China may buck trend of COVID-19 related delays in Asian oil and gas industry, says GlobalData

Source: press release, 15 April 2020

Breakeven prices and level of risk of Asia oil and gas projects targeting FID in 2020 (source: GlobalData Upstream Analytics)
Breakeven prices and level of risk of Asia oil and gas projects targeting FID in 2020 (source: GlobalData Upstream Analytics)

With coronavirus (COVID-19) being declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the oil price war resulting from the OPEC+ disagreement, the oil and gas industry in Asia is facing an unprecedented uncertainty. Companies are being forced to rethink the ongoing project timelines and “projects in the pipeline” for 2020. Projects expected to take final investment decision (FID) this year are at elevated risk of deferral, says GlobalData, a data and analytics company.

However, China is now in the recovery phase and its major national oil companies (NOCs) are set to focus on their domestic output growth goals.

Cao Chai, Oil and Gas Analyst at GlobalData, says, “Field developments in India have already been disrupted and more are likely to be at risk as the country is currently enduring a 21-day lockdown. The latest news that India reduced its domestic natural gas price to a record low of USD 2.39 per mmBtu will further impact the country’s top gas producer ONGC. Elsewhere in the region, the construction at the Merakes field in Indonesia is disrupted due to a shortage of workers and challenge of logistic supply, operator ENI has declared force majeure on the project as a result of COVID-19.”

The projects in Asia targeting FID this year will inevitably face delays, as countries continue to struggle through the uncertainties. Large-scale capital-intensive projects, which are facing financial constraints or with existing uncertainties will be difficult to draw investment. Smaller-scale operators will require capital discipline to maintain ongoing operations and growth, therefore projects awaiting FID would likely be postponed too.

But China could be an exception. The country, which was the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, will see the planned projects progress as the country recovers from the worst of the coronavirus, though minor delays may still occur. Domestic developments will be prioritised over international investment for China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), after its recent capex review to trim the annual budget by 10-15%.

China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) marginally cut its capex by 2.5%, which will come predominantly from its refining business and sales sector. To date, there are no confirmed budget cuts from China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC); however, it has announced an adjustment of 2020 production and operational plans in accordance to market trends.

Chai concludes, “While Chinese NOCs are focusing on raising domestic output and cutting overseas operations, elsewhere in Asia delays and disruptions are seen across the upstream sector in 2020. The projects under development are at risk of slowdowns and operational disruptions as countries have taken stricter measures to control the spread of COVID-19, a multi-year low in upstream project FIDs is also expected in the region.”