Wood Mackenzie’s 2020 Energy and Commodities Summit Asia Pacific edition commenced on Monday, with experts sharing their views on how the energy sector is changing in light of the oil price crash, COVID-19 and the latest carbon-neutrality trends.
Global oil demand has been hit hard this year due to COVID-19 and changes in consumer behaviours. Wood Mackenzie Research Analyst, Qiaoling Chen, said in the long run, global GDP might not return to pre-crisis levels and this causes a permanent loss in jet fuel and diesel/gasoil demand through to 2040.
“However, the transport sector will remain a sustainable oil demand growth centre for at least another decade, particularly in developing economies in Asia Pacific, due to expansion of the middle class and relatively low penetration of electric vehicles,” Chen said.
“We estimate transport demand will decline by more than 7 million barrels per day (b/d) this year, of which 62 per cent is coming from the road segment.”
“On the contrary, the petrochemicals sector shows resilience during the pandemic, with demand expected to increase by 1 million b/d this year, supported by capacity expansions in China. In the longer term, the petrochemical feedstock sector will take over as the leading growth sector globally.”
Integration with petrochemicals is way forward for refining industry
2020 was expected to be an outstanding year for the refining industry due to changes in the IMO’s bunker fuel quality requirements. Yet, COVID-19 instead turned it into one of the worst years in refining history.
According to Wood Mackenzie Research Director, Sushant Gupta, 2020 refining margins are expected to be the weakest in the last 20-25 years.
“Besides the shock from COVID-19, the refining industry is also facing more sustained challenges in the mid- to long- term as the world moves towards a lower-carbon energy system,” Gupta said.
“These include overcapacity, lower margins, refinery closures, a need to re-configure refineries to align with changing demand and the additional cost of refinery carbon emissions. Refinery closures will become a reality in Asia.”
“For China, we estimate that about 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) of teapot refinery capacity to close. Outside China, about 2.2 million b/d or 18 refineries are at high risk of closure.”
Gupta noted that given all these challenges, the only way to survive during this transition is to make sites more competitive and create a differentiation from peers.
“Integration with petrochemicals and upgrading will provide optionality to maximise margins. The real value-add comes in when a site moves towards a second-generation integrated site with over 45 per cent chemicals output. The value-add ranges from US$7-10 per barrel of crude oil on top of stand-alone refining margins. Such sites are extremely competitive and will be the last man standing in any low margin environment.”
Is gas clean enough?
As the energy transition accelerates, gas demand is forecast to rise with particularly strong growth from liquified natural gas (LNG). However, the LNG industry also faces competitive challenges in the new world. If LNG is to safeguard its position in the future energy mix, it must be carbon competitive.
A new ‘green’ LNG trend has emerged over the last 18 months or so, with six ‘carbon-neutral’ cargoes from Shell and Jera being delivered or agreed with Asian buyers, and one long-term supply tender has been announced by Pavilion.
Despite these cargoes representing a very marginal share of the overall LNG market, these deals have caused a stir in the industry.
Principal Analyst at Wood Mackenzie, Lucy Cullen, said: “Full carbon-neutrality from wellhead to consumption is an ambitious goal for the entire LNG industry, but targeted reductions in upstream and liquefaction processes can still achieve sizable reductions. And this aligns well with greater pressure from corporate carbon targets.”
“Whether emissions are controlled in the value chain or as part of the sale through offsets, all carbon reductions come at a cost. And ultimately this will result in greater differentiation between projects by buyers and investors – with green LNG either sold at a premium or ‘dirtier’ LNG being penalised.”
“But if ‘green’ LNG is to become more mainstream, transparency and standardisation of emission measurements which does not exist today will be key. Now is the time for industry to work together to address this challenge,” Cullen said.
2021 could be bumper year for upstream M&A
2020 upended the upstream industry not once, or twice, but three times. First the oil price crash, then the coronavirus pandemic, followed by the rapid acceleration of energy transition plans from the Euro-Majors. All sent massive shockwaves through the industry, creating big new questions about future strategies.
In the short-term this will have a big impact on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), with the Majors putting a range of non-core assets up for sale.
Wood Mackenzie notes that there are three main drivers here, particularly in Asia Pacific: the energy transition, portfolio rationalisation and deleveraging stretched balance sheets. This region is at the frontline of all three.
The Majors have a big geographical presence here that includes non-core, stranded and mature assets. That will change as positions coalesce around the core, advantaged assets, which primarily sit in Australasia.
Wood Mackenzie Research Director, Angus Rodger, said that this sets us up for a bumper 2021 for M&A.
“Many of the sales processes launched in Asia Pacific in 2020 will close towards year-end with details of winning bidders likely emerging in H1 2020,” Rodger said.
“We estimate the value traded in-region could jump to a whopping US$10-15 billion in 2021, up from just over US$5 billion of deals in 2019, and less than US$1 billion in 2020 so far, if most of these processes are successful.”
But price discovery is the challenge, added Rodger.
“With the Majors on one side and bargain hunters on the other, contingent payments will play a key role in deals to help bridge the gap. What will be the priority for the Majors – achieving deal valuations that meet their own internal expectations, or clearing out the non-core assets to hit the wider strategic targets of the company? The pattern of deal-flow in the first half of 2021 will provide the answer,” he said.