Big Oil confronts possibility of terminal demand decline

From left to right: Semi-submersible oil platforms, Ocean Princess and Ocean Nomad, and the self-elevating drilling unit GSF Galaxy III are seen in the Cromarty Firth from the village of Cromarty, north of Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 July 2020

Big Oil confronts possibility of terminal demand decline

  • IEA forecast that average daily oil demand will drop by 8 million barrels per day this year

PARIS: Although crude prices have rebounded from coronavirus crisis lows, oil execs and experts are starting to ask if the industry has crossed the Rubicon of peak demand.

The plunge in the price of crude oil during the first wave of coronavirus lockdowns — futures prices briefly turned negative — was due to the drop in global demand as planes were parked on tarmacs and cars in garages.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that average daily oil demand will drop by 8 million barrels per day this year, a decline of around 8 percent from last year.

While the agency expects an unprecedented rebound of 5.7 million barrels per day next year, it still forecasts overall demand will be lower than in 2019 owing to ongoing uncertainty in the airline sector. Some are questioning whether demand will ever get back to 2019 levels.

“I don’t think we know how this is going to play out. I certainly don’t know,” BP’s new CEO Bernard Looney said in May.

The COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing then with most planes grounded and white-collar workers giving up the commute to work from home.

“Could it be peak oil? Possibly. I would not write that off,” Looney told the Financial Times.

The concept of peak oil has long generated speculation.

Mostly, it has been focused on peak production, with experts forecasting that prices would reach astronomical levels as recoverable oil in the ground runs out.

But in recent months, the concept of peak demand has come into vogue, with the coronavirus landing an uppercut into fuel demand for the transportation sector followed by a knockout punch from the transition to cleaner fuels.

Michael Bradshaw, professor at Warwick Business School, said environmental groups are already lobbying to prevent the Paris agreements becoming another casualty of the pandemic, stressing the need for a Green New Deal for the recovery.

“If they are successful, demand for oil might never return to the peak we saw prior to COVID-19,” he said in comments to journalists.

The transport sector may never fully recover, Bradshaw posited.

“After the pandemic, we might have a different attitude to international air travel or physically going into work,” he said.

Other experts say we haven’t reached the tipping point yet, and might not for a while.

“Many people have said, including some CEOs of some major companies, with the lifestyle changes now to teleworking and others we may well see oil demand has peaked, and oil demand will go down,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said recently.

“I don’t agree with that. Teleconferencing alone will not help us to reach our energy and climate goals, they can only make a small dent,” Firol added while unveiling a recent IEA report.

Moez Ajmi at consulting and auditing firm E&Y dismissed as “science fiction” the idea that a definitive drop in oil demand could suddenly emerge.

He expects a slow recovery in demand even if the coronavirus leaves the global economy weakened.

That weakness would also likely slow adoption of greener fuels.

“It will take time for fossil fuels, which today still account for some 80 percent of primary global consumption to face real competition” from rival energy sources, he said.

Meanwhile, the oil industry could face financing challenges.

Bronwen Tucker, an analyst at Oil Change International, says the industry is now under pressure from investors.

After “a pretty big wave of restrictions on coal and some restrictions on oil and gas, the risks to oil and gas investment right now feel a lot more salient,” she said.

The industry is already writing down the value of assets to face up to the new market reality of lower demand and prices.

Royal Dutch Shell said this past week that it will take a $22 billion charge as it reevaluates the value of its business in light of the coronavirus.

Last month, rival BP reduced the worth of its assets by $17.5 billion.

“This process has further to run, and we expect further large impairments to occur across the sector,” said Angus Rodger of specialist energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.


Virus sees Booking.com slash quarter of global staff

Updated 04 August 2020

Virus sees Booking.com slash quarter of global staff

  • The company warned that “up to 25 percent” of employees could go in what it called an “extremely difficult step”
  • Booking.com’s Amsterdam headquarters was expected to be among the sites affected

THE HAGUE: Online travel agency Booking.com said Tuesday it will cut up to a quarter of staff worldwide due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leading to thousands of job losses.
The Amsterdam-based booking site, which employs around 17,500 people around the world, declined to give an exact number of posts that will be slashed, saying details would become clearer “in the coming weeks and months.”
But it warned that “up to 25 percent” of employees could go in what it called an “extremely difficult step.”
“The Covid-19 crisis has devastated the travel industry, and we continue to feel the impact as travel volumes remain significantly reduced,” the company said in a statement sent to AFP.
“While we have done much to save as many jobs as possible, we believe we must restructure our organization to match our expectation of the future of travel,” it added.
Booking.com’s Amsterdam headquarters was expected to be among the sites affected, Dutch media reports added.
Hard-hit by the slowdown in international travel resulting from the lockdown, Booking.com follows in the footsteps of other digital travel sites such as Airbnb and TripAdviser, which have also laid off around 25 percent of their workforce.
Booking.com applied in April for state support.
Last month it received some 61 million euros ($71.8 million) from the Dutch state, making it the third-largest recipient of support behind flagship airline KLM and Dutch Rail (NS), the ANP national news agency reported.
Founded in 1996, Booking.com has some 28 million listings on its website which is available in 43 languages.