Sheen On The Oil Slick Getting Darker

March 2, 2016

Oil sheen from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.Last week, I wrote that the day would come soon when oil prices would take another nasty dive because there is nowhere left to store oil, causing the spot price for immediately delivery to dive toward the zero bound. This week we see how close that day is as oil continues to be oversupplied by about a million barrels a day.

Reasoning simple: When all ships, tank cars, tank trucks and tank farms are finally full, immediate delivery of oil will be nothing but a liability. That kind of delivery is called “an oil spill” because all you can do is pump it onto the ground or into the sea … or start filling swimming pools, as one oil industry analyst said is the next step. Production will have to slow to whatever the rate of consumption is, as it will become a situation of one tank used before one tank is bought.

Oil practically spills over in Rotterdam

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that oil tankers are backing up at the world’s largest oil seaport. In fact, buyers and sellers of oil are increasingly sending tankers on longer voyages just to avoid a pile-up of tankers at several ports.

Up to 50 oil tankers are waiting to unload cargo in the port of Rotterdam, the highest number since 2009 and another sign that, amid a glut, crude is struggling to find a home. (WSJ)

 There is that magic number that appears in almost all economic news this year — “since 2009” or “since 2008,” in other words “since the worst of the Great Recession” or “since the start of the Great recession.”

Storage in Rotterdam is nearing its limits. Ships are bobbling around out at sea waiting to find a port where they can unload their crude. The world’s largest oil storage company reports that its storage tank capacity in the Netherlands is now at 96% full.

 “This is a clear sign of the oversupply filling up storage to the brim,” Gerrit Zambo, an oil trader at Bayerische Landesbank in Munich, said by phone. “People are preferring to store oil rather than cut production. These are bearish signs.” (Bloomberg)

The situation in Rotterdam is exactly mirrored in the United States’ largest oil hub, which is in Cushing, Oklahoma.

 “In Cushing and probably Rotterdam storage is filling up very quickly,” said Giovanni Staunovo, an analyst at UBS Group AG in Zurich, Switzerland. “In China, given high oil imports, there are too many ships and the infrastructure seems not be able to handle that.”

 The result of the glut is that future prices are higher for oil than prices for immediate delivery because fewer and fewer buyers have a place to put it right now or any need right now. The final leg of this journey before prices plunge is storage out at sea in tankers that drift for months and in tank cars and tank trailers parked on side spurs and in trucking yards.

With the intentional choice of longer routes, we’re already effectively edging in that direction. Some are saying it may be a good time to be a vessel owner because you can get paid just to sit and float. The last time that approach to managing supply happened was … you guessed it … in 2008 and 2009.

Once the tanks of this world are effectively 100% full, which shouldn’t be more than a month or two, a hole will bust through the floor in the price of oil, and we’ll see an oil-industry bath in black slime.

War is good news for the price of oil, for oil producers and oil bankers

This bad news for the price of oil hit at the same time that good news for the price of oil hit this week, and the oil market and US stock market decided to focus on the good. The price of West Texas Intermediate rose to an intraday high of $34.76 per barrel, and US stocks shot up to match. The good news for the price of oil was that war took a significant oil pipeline out of production in Iraq. While that’s temporary, hopes might have risen that the increasing drum beats of war in the Middle East will mean a lot of supply lines wind up getting cut or wells wind up getting bombed.

Middle East war, of course, would be a total game changer in the oil price wars. I wouldn’t be surprised if some oil barons someplace are not just banking on it but actively laying out their war plans. (I don’t know of any such conspiracies, but it wouldn’t be the first time oil barons used war to boost the price of oil. Usually it is by increasing demand, but in this case it would boost prices by creating a drop in supply of crude.) What’s bad for one person’s crude sales, such as carpet-bombing their oil wells and sabotaging their pipes, is good for another’s whose wells are, say, in the Midwestern US. Not that anybody would do such a thing.

War is the wildcard here; but, barring destruction of oil wells or oil infrastructure by war, things are looking dark for the price of crude. (Good for the consumer of gas and heating oil, but bad for the Midwestern and Canadian oil producers as well as those up around Scotland and many other areas. In the US Midwestern oil and gas shale was almost the entire driving force in job creation coming out of the first dip the Great Recession. (The second dip — the Epocalypse — is just now forming. It’s the same recession because its all from the same cause and was just artificially lifted by unsustainable money-printing in the middle.)

Good news was bad news in the Saudi-Russia oil summit

As reported in my last article, the real news from the meeting between Russia and Saudi Arabia was that both nations agreed NOT to cut oil production, regardless of how bad the negative impact becomes on the price of oil. Saudi Arabia stated specifically that its intention is to maintain market share by making sure production keeps happening at its current rate out of Saudi Arabia until other players are forced out of business. That’s what they actually said.

Bear in mind, too, that the agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia was not an agreement by the rest of OPEC. The energy minister of the United Arab Emirates said crude producers should freeze production, making it clear there is no OPEC-wide agreement to freeze, and Saudi Arabia and Russia said they would only freeze so long as others did the same.

Originally posted at

Spanish Conquistadores invaded the Inca Empire in 1528 to steal their silver and gold.