It's becoming more apparent that our energy world -- virtually across the globe and certainly in our country -- is in dangerous disarray. In Part 1 of this series, we considered the vast differences among the 12 members of the OPEC cartel, focusing on the half-dozen countries that are characterized by largely geopolitical issues that could shatter the cartel, result in military conflicts, or both. But with about two-thirds of the world's production of hydrocarbons coming from non-OPEC members -- and with our primary purpose to delve into the chaos that characterizes the world of energy, it seems appropriate to consider the prevailing conditions in the world's two largest non-OPEC producers, Russia and the United States.
With about 60 billion barrels of proved oil reserves -- triple that of the U.S. -- Russia is moderately blessed with its cache of black gold. However, it falls well behind Iraq's 115 billion barrels, Iran's 137 billion barrels, and the 263 billion barrels estimated for Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, depending upon whom you ask, Russia and the Saudi kingdom vie with one another for leadership among the world's largest producers, with each turning out in excess of 10 million barrels per day.
Russia's tough tactics
But as characterized by The Wall Street Journal, Russia's record includes a "nearly unbroken record of double-crossing Western oil companies," a record that "has gone pretty much unrebuked."
Easily the company that has been most overtly scalded by Russia's private and quasi-governmental business climates has been Britain's forlorn BP
The deal was thwarted, however, by a foursome of Russian-born billionaires who own a half interest in TNK-BP, a Russian oil venture in which BP holds the remaining interest. The contention of the oligarchs -- which was substantiated by a London court -- was that the Rosneft-BP agreement violated the terms upon which TNK-BP was founded. The dust-up followed a history of truculence that has characterized TNK-BP's history.
To the outside observer, however, it all too often seems that Russian oligarchs consistently employ the sharp elbows that appear mandatory within Russian commerce. Indeed, in 2008 a dispute between the Russian and British partners created a specter of a breakup of TNK-BP, a tragedy that was only averted by acquiescence by BP in ceding primary management of the venture to its Russian partners.
But now, with oil and gas driving the Russian economy, and with Russia's federal government dealing with budget deficits, the Russian state-controlled energy companies are seeking aid and expertise from the Western major oil and gas producers in developing the nation's more remote and challenging producing areas. Astoundingly, while Chevron recently pulled out of a deal with Rosneft, others, which have previously been victimized by past Russian shenanigans, have nevertheless signed on the dotted line and come back for more potentially harsh treatment.
Russia is plagued by other issues in rebuilding its oil and gas industry, including worn and outdated equipment. In fact, fully 80% of its refining industry's infrastructure is said to be worn out.
It appears, then, that the primary question relating to rebuilding and maximizing the output of Russia's oil and gas involves the long-term behavior and dependability of the recalcitrant authorities within the country. Western companies' willingness to join hands with shifty companies shows that there are fewer promising drilling sites in the world.
Helpers for unconventional China
Similarly important is China's estimated 1,275 tcf of shale gas reserves -- more than half again that of the United States. Don't be surprised if the likes of Chesapeake
In the interest of time and space, however, let's conclude by looking quickly at two primary issues endangering the U.S.' energy picture. The first involves a pickup in the pace of permitting for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. I recognize that the BP Macondo well blowout, to say nothing of the events that followed, constituted a horrible tragedy.
But while permits are now being issued for new Gulf wells, the pace is slow enough that deepwater rigs operated by Transocean
A necessary permitting pickup
Secondly, the development of close working relationships between environmental regulators and the companies involved in shale gas and oil development is an absolute must. Texas' recent law requiring companies to disclose the composition of their fracking chemicals is clearly a step in the right direction, as is the likely removal of the ban on fracking within New York state. In essence, a failure to either (responsibly) hasten permitting for deepwater drilling or the establishment of roadblocks to the development of unconventional hydrocarbons stands to diminish our country's status as the world's leader in the development of exploration and production technologies.
Of the companies listed above, I urge Fools with an interest in energy investments to especially monitor Continental Resources and Chesapeake Energy carefully.
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We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.