Monthly Archives: May 2012

Morocco Offers Up Incentives for First Wave E&P

Dismissed by oil and gas majors for the last decade, Morocco is working to renew interest in their hydrocarbon potential through incentive and tax programs aimed at smaller operators in hopes of laying a foundation for future energy development.

The country’s efforts are driven by Morocco’s traditionally heavy dependence on outside energy resources, making the development of local production energy efforts all the more important for the country’s economic stability. Morocco is currently dependent on imports for 97 percent of its energy needs and has long aimed to reduce its dependence on foreign sources through the development of domestic projects, including exploring newly-found traditional reserves, shale projects and more recently, alternative energy plans.

Last week, Zac Philips, an oil and gas analyst at Fox Davies noted that while the country had largely been ignored by large capital operators in the past, Morocco’s incentives had provided significant opportunities for smaller firms like Circle, Longreach Oil and Gas, San Leon and Pura Vida to stake out claims in the Northwest African nation.

According to reports from companies active in the country, the Moroccan energy efforts have helped create one of the most hospitable in the region for outside firms, includes rules dictating that the state receive just 25 percent of any project, with a 5 percent royalty for a gas discovery and 10 percent for an oil find. Furthermore, the government offers a 10-year corporate tax holiday following a discovery. Compared to countries like Algeria, which can claim up to 92 percent of energy production efforts, the Moroccan experience has proven favorable to small capital firms in search of new frontiers.

While these incentives mean little without actual reserves, these openings have allowed the more modest operations to introduce both traditional and novel E&P strategies to blocks located on and off shore in what Philips believes to be an opportunity to clear the way for larger capital interest down the road.

Much of the renewed interest in Morocco’s oil and gas potential stems from shale potential and reports suggesting offshore similarities between the east and west Atlantic. Based on the fact that the continents were connected millions of years ago, the assumption is that they share similar natural resource reserves.

That potential has allowed a certain degree of confidence among firms active in the country, including Pura Vida who revised their resource estimates at the offshore Mazagan permit at the end of April, increasing from 2.6 to 3.2 billion barrels of oil following further analysis of the site.

Meanwhile, onshore, San Leon has worked to expand on its shale efforts in Poland with efforts in Morocco’s Zag and Tarfaya Basin licenses, reporting substantial potential reserves and an eagerness to seek out production partners for expansion, according to a January company release. Longreach Oil and Gas also reported strong progress this spring, with efforts at their Sidi Mokhtar licenses at the fore of their expanding presence in the country.

Despite the progress allowed by the country’s incentive and tax programs, it is unclear how long the country’s incentive and tax schemes will allow smaller capital firms to hold leadership positions in Morocco. Eventually, strong production levels will invite increased interest from majors like BP and Shell, casting companies like Longreach and Pura Vida as a first wave of progress rather than long-term partners.

A Broader Approach

The efforts also reflect a broader, more far-reaching approach to domestic energy production in Morocco that also entails substantial support for both traditional hydrocarbons and renewable energy, placing them at the forefront of such alternative sources in the region. As southern Europe’s green energy sector continues to slip under the pressure of the economic crisis and spending cuts, Morocco has worked to etch out a leadership position amid growing interest in solar and wind development, including a flagship 500MW solar plant, scheduled to begin construction this year.

In addition to encouraging energy production efforts, the Moroccan government has worked to increase their transport role in North Africa in hopes of establishing a stronger leadership role in the region. In February of this year, Morocco opened the country’s second oil terminal in the northern coastal town of Tangiers, increasing domestic storage and allowing greater access to busy shipping lines at the mouth of the Mediterranean.

The effort was the product of a group put together by Emirati Horizon Terminals Ltd., Moroccan company Afriquia SMDC and Kuwaiti firm Independent Petroleum Group, the $180 million terminal will hold 3.2 million barrels, with 53 percent dedicated to gas and diesel and 43 percent set aside for fuel oil and fuel additives, according to a Reuters report.

The country plans to further expand its importing reach with the development of a LNG terminal near Jorf Lasfar. The project has been under discussion since 2007, but was recently mentioned in remarks by the newly appointed Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment, Fouad Douiri.

One region, this energy focus is unlikely to reach is the contested Western Sahara, home to large potential oil and gas reserves, as well as a 36-year old dispute over authority. Despite reported progress earlier this years related to talks between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, this week saw Rabat dismiss United Nations efforts after losing confidence in envoy Christopher Ross, according to a Reuters report.

Image: Proactive Investors

Originally Published in Newsbase Afroil. All Rights Reserved

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Egyptian Energy Presses Ahead Despite Criticism

Despite extensive efforts, Egypt has struggled to get their economy back on track in the year since widespread public protests led to the ousting of long-standing president Hosni Mubarak. Political instability and uncertain investors have kept needed international funding at bay, as Cairo works to establish a solid foundation for the country’s first new government after decades of Mubarak leadership. The country’s coveted tourism sector remains weak and despite enormous reported potential, Egypt’s renewable industry has been slow to start as investors and international financing agencies adopt a ‘Wait-and-See’ attitude.

Still, despite the stagnate pace of growth and economic recovery, one sector of the country’s economy has continued to shows signs of life – Egypt’s oil and natural gas producers. According to United States National Public Radio report this week, the country’s General Petroleum Company, the government office charged with making final decisions on exploration and production agreements, has continued to add to the country’s 148 standing partnerships.

The continued rounds of licensing for both on and offshore efforts comes despite strong criticism aimed at how such efforts were carried out under the Mubarak government, with critics leveling complaints at a perceived lack of transparency about pricing and the amount of domestic reserves set aside for exporting.

The continued lack of transparency surrounding the natural gas deals has critics worried that even with Mubarak gone, the Egyptian government may still be allowing the kind of controversial agreements that led to a wave of protest earlier this year. The backlash came soon after an investigation uncovered payment agreements with Israel and Jordan for Egyptian natural gas that assured under-market prices in exchange for benefits for local government officials. While Jordan was quick to work out a renegotiated deal, contested trade agreements with Israel added to existing strain between new political leaders in Cairo and its eastern neighbor.  The situation was further complicated by a series of now 14 attacks on natural gas pipelines in the Sinai region of Egypt, halting exports again and again. Energy relations between the two countries showed little sign of improving after Cairo cancelled a 2005 export agreement with Israel, who currently depend on Egypt for 40 percent of their energy needs.

More than just lost revenues, the decision to cancel Egypt’s 20-year deal to supply natural gas to Israel is now resulting in a lawsuit filed by investors in the East Mediterranean Gas for violations of bi-lateral investment treaties, according to a Bloomberg report.

Despite such criticism, the government may have little choice than to support new production deals under the pressure of mounting debt and wavering interest from existing project partners. According to Australia’s The National, the Egyptian government has accrued about $4 billion in debt to international energy firms due in part to large-scale purchases to allow for heavily subsidized domestic sales. This comes despite the country’s own 78 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves. This debt has recently increased, according to the report, due to late payments as a result of the country’s recent political instability.

Further complicating the situation for the government and local partners, the country’s recent uncertainty and apparent high cost of operating in Egyptian territory has pushed some international firms to reassess their presence there. In November of last year, Royal Dutch Shell handed back an offshore block, stating that the high costs of operating there overshadowed the possible rate of return.

Still, many firms are looking past the country’s current predicament and ahead to a potentially calmer new year, including Houston’s Apache and the UK’s BP, who are hoping to capitalize on a 2010 offshore effort. In fact, it is the government’s willingness to pursue new deals despite the country’s current challenges that has Apache feeling confident about the months ahead.

“Our operation has continued [uninterrupted] and supported by government partners as evidenced by the issuance of new…leases,” Apache President and Chief Operating Officer Rodney Eichler said, according to a Dow Jones report. “We are optimistic for Apache’s future in Egypt.”

Given the financial limitations of the country’s current government, anything more than new licenses may be too much to hope for. Burdened by significant budget shortfalls, the Egyptian government will be unlikely to consider any price renegotiations with existing production partners, regardless of the additional risks now associated with operating in the country.

However, regardless of either company’s intentions or interests, existing deals could soon come under scrutiny should critics chose to build on the investigation that put a spotlight on the Israeli and Jordanian deals.

“Some terms that are now in question are part of the 2010 deal with BP for the extraction of deepwater Mediterranean gas,” reported NPR. “While many details of the deal have not been made public, it has many critics.”

A similar threat of agreement reviews has foreign partners on edge in Libya, where the country’s transitional government has pledged to take a closer look at those oil and gas agreements completed under Gadaffi.

Originally Published at Newsbase’s Afroil Report. All Rights Reserved.

Image: Modern Egypt.info

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Energy Proves Vital in MENA Economic and Political Outlook

A recent IMF report outlining the economic outlook of MENA states painted a positive but cautious portrait of North African states after the Arab Spring, with both potential and obstacles linked to the fortunes of the region’s energy sector.

From Rabat to Cairo, the post-Arab Spring region will depend heavily on energy use and production plans to get them through the next year, according to the IMF’s biannual Regional Economic Outlook Update for the Middle East and Central Asia report.

The Producers

Unsurprisingly, the IMF report painted a rosier picture for oil and gas exporting states in the region, though they were quick to add that significant obstacles to growth and economic stability remained, mostly in the form of political uncertainties, periphery conflicts and the lingering impact of the European debt crisis.

In the case of countries like Algeria, Spain’s second recession in four years does little to help the government’s ability to keep natural gas revenues in line with public spending needed to keep an increasingly agitated population happy. For government officials in Algiers, oil revenues would need to stay at least above $100 a barrel to cover the expense of the country’s subsidy programs and state spending, according to a Financial Times report.

Instead of reducing government support systems, Algeria has moved to expand them with this week’s announcement that they would introduce legislation outlining new incentive programs for the country’s burgeoning shale industry. Pointing to projects in the US and Poland, Algeria have outlined a plan to increase revenue and expand domestic production through tax incentives and a pledge on the part of the state-backed firm Sonatrach to invest up to $80 billion over five years, with 60 percent going towards shale exploration and production, according to a Bloomberg report.

Shared Concerns

“Oil-importing, especially Arab Spring, countries will need to set out on their own paths toward economic modernization and transformation,” read the report. “But they will also need to rely on financial assistance and technical and policy advice from the international community to support homegrown reform agendas. “

Ensuring such outside funding has emerged as the most glaring challenge for both importing and exporting countries due to lingering instability and its impact on

foreign investment and other financial support coming from international institutions. Without political stability across a region heavy with new governments, investors and financing agencies remain cautious, slowing the process of infrastructure recovery in Libya. According to a regional energy analyst at CIDOB, a Barcelona-based foreign policy think tank, the lingering uncertainty about North Africa has forced a “wait and see” approach on the part of European and US investors, as well as funding institutions.

In Egypt, a lack of political consensus has hindered the new government’s ability to ensure a $3.2 billion development loan from the IMF and threatened much largr potential agreements from Gulf state funds. For their part, the IMF cited a lack of a clear direction as reason for pause. This political instability has been most evident in Libya as interest from much needed foreign oil and gas partners is being tested by an interim government seen as dragging its feet on providing opportunities and access to Africa’s second largest proven reserves.

Unfortunately, that stability is not restricted to whether political coalitions can organize in time or ensure safe and effective elections. Across the region, questions about violence and safety have plagued governments, making the prospect of attracting needed foreign investment all the more difficult. Most recently, tension between Sudan and the newly autonomous Southern Sudan boiled over into violence as a result of conflicting claims about oil reserves. The potential for the Sudanese conflict to spread has demanded the diplomatic attention of regional neighbors, including the Egyptian government who sent representatives to help ease tensions.

To the west, the potential threat of the Northern Mali separatist movement spilling over into the Southern Sahara areas of Libya and Algeria have kept officials and investors on edge in those countries.

Seeking Solutions

In the case of Morocco, leaders in Rabat were able to boast one of the North Africa’s only steady increase in per capita income, but pitfalls remain, especially in light of the country’s weak domestic potential and heavy dependence on foreign resources. During a recent conversation with Forbes, Fouad Douiri, Morocco’s newly appointed Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment said the country will address development and energy issues by targeting renewable projects in favor of shale, offshore or traditional drilling operations. Outlining plans to install more than 2000 MW of solar, wind and hydro power, Douiri said that the government intends to « reduce Morocco’s annual imports of fossil fuels by 2.5 million tons of oil equivalent and to prevent the emissions of 9 million tons of carbon dioxide.”

While confident that they will be able to continue funding such efforts, the Moroccan government face significant fiscal shortfalls thanks to an increase in subsidies and public work jobs offered to calm growing political opposition last year.

Originally Distributed by Newsbase. All Rights Reserved.

Image: Energyboom.com

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