Anyone can make predictions for the next year, and this is the time of year many do. What strikes me looking back with 20/20 hindsight is how today's reality would have gotten me locked up four years ago. Predictions such as US LNG exports, US energy independence and Australian, UK and Chinese shale gas certainly got me laughed out of a couple of conferences in the early days. So in that spirit, here are my predictions for the next three years. Some may happen sooner, some later. But they'll all happen by January 1 2016. Probably.
These are in no particular order, but each one is linked to others in various ways. Natural gas pricing is a globally complex proposition that needs to factor in multiple variables. The evolution of natural gas isn't going to move in a 1,2,3 recipe. This is energy policy as mash up. Or hash up if your country get's it wrong.
Russia wises up.They'll figure out that the story is to increase demand, not try and scare people that supply won't show up. They'll be making so much oil money from their Exxon/XTO technology in the Bazhenov shale that oil gas link pricing won't matter so much.
But there's a connection in there to the oil link. In the be careful what you wish for category, the closer to 2016, the more likely we'll see $50 oil, but even 2013 wouldn't surprise me. All of sudden Gazprom for Russia, BG for LNG and any number of other energy dinosaurs will be scrambling to set up long term gas contracts at prices half of where UK and Japan prices are now.
Oil has complications: US prices thanks to accelerating production increases will separate from world prices. Not only do we have the Bakken and Eagle Ford outproducing even my wildest expectations, we still have multiple US areas in the wings: Permian, Palo Duro, Mississippi Lime, Tuscaloosa are only some and not to forget Canadian oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan.
But the star of the North American show is barely on most people's radar screens. California shale will, if the movie stars let it, reinvigorate the Golden State's economy over the next two to three years. One hundred years ago, oil and the movie business were just starting out entwined with another in Los Angeles. New California production will be in other areas, some of whom will welcome it and some, as in the Monterey area, where it will make the battles in upstate NY and the Midi look easy. BTW, if you don't like California as the next big North American shale, how about Mexico?
But outside of North America, even with North American crude exports by the end of this decade being an absolute certainty (and I'll take any bet going on that), Saudi Arabia can still impact world oil prices by modulating production. The issue will be not only be the subtraction of US demand leading to price pressure, we also see the emergence of Iraq as globally significant supplier.
The UK will kick start shale gas in Europe, which in turn will hurry shale up in Germany, France and Spain. It will also surprise Poland into action not words, but I remain hopeful that some actual flow figures from Poland will help there too.
The UK NBP pricing will also be key for Japanese LNG pricing. We will see some hybrid of Henry Hub and NBP start to influence Japanese gas pricing as we go towards what should be a world gas price evolving in the last half of this decade.That raises an interesting point: Should Japanese invest in European shale to lower domestic prices?
What ever luck, or not, we have in the UK, it's in France that shale will happen and it will happen big. I know that goes against all conventional wisdom, but the same "experts" never predicted shale in the first place. France and the rest of Europe will embrace shale because there is going to be no other choice. When both the UK and European economies are catastrophes without shale, to actively reject shale is not shooting oneself in the foot. It's putting the gun in the mouth by giving a huge and permanent advantage to the US , China, Australia, and anywhere else outside of Europe.
The key political shift in Europe will be that the rest of governments, faced with financial disaster at best, are going to take energy policy away from Greens. We already see this not only in the UK, but at the EU level and from them to Germany and even France. Greens are making a fatal mistake in overestimating their influence if they continue, as in France, making shale a make or break issue. No one is going to win national elections on an anti shale platform. Anywhere.
Politically, European Greens who don't become pragmatic about shale will go down to defeats that may not be as massive as that to be suffered by the UK Lib Dems, but will still be enough to make them irrelevant. That would be a bad thing in my estimation since the rest of the progressive agenda needs pushing more than the traditional left parties are doing. European Greens have to lose their image of being a) comfortably retired old hippies, b) banker/rapers who found true religion after they decided to chuck it all in and become organic goatherds (using our money of course), or c) children of the above who can afford to work for peanuts for NGOs. All of these groups tell us there are more important things than money. All already have plenty. European Green Tea Partiers will be as irrelevant as the angry white men of the US Tea Party. Both are a declining demographic, and both, for different reasons, need to reach out to poor, unemployed people who don't look like them, but will soon outnumber them.
Ultimately though, we're predicting the unknowable. North America will continue to show the world the way on shale. Production and profitability will both follow technology. We're only at the first baby steps of shale. An understanding of that is going to be key as Europe ultimately embraces shale.
The technology of supply is going to impact that of demand. There are going to be not only huge supplies, but changes in demand that will go further than transportation, generation and process industries. We are on the cusp of a technology led energy revolution that will make the Internet look like peanuts. Let's not forget there are people who still insist on telling us from their the typewriters how wrong it all is. But no one is reading that message on a typewriter.