That was the very first thought I had when I looked at an article in the New York times by Clifford Krauss from September 1st 2015 (at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/business/energy-environment/oil-prices.html). You see, the article is quite good and very descriptive, so why is it wrong? Is it his math? Are they the facts? First when we look at the title ‘Oil Prices: What’s Behind the Plunge? Simple Economics‘, now I am all for simple economics, I have wielded that bat myself on more than one occasion, still something is off (not just the smell of oil), so let’s take a walk in the proverbial path of black gold.
- Oil is finite. Oil does not regenerate and when it is gone, it is gone forever. In addition, most elements that come from oil have a very short lifespan. Add a match and the stuff just instantly burns away, it burns away leaving you burnt if you stand too close. For a long time our usage grew exponentially, at this point the amount of crude oil used would fill a cube sized at 20 miles by 20 miles by 20 miles, so that is one massive cube! Still, when you consider the oil fields and the size of them, those fields tend to be a lot larger, yet overall they might remain largely below a few hundred metres (which still makes for one massive oilfield).
- The quote “United States domestic production has nearly doubled over the last six years, pushing out oil imports that need to find another home. Saudi, Nigerian and Algerian oil that once was sold in the United States is suddenly competing for Asian markets, and the producers are forced to drop prices” is an issue for me. For this we need to look at two additional quotes from the BBC. the first one is “US crude oil was trading at more than $90 a barrel a year ago, but now costs around $45. The UK’s Brent crude has also halved in price from a year ago and is currently trading at about $48 a barrel” as well as “US oil production has increased to a record high in recent years as high prices made investment worthwhile” which was given earlier in that same story (at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-34219144), which is only a few hours old. Now consider one more quote that is only loosely related (one would think). The quote is “Techniques such as fracking have helped US producers offset the falling oil price by lowering investment and production costs“. Now let’s go over the motions (or is that emotions?).
- When an investment is made, there is a tax write-off, that part has already happened! So those costs are ‘gone’ after that it is the return on investment which takes care of the costs and after that profit comes. This is simple economics. I get an income, I pay for the costs and I pay taxation.
Now what happens when I work at a loss? This happens. Let’s take the example. I have product X, it makes me a £1000. To get this I need to pay for equipment, which is bought and for the time of the loan this will cost me 300, in addition I need people (you know a non-mechanical labour force). Another 300 gone, leaving me with 400. The evil villain Taxman takes his share and the rest is mine. So let’s say I get to live of the remaining 360. So far it all remains simple. Now we learn that everybody has this setup, so now suddenly people are only willing to pay 500, which is an issue. People get payed, yet I have to share with the loan so I lose out largely, the bank loses out some and Taxman ‘you evil villain!’ you lose out completely (so it’s not all a loss).
This is how it should be. Now consider the equipment. Either the loan owner (or the investor) takes a dive (for now) as the timeline shifts, so there should not be a massive impact. Not to the degree we see. When you see all these oil articles have you noticed how we see these Jack pumps? We see the iconic devise in nearly every oil mention, so why the pump jack? If that was all it is, a 1925 invention would not be the cause of so much costings.
This is where the first crumb is left. Those connected state that it is no longer ‘profitable’ to get their money’s worth, which is part of the issue. I personally believe that the players have been engaged in an accountancy game for a very long time. In some cases there are of course long term loans, and yes any device needs maintenance and needs upgrades, yet the Pump Jack could run for almost a decade not getting any attention and the oil flows on. Now, we can agree that oil tends to be found in deeper regions, so the pump jack might not be enough. But the press never shows us that picture do they? Now when it comes to pumps, they need maintenance, sometimes not that much, sometimes the need for mechanics is a lot more pressing. Yet these people are not expensive, so even at $45 a barrel, 20 of them buys an engineer for a day and these places are doing a million barrels a day at times, so the money should remain ‘stellar’.
- What if this is not just about the price? We know there are much more players in the field, but we all tend to forget that oil was always a finite commodity. It is like living on an island like Crete. Prices there fluctuate (I always loved Crete), but overall living there remains close to the same, even better, selling new houses remain at a reasonable high price. If you wonder how correct (or how wrong I am). Take for example the Bermuda’s an island near you. When you look over a longer timeframe, you will see that these places fluctuate like most places, but never to the extent the average price seem to fluctuate on main land. Take Hawaii, everyone is trying to own something there making prices spike. Now consider the fluctuations and how massive they are for oil. Here my first doubt grew. Yes, we all know that cars are more efficient, we know that spending is down, we know all that yet the overwhelming majority of the people need to get to work by car, by bus or by train. All of them require fuel, even the electricity made comes from power plants and not all of them are nuclear or coal based. Which gets us to bullet point point c.
- other uses. For this we need to look at the Washington post (at http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/power-plants/), where we see that there is still a massive group of power plants fuelled by oil. Now, the fact that these are phasing out, because of pollution is a good thing, a great thing even, but for now many are not. In case of Hawaii, where 71% of electricity comes from oil run power plants, the statement from UHERO struck another issue. The Economic Research Organisation at the University of Hawaii stated at (http://www.uhero.hawaii.edu/news/view/273) “Electricity prices can be roughly boiled down to the price of oil, which is used to generate most of our electricity, plus price we pay for fixed costs like power plants, the grid and its management. These costs are fixed in the sense that they don’t vary with the amount of electricity generated and consumed. We have record high electricity prices because oil prices remain high“. Even though the page is from 2014, the collapse of the oil price should have been seen on many levels in Hawaii, but it is not (as far as I can tell), so why are prices pushed upwards and is the collapsed oil price is seen as an ‘evil’?
In my view this is all about the way the books have been kept from the very beginning. Whether I rely on some knowledge I gained from Schlumberger when I worked there in the past. Whether I go from some news article and some academic papers, my view remains largely the same, the numbers do not add up, they never did but until the oil price collapsed no one had a clue how far they were out of touch.
And now we get the final part in this. Another article by the New York Times. This one is also from Clifford Krauss and it was given light on August 19th 2015. The title ‘Oil Companies Sit on Hands at Auction for Leases‘ is part of what I think is only one facet in the entire debacle. The leases are worth gold and if the numbers as stated go on, than the leases are not kept. So is this to frighten the actual owners of the land to sell cheap? How many leases are up for renewal in the next 2 -3 years? More important, what if the owners state that non-renewal opts for other requirements? The quote “the fortunes of oil companies are skidding so fast that they now need to cut back on plans for production well into the future“, Now we add one more fact from Europe. Scottish energy news reported (actual date unknown) “After nearly 40 years of production, the Brent oilfield – which gave its name to the North Sea benchmark – is now mostly empty“. It is not the only one, not the first and most certainly not the last. We can state that no matter how ‘complex’ the decommissioning is, that this is one of the smaller fields (globally speaking). Even as it was only 10% of the UK oil production, an island with a mere 68 million consumers, the field is dry. So what about the other fields? Is this truly just about leases and demand dropping, or is this to maximise accountancy?
I prefer and I am largely wrong here in this instance, but consider the elements I mentioned up to now. I feel that I am correct ‘the numbers do not add up’, I just do not know why, because it is not simple economics. If that were try then the investments would have been paid off, the maintenance of rigs would remain, but the investment dollars would have been a massive ROI many years ago. So as we consider the image of ‘Oil pumping jacks and drilling pads at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif‘ from the second Krauss article, we must wonder what the article (at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/business/oil-drillers-sit-on-hands-at-auction-for-leases.html) the quote “The continuing drop in oil prices and low natural gas prices obviously affect industry’s short-term investment decisions, but the gulf’s long-term value to the nation remains high“. Is that so, in my view, thee quote that directly follows “Offshore drilling, particularly in deep waters, is some of the most expensive exploration done by oil companies around the world. Nevertheless, since the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that left 11 workers dead and soiled hundreds of miles of beaches, and the one-year drilling moratorium that followed, production in the gulf has flourished“. So even with the dangers to the environment, the mistakes made and the fact that there is such a surplus to it all deep water drilling, the fact that the investment is massively higher from other options, that part continues?
Is that not the big weird?
If there is so much space to work, why set up your fashion store in a nuclear reactor? Because it amounts to the same thing. You go where you can make your fortune in as comfortable a setting, with the lowest risk and the best returns. That part is a given, has been for decades. Only the accountants have a different view where the taxed benefit of having to buy radiation suits overrules the need for clean profit.
The numbers have not been adding up and only recently with the unusual drop in prices do we seem to wonder why.
The final quote to look at is “That surge will partly offset an expected decline in onshore production because oil companies have reduced their rig count on land by more than 60 percent since last year“. Why? if it is running, as the oil is coming up, it is just going on nodding like a horse’s head, filling up barrel by barrel as the mechanic sleeps until one stops working. You only decrease to this amount when the returns, the actual amount pumped starts to lower by too much.
Make the looks for yourself, try to do the math, it does not add up. In my view whatever formula you get given from anyone you must question (even those from me). The article gives a surplus of two million barrels a day from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, yet the processed goods keep on rising in price. What are we not being told? What are we not seeing?
I’ll let you decide on that part.