February 15, 2019

Foreign partners of Venezuela's PDVSA are facing pressure from the state-run oil firm to publicly declare whether they will continue as minority stakeholders in Orinoco Belt projects following US sanctions, three people familiar with the matter said.

The sanctions on PDVSA, imposed last month in an attempt to dislodge Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, barred access to US financial networks and oil supplies for the PDVSA joint ventures, pressuring Venezuela's already falling crude output and exports.

PDVSA's Orinoco Belt joint venture partners, mostly US or European companies, are facing difficulties getting cashflow out of the country as a result of the sanctions, straining their ability to continue production and exports.

PDVSA has been in talks with the companies to persuade them to commit publicly to the joint ventures, the sources said in recent days.

France's Total, Norway's Equinor, Russia's Rosneft and US supermajor Chevron hold minority stakes in joint ventures with PDVSA that produce crude and operate oil upgraders capable of converting Venezuela's extra-heavy oil into exportable grades.

PDVSA did not reply to a request for comment. On Monday, Venezuelan Oil Minister and PDVSA head Manuel Quevedo said on a visit to India that relations with international oil companies including Chevron were continuing.

Even if the companies commit to Venezuela, their ability to produce could be crimped by the sanctions. Last week PDVSA ordered Petrocedeno to halt oil production and upgrading, due to a lack of naphtha to dilute the extra-heavy crude, according to sources from the project.

The Petrocedeno-PDVSA venture's 220,000-bpd upgrader was already out of service when the decision was made, one of the people said. It is unclear when oil output will be halted.

PDVSA is studying if the other joint ventures in the Orinoco will have to halt operations, with diluent supplies dwindling, the people said.

India's Reliance and PDVSA's US unit Citgo Petroleum are the main suppliers of naphtha to Venezuela, according to internal PDVSA data. Those flows have declined since sanctions took effect on 28 January, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

Source: Upstream

Texas oil production exceeded 1.54 billion barrels in 2018, surpassing the previous all-time high set in 1973 by 17%, according to the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association. Meanwhile, natural gas output climbed to 8.8 trillion cubic feet last year.

Source: Shale Smart Brief

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A report from Rystad Energy suggests that companies capable of scaling up their drilling projects are better positioned to profit from shale than smaller operators, which have less negotiating power and often pay more for oilfield services and transportation. Shale wells in Permian Basin hotspots can be profitable even with crude prices at $45 per barrel, but "drilling needs to be conducted on a large scale in order to secure robust cash flows," said Rystad senior partner Per Magnus Nysveen.

Source: Shale Smart Brief

Trinidad & Tobago upstream players and authorities are predicting a busy year in 2019 as companies ramp up exploration activity and look ahead to the next stages of development.

Regulators said they are also considering a new deep-water bid round as a shallow-water process for six blocks is ongoing and due to wrap up in May.

"Investment in the industry, which had reached a low, has picked up as upstream companies have committed to spend up to $10 billion over the next five years," Energy Minister Franklin Khan told the annual Trinidad & Tobago Energy Conference in Port of Spain.

Over the course of the year, exploration and production players are planning 14 wells, in contrast to five last year, Khan said.

According to the ministry, this includes one well for Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell in Block 5d, and one by BPTT in three development areas, Jasmine, Ginger and Coconut.

Meanwhile, EOG plans to test two wells in its Mentos target, with BHP also planning two wells in Block 23a and a single well in TTDAA14.

Other exploration is also expected from independents such as Touchstone, as well as from other lease operators and farm-outs.

The plans come as gas production rebounded to 3.6 billion cubic feet per day in 2018 following the start-up of new developments, with the government projecting an increase to 3.9 Bcfd this year.

That ramp-up is seen "as new developments such as the BPTT Angelin field comes on stream and production from Shell's fields in the East Coast Marine Area (ECMA), Starfish and Dolphin and De Novo’s Iguana field are optimized", Khan said.

"Near-term developments include Shell’s Colibri project on the north coast comprising Block 22 and NCMA 4, and on the east coast 3 Block 5c."

For 2019, various players across the country are expected to drill 66 development wells, the ministry estimates.

Source: Upstream

Occidental Petroleum saw production from its unconventional assets in the booming Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico surge 57% in the final quarter of 2018.

Output from the US oil major's Permian Resources averaged 250,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the fourth quarter of last year compared to 159,000 boe per day in the same period in 2017. The latest figure also represented an 11% increase quarter-on-quarter, which Occidental attributed to "improved well performance and development activity".

However, the gains were offset somewhat by declines in international production. Internationally, Occidental produced 290,000 boe per day in the fourth quarter of 2018, lower than 298,000 boe per day in the year-ago quarter. The most recent figure was also down by 7000 boe per day from the third quarter of 2018 "primarily due to the impact of price on production-sharing contracts in Oman and weather delays in Qatar", Occidental said.

Occidental reported a quarterly net income $706 million, or 93 cents per diluted share, compared to $497 million, or 65 cents per share, a year ago. However, the fourth-quarter 2018 results included impairment charges of $220 million associated with its Qatar asset, which it plans to exit this year.

"In 2018, outstanding performance across our businesses generated the highest level of operating cash flow and return on capital employed since our portfolio optimization, and we returned more than $3.6 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and our sustainable dividend," said Occidental chief executive Vicki Hollub.

"These achievements reflect the strength of our integrated business model and the high quality of our assets. As we execute our returns-focused capital program in 2019, we will strive to ensure that every dollar we spend maximizes value for our shareholders."

Source: Upstream

Malaysian national oil company Petronas has hired an ultra-deep water drillship owned by US driller Rowan for a one-well program off Mexico.

Rowan said the Rowan Renaissance, an R-Class ultra-deep water drillship, would work for Petronas for an estimated 80 days starting in the second quarter of 2019.

The move comes as something as a surprise given that the only block where Petronas currently has an exploration plan approved is Block 4 in the Salina Basin from Mexico's Round 1.4, where the company does not have a well commitment.

However, Petronas is also partnered with Murphy Oil in the adjacent Block 5 where the US independent has been planning for some time to drill its Cholula well, which is set to spud shortly.

That means the region will see two potentially play-opening wells go down in the Salina basin in the coming months, instead of just one.

More work in the Salina basin, which has intrigued geologists but has yet to be proven as a deep-water play, is planned for the region in later rounds, but the regulatory groundwork there is still being completed.

Petronas also has a one-well priced option with an estimated duration of 80 days.

The drillship is currently under contract to Total in the offshore Mexico play until about March 2019, where the French supermajor is drilling the Eztil-1 well in the Perdido fold-belt.

In 2016, Petronas was awarded deep-water Block 4 and Block 5 in a joint venture partnership following Mexico’s first-ever auction of its deep-water exploration areas.

Source: Upstream