Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Keep Burning, We'll Find More

Another day, another report of a significant energy find (WSJ-sub req):

The east coast of Africa confirmed its place as one of the brightest spots on the global energy landscape after Anadarko Petroleum Corp. sharply raised its estimate for the amount of natural gas contained in a big field it has found off the coast of Mozambique.

Anadarko's chief executive, James Hackett, said the revised estimate increased the company's confidence that "this could be one of the most important natural-gas fields discovered in the last 10 years."

Anadarko said it had increased the estimate of recoverable resources from the four discoveries made in its Offshore Area 1 block to between 15 trillion and 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. Initially, the Texas-based company had said the field contained six trillion cubic feet, a figure it raised to 10 trillion cubic feet in October. Thirty trillion cubic feet would be enough to meet an entire year's gas consumption by the U.S.

Keep in mind that with all the natural gas now being recovered in the US, it’s expected that America will soon itself become a major global supplier. So discoveries of fields such as this off the coast of Africa are only going to add to that global supply meaning we’re going to have more than enough natural gas to meet expected demands for a long, long time. In fact, the challenge on the natural gas side is going to be figuring more and more ways to utilize this resource to meet our energy needs in the place of oil. Which means less demand, lower prices, and more time before we even come close to exhausting the supply of oil.

This highlights the inherent difficulty of trying to predict when we’ll “run out” of any of the dreaded fossil fuels which have provided the energy to build the modern world that we know today. When it comes to energy, the Rumsfeldian adage “we don’t know what we don’t know” is especially applicable. Within the last decade, terminals and pipelines were built so that we could import natural gas into the US. Now, those pipelines are being reversed and terminals retrofitted so that we can EXPORT the same gas. Don’t recall many of the “Peak Oil” folks calling that one.

More good news on the energy front from an American perspective as we learn that the US is on the verge of becoming a Net Fuel Exporter (WSJ-sub req):

U.S. exports of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based fuels are soaring, putting the nation on track to be a net exporter of petroleum products in 2011 for the first time in 62 years.

A combination of booming demand from emerging markets and faltering domestic activity means the U.S. is exporting more fuel than it imports, upending the historical norm.

According to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on Tuesday, the U.S. sent abroad 753.4 million barrels of everything from gasoline to jet fuel in the first nine months of this year, while it imported 689.4 million barrels.

That the U.S. is shipping out more fuel than it brings in is significant because the nation has for decades been a voracious energy consumer. It took in huge quantities of not only crude oil from the Middle East but also refined fuels from Europe, Latin America and elsewhere to help run its factories and cars.

As recently as 2005, the U.S. imported nearly 900 million barrels more of petroleum products than it exported. Since then the deficit has been steadily shrinking until finally disappearing last fall, and analysts say the country will not lose its "net exporter" tag anytime soon.

"It looks like a trend that could stay in place for the rest of the decade," said Dave Ernsberger, global director of oil at Platts, which tracks energy markets. "The conventional wisdom is that U.S. is this giant black hole sucking in energy from around the world. This changes that dynamic."

Look for more such changes in the future as the conventional wisdom on energy is outpaced by what’s actually taking place on (and under) the ground.

The Nihilist discloses a long position in Anadarko Petroleum Corp.