One of the most costly projects of the $100 oil era is about to return to haunt the crude market.
The Kashagan oilfield in Kazakhstan, which has earned the unfortunate nickname “cash-all-gone” due to a series of expensive overruns, is now scheduled to finally start up in October, pouring more oil into a heavily oversupplied market.
The start-up is significant as the giant field is already leading forecasters to revise their estimates for when the oil market will finally move back towards balance. Opec, the 14-member cartel that controls more than a third of all crude production, on Monday said Kashagan’s ramp up is one reason it now thinks supplies outside the group will actually grow next year, despite two years of low prices.
It is, perhaps, one of the great ironies of the current downturn that a project unlikely to be commissioned in today’s environment should set back the long hoped for rebalancing of the oil market
The field, first discovered in 2000, is one of the largest conventional finds in four decades, but its location in the northern part of the Caspian Sea has complicated the development by Kazakhstan’s state oil company, KazMunayGas, and a consortium of some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell.
Originally scheduled to cost about $10bn to develop the projects costs have exploded over two decades to more than $50bn.
It first began pumping in 2013 when it was already eight years over schedule, but quickly stopped due to a series of internal pipeline leaks.
The oil is under high pressure and has high levels of corrosive toxic gas that have complicated its extraction.
But if it is now gearing up for production, estimates for how much oil will flow still vary. Italy’s Eni, which is the consortium leader in a project that also includes Total, and China’s CNPC, estimates 360,000 barrels per day by the middle of next year.
That is higher than the estimate from Kazakh Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev, who said in May it would pump around 100,000 b/d next year. That will mean this one field’s output will need to be watched closely next year, as the difference is almost equal to the production of war-damaged Libya.
Kashagan also stands as a reminder of how new mega-projects remain difficult and costly to develop. That may have implications for future supplies as energy companies have cut investment plans during the downturn, leading some to warn of a supply crunch further down the road.
That is one issue that the International Energy Agency is going to explore later this week in its first World Energy Investment report, which aims to capture a more comprehensive snapshot of how country-by-country investment is evolving.
With estimates that up to a trillion dollars have been scrapped from energy projects globally since 2014, the implications for future supplies could be profound.
And as Kashagan shows, the time major projects can take to come online, even without delays, means it is still difficult to time them correctly.
The Commodities Note is an online commentary on the industry from the Financial Times
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