Despite the historic OPEC+ production cut deal, available oil storage capacity around the world is running thin as global oil demand continues to crumble amid lockdowns and travel restrictions in many countries.
OPEC and its Russia-led allies promised to remove 9.7 million bpd from the market starting in May. But oil storage capacity may be full as early as in the middle of May, according to many analysts.
In this unprecedented global oil glut, some sectors of the oil industry and some oil-producing countries and their national oil companies (NOCs) are set to fare better than others, petroleum economics and energy policy expert Michael Lynch writes in an article in Forbes.
Like in every extreme market situation, there will be big winners and big losers while the oil industry is scrambling to stash crude oil and refinery products that no one really needs right now.
The OPEC producers who don’t have adequate refining capacity at home and don’t have solid long-term oil supply contracts with oil-importing nations are set to lose the most. These are Angola, Nigeria, and Iraq, according to Lynch.
OPEC’s second-largest oil producer Iraq sells most of the crude it produces. To be sure, Saudi Arabia also does that. However, in recent years OPEC’s top producer and the world’s largest oil exporter has struck some major downstream deals in the world’s top oil importer, China, ensuring long-term demand for its crude in the market.
According to Lynch’s estimates of OPEC’s refinery capacity per member and their target production for May and June, OPEC’s combined domestic refining capacity is half what its members would produce if they all stick to their quotas. Considering that 100-percent compliance in every country has never been achieved in such deals, OPEC members would be likely producing more than two times their combined refinery capacity.
The countries that have long-term oil supply contracts with importers will be better off than those who rely more on spot crude sales. Data about the global spot crude market is incomplete, at best, Lynch says.
But oil-producing nations with higher shares of spot sales would likely feel the pinch from the storage capacity crunch much harder than others because amid the huge oversupply refiners are even trying to get out of some clauses in long-term contracts, let alone snap up spot cargoes.
Among companies, those integrated firms who have downstream capacity at least would have refineries to send their crude to. However, the downstream economics are terrible right now, because the demand for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel is plummeting everywhere in the world.
Refined product distributors will lose the most—people are not driving and are under lockdown in many countries in the world, including in India and the largest oil consumer, the United States.
The biggest winners in the current market situation are the owners of storage capacity—onshore and offshore. Storage has been the most sought-after ‘commodity’ in the energy market in the past month as demand was crashing, and supply was rising.
Offshore, traders are scrambling to book floating storage, and charter rates for supertankers are skyrocketing. Storage costs are surging, and so are costs for chartering tankers to store oil at sea for future sales when traders expect demand to recover from the pandemic-hit plunge.
Despite the actions of OPEC+ and G20 to ease the glut, the oil industry may test the limits of its storage capacity in the coming weeks, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said this week.
“Never before has the oil industry come this close to testing its logistics capacity to the limit,” the agency said in its closely-watched Oil Market Report for April.
In the United States, storage will likely fill up by the middle of May. At oil prices so low, forced cuts are coming across the U.S. shale patch, OPEC++ deals or not. ConocoPhillips said this week it would be voluntarily curtailing 200,000 bpd production in Canada and the U.S. until market conditions improve, and others are likely to follow soon.
Amid the glut which OPEC+ cuts will not be able to stave off next month, owners of storage capacity will be the biggest winners in these most unusual times for the oil industry.