Category Archives: News

Italy’s Elections Offering Few Energy Specifics Beyond More Local Control

Europe-scrambles-to-save-euro-markets-surge-N1L45LK-x-largeAs Italy prepares to go to the polls after months of frustration about tighter government spending policies and slow recovery, the country’s energy sector faces a wave of uncertainty as candidates hint at solutions, but offer few specifics.

The late February elections present a stand off between supporters of an increasingly unpopular technocratic government led by Mario Monti and critics of his tighter belt approach, led by a newly resurgent Silvio Berlusconi, or as the Christian Science Monitor described it, “the populism of short-term fixes and the long-term reforms necessary to make Italy’s economy solvent, competitive, and sustainable over the long run.

So far, leaders of all sides have hinted at what the country could see as far as expanding an energy sector that is largely dependence on foreign resources for oil and natural gas. After a reversal of an offshore drilling ban late last year, Monti unveiled plans to more than double domestic crude production, suggesting increased development of local resources in favor of expensive and uncertain imports. Similarly, the head of the center-left alliance, Pier Luigi Bersani said he would emphasize domestic reserves with a concentration on natural gas and a further reduction of state support for renewable options, according to Dow Jones. For his part, Berlusconi has offered few specifics, but does bring with him deep ties to Russian producers and affection for a nuclear return in the country.

More than a specific threat to Italy’s energy sector, the country’s national elections are proving to be a source of concern to the economy and investors in general. Despite recent declines in borrowing costs, after a series of painfully high auctions, Italy has seen investors grow skittish about the future or at least about the instability that could accompany a political transition. At the heart of this are critics of the current administration’s strict spending cuts and tax reforms, introduced in an attempt to reduce stress on the economy, with many taking aim at the appointed leadership of Mario Monti. While a full return to power by Berlusconi is not expected, the former prime minister’s ability to block a full parliamentary majority could shatter confidence about Rome’s ability to stay the course and scare off nervous investors. However, even if a Democratic majority is achieved, some have suggested that their policies may prove to be just as destabilizing.

“I’m investing in the euro zone but not in Italy, because although they have a primary surplus, there’s huge uncertainty politically,” Torgeir Hoien, head of fixed income at $19 billion Norwegian investment firm Skagen told Reuters.” What kind of policies will the Democratic Party pursue if they win?”

Originally Posted in Newsbase’s Euroil Monitor

 

 

 

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North African Energy Targeted by Labor Concerns

746884-aus-bus-pix-libya-refineryAfter nearly two years of widespread political and social transitions across North Africa, protest and labor movements have continued to expand in hopes of making the most of the new political environment. While motivations may vary, these groups are increasingly targeting the region’s energy sector in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, commonly aiming their ire at foreign firms and their local subsidiaries.

Against a backdrop of regional unrest, these energy-aimed efforts are to continuing to increase and beginning to threaten what many feel is North Africa’s quickest and surest route to recovery and post-Arab Spring stability.

In many cases, protests and labor strikes have taken issue with what is felt to be a lack of common benefit from the region’s rich oil and gas production. From Tunis to Benghazi, this has centered on the complaint that far too little of the region’s oil and gas wealth and revenue is reaching local communities.

A Post Arab Spring Analysis

In Tunisia, critics have taken issue with what they feel is a lack of work opportunities for local workers offered by the country’s most prominent energy outfit, BG and their local subsidiary BG Tunisia. Facing a 17.6 percent post-revolution unemployment rate, Tunisia has been unable to keep up with and absorb the growth in increasingly skilled young workers, according to a World Bank report.

Facing a similar demand for more work opportunities, but without the spike in skilled labor, Libya has seen protest movements target oil and gas facilities across the country, including a December strike at one of the country’s busiest oil and gas ports, Ras Lanuf. Protestors began the New Year with a strike at the Zueitina oil terminal, situated just east of Tripoli. According to the country’s Oil and Gas Minister, Abdul Bari Laroussi, the shutdown has come with a demand to employ 1,500 local residents and cost the country an estimated $1 million a day in lost revenue.

Additionally, Libya has seen protest groups use energy facilities to voice concerns about a variety of issues, most notably political representation. Shortly before the country’s first post-revolution election, armed militias occupied refineries in El-Sider, Ras Lanuf and Brega, shutting down half of the country’s export capacity. Their actions were aimed at increasing the number of seats reserved for the country’s oil-rich eastern provinces and shifting more authority over energy issues to the city of Benghazi.

Despite having largely escaped the kind of public protests that led to political transitions across the region, Algeria has faced its own share of protests aimed at the incredibly valuable oil and gas sector. Even before the Arab Spring protests began, Algeria faced a pushback from the country’s large number of unemployed for what they felt to be a lack of opportunities for local workers. Undoubtedly the country’s largest economic force, Algeria’s oil and gas production accounts for 98 percent of their export revenue and a large percentage of government funding. State efforts to curb these protests through increasing government incentives spending and a tighter security environment have worked in the short term. However, protests have continued to flare up as resentment builds around a lack of benefits seen across the country as well as wider uncertainty about what will follow the expected retirement of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika before scheduled elections in 2014.

According to a Bloomberg report, dwindling oil reserves and uncertainty have made the country’s relative calm difficult to sustain.

“Pacification through finance can’t go on forever,” Azzedine Layachi, a professor of international and Middle East affairs at St. John’s University in New York and Rome, told Bloomberg. “Everything is in shutdown mode until 2014 and that’s when we’ll see what direction Algeria takes.”

An Uncertain Landscape for Foreign Investors

In all three national cases, further labor unrest and protests aimed at energy sector actors could have a significant effect on the ability to attract much-needed investment and interest from foreign firms. In Libya, this means the ability to promote the full return of companies that halted operations in the midst of the civil violence that brought down the government of Muammar Gadaffi and move beyond pre-conflict levels to ensure future growth. While Tunisia is putting less emphasis on energy reserves as a means of economic recovery, continuing unrest does threaten to put off further investment from companies like BG, which provides over half of the country’s natural gas demand.

Last year, sit-ins at processing plants spurred talks between the company and local leaders, concluding in pledges for greater attention to local hires, including training options. Recently the company has said that while they would not consider leaving the county as a result of the sit-ins, they did not see themselves in a wider labor role.

“We continue to work in Tunisia and to explore new opportunities. Although the phenomenon of sit-ins and strikes is annoying, the group will not leave the country for all that,” Sami Iskander, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of BG, Africa, Middle East and Asia told the Tunisian News Agency, but added, “the main purpose of the group is the production and supply of gas in the country and not creating jobs.”

Currently BG provides about 60 percent of Tunisia’s natural gas demand and employs about 1,000 employees.

Finally, further unrest in Algeria could prove troubling to the government’s recent push towards introducing unconventional shale exploration efforts to the country. Boasting significant domestic potential, Algeria will have to first deal with significant foundational investments associated with the shale excavation process in terms of both machinery and technical expertise. To help cope with these early expenses, the national government and the state-backed Sonatrach have unveiled new revenue sharing agreements and taxing schemes aimed at appealing to foreign investors with shale experience. Already known as a risky investment in the region, Algeria could prove even more uninviting if protests and strikes continue to expand.

So far, these protests have elicited little more from state officials than targeted actions according to each, specific case. However, according to the Agence France-Presse, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has threatened to impose “order by force” in to address those actions that threaten the country’s energy sector.

“Oil is our only source of revenue,” he said, according to the AFP report. “We will not allow any (armed) force to confront the people and threaten national security. I warn families, tribes and regions that we will take decisive measures.”

While Tripoli’s hard line may prove effective in garnering local support, it is far less clear whether it will provide the sense of stability needed for foreign firms to return to the region.

Image: The Australian

Originally Posted in Newsbase’s AfrOil Monitor

 

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Eastern Med Transport Options Have to Overcome Region’s Political Tension

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Transport options for the Eastern Mediterranean’s gas discoveries are taking on a familiar political tone as Turkey, Cyprus and Greece stake out European market options.

The current debate centers around how those firms active in the Tamar, Leviathan and Block 12 gas fields, situated in the waters between Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon, will be able to export gas to the European market. Any solution would help Europe reach resource diversification goals by opening up access to some of the largest gas finds in the last decade. However, just as political tension between regional actors have led to overlapping claims to the reserves, transmission solutions have run up against long-standing animosity.

For their part, Israel has pressed for downstream and transmission infrastructure to be built outside their own borders for both security and environmental reasons. This approach has made their partnership with Cyprus all the more important to export options. This has also made the possibility of an export line through Turkey all the more complicated.

Turkey has recently expressed their interest in expanding their regional energy role, with Ambassador Mithat Rende, Director General for Multilateral Economic Affairs at Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs telling the recent Energy and Economic Summit, “Construction of a pipeline to Turkey is the best way to export Israeli gas, both in terms of economics and in terms of energy.” However, this spirit of outreach does not extend to any collaboration with Cyprus. Turkey recently stated that they would boycott those companies that partnered with Cyprus for similar regional exploration efforts.

What Turkey may be pushing for is a re-purposing of the dormant ITGI (Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy) pipeline. After bidding to take on Caspian gas to the European market, the ITGI was shelved amid fears that Greece stakeholders would not be able to financially support it. However, the project’s director of international activities, Dimitris Manolis, told Reuters that he could see the project re-purposed for the Eastern Mediterranean gas finds, offering a link through Greece and Italy by 2018 or 2019. The ITGI would be an upgrade and extension of existing pipelines, estimated to cost $1.6 billion.

A Liquefied Natural Gas solution to the export question received a boost this week with the announcement that Australia’s Woodside had taken on a 30 percent interest in Leviathan gas field, taking on any LNG efforts on the project. Texas-based Noble Gas will be the upstream operator for the effort.

Image: Edison.com

Originally Posted: Newsbase’s Euroil Monitor

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Libya’s Lofty Goals Remain But So Do Challenges

After rebounding faster than many thought possible, Libya’s oil and gas sector has set its sights on further expansion with new production goals for this coming March and significant expansion over the next five years. With a plan that includes gradually broadening their exploration efforts, increasing refining capacity and even venturing into unconventional options, including shale, Libya appear poised to finally live up to their energy potential in the region.

Despite such confidence and political will, the North African nation now faces more than its share of challenges standing in the way of those lofty production goals. More than just an additional revenue stream for the country, Libya’s energy output represents the country’s clearest and surest path towards sustainable growth and stability over the coming decade. Currently, Tripoli looks to hydrocarbon revenue for 80 percent of GDP and 97 percent of export earnings, making the sector’s stability and growth all the more vital to Libya’s post-war future.

However, questions about security, shared domestic benefits and confidence among needed foreign partners have cast some doubt about whether the country’s new political leadership have a plan in place to make this happen.

A Quick but Unsure Recovery

With more than 46.4 billion barrels of available crude, Libya is home to Africa’s largest proven oil reserves. Despite the country’s potential, Libya has seen a steady decline in production levels from a 3 million bpd peak in the 1960s. This slowdown was the result of an insufficient infrastructure and political isolation under the leadership of Muammar Gadaffi. Production efforts began to rebound after international sanctions were lifted in 2004, though the government’s handling of the energy sector and underperforming efforts created a cautious atmosphere among foreign firms. The collapse of the Gadaffi government amid widespread violence last year dealt another blow to production efforts last year, but quick action on the part of the transitional government helped output rebound ahead of analysts’ predictions, reaching 1.6 million bpd this month. While still far short of 1960s’ highs, the recovery has offered some confidence, setting up a production goal of 1.72 million bpd by late March and 2.2 million by 2017.

Libya has also been able to increase natural gas output, producing 2.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) a day as of this month, with plans to increase to 3 bcm by the end of the year.

Members of the country’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) have suggested that the country’s’ short-term goals can be met with only existing projects, moving beyond that amount will require expanding both up and downstream efforts in the coming months.  This will include new production licenses within the next year, according to Reuters, as well as following up on projects that were delayed as a result of the conflict. After signing a $900 million exploration agreement in 2009, BP announced their intent to return to Libya with both on and offshore projects planned.

Further, expansion efforts will include improvements to the country’s refining capacity, which now stands at 378,000 bpd, across five facilities, according to a recent European Commission report. The growth of the country’s refining capacity will be especially important moving forward to address export demands, as well as domestic needs. Libya currently relies on imports for three-quarters of its gasoline needs.

However, the NOC and the country’s new political leadership must first deal with a series of domestic challenges standing in their way, most stemming from the violent conflict that led to the collapse of the Gadaffi government.

In addition to dealing with damage to the country’s energy infrastructure during the civil war, Libya has also been plagued by uncertainty about the country’s security situation. While some companies, including Italy’s Eni and Spain’s Repsol, made quick returns after the war ended, others have remained cautious, with many of the militias that rose up during the conflict still active and armed.

This situation has become more pressing as some of these groups have begun using up and downstream faculties as tools of protests. Recently, a group demanding medical care and compensation for their role in the war halted production at the Zawiya Refinery for three days in protest, costing the country an estimated $30 million in lost revenue, according to Reuters. In addition to lost earnings, the protest spurred action among local workers who threatened protests of their own to demand better security at the facility. So far, Tripoli have been able to avoid such protests with a pledge to hear out workers’ concerns, though no long term solutions have been put on the table. This lack of clarity has been made worse by an ongoing struggle for political influence between the traditional central government in Tripoli and the unofficial capital of the oil-rich east, Benghazi.

A Stable Setting for Foreign Investment

Whatever solution is finally applied to the country’s security situation, it will need to come quick to ensure needed international investors. This is especially true with the country’s current and anticipated energy infrastructure. In addition to boosting transport lines, Libya will need significant investment in unconventional technology if it hopes to reach the estimated 290 trillion cubic meters of shale gas the U.S. Energy Information Administration believes the country holds.

While Libya has not traditionally relied on gas production, the country’s shale potential has forced a reevaluation of its role in the energy sector and the country’s ability to move beyond pre-conflict production levels, NOC Chairman Nuri Berruien told Bloomberg. Reaching those reserves will require costly early investment and appeals to foreign firms with more direct experience with hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’ – the process necessary to extract deep-set shale deposits.

Image: The Wall Street Journal

Originally Posted in Newsbase, Afroil Monitor

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Spanish Oil and Gas Adjusting to New Reality

Facing a sustained economic crisis and unfavorable legislative responses, many in Spain’s energy sector are working furiously to adjust expectations and strategies for what could be a very different domestic marketplace.

The country’s new energy reality became a bit clearer at the end of last month as a collapse in local demand and stronger than expected needs from across Europe helped make Spain a net diesel exporter for the first time on record, according to a Reuters report. The shift was also the result of 5 billion euros in refinery upgrades over the last few years, increasing Spanish capacity and helping avoid one facility closure. While this development stems from Spain’s diminished domestic diesel market, reflecting slower growth and demand, it has provided a way for needed revenue from stronger diesel demand elsewhere in Europe.

Meanwhile, larger firms, including Repsol and Gas Natural, have worked to insulate themselves against the diminished Spanish and wider European demand by attempting to expand their footprint in emerging markets in South America and North Africa. Despite these efforts, many have faced further challenges at home thanks in part to exposure to the domestic market and the weight of the country’s sovereign debt challenges. In early October, Standard & Poor’s downgraded energy giant Gas Natural from stable to negative as concerns grew around a possible sovereign bailout appeal by Madrid.  On October 19th, Reuters reported a slight reprieve for the energy sector as the government sidestepped a lowering to junk rating on sovereign debt, though considering the government’s current energy debt and status, this development hardly brings them out of the woods.

For the country’s natural gas actors, further adjustments may soon be necessary thanks to a revised national tax program that will apply a 6 percent flat rate on power generation, as well as an additional “green tax” for gas-fire generation. Alongside the government’s recent cuts in energy subsidies, this new tax is part of an effort to ease Spain’s current energy deficit of around 24 billion euros.

Image: Eurogascorp.com

Originally Posted in Newsbase’s Euroil Monitor

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cairo’s Sinai Efforts Falling Short

Weeks after the Egyptian government pledged action to halt growing unrest in the Sinai Peninsula, military action appears to have had minimal effect on stopping violence and safeguarding the country’s energy trade route to Jordan.

The promised action followed months of growing instability in the region, beginning shortly after the fall of the government of Hosni Mubarak. In addition to a growing number of kidnappings, the Sinai saw 15 direct attacks on natural gas pipelines bound for Jordan and Israel. In early August, a single attack that led to the deaths of 16 Egyptian soldiers spurred newly elected President Mohammed Morsi to launch a military initiative aimed at bringing the region back under control. However, as recently as this weekend, attacks have continued, including one that resulted in the deaths of three police officers in El-Arish.

This latest event was followed by the dismissal of the North Sinai security chief, General Ahmed Bakr as well as protests among local police groups demanding greater attention from government forces and the passage of emergency laws. In response, Morsi once again pledged direct action, but will likely face resistance from a local Bedouin population with a long history of conflict with Cairo.

In addition to the clear goal of returning order to the country’s eastern region, the government’s efforts are especially important to protecting a natural gas export route to Jordan and beyond. Although exports from Egypt have recently halted as Cairo deals with a surge in local consumption and dwindling supply, the country’s ability to exploit domestic reserves for future growth will rely on a dependable export route to the east. According to a Jordan Times report, talks between the two governments have suggested that exports could resume as soon as next month, with a possible boost in quantity on the table.

While the government is working to address local consumption issues through a reassessment of subsidy programs and energy diversification, they have also begun pushing for greater exploration efforts, including both on and offshore projects. Recently, the Morsi government offered tenders for fifteen on- and offshore blocks for natural gas exploration.

Image: The Guardian

Originally Posted in Newsbase’s MEA Downstream Monitor

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A Spotlight on Greece’s Energy Potential But Roadblocks Remain

As Athens struggles to find a viable path out of Greece’s current economic morass, the country’s oil and gas potential have come under scrutiny as possible keys to future growth. However, despite early reports detailing potential across the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean seas, accessing those reserves may prove more difficult than government officials are letting on.

According to NBC News, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras released a study earlier this summer suggesting as much as $600 billion worth of offshore natural gas in waters accessible by Greece. The report pointed to 3.5 Tcm and the equivalent of 1.5 billion barrels of oil off the southern coast of Crete that might equal or surpass reserves found in the Eastern Mediterranean Levantine Basin. The Levantine Basin is currently the focus of a surge in activity and investment from Cyprus and Israel.

In hopes of replicating the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas rush, Athens has begun offering licensing rounds and seismic studies of the region to move forward with a sector that they feel could be a path towards erasing their debt and addressing the heavy costs of current energy imports. Greece currently spends about 5 percent of GDP on foreign oil and gas each year.

Despite such potential, reaching Greece’s reserves could be particularly challenging and unrealistic for short-term economic recovery efforts. Facing significant pressure from Brussels to reign in spending and address massive debt obligations, Athens has pursued a program of austerity that has done little to ensure political stability or investment confidence.

With little funding to spare and possible benefits years off, the idea of dedicating money to early hydrocarbon development appears increasingly impractical in the eyes of the country’s economically stressed population. The country’s licensing rounds offer one path forward, but it is still too early to tell whether foreign investors are willing to enter the still volatile Greek economy. Further, the country’s privatization push includes the sale of domestic natural gas provider DEPA and its transmission system operator, making the bridge between significant future hydrocarbon revenues and the state all the more unclear.

Still, Athens appears willing to move forward with the energy exploration effort and has also begun exploring the possibility of establishing themselves as a transmission hub for gas from the Levantine Basin when Cypriot and Israeli efforts begin to mature.

Image: Hellenext

Originally Posted: Newsbase EurOil Monitor

 

 

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Algeria’s Downstream Deficit on Display

The impact of Algeria’s downstream deficit became clear this month as a tighter European refining market threatened a series of gasoline deliveries scheduled for mid-October. Despite substantial oil and gas reserves and high export rates to the United States and Europe, Algeria does not currently offer the downstream capacity to meet growing domestic needs. Recent refinery closures and site maintenance in Europe and a sharp increase in car ownership locally have exacerbated the country’s energy challenges by reducing accessibility to refined products, according to a Platts report and comments from Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi.

As of January 2012, Algeria boasted a total crude oil refining capacity of 450,000 bpd at four facilities. This capacity is not on track to meet rising domestic demand for refined materials, promoting an increase reliance on imports, which rose from 1.3 million tones in 2010 to 2.3 million tones in 2011. This situation has hardly been helped this year with the six-month closure of their largest facility, the 335,000 bpd refinery at Skikda in July 2012.

To address this deficit, Algeria has launched a series of renovation efforts at each of the facilities with an aim of being able to increase output to meet domestic demand by 2014. These efforts include the construction of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant and three Liquefied Gas Facilities at the Skikda location, an expansion of 20,000 bpd at the Algiers location, an increase of 30,000bpd at the Arzew location and a plan to build three new LNG trains at the Hassi Messaoud site.

In addition to improving sites to meet current demand, Algeria must also prepare for expanded production efforts, including both traditional, unconventional shale and the country’s push into offshore exploration. Recently, the country’s government and state-backed oil and gas firm Sonatrach unveiled an expanded $80 billion energy investment plan, with about $60 billion set aside for exploration efforts. The government also revised the country’s hydrocarbon laws to appeal to foreign firms willing to support investment into shale projects.

According to a Bloomberg report, Sonatrach CEO Abdelhamid Zerguine has stated that the North African country offers an estimated 2 trillion cubic meters of shale gas which they base on tests carried out in three provinces over 180,000 sq. km.

Image: Arabian Oil and Gas

Originally Posted: Newsbase Downstream MEA Monitor

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Tunisia and an Undefined Shale Future

As the rush to exploit shale reserves continues across the globe, Tunisia’s potential has come into the spotlight due to a number of conflicting reports from interested foreign firms and the country’s new government.

Facing expected increases in local demand and a weakened post-Arab Spring economy, which contracted 1.8 percent last year, a Tunisian shale boom would be a helpful step forward in terms of energy security and growth. While modest in comparison to larger shale markets, most notably the United States and China and to a lesser degree, Poland, Tunisia’s shale estimates suggest enough potential to change the energy landscape of this country of 10.5 million. According to a U.S. Energy Intelligence Agency report, as of 2009, Tunisia offered approximately 18 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas.

However, despite clearly stated interest on the part of several foreign firms and a lack of viable hydrocarbon alternatives, Tunisia’s current transitional government has avoided a clear embrace of the often-controversial extraction process.

A Growing Caution

As countries across the globe rush to replicate the progress seen in the United States over the last decade, many have rushed to partner with foreign partners with more direct experience with the costly and very technical shale extraction process, known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. The extraction, according to the UPI, “involves drilling into the rocks horizontally and then cracking them with a high-pressure missile of water mixed with sand and chemicals, to unlock the gas from the impermeable shale rock.”

The complexities of this process and the environmental risks involved have made introducing shale projects difficult into new markets increasingly difficult. Bolstered by reporting and advocacy groups in the United States, opposition has grown due to concern about possible harmful waste, water supplies and the potential impact irresponsible development could have on the local environment and aquifers.  This has resulted in partial or outright bans on shale efforts across Europe and delays in government approval in several more countries.

Early reports suggest that these concerns may have had a hand in the delay or outright denial of licensing rights for shale projects in Tunisia. In late September, Tunisia’s Industry Ministry were pushed to respond to reports that they were preparing to grant an unconventional license to Shell in the Kairouan region of the country. Denying the completed agreement, the Ministry announced that while they had received a related application, they had responded with an appeal for an environmental and water impact analysis, according to an Al Bawaba report.

The water usage issue related to “fracking”, which can require millions of gallons for each well, is especially important for the arid North African region. The Ministry release did allow that government was considering shale options, stating, “Tunisia is mulling over producing shale gas to meet its growing domestic demand and the expected drop in traditional oil stock”.

However, just a few days later, the African Manager website reported that a source close to the case stated that shale efforts would likely be abandoned completely by the current government thanks to concerns about the potential environmental impact. While unconfirmed outside of that source, the report does reflect the lack of a clear narrative about the country’s current position on introducing shale efforts.

Ready and Waiting

However the country decides, they will have a number of potential partners to held lay a shale foundation. Earlier this year, Shell announced plans to pursue unconventional efforts in both Tunisia and neighboring Algeria, which has been much more assertive in their support for shale development. So far, Algiers has signed production agreements with Italy’s Eni and Shell, among others. Going so far as to introduce new hydrocarbon legislation to entice foreign investment in unconventional energy projects, Algeria has set a course for energy diversification, addressing a steady increase in domestic demand and allowing an increase in export revenue.

For Tunisia, the addition of shale to the country’s energy options would address more modest goals of just easing dependence on costly refined oil imports and the burden of steadily declining local oil reserves.

In addition to Shell, Winstar Resources have also expressed a strong interest in pursing what they feel is Tunisia’s vas energy potential. Despite reports of a possible sale of their Tunisian interests earlier this year, the Canadian company included a positive outlook of their access to the country’s shale potential in their August, second quarter corporate report. Earlier this year, representatives from Italy’s Eni suggested they might extend their shale reach beyond Algeria and were “thinking of entering the Tunisian shale gas market,” according to a Dow Jones report.

In late September, the country’s shale reserves also took center stage at the second annual Tunisia Oil and Gas Summit, where the keynote session explored Tunisia’s unconventional, including input from a number of foreign E&P firms and sponsor Halliburton. The US company has been at the forefront of shale excavation technology for decades.

It should be noted that even if the country’s transitional government side against introducing shale to the Tunisian landscape, presidential and parliamentary elections have now been scheduled for June of next year. With new leadership in sight, any opposition could face a limited lifespan. For their part, Shell has not included any information about unconventional projects in their online literature related to Tunisia, but did recently announce a $150 million oil exploration deal in the country.

Image: Agency Tunis African Press

Originally Posted: Newsbase’s AfrOil Monitor

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Algeria Revises Hydrocarbon Law But Real Sector Changes Remain Unclear

After months of speculation, Algeria’s Council of Ministers finally announced that they had passed a revised hydrocarbon law, erasing the outdated 2005 legislation in hopes of reversing the country’s waning production levels. However, lacking precise details and missing expected reforms for existing projects, the new law ‘s impact on the country’s weakened production efforts may not have the impact they hoped for.

Passed earlier this month, the legislation was accompanied by an announcement from the national government outlining a plan that focuses on creating a more inviting investment environment for potential development partners who can help Algeria make the most of their potential shale reserves. However, the revisions appear to have little effect on existing or more traditional efforts, which have seen a steady decline in recent years.

According to a Bloomberg report, Algeria is sitting on an expected 2 trillion cubic meters of shale gas which they base on tests carried out in three provinces over 180,000 sq. km. However, reaching the country’s reserves remains a challenge for the government and its state-backed firm Sonatrach because of high initial production costs and a lack of domestic experience and equipment.  The shale push figures into the country’s wider $80 billion energy sector investment plan over the next five years, with 60 percent of funds dedicated to excavation and production efforts, including “150 exploratory wells and expand crude-processing capacity at three oil refineries.”

To meet the requirements of launching a local shale effort, Algeria has turned to foreign partners to help guide the process and provide needed technical experience, including Italy’s Eni, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil. The new legislation was meant to appeal to these firms, opening up significant new streams of revenue to a country heavily dependent on hydrocarbon exports to meet government spending needs.

An Uncertain Energy Landscape

Almost exclusively dependent on oil and natural gas revenue to fund government spending and operations, Algeria has long realized known that the secret to keeping the country politically and socially calm is a strong energy sector. However, in recent years, sector uncertainty and misuse helped create a working environment seen as hostile to a number of necessary foreign firms, leading to both cancellation of existing projects and dwindling interest in new ones. The most glaring example of the country’s waning attractiveness to outside investors came with a round of ten possible licenses which attracted only two bids, one of which came from the country’s state-backed energy firm, Sonatrach.

The decline began with the adoption of new revenue sharing laws and taxes in 2005, including a new policy in 2006 that would impose heavy costs on revenue when oil climbed over $30 a barrel. Interest continued to waver, spurring a decline in the country’s output, which dropped more 5 percent in 2009 alone. Algeria’s production environment grew more and more unattractive to foreign investors, spurring threats from international firms that they would leave if conditions did not improve.

This process began with a wide-reaching corruption investigation at Sonatrach, resulting in an overhaul of the company’s leadership. Accused of selling exploration rights and claims to family members and friends, the Sonatrach leadership was shown the door in a way Algiers hoped would rebuild some level of confidence among international investors.

The energy sector leadership in Algiers continued this process with new support for novel avenues of local exploration, including new natural gas efforts and adopting unconventional strategies, including seeking out the kind of deep-set shale reserves that have transformed energy markets in North America, China and potentially Argentina. However, Algeria realized that to diversify, they must seek out ways to appeal to wary funding partners abroad.

In order to appeal to necessary foreign production partners, Algerian officials announced a revision earlier this summer, noting that an overhaul was necessary because the 2005 law was passed when pricing and technology required a very different approach to excavation and production strategies.

Now passed and announced by the government, the legislation has fallen short of analyst expectations, including keeping a 51-49 percent ownership requirement for Sonatrach in place. Additionally, the new laws will not apply on existing excavation projects, giving little relief to those companies already operating in country. Instead, government officials announced only that undefined tax incentives would be offered to foreign partners to encourage unconventional efforts, which require significant investments in technology and personnel.

An Wider Expansion Effort

Algeria’s move into unconventional exploration efforts comes as the country tries to broaden their energy base, for the benefit of both growing domestic demand and vital revenue streams. In addition to supporting the development of shale projects, Algeria has also begun appealing to development partners for renewable projects to the tune of $60 billion, according to a Bloomberg report. The push is intended to move the country towards a 40 percent adoption of renewable power by 2030, easing domestic demand and increasing the amount of domestic hydrocarbon reserves available for export.

Image: Sweet Crude Report

Originally Posted: Newsbase’s Afroil Monitor

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