May 5, 2016: Energy Matters: Conventional

From Eric Vettel, American Energy Society




 - On April 17, key OPEC members will meet in Doha, Qatar. The last time OPEC met, November 2014, agreements broke down, Member nations decided to ignore the impact of fracking, and then production rose to an all-time high. Oil markets have been in free-fall ever since. In advance of the upcoming meeting, Saudi Arabia says it will try again to freeze production ... if all other OPEC nations agree, especially Iran.

 - About 15 years ago, the top 5 oil producing nations were:

   5. China (3.39 mb/d)

   4. Iran (3.44 (mb/d)

   3. United States (5.75 mb/d)

   2. Russia (7.41 mb/d)

   1. Saudi Arabia (7.63 mb/d)

Today, the top 5 oil producing nations are:

   5. Canada (4.4 million barrels per day)

   4. China (4.6 mb/d)

   3. Russia (11 mb/d)

   2. Saudi Arabia (11.9 mb/d)

   1. United States (13.7 mb/d)

-  Featured story: Right now, the total number of active rigs in the US is 484 (down 26 from last quarter), with only 32 waiting to spud (down 9). This is the first time the active rig count has fallen below 500 in a long time. Though "rig count" has always been used to measure the health of the oil industry, the introduction of new techniques ("fracking") and more efficient oil production has created a new model in which its importance is unclear.

- The oil crash has hurt oil producers all over the world, but Latin America has been hit the hardest, especially Venezuela and Brazil, which are exporting 100,000 to 200,000 fewer barrels per day; Mexico, Columbia, and Peru have also been hit hard.

Natural Gas

- Featured story: In the last few years, production of natural gas has overwhelmed the existing infrastructure. However, many are beginning to wonder if pipeline developers are moving too quickly to install new infrastructure. The states most at risk for NG infrastructure overdevelopment are: Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. (Note: in 2014, 26 new pipelines were approved for construction; in 2015, 30 more were approved.)


  - One of the most accurate ways to project the near-term future of the coal industry in the US is to measure current rail deliveries. Right now, coal deliveries by rail are down - significantly - and future rail-delivery contracts are declining, too.

 - Average amount of coal produced per employee-hour (in tons):

     Central Appalachia: 2.51 tons of coal per employee-hour

     Illinois Basin: 4.98 tons

     Northern Appalachia: 4.36 tons

     Powder River Basin: 29.24 tons (Note: the PRB in Wyoming is primarily a surface mine)


  - One reason why nuclear power is struggling right now is the high cost to build a reactor. Small modular reactors (SMRs), which are less expensive to build and produce around 300 MW of power (a third of the power of current reactors) are gaining traction as a possible solution. NuScale, a US firm, is preparing to build 12 SMRs for Utah Associated Municipal Power, and the British Royal Navy is planning to place a "large" order with Rolls Royce for SMRs that can power its nuclear submarines. However, it will take about 10 years to complete these orders.