Conflict passé to oil markets

THE relatively muted oil market reaction from Islamic State's attacks on Paris and Beirut says something about the West's desensitisation to Middle East-derived conflict, but could also speak to the impact of the "golden age of gas" in today's global energy mix, KPMG Australia's oil and gas lead Jonathan Smith has told Energy News.
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Brent crude actually sank $US0.45c per barrel from the day before the attacks to $43.61 at the end of trading on Friday, when the terrorists hit Paris in a coordinated attack which, at last count, had claimed 132 lives and wounded hundreds.

The UK marker then rose slightly to $44.71 by Tuesday, while West Texas Intermediate settled more than 2% lower.

In today's reality, oversupply concerns outweigh geopolitical ones, even as fears persist that more terrorist activity will follow within and beyond the Middle East, with Islamic State itself naming several sites across the US and threatening countries involved in air strikes on Syria and Iraq, which include Australia.

"I would anticipate this is not the only operation they have in the pipeline," CIA director John Brennan said of Islamic State.

"I do believe this is something we will have to deal with for quite some time."

When panic strikes the world, particularly in the Middle East, two things are generally assured in commodities markets - gold and oil prices will shoot up. Gold because it's the traditional safe haven for investors, and oil because the region is where the bulk of supply comes from.

But the world has changed since the first Gulf War. The US is moving toward exporting oil and is building numerous LNG export terminals, as it seeks to end its decades of reliance on fossil fuel imports.

Australia, while not having experienced the shale boom (not for want of trying by the likes of Santos and Beach Energy, among others), is also set to overtake Qatar as the world's biggest LNG exporter by 2018, as gas becomes more important in the global energy mix.

"I think to some extent the West has got a bit desensitised, because in the past we reacted to [Middle East instability]," Smith told Energy News.

"When we're trying to read in which way the oil price is going based on the most recent incidents it's very difficult. Do we look at it as business as usual, or look at it as a real threat?

"There's so much noise around it's difficult to cut through."

Then there's the different energy mix from the early 1990s.

"The global thing that people miss about the comparison with previous crises is that the energy mix is different 25 years on from the Gulf War," Smith said.

"We were much more reliant oil than we are today; now there's so much more gas, so there are alternatives.

"There aren't any alternatives for petrol into cars, but the effect these days is that automobiles are also getting more efficient. Electric cars are not making an impact yet, though they may in future.

"There is an alternative for heating fuel for very large transportation in gas, so you'd say how much would the conflict in Syria affect the supply of gas? It wouldn't, because you have all the gas coming from the US shale boom.

"In Australian terms we have Japan as a massive customer of ours looking for energy security, which is not changing. They'll still get the LNG from Australia on these long-term contracts, and there are big chunks of that which are not affected by that global view [of geopolitical instability]."

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