quarta-feira, 26 de março de 2008

A outra face do elevado preço do petróleo

Segundo a reportonbusiness.com:

"Reserves don't matter as much as the cost of getting the oil out the ground



March 20, 2008

LONDON -- Oil and gas reserves don't much matter any more. You arrive at that conclusion after listening to Royal Dutch Shell's strategy presentation in which the company this week finally allowed investors to have a look at the gauge on its fuel tank.

Shell caused an uproar in late January when it failed to publish its reserve numbers at the same time as its 2007 earnings, and said it would follow Exxon Mobil's example and delay publication until it filed its 20-F statement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Some feared that the delay masked a problem (another case of disappearing barrels, whispered the doubters) but there was no problem. Shell topped up its tank and added a little bit more.

Reserves on their own don't matter. What matters is the cost of getting the reserves. Shell's investment per barrel of oil and gas has increased fourfold in just three years, a period during which the oil multinational's output has not increased. The company displayed another chart showing the average spending of the big oil companies. Per barrel of hydrocarbons, spending rates were pretty static during the 1990s at between $5 (U.S.) and $6 a barrel. In 2003, the rate of investment began to escalate and is now shooting higher, rising at an alarming pace. Last year, the average investment per barrel was just shy of $15.

On top of that, you must load the daily cost of operating wells and pipelines and the colossal overhead of running a big oil company. Moreover, we know that the $14-to-$15-a-barrel average investment is just an average and it is rising. Every new barrel is a more expensive barrel because in order to get the oil, Western oil companies must push the technology envelope even further, into deeper water and more heavy oil, such as Alberta's oil sands. The only giant discovery of the past decade has been Tupi, the eight-billion-barrel oil field discovered offshore of Brazil in water depths of two kilometres.

Technology is expensive, but it is the materials, manpower and energy cost that hurts. Shell estimates that the operating cost per barrel of the Athabasca project is between $20 and $25, of which a third is energy - the cost of natural gas used to heat water to extract bitumen from sand. Shell won't reveal the capital cost of an Alberta oil sands barrel, but it is certainly a lot higher than its average of $7 and likely near the top rate of $15 to $20.

The point of all this is that it helps to explain the current $105-a-barrel oil price and its extraordinary resilience to weakening demand signals. Oil price speculators know that the U.S. is heading into recession and they can see the signs of weakening gasoline consumption, but they are maintaining long positions in West Texas Intermediate and Brent, the benchmark futures contracts. If they remain bullish, it is not because they believe oil is running out but because they believe the cost of producing the marginal barrel will remain high and will continue to rise, regardless of a U.S. recession.

That doesn't mean the oil price won't dip or suffer a short-term plunge. There will be temporary gluts of gasoline as America works through its credit crunch, but it is the cost of producing extra barrels and the price of alternatives such as biofuels that will determine what we pay for oil in 2012. According to the New York Mercantile Exchange, that price is currently around $100 a barrel and most of the long-dated WTI futures reflect a belief that the world will still be paying close to a three-digit oil price in five years time.

The high oil price is sucking cash into the pockets of national and multinational oil companies and the cash is needed. At the time of Big Oil's investment nadir at the turn of the millennium, Shell spent a net $1.5-billion on its business after deducting cash inflows from disposals. At that time, the oil industry was in survival mode, coping with $12 oil prices, but the investment famine was unsustainable and today, we are paying for it. The question is whether we will run into another bust cycle.

That can happen only if the West's big oil companies repeat their achievements of the 1970s and 1980s with a series of exploration successes, such as Brent and Forties in the North Sea and Prudhoe Bay. The worry is that today's spending is not delivering many more barrels, just more expensive barrels. The cheap barrels are out of reach in Iraq, Iran and Russia. It's not peak oil we have to worry about but oil inflation."

Esta é uma análise importante e vem demonstrar uma das realidades bem pesadas acerca dos custos da extracção do petróleo. Durante muito anos, entre o meio da década de 1980 e o fim do século XX, o baixo preço do barril de petróleo afastou as companhias do investimento na prospecção. O resultado está à vista: o mundo hoje consome diariamente mais de 80 milhões de barris por dia. Só Portugal consome 300.000 por dia, tudo importado! Ora, como existem muitas zonas produtivas antigas em declínio, é natural a existência de dificuldade na satisfação do aumento da procura por parte dos países em grande crescimento económico, como é o caso da Índia ou da China.

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