Oil Futures Gain on Expected Drop in Russian Oil Output

Liubov Georges
By  Liubov Georges , DTN Energy Reporter

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Oil futures nearest delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange and Brent crude traded on the Intercontinental Exchange settled Friday's session higher, with all petroleum contracts finishing the week with gains between 2% and 3% on the back of expectations for Russian oil production to decline sharply in coming weeks, impaired by Western sanctions on technology transfers and financing options for Russian oil companies already struggling to sell crude oil cargos on the spot market.

Currently, around 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) or 40% of Russian seaborne oil exports cannot find buyers on the spot market despite some pick up in buying interest from Chinese and Indian refiners, according to traders. It remains unclear how a "self-embargo" by Western traders will affect Russian crude oil shipments moving forward given a high degree of dependency on Russian oil by some European governments. Goldman Sachs estimates some cargos are still changing hands under-the-radar, meaning the supply disruption will likely be marginal for the global oil market. Furthermore, flows of oil via long-term contracts, which could represent half of Russian seaborne exports, are less likely to be disrupted at all, added the Wall Street investment bank. It is important to note that long-term contacts are the preferred method of purchasing oil by countries like Germany, which draws a third of its oil imports from Russia.

Against this backdrop, it might not be entirely surprising that seaborne crude exports from Russian ports have been higher so far this month compared to February, according to traders, with a number of cargos still awaiting their destination. Per schedule, Russia's crude oil supplies from western ports and the Druzhba pipeline that runs through Ukraine is expected to increase to 37.8 million tons in the second quarter, up from 35.8 million tons in the first quarter. Russian Urals oil exports to Poland and Germany are set at 10.26 million tons for the second quarter, up sharply from 8.81 million tons from the first three months of the year.

International Energy Agency estimates the temporary pick-up in crude exports would not materialize over the long term, with the agency projecting the falloff in Russian oil output could be as much as 30% or 3 million bpd in April.

Two key factors playing against future growth in Russian oil production are a lack of access to unconventional drilling technology, such as hydraulic fracturing and enhanced oil recovery, and limited capital flow into greenfield projects in the Russian Far East, Arctic, and eastern Siberia. All of those regions have challenging geology, harsh climate, and require the buildout of new energy infrastructure. The lack of Western know-how, capital and cooperation would be detrimental for future Russian oil production growth.

Russia's current output stands at 11.45 million bpd, according to this week's Monthly Oil Market Report published by the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries, with daily exports of crude and petroleum products standing near 8 million barrels (bbl).

In financial markets, the U.S. Dollar Index extended its recent rebound to settle near 98.227 on Friday, up 0.25% on the session, limiting the upside for the West Texas Intermediate. The U.S. crude benchmark for April delivery advanced $1.72 to settle at $104.70 bbl, and the international crude Brent contract for May delivery added $1.29 for a $107.93 bbl settlement. NYMEX April RBOB futures advanced 2.22 cents to $3.2388 gallon, and NYMEX April ULSD futures 11.07 cents or 3.2% to $3.5981 gallon.

On the geopolitical front, ceasefire talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations concluded this week without an agreement to stop the fighting as Moscow expanded its offensive into the Western part of the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Ukrainian demands to end the war "unrealistic," adding that Moscow is ready to find solutions in accordance with its main strategy. The official strategy as it is known to the public was to guarantee Ukraine's neutrality status, demilitarization, cessation of Crimea and breakaway republics of Lugansk and Donbass from the territory of Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said officials "have real concerns" that Putin could use chemical weapons against Ukraine should the resistance prove too much for the Russian troops to handle.

"This is something we are very focused on," said Blinken.

Liubov Georges can be reached at liubov.georges@dtn.com

Liubov Georges