(Oilprice.com, Tsvetana Paraskova, 20.Jun.2018) – While oil industry analysts and market participants are watching Venezuela closely for clues about how low its oil production will go, several other countries in Latin America are holding key elections this year, elections that will no doubt shape the countries’ short and medium-term oil policies. These developments could spell trouble for oil supply and oil investment in South America’s biggest crude-producing nations.
A populist leftist candidate pledging to undo energy reforms is widely expected to win Mexico’s presidential election in two weeks. There has been recent turmoil in Brazil’s fuel sector policies ahead of a wide-open presidential race for the October elections. A newly elected president in Colombia is vowing to amend a historic peace deal with the FARC rebels.
All these events add uncertainties to how politics will influence Latin American countries’ oil policies and investment climate for foreign oil companies, Paul Ruiz and Jena Merl write for The Fuse.
In Colombia, a conservative political newcomer, Iván Duque, won the presidential election this past weekend in the traditionally conservative country. The new president, however, has pledged to revise the 2016 deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels that put an end to 50 years of armed conflict. Duque wants to re-write the deal that guaranteed the rebels seats in Congress and allowed them to run in elections.
The new president, like the outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos, will have to face another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN)—a Marxist guerrilla group that sabotages oil industry facilities to protest against foreign companies operating in Colombia. In January this year, Colombia suspended talks with ELN after bombings killed police officers. ELN has repeatedly attacked the second-largest oil pipeline in Colombia, Cano Limon-Covenas, causing oil spills and shutdowns.
Mexico is holding a presidential election on July 1, and a few weeks ahead of the vote, all polls point to populist leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador having a comfortable lead over other candidates. López Obrador pledges to roll back the landmark 2013 energy reform of outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto, who opened Mexico’s oil sector to private investment for the first time in seven decades. The jury is still out as to whether López Obrador will backtrack entirely on the oil reforms, but uncertainties remain regarding the investment environment in the country—at least for this year.
Brazil is holding elections in October and the race is still wide open.
But in recent weeks, the country came to an economic standstill due to widespread truckers’ strikes over high fuel prices. President Michel Temer announced subsidies on diesel at the end of May, freezing prices for 60 days.
The recent turmoil in the country’s oil industry and renewed anxiety over political meddling in the energy sector add an uncertainty ahead of the election later this year. Pedro Parente, chief executive at state-run oil company Petrobras, resigned on June 1, after the strikes forced the government to cut diesel prices and after oil workers demanded that Brazil end the one-year-old policy to allow fuel prices be dictated by the market and international crude oil benchmarks.
Yet, some of the world’s biggest oil companies—including Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and Equinor—bid aggressively in Brazil’s latest offshore bid round on June 7, snapping up acreage in three blocks in the coveted pre-salt layer.
Nevertheless, uncertainty over how Brazil will handle oil sector policies until and immediately after the October elections has increased.
Brazil is still expected to be one of the largest contributors to non-OPEC oil supply growth in the coming years. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Oil 2018 outlook from March, oil production growth from the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Norway “can keep the world well supplied, more than meeting global oil demand growth through 2020.”
According to OPEC’s latest Monthly Oil Market Report, non-OPEC oil supply in the second half of this year is expected to increase by 2.0 million bpd year on year, with the United States leading the pack, contributing 1.4 million bpd to growth, followed by Canada and Brazil.
While uncertainties mount in the political shifts and oil policy choices in other Latin American countries, there’s only one uncertainty left for Venezuela—how fast production from the collapsing oil industry will sink to as low as 1 million bpd. Some analysts reckon the plunge to 1 million bpd is imminent.