BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013

Last week I attended Mark Finley’s presentation in Chicago of BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy for this year. In his role as General Manager of Global Energy Markets at BP, Mark is responsible for this annual analytical survey of world energy production, consumption, and trends. He’s an outstanding economist whose presentations are a master class in public communication of quantitative analyses, so attending his presentation was a real treat for me.

As the press release for the Review indicates,

The US recorded the world’s highest growth in production of both oil and natural gas in 2012, on the back of increasing production of unconventional hydrocarbons such as tight oil, an example of the increasing diversity of energy sources as the global market continues to adapt, innovate and evolve. With rising natural gas output driving prices lower in the US, natural gas displaced coal in power generation, causing the US to experience the largest decline of coal consumption in the world.

Elsewhere, 2012 saw the largest annual decline in world nuclear output. In Japan, where nuclear power generation all but disappeared after 2011’s Fukushima accident, higher imports of fossil fuels including liquefied natural gas (LNG) ‘kept the lights on’. In Europe, where gas prices were higher than in the US, power generators took the opposite course from the US, and substituted coal for gas.

A few of Mark’s insights that aren’t reflected fully in the graphs and data really struck me. Not surprisingly, he talked quite a bit about the increase in oil and natural gas production in the US due to shale, and this change has led to a couple of interesting trade patterns. One is the reduction of US oil imports by one-third in the past five years, and the shift in consumption from the US to China. That’s the “national security-reduce Middle East imports” desired outcome from shale oil, right? Not exactly — oil is not a homogeneous product, and it turns out that North American shale oil is most similar in weight and composition to the oil in Africa, not the Middle East. So the US imports of African oil have fallen, and Chinese imports of African (and other) oil have risen. BP also estimates that China has increased its oil inventories by more than all of the OECD country inventory increases combined.

One reason for the increase in Asian oil imports is the increase in automobile ownership in China and India. The majority of new car sales in 2012 occurred in emerging economies, with much of that activity occurring in China and India.

There were other fascinating insights in Mark’s analysis, but I’ll leave it there for a Friday afternoon!

I also recommend the interactive energy charting tool accompanying the Review — it uses the historical data and generates comparative regional charts elegantly and effectively. You can also export a particular graph, the data underlying the graph, and/or a spreadsheet with all of the data in the Review. I had fun playing around with the natural gas price history graph, which you can scroll through by year and see year-by-year how the price changes, as well as seeing in 2012 the large price difference between US/Canada and Europe/Japan.

Large shale gas potential in the UK

Interesting news — according to this BBC article, the most recent British Geological Survey indicates that there may be twice the shale gas deposits in the UK that were previously anticipated. Such a large potential source of natural gas has substantial implications: “If the estimates are proved correct, that would still suggest recoverable reserves of shale gas far in excess of the three trillion cubic feet of gas currently consumed in the UK each year.”

One of the recent conversations in energy economics and policy has been around whether or not liquified natural gas (LNG) exports from the US would raise natural gas prices in the US. A big driver of the profit opportunity in LNG exports is the relative lack of exploitation of shale gas deposits in Europe, and the natural gas price differential between the US and Europe.

If UK energy companies can bring their shale gas to market, that changes the complexion of global LNG shipments.

UPDATE: I then go do my morning reading and find Tim Worstall commenting on the issue. He links to a Telegraph story that contextualizes the magnitude further by pointing out that even just extracting 10 percent could meet Britain’s anticipated natural gas demand for 40 years.

Some natural gas posts worth reading

Lynne Kiesling

Last week the EPA released a report on the extent of methane release during shale gas drilling; the results indicate that methane release is substantially smaller than previously thought. According to an article in Fuel Fix summarizing the report,

The scope of the EPA’s revision was vast. In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions, the agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That’s about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. The agency converts the methane emissions into their equivalent in carbon dioxide, following standard scientific practice.

The EPA revisions came even though natural gas production has grown by nearly 40 percent since 1990. The industry has boomed in recent years, thanks to a stunning expansion of drilling in previously untapped areas because of the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects sand, water and chemicals to break apart rock and free the gas inside.

Experts on both sides of the debate say the leaks can be controlled by fixes such as better gaskets, maintenance and monitoring. Such fixes are also thought to be cost-effective, since the industry ends up with more product to sell.

This excerpt reflects my thinking on the leaks — since methane is the product they are extracting to sell and the cost of managing leaks is relatively low (but not zero), the firm has a self-disciplining incentive to reduce leaks (although not eliminate them, since the cost is not zero).

In a post on the EPA report, Walter Russell Mead remarks that

Companies are developing more sophisticated leak detection systems, and unlike many other environmental problems (like, say, power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions), there is a market incentive to prevent these leaks without any sort of green interventionist policy. Every unit of methane released into the atmosphere during drilling is lost profit.

But that’s not stopping misguided greens like Bill McKibben from bemoaning the news. McKibben took this opportunity to stress the need to transition away from fossil-fuels altogether, rather than appreciating the fact that we’re extracting one of the cleanest fossil-fuels more efficiently and with much less environmental impact than ever before. McKibben’s blinders are firmly in place; we’re unlikely to see a revision to a post of his earlier this month in which he suggested that methane leakage might make natural gas worse for the environment than coal.

I’ve never found McKibben’s arguments compelling, and now I realize why: his advocacy for dramatic, fast changes does not reflect how real people in real-world, complex decisions make changes in their behavior. McKibben fails to think at the margin. He does not acknowledge that the long transition to cleaner fuels is already in process. Long transitions are typical in technological change; think about how long it took to transition from water power to steam power — 60 years! McKibben’s argument for sudden, dramatic change does not reflect economic thinking.

Europe is burning more American coal

Michael Giberson

Natural gas production is booming in the United States. The resulting low natural gas prices are helping the fuel displace other energy sources, most particularly the use of coal to produce electric power. As U.S. demand for coal falls, so has its price and as a result international coal buyers are increasingly turning to U.S. suppliers. One big buyer: Europe.

Ironies abound in this Washington Post report on growing European use of coal. The EU has elaborate and costly greenhouse gas regulations while the U.S. has failed to implement any systematic federal greenhouse gas policies. European nations like Germany, Spain, and Denmark are frequently cited as models for their support of renewable energy. And, with these policies in place, greenhouse gas emissions are falling in the United States and Europe is burning more coal. Apparently good intentions are not enough. The Wall Street Journal had a similar report yesterday: “U.S. Coal Finds Warm Embrace Overseas.”

One more point: All that “good news” about reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is mitigated a bit by tracing through the economic logic. We’ve displaced some coal consumption by increased gas consumption, but much of that coal is simply being burned in Europe or China or elsewhere. U.S. coal production has been relatively flat for two decades, but U.S. coal exports have doubled since the 2006. (See EIA data here.) So we’re cutting emissions, but there will be essentially no climate change pay-off from the cuts. This same consequence would have arisen had the U.S. shifted from coal to natural gas because of carbon taxes or an effective U.S. cap-and-trade scheme (except in that scenario we pay more for energy rather than less. Technological improvements rule!).

The federal government’s natural gas R&D breakthrough

Michael Giberson

In the recent edition of The American magazine, the on-line journal of the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus write in defense of the President’s State of the Union address claim of federal government credit for the shale gas revolution. (For those of you not keeping score at home, (1) I commented on a related Shellenberger and Nordhaus op-ed in two posts back in December 2011, here and here, and then (2) followed with a comment in response to the State of the Union remark in late January 2012, here.)

Shellenberger and Nordhaus begin this recent article:

In his State of the Union address, President Obama invoked the 30-year history of federal support for new shale gas drilling technologies to defend his present day investments in green energy. Obama stressed the value of shale gas—which will create thousands of jobs and billions in profits—as part of his “all of the above” approach to energy, and defended the critical role government investment has always played in developing new energy technologies, from nuclear to solar panels to wind turbines.

The president’s remarks unsurprisingly sparked a strong response from some conservatives (hereherehere, and here), who have downplayed and even attempted to deny the important role that federal investments in hydrofracking, geologic mapping, and horizontal drilling played in the shale gas revolution.

This is an over-reaction. In acknowledging the critical role government funding played in shale gas, conservatives need not write a blank check for all government energy subsidies. Indeed, a closer look at the shale gas story challenges liberal policy preferences as much as it challenges those of conservatives, and points to much-needed reforms for today’s mash of state and federal clean energy subsidies and mandates.

Note that the first of their “here” links is to the first of my two December 2011 blog posts in response to their op-ed, as it appeared at The Energy Collective site (where some of our KP energy-related posts get a second life). As it happens, after the President’s address, the Master Resource blog republished the post as a commentary in response to the President’s natural gas research claim, appending to my title “(December 20 post becomes part of a national debate).”

I want to object to a couple of pretty minor points below, but before I object let me emphasize my agreement with part of what they say about much-needed reforms to today’s state and federal clean energy policies. As they point out late in their article, they’d like to see a reduction or even an end to most current renewable energy production subsidies and direct some of that funding to energy research and innovation. I would completely support such a move, even though I wouldn’t defend the change on the same grounds that they do.

And now two petty objections, both in response to the sentence “The president’s remarks unsurprisingly sparked a strong response from some conservatives (here, ….”

  • First, I am not a conservative. I am pro-dynamism, pro-market, pro-experimentation in many matters both economic and social, and pro-freedom. I don’t want to belabor the point, they probably didn’t mean to offend me, but I am libertarian not conservative.
  • Second, my December 20, 2011 response was not directed at President Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2012, but rather at the mid-December 2011 op-ed by Shellenberger and Nordhaus. (For what it’s worth, I find their arguments more thoughtful and more worthy of a thoughtful response than the President’s  remarks on the topic. So even though my first response to their piece started in somewhat flippant tone, I did try to engage with what they were saying.)

My less minor objections to this new article by Shellenberger and Nordhaus will require a bit more explanation, so I’ll defer them for now. In brief, I still object to how they characterize the significance of the federal role in drilling technology and especially to some of the policy inferences they want to make. In addition, I will want to explain how and why I would support the kind of renewable energy policy reforms they propose even though I disagree with the reasons they give for the reforms.

I should add that their article goes far beyond the first three paragraphs quoted above. You should read the whole thing.

Art Berman spots distress in the natural gas industry

Michael Giberson

Apparently I’m just a hot-headed, temperamental guy unwilling to sit still and listen to a patient explanation of a contrary point of view. I’ve only read the first paragraph of Art Berman’s new post at the The Oil Drum and already I’m arguing with my computer screen and searching around for data to illustrate my rebuttal.

Here in the first paragraph in question, from a post entitled “After The Gold Rush: A Perspective on Future U.S. Natural Gas Supply and Price”:

On January 23, 2012, Chesapeake Energy announced that it would curtail drilling in shale gas plays in the United States. Subsequently, other operators have followed suit. While the outcome of this announcement is unclear, it is a signal that the industry is in distress. One can argue that this distress stems from a lack of discipline as market price began to decline.

Distressed? Chesapeake Energy is in the oil and gas business. The ratio of oil prices to natural gas prices is at historic highs. Chesapeake announces they are shifting their drilling activities away from natural gas resources and toward oil resources. Since when is responding to incentives a sign of distress?

Jump back six years ago and oil prices (quoted in barrels) were about 6 times the price of natural gas (quoted in million BTU), a ratio that happens to be near the relative energy contents of the two energy resources. Prices of both went up and then down together in 2007 and 2008, oil a little more than gas, but beginning in 2009 oil prices resumed an upward path while gas prices have drifted downward. The current oil-to-gas price ratio is an astounding 40 to 1.

The following EIA chart is from May 2011, but it shows that the oil and gas industry as a whole has been quite reasonably switching from natural gas drilling to oil drilling as the relative price differences began to change. The trends shown have continued over the last several months.

U.S. oil rig count overtakes natural gas rig count (Chart)

U.S. oil rig count overtakes natural gas rig count. Source: EIA (Link to EIA analysis and supporting data.)

If anything, to the extent Chesapeake stayed with natural gas drilling even as the oil-to-gas price ratio was shifting against gas, it signals one of three things: (1) their gas operations were exceptionally profitable, at least relative to their oil opportunities, but now prices have tipped their calculations toward oil, (2) they had contractual obligations that kept them in gas drilling longer than they would have preferred, given the way prices developed, or (3) they irrationally stuck to natural gas drilling well after incentives should have pushed them to oil, but they’ve recently regained their senses. Which of these three options reveal an industry in distress?

The reality is simpler. A few moments searching Google news turns up stories from 2011, 2010, and 2009 in which Chesapeake has said it was shifting from gas to oil drilling. Chesapeake has been slowly shifting from gas to oil drilling over the past few years just like the rest of the industry, perhaps the only change in the most recent announcement is that the company is increasing the pace of its shift.

Okay, later today I’ll have time to read the rest of Berman’s post. Maybe reading the rest of his reasoned analysis will enlighten me, will calm me down a bit.

Will the gas boom go bust?

Michael Giberson

Over at the Oil Drum appears an article under the heading, “Gas Boom Goes Bust.” The author compiles many data charts – big picture, close-up, long run and short, etc. – quotes a few other writers and a few headlines, and eventually arrives at this conclusion:

The bottom line is that natural gas is a cyclical industry which recently enjoyed a very large boom. As night follows day, a bust is sure to come. Based on the information presented above, I would humbly submit that it has just arrived.

Among all of the charts and graphs, I take the essential points to be that some natural gas developers, including some important ones, have employed financial strategies enabling them to avoid the harmful consequences of low gas prices so far, but gas prices are now so low and projected to stay low for so long that these strategies are no longer available. The author expects to see some developers in bankruptcy court this year – evidence of the bust.

But this diagnosis seems to confuse the fortunes of a few (or even many) businesses with the outlook for the market. The natural gas boom was never about the fortunes of individual natural gas developers, it was about the ample supplies of natural gas coming into the market.

Companies may well go bust, but the gas boom itself continues.