OPEC’s battle for control of the oil market
Oil supply is confounding expectations. We have just raised our forecasts for non-OPEC production, the latest in a series of incremental increases. Cumulatively, we’ve increased volumes for 2025 by an astonishing 9 million b/d compared with our forecasts in 2016, the oil price nadir. Non-OPEC supply has already bounced from the 2016 low of 54 million b/d and will touch 60 million b/d this year. Our latest Macro Oils Long Term Outlook expects a peak of 66 million b/d in 2025, 5% above our forecast last year. Oil demand too has grown more quickly than expected, up 6 million b/d on 2016 forecasts.
Did we, like many others, underestimate the industry’s ability to adapt and innovate in the face of financial adversity – and keep on producing oil? Maybe.
Production keeps on growing despite structurally lower oil prices and upstream investment still 40% below peak. Did we, like many others, underestimate the industry’s ability to adapt and innovate in the face of financial adversity – and keep on producing oil? Maybe. But where on earth is it all coming from? There are four main buckets.
1. US Lower 48
tight oil and NGLs together contribute 4.3 million b/d, half of the increase versus 2016. This primarily reflects the emergence of the Permian basin as the dominant tight oil play. The delineation of sweet spots, more efficient drilling, and the present shift to industrialised exploitation have led to a significant improvement in Permian well economics. Innovation has boosted expected recovery from the more mature Bakken, Eagle Ford and Scoop-Stack plays to a lesser extent. NGLs associated with the gassier parts of the Permian and shale gas plays make up about one-third of the US L48 increase.
Our forecasts for 2025 are 1.4 million b/d higher than three years ago, in spite of sanctions which restrict inward investment and the transfer of the latest technological advances. Rouble weakness has buoyed upstream margins in Russia since the price fell, supporting higher investment, including an intense drilling programme in deeper, low-permeability plays in West Siberia. Sanction of some greenfield projects has been deferred by Russia’s involvement in OPEC+, effectively pushing new volumes out by a few years.
Only the original Liza discovery was in our 2016 forecasts. We’ve added another 0.5 million b/d by 2025, reflecting multiple subsequent deepwater discoveries. First production is due in 2020, setting Guyana on track to enter the top 12 non-OPEC producers with over 1 million b/d by the end of the decade.
4. Mature producers
Together, these have added over 2 million b/d compared with our 2016 forecasts. Colombia, UK, Norway, US (Alaska) and Canada are among a plethora of countries which have surprised on the upside. Cost cutting, efficiencies, reduced maintenance outages, high-grading and streamlining of new projects, new discoveries tied into existing infrastructure and, in some cases, reduced tax rates have combined to slow decline rates and boost production. There are valid questions whether production from ultra-mature basins is sustainable at these rates, or volumes are merely being accelerated. As a result , some of these producers are slated to see steeper declines.
Non-OPEC supply won’t grow at this rate forever
In fact, Non-OPEC supply stops after 2025 as tight oil plateaus, with decline setting in by 2030. In the meantime, the OPEC+ strategy to boost revenues by constraining production and buoying up price has helped its competitors boost production and gain market share.
We estimate non-OPEC production will swallow up 4.3 million b/d, or 76%, of contestable demand over the next five years. OPEC’s scope to increase volumes through this period is limited to just 1.3 million b/d. The maths sits at odds with Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Iraq which are investing heavily in new capacity. Some producers in OPEC do see flat or declining volumes in this period.
Major supply outages are helping OPEC+ to balance the market today. Disruptions are set to leap to a record 5 million b/d later this year, including 2.5 million b/d from Iran (sanctions) and Venezuela (economic meltdown and US sanctions). It may suit the rest of OPEC, as well as the US, if exports from Iran and Venezuela are kept off the market for some years – at least until non-OPEC production growth shows signs of abating.