2016) 7-8 available here)

The common determinants for FDI in oil and gas markets and by implication components of the Barrel Price are chiefly fiscal in nature, such as oil price volatility, infrastructure reliability, political uncertainty (e.g. risks of expropriation and ownership) and openness of the economy such as foreign exchange controls and tax laws; this can have an impact on expatriation of profits and transactional costs and in many cases the oil executive will typically be interested in the proven reserves and the fiscal terms as against the prevailing and forecast oil price as the basis for making a decision relating to FDI.

In the next article in this series, a particularly challenging jurisdiction, sub- Saharan Africa, shall be explored to illustrate some of the issues experienced by the international investment community and how they have responded to the barriers to FDI.

Alex Bakhshov is a commercial barrister that specialises in project and infrastructure work, having attained experience of major projects in Africa, Asia, the North Sea, South America and Australia. Alex has advised on mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, construction, regulatory, contracting and procurement strategies, and possesses significant experience in construction, the marine sector, shipyard disputes, shipping (both wet and dry) and offshore Oil & Gas projects in the North Sea, West Africa and Brazil.

Prospect Law is a multi-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy and environmental sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energy sector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and finance experts.

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law Ltd and Prospect Advisory Ltd and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory.

For more information or assistance with a particular query please in the first instance contact the department paralegal Adam Mikula on 020 7947 5354 or by email on adm@prospectlaw.co.uk.

For a PDF of this blog click here

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WHOLESALE ENERGY PRICES: NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2017:

In this article, Dominic Whittome covers recent changes to wholesale energy prices.

Oil

The petroleum market continued to charge upwards. Dated Brent prices closed the two month period 19% higher. In the last two years, since the January 2016 Edition of Energy Highlights, world oil prices have risen over 80%. Whilst the so-far successful accord between OPEC and non-OPEC producers has certainly had an impact, shale has yet to have the dampening effect which some in the market had asserted it would.

No one knows how far oil prices may have to run before marginal supplies (i.e. not covered by the Accord, US shale being just one option available) arrive en masse. Whilst prices will not necessarily reach this level, E&P studies suggest that only once oil prices are sustained over $75/bl will significant new developments come online.

The Brent market spiked higher in December amid outages at Statoil’s Troll platform and Forties pipeline, which shut-in over 70 North Sea platforms in total at one stage, including the ETAP, Armada and Buzzard fields along with Forties itself, removing 45% of UK winter supply. While the pipeline is back online now, attention at the turn of the New Year turned towards troubles in Iran, which buoyed Dated Brent cargoes above $65 /bl into the New Year.

Natural Gas

Natural gas prices, on the other hand, took most of last month’s events in their stride, despite much of the upheaval relating to the gas market itself. Day-ahead spot leapt to a 4 year high of 80 p/th at one point amid concern over supply, as the UK entered its first winter with no principal (long duration) gas storage facility following the closure of Rough combined with a major explosion at the sensitive Russian import thoroughfare at Baumgarten in Austria. Yet, this barely affected the forward curve in the end. The Annual Contract rose just 2% over the two periods and gas prices actually fell 4% over the year. This relaxed market might symbolize the abundance of global gas supplies relative to oil, and also national aversion to building new gas power stations, efficiency and de-carbonisation globally.

However, gas prices, through oil-indexed contracts and (to an extent still) fuel substitution, will at some point respond to rising energy commodity prices if that trend continues, even if the indexation-lag is pronged (which it often can be). It remains to be seen whether gas prices will remain so calm, even though the forward supply picture remains robust.

Electricity

Forward power prices rose 5% between November and January to finish the year unchanged at roughly £48/MWh. The spark spread has been rising, although whether this will trigger some of the stalled UK gas generation projects remains unclear, with government policy the most likely determinate there. As regards the wholesale market, the outlook for significant price rises in base-load electricity looks muted still. However, for commercial & industrial markets, the outlook is significantly more bullish, with a cocktail of transmission, distribution tariff, existing surcharge and new energy tax rises in the pipeline. These could increase the annual bills for commercial customers by 30% inside three years, notwithstanding changes to wholesale prices.

Despite rising commodity prices elsewhere, forward curve and prompt market prices were also subdued by sentiment on wind generation. A ‘£57.50/kWh’ headline figure made the news in October (although it doesn’t imply many new wind projects will be commercial at such a price) and high winds across Europe in late December also suppressed the day-ahead market. That said, the take-up of renewables combined with certainly lower costs have surpassed expectations, serving to soften forward prices. A cursory look at the ‘speedometers’ on www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk in recent weeks demonstrates just how significant wind output was, amid several Triad warnings in December itself, frequently testing the 9 GW level. This, together with robust nuclear output, compensated for the sudden and unexpected closure of Drax, the UK’s largest power station, despite the outage continuing into the New Year.

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory.

Prices quoted are indicative and may be based on approximate or readjusted prices, indices or mean levels discussed in the market. No warranty is given to the accuracy of any view, statement or price information made here which readers must verify.

Dominic Whittome is an economist with 25 years of commercial experience in oil & gas exploration, power generation, business development and supply & trading. Dominic has served as an analyst, contract negotiator and Head of Trading with four energy majors (Statoil, Mobil, ENI and EDF). As a consultant, Dominic has also advised government clients (including the UK Treasury, Met Office and Consumer Focus) and private entities on a range of energy origination, strategy and trading issues. 

For more information please contact us on 020 7947 5354 or by email on: info@prospectlaw.co.uk.

For a PDF of this blog click here

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WHOLESALE ENERGY PRICES: MARCH – APRIL 2017:

In this series of articles, Dominic Whittome covers recent changes to wholesale energy prices.

Crude Oil

Brent fell 10% amid lingering concern about over-supplied oil markets and US output climbing to 9.25 million a day, its highest level since August 2015. Meanwhile, last year’s production accord struck between OPEC, Russia and other non-OPEC nations, which had initially intended to eliminate a 300 million barrel stockpile over a global five-year average (three days of worldwide production), has succeeded in lifting prices and keeping them above $50/bl. However, the price impact has been muted otherwise.

The inventories picture is mixed and reports are also contradictory. Refinery supplies are still rising although offshore inventories are reported to be falling; a sign perhaps that the production cuts agreed last year are taking longer to feed through than ministers bargained. If OPEC and non-OPEC ministers, meeting behind-the-scenes now, do agree to significant further cuts in time for the next Vienna meeting on May 25th then crude could break out of its current $45 to $55/bl price range and head back above $60 or $70/bl. However, the market will first want to see evidence of agreed cuts showing up in refinery inventories before any new price range is established.

Natural Gas

The forward year OTC gas contract fell back 15% over the two month period in the absence of any significant supply issues. However, gas prices will be sensitive to any further heightening of tension in the Korean Peninsula. Although Geo-political risks affect all energy commodities, gas stands to be affected most, perhaps, in light of threats to shipping and the disruption of diverted spot and contracted LNG cargoes destined for European terminals, as well as its link to the Rotterdam oil market.

For the time being, gas prices are also being held back by the declining price of coal, which recently traded below $65/tonne. The falling carbon price has also taken its toll with the EU-ETS contract trading below €4.50/tonne at one stage in April, its lowest level since last summer. Traders have commented on a ‘loss of direction’ in the market, drifting away from supply-specific fundamentals. If so, this could signify gas prices shadowing the crude and petroleum products markets in weeks ahead.

Electricity

Last month saw the first day in which UK coal plants producing zero electricity; a timely reminder of the increasing reliance on renewables, new-build nuclear and interconnector projects in order to fill the impending generation gap as the last of the coal and ageing Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors are taken offline.

Each of these alternatives carry uncertainties in respect of capacity available on the day and construction timescale. Further, the trend towards decentralised grids and the ‘off shoring’ of capacity (i.e. interconnectors) could increase burdens on the balancing system and, as a consequence, the suppliers’ average risk-premium added within long-term power contracts as more producers and traders become adverse to contracting forward. Conceivably this will worsen the current liquidity problems further, with reports of senior traders and trading directors now retreating from forward trading altogether and contenting themselves with the prompt markets only. This would leave industrial prices ever more prone to sudden price corrections, if we assume that forward prices then become more likely to take their cue from the prompt market as a result of little activity in the relevant forward market.

While the election date has sapped chances of any early energy policy announcement, there was little in the market to console fossil-fuel generator or storage investors either, with spark spreads drifting below 4% and weakening intra-day/Red Zone spreads compromising commercial cases for battery storage. However, relevant policy announcements are believed possible a few months after the summer recess, potentially in October or sooner.

By Dominic Whittome

Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory provide legal and business consultancy services for clients involved in the infrastructure, energy and financial sectors.

Prices quoted are indicative and may be based on approximate or readjusted prices, indices or mean levels discussed in the market. No warranty is given to the accuracy of any view, statement or price information made here which readers must verify.

Dominic Whittome is an economist with 25 years of commercial experience in oil & gas exploration, power generation, business development and supply & trading. Dominic has served as an analyst, contract negotiator and Head of Trading with four energy majors (Statoil, Mobil, ENI and EDF). As a consultant, Dominic has also advised government clients (including the UK Treasury, Met Office and Consumer Focus) and various private entities on a range of energy origination, strategy and trading issues.

For more information please contact us on 020 7947 5354 or by email on: info@prospectlaw.co.uk.

For a PDF of this blog click here

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WHOLESALE ENERGY PRICES: JANUARY – FEBRUARY 2017: PART I: CRUDE OIL & NATURAL GAS

In this series of articles, Dominic Whittome covers recent changes to wholesale energy prices.

Crude Oil

Oil prices finished 2% down as the market remained pensive about the upcoming OPEC summit in April.

Although ‘OPEC Alliance’ countries (producers co-operating with latest output cuts) will not be attending the Vienna talks in a formal capacity, behind-the-scenes dialogue has been ongoing all the while.

With Iranian and Russian ministries having met up in January to discuss Russia extending its production cuts into next year and Saudi Arabia sending their foreign minister to Iraq (which was included in its latest production agreement) with a view to including Iraq in possible future production ceilings yet to be agreed.

Traders have been pointing out that there is no evidence to show that last November’s accord between OPEC and OPEC Alliance countries made any impact. Although it is true enough that crude prices have flat-lined since November (having jumped in the weeks running up to the accord), conversely there is also no sign the accord has not worked. The agreed cuts were modest, the first in over nine years and also the first of their kind in that they included several non-OPEC producers.

OPEC ministers are possibly playing a long game, with modest but universally-orchestrated limits in output, to be increased methodically rather than in any way likely to destabilise the market, and we would need to wait and see if and what OPEC ministers decide on in April before one can second-guess the success or otherwise of last November’s accord. The pace of oil price recovery has, however, been muted. This may or may not be connected to the delays to the public listing of Saudi Aramco, ostensibly due to ‘complexities in the structure’ of the company flotation plan.

The mooted delay (up to 18 months) may reinforce scepticism about the expected speed of any oil price recovery, if this reflects the kingdom’s pessimism of the accord holding together. The value of the share offering is estimated at over £2 trillion and clearly very sensitive to prevailing oil prices. If market estimates are correct, the new company is valued at 20 times the capitalisation of the next largest oil major, ExxonMobil. It is conceivable that there have been worries that the oil market might not recover in time and these may have played a factor in the delay, although that itself is pure speculation. The Vienna meeting April could though be a turning point, in either direction.

With this week being CERA Week in Houston, perhaps we can expect the annual splash of shale stories over the next few days.  While shale drilling should place a price ceiling on any sustained oil price recovery, as pointed out in past issues of Energy Highlights, shale plays are generally short-term and expensive. Oil prices could comfortably ratchet up to $75/bbl or beyond before shale and higher-cost conventional oil output starts to kicks-in. Either way, the oil market will never loose its capacity to take people by surprise.

Natural Gas

The forward-year gas contract finished the first two months of the year off 10%, closing below 45p per therm. This reflects the view held by most traders of a fundamentally well-supplied market with a spate of further LNG export projects set to come online this year and next, many landing at European terminals.

Notable supplies include projects in Australia and South East Asia, although shale gas from the Americas will have a role will to play too. The UK market recently saw shale gas imports from the Peruvian jungle due for landing at Milford Haven shortly before going to press, and this healthy looking forward supply-picture has been helped along by Japan.

The country has gradually been releasing more and more gas on to the world spot market: the LNG contracts it had bought up in the immediate aftermath of Fukushima. This may have contributed to (or certainly given the impression of) an ‘LNG glut’.

The demand-side also paints a weak picture, with limited demand-call from generators and industry. However, there are some bullish signs on the horizon too. Geo-politics have recently turned adverse, with under-the-radar conflict areas in Russian-Ukraine and even the South China Sea among the potential supply-area worries.

However, any sustained uplift in gas prices is perhaps most likely to occur as a result of an indexation and long-term contracts issue. Indexation to crude prices still has the propensity to push prices up, with much of the piped and LNG sold across Europe still covered by these clauses. Within these contracts, even where oil and petroleum product indices may have seen their price-impact reduced or possibly removed altogether over the last 20 years, these price escalators indices have in most cases simply been substituted for producer price indices, which have recently been rising faster than oil prices themselves.

In fact, over the last five months alone, UK producer prices have been rising at annualised rates well over 10% according to estimates provided by industry trade associations. These will ultimately soon be reflected in official government statistics and will later directly influence gas contract prices, where the indexation effects can be lagged for six to nine months or, in unusual cases, even longer.

Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory provide legal and business consultancy services for clients involved in the infrastructure, energy and financial sectors.

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Advisory.

Prices quoted are indicative and may be based on approximate or readjusted prices, indices or mean levels discussed in the market. No warranty is given to the accuracy of any view, statement or price information made here which readers must verify.

Dominic Whittome is an economist with 25 years of commercial experience in oil & gas exploration, power generation, business development and supply & trading. Dominic has served as an analyst, contract negotiator and Head of Trading with four energy majors (Statoil, Mobil, ENI and EDF). As a consultant, Dominic has also advised government clients (including the UK Treasury, Met Office and Consumer Focus) and various private entities on a range of energy origination, strategy and trading issues.

For more information please contact us on 020 3427 5955 or by email on: info@prospectadvisory.co.uk.

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WHOLESALE ENERGY PRICES: MARCH – MAY 2016 PART I: OIL

In this new series of articles, Dominic Whittome covers wholesale energy prices between March and May 2016, discussing issues such as fluctuations in the price of Brent crude, falling shale production and decreasing prices across Europe’s gas and electricity exchange, as well as the possibility of these rising again in the future.

The cost of Brent Crude went on a rollercoaster ride in March and April. Prices began rising amid hopes of a possible agreement at OPEC’s production ceiling talks in Doha, only to fall back once those expectations were dashed. Prices then soared to $50/bl by the end of April, far above the “new $20/bl -$30/bl range” discussed in some trading circles as recently as February. In the event, the market shook off the stand-off in OPEC and the 15-Dated Brent contract ended the period up over 23%.

Meanwhile, North American shale production has proved much more price-sensitive than some pundits anticipated. Shale projects generally have a very short plateau period so ongoing development is key. Production may well have been set to decline anyway as indirect government subsidies were to be curtailed, although the prolonged slump in oil prices may have bought this to a head. The IEA itself predicted a possible fall in shale investment at the end of last year, observing a sharply increasing price sensitivity once oil prices fall below $60/bl.

Last month the IEA announced that non-OPEC oil production was falling at a faster rate than at any time in the past 25 years. Looking forward, one key price driver will be how soon the current impasse between Iranian and Saudi oil ministers can be broken. Longer term, there is also the issue of how quickly wider Middle Eastern and Venezuelan crude production can be ramped up and brought to market as global oil demand gradually recovers, especially if non-OPEC production continues to disappoint.

Prospect Law and Prospect Energy provide a unique combination of legal and technical advisory services for clients involved in energy, infrastructure and natural resource projects in the UK and internationally.

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law and Prospect Energy and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Energy.

Prices quoted are indicative and may be based on approximate or readjusted prices, indices or mean levels discussed in the market. No warranty is given to the accuracy of any view, statement or price information made here which readers must verify.

Dominic Whittome is an economist with 25 years of commercial experience in oil & gas exploration, power generation, business development and supply & trading. Dominic has served as an analyst, contract negotiator and Head of Trading with four energy majors (Statoil, Mobil, ENI and EDF). As a consultant, Dominic has also advised government clients (including the UK Treasury, Met Office and Consumer Focus) and various private entities on a range of energy origination, strategy and trading issues.

For more information please contact us on 01332 818 785 or by email on: info@prospectlaw.co.uk.

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CUADRILLA FRACKING APPEALS OPEN IN BLACKPOOL

A Public Inquiry into four planning appeals under s.78 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act have opened in Blackpool in Lancashire, against the decision of Lancashire County Council to refuse to permit drilling at two well sites in Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood, hydraulic fracturing those wells and flow-testing the shale gas, and associated monitoring works. The appeals are listed to last for 5 weeks.

They are the first appeals to consider the Government’s shale gas policy, and have all been recovered by the Secretary of State for his personal determination. The appeals have raised a number of interesting, and inevitably controversial, issues.

First, there is the application of the presumption in favour of planning permission contained within paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The Appellant argues that because the development plan does not expressly provide for hydrocarbons expressly, in line with the PPG, it must be either absent, silent or out-of-date. However, absence and silence have been interpreted as a high threshold, see Lindblom J in Bloor Homes East Midlands Limited v SSCLG [2014] EWHC 754 (Admin.). As to whether a policy is “out of date” by reference to paragraph 215 NPPF, the Inspector will have to resolve whether a given policy is inconsistent with the corresponding parts of the NPPF.

Second, there is a significant conflict in the expert noise evidence, between whether to use the British Standard for construction and open cast sites, or to use the British Standard for industry and commercial sources of noise – in short whether the drilling and fracturing operation (nearly 2 years) is akin to a construction site or an industrial site. There is also dispute as to the extent to which the WHO Night Noise Guidelines (2009) replace the WHO Community Noise Guidelines (1999) on Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level (SOAEL) and Significant Observed Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL), or indeed whether LOAEL and SOAEL in WHO Guidelines are targeted to, less intrusive, anonymous (transport) noise, rather than noise with a specific character, as the appeal schemes are said to be.

Third, there is debate as to the weight to attach to the Joint Ministerial Statement on Shale Gas “Shale Gas and Oil Policy” (16 September 2015) (“WMS”). However, that debate may ultimately be somewhat redundant as it appears to be common ground after the first week of cross-examination of the Appellant’s witnesses, that the WMS is not encouraging unsustainable (by reference to the NPPF) shale gas exploration. Thus an exploration project which conflicted with the NPPF judged objectively, as a whole, would not derive any support from the WMS.

Fourth, the weight to be attached to benefits. Planning permission is sought only for the exploration stage. It is a real possibility that following 6 years of exploration, shale gas is not commercially extractable at the proposed locations and thus the wells are decommissioned and plugged. Therefore, the decision taker can only place weight on the very small number of construction and security jobs that will be created to construct and maintain the wells, and the receipt of knowledge of the commercial viability of extracting shale gas at the locations. Placing weight on the benefits of a wider commercial shale gas industry in the North West is highly unlikely given that this would require at least a further planning application and may not even be a commercial reality.

Without question these appeals are a definitive test for the fledgling shale gas industry in England (readers will know that hydraulic fracturing is not presently permitted in Scotland or Wales). The seven planning barristers appearing in the appeals, including Prospect Law’s Ashley Bowes, reflects the scale of the financial stakes and the importance and complexity of the legal issues under consideration.

 

Prospect Law and Prospect Energy provide a unique combination of legal and technical advisory services for clients involved in energy, infrastructure and natural resource projects in the UK and internationally.

This article is not intended to constitute legal advice and Prospect Law and Prospect Energy accepts no responsibility for loss or damage incurred as a result of reliance on its content. Specific legal advice should be taken in relation to any issues or concerns of readers which are raised by this article.

This article remains the copyright property of Prospect Law and Prospect Energy and neither the article nor any part of it may be published or copied without the prior written permission of the directors of Prospect Law and Prospect Energy

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A STEP CLOSER TO FRACKING?

Britain has moved a step closer to ‘Fracking’ with the news that a decision to block the extraction of Shale Gas in South Lancashire could now be overturned by the Secretary of State.

Although a local planning inspector at Lancashire County Council will still hear the Energy firm’s appeal in February as per the usual course in planning appeals, they will now only have the power to compile a report and forward suggestions. A final decision will instead lie in the hands of Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, who has chosen to depart from the usual process because the prospect of extracting Shale Gas is a matter of “major importance having more than local significance”.

This follows Mr Clark’s September decision to afford himself a final say over planning appeals concerning Shale Gas, as s.62A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 allows him to do.

In June of this year, Cuadrilla’s applications to instigate ‘Fracking’ at two sites, Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton, were rejected by Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee, with nine from the fourteen strong committee rejecting the proposals on the grounds that the sight of Fracking operations and the noise arising from them would cause an ‘unacceptable adverse impact” on the rural setting that was to host them.

As we previously reported, central government have appeared keen to promote ‘Fracking’ despite indications that support for the technique has reached an all time low. Moreover, with opposition to the extraction of Shale Gas often heard at local levels, the significance of this development cannot be underestimated. Groups such as Friends of the Earth have been quick to voice concerns that this development will help to sideline local opinions.

Prospect Law and Prospect Energy provide a unique combination of legal and technical advisory services for clients involved in energy, infrastructure and natural resources projects in the UK and internationally.

For more information, please contact Edmund Robb on 07930 397531, or by email on: er@prospectlaw.co.uk.

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