As the global economy continues to adjust to rapidly declining oil prices, there may be significant changes to the energy industry in the coming weeks and months.
The price of West Texas Intermediate oil dropped below $50 per barrel on Jan. 5, with Brent crude not far behind at $53, according to Business Insider. The price declines represent a more than 50 percent fall from their highs in the second quarter of 2014, and it appears consumers can expect cheaper fuel for some time.
In the U.S., drillers continue to produce oil at high rates, though the number of rigs has fallen in recent weeks. Shale deposits still reap rewards for exploration companies, especially during winter, as consumers increase their consumption of natural gas for home heating.
"OPEC indicates it will continue to drive the price of oil down to as low as $20 per barrel."
But for those that are wary of further declines, there are several potential advancements that occurred in the past few days that have given rise to renewed interest for drillers. In an emailed report from Citigroup, Inc., the company noted relaxation of U.S. light crude oil exports could be a boon for domestic producers while simultaneously undermining OPEC's position in the global oil market, according to Bloomberg.
OPEC indicates it will continue to drive the price of oil down to as low as $20 per barrel if necessary to eliminate U.S. drilling incentives. Unable to profit from such a price, U.S. companies are looking for alternate ways to remain resourceful and keep revenues streaming in – and they may have found it.
"U.S. producers are under the gun to reduce capital expenditures given lower prices," said Citigroup in the report. "Now an export route provides a new lease on life that can further weaken crude oil markets and throw a wrench into recent Saudi plans to cripple U.S. production."
New guidelines released by the U.S. government on Dec. 29 indicated a minor shift in energy policy. There are major restrictions on both oil and gas exports to nations without free-trade agreements, thus limiting the number of markets for U.S. producers to sell resources. However, by allowing for a specific type of oil export, a condensate, to be added to the mix, drillers now have more options in the type of products they deliver.
By removing hydrocarbons from the oil through distillation, condensate can be exported – which Citigroup noted could increase the number of barrels of oil exported a day to more than 1 billion in the next year, according to Bloomberg.
Rather than release an official statement or go through the legislative process, the federal government instead chose to allow the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security to tell companies to label their exports as "self-classification", according to Reuters.
Under the strategy, companies don't need authorization before exporting the light condensate, thus circumnavigating the previous ban on exports.
"I would not characterize BIS's position necessarily as one of encouragement, but BIS has made clear that companies should not overlook the option of self-classification," said Theodore Kassinger, lawyer for Pioneer Natural Resources, according to Reuters.
Keystone XL vote
Expanded exports are only one of the potential changes on the horizon, as the new Congress looks to make another legislative push for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to RigZone.
The TransCanada Corp project has been delayed for years, held up over environmental concerns. The XL portion of the pipeline would be in addition to the already-existent Keystone network of pipelines that run through much of the U.S. from Alberta's oil sands in Canada.
Analysts suggest the Keystone XL pipeline could transport more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day to the Gulf Coast, significantly impacting trade and resource delivery between the two countries. Canada stands to benefit greatly from the new U.S. market, as the U.S is the largest consumer of oil.
Declining oil prices hurt Canada's ability to create a high-growth economy, though the Keystone XL would provide drilling companies with a way to overcome short-term price fluctuations. In addition, the U.S. could potentially be poised to import less oil from overseas, preferring to buy from Canada instead.
A vote on the Keystone XL pipeline would require 60 votes in the Senate to obtain cloture and 67 to override a presidential veto, with both scenarios seen as long shots. However, with enough pressure from the oil industry, the pipeline could come to fruition.
In the cases of expanded pipeline transportation and increased exports, the oil industry could experience a dramatic change in the near future. In the meantime, foreign drillers will continue to drive prices down as the U.S. comes up with solutions to solidify its presence in the world oil market.
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