Forties pipeline restart plan sends oil prices back to earth

Pipeline operator said a network carrying about 40 percent of the output from the British North Sea will be back in service by early January.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Dec. 21, 2017 at 9:45 AM
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Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Production plans and start-ups in Norway, Europe's largest oil producer, and a restart date for a North Sea pipeline network sent oil prices lower Thursday.

"Based on current estimates the company expects to bring the pipeline progressively back to normal rates early in the New Year," pipeline company Ineos said Thursday.

After finding a hairline crack on the network south of Aberdeen, the company closed its Forties pipeline system, which it bought this year from BP, in mid December. The closure of a system that carries about 40 percent of North Sea production, including the blend of oils that make up the global benchmark, Brent, caused a spike in crude oil prices.

In surveying the market landscape in late December, Jenna Delaney, a senior oil analyst for commodity pricing group S&P Global Platts, said that was one of the major things traders were waiting for this week.

The price for Brent crude oil was down 0.43 percent as of 9:11 a.m. EST to $64.28 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, was down 0.74 percent to $57.66 per barrel.

The spread, or difference, between Brent and WTI gives U.S. oil a competitive edge in its second year on the open market, though that spread had narrowed with the Forties pipeline out of service.

"The WTI/Brent differential continues to incentivize strong flows from the U.S. into international markets," Delaney said in an emailed market report.

Crude oil prices shot up more than 1 percent late Thursday before settling back down after majority Republicans pushed through a tax overhaul that extends permanent relief to big corporations. On Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department revised third-quarter gross domestic production to show an annual rate of increase of 3.2 percent, a slight revision lower from the previous estimate.

Data show corporate profits increased $90.2 billion in the third quarter, compared with $14.4 billion in the second.

Elsewhere, energy regulators in Norway, Europe's top oil producer, approved of Statoil's plans for an enhanced oil recovery program from the Snorre field in the North Sea. Statoil said it expects to award around $1 billion in contracts for the overhaul for the 200 million-barrel field.

Rig company Transocean added that Statoil gave it a 22-well contract for work in the North Sea. Last Friday, Norwegian explorer Aker BP tabled offshore field development plans representing 345 million barrels of oil equivalent and $1.8 billion in investments.

This week, German energy company Wintershall started production from its Maria oil field in Norwegian waters about a year early and below cost.

The developments signal more oil production on the horizon as traders watch for signals of market balance. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is working to drain the glut of oil on the market, though that effort is countered by U.S. oil production on pace to set an all-time record next year.

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