Iran Looking to Bring 500,000 bpd Online Soon After Sanctions Lifted Probably 'Too Optimistic'

Martin Tillier,

Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh thinks Iran can manage to bring an additional 500,000 barrels online right after sanctions are removed. That is probably a bit too optimistic

After months of speculation and anticipation, Iran and the P5+1 nationsreached a historic agreement on its nuclear program. The deal puts limits on Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.

Here are a few of the key points:

• Iran commits to reduce its uranium stockpile and number of centrifuges.

• Enrichment is banned at certain nuclear facilities.

• The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will verify Iran’s compliance.

• Sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear program will be removed, allowing for greater oil exports.

• An arms embargo on Iran will gradually be lifted.

Oil prices dropped a bit on July 14 following the announcement, but with the markets having already taken the deal into account over the past week, prices did not fall as much as one might think given the large volume of Iranian crude that could come online over the next year. WTI was trading flat at $52 per barrel as of mid-day trading and Brent fell by less than 1% to $57.47 per barrel. After the meltdown in prices over the past two weeks, which likely included some recognition of the Iran deal, the markets were relatively quiet following the announcement.

How much oil can Iran bring online and how fast? Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh thinks Iran can manage to bring an additional 500,000 barrels online right after sanctions are removed. That is probably a bit too optimistic, but Iran could likely bring somewhere between 500,000 bpd and 1 MMbpd within a year or so. Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister said that the country is targeting oil exports at 2.3 MMbod, up from 1.2 MMbpd currently.

Iran has courted European oil companies, including Total, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni. The fact is sanctions will stay in place until the International Atomic Energy Agency affirms Iran’s compliance with technical commitments laid out in the agreement. That could take months, and only then will sanctions be lifted. Dec. 15 appears to be the key date.

The deal is not fully operational yet. Hardliners in both the U.S. and Iran could throw up hurdles. The U.S. Congress has 60 days to review the accord and vote on a measure of disapproval. President Obama will face some trouble if early murmurings are any indication. Several of the Republican Presidential candidates came out with belligerent statements of opposition to the deal, which will put pressure on the Republican controlled Congress to try to block it. Still, Obama has promised to veto any such effort, making a two-thirds majority necessary from Congress.

OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report for July showed Saudi Arabia has blown through previous records for oil production, reaching an all-time high of nearly 10.6 MMbpd in June. That is up 230,000 bpd from May, and almost 1 MMbpd higher than in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Other OPEC members aren’t stopping either. Qatar added 22,000 bpd in June, Nigeria added 75,000 bpd, and Iraq added an astounding 303,000 bpd. Saudi Arabia is still trying to play for market share, and its ability to ramp up production in the face of an arguably over-supplied market does not bode well for a price rebound.

Some are wondering if Saudi Arabia may top 11 MMbpd in oil output in the near future, which if it did achieve those heady levels, it would be the first country to do so since the former Soviet Union.

OPEC doesn’t see the flood of supply as much of a problem, as it expects demand to pick up the slack. The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) is less convinced. In the IEA’s monthly report, it predicts global oil demand to expand at a much slower 1.2 MMbpd 2016, down from 1.4 MMbpd in 2015. The agency predicts the slump in oil prices to last well into next year as a result.

Iraq is posting impressive gains in oil production, but a fragile political accord between Kurdistan and Baghdad appears to have ruptured. Under an agreement reached last year, the semi-autonomous region would export its oil under the auspices of the central government and in exchange the Iraqi government would provide Kurdistan with its share of national revenues. But funds to Kurdistan have dried up and the Kurdish Regional Government recently stated that it is now bypassing the Iraqi government. Kurdistan is producing 700,000 barrels per day and exporting it unilaterally. Baghdad says the exports are illegal.

The Greek debt crisis is not over yet, but could be nearing some sort of resolution. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has caved on creditor demands in exchange for the possibility of debt relief. That could pave the way for a three-year, 86 billion euro bailout, but he now has the tough task of selling further austerity measures to a skeptical leftist coalition. The outcome hinges on a July 15 vote in parliament. A “Grexit” is still not entirely an impossibility, and even the powerful German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said July 14 that leaving the Eurozone may be a better solution for Greece than a bailout.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program for nine northeastern U.S. states, has produced $1.3 billion in benefits, according to a new study. RGGI limits emissions from power plants, allowing emitters to buy permits to pollute.

The proceeds are then used to fund energy efficiency programs, allowing for further reductions in emissions. The program has saved rate payers $460 million in lower electricity bills over the past three years, according to a study by the Boston-based Analysis Group, and has also contributed to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions by about one-third since 2009. The benefits came at a cost – owners of power plants saw revenues decline by $500 million, but much of that had to do with lower electricity demand, which is essentially the objective of the program.

In M&A news, a master limited partnership controlled by Marathon Petroleum has agreed to purchase MarkWest Energy Partners for $15.8 billion. MPLX LP, the partnership owned by Marathon, is a refining and pipeline company, and the purchase of MarkWest will add natural gas processing assets located in several natural gas liquids-rich areas of the United States.

MarkWest is the largest natural gas processor in the Marcellus and Utica shales, and the second largest in the country. The combined company expects its distribution to grow by 25 percent annually through 2017.

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