Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why falling Oil prices is bad news for Uganda's oil production

The plummeting price of oil is still the biggest energy story in the world right now. It's bringing cheap gasoline to the United States while wreaking havoc on oil-producing countries like Russia and Venezuela but why is it bad news for Uganda.

Let me try to explain

1. If the price of oil is too low, it will simply be left in the ground.

The world badly needs oil for many purposes: to power its cars, to plant its fields, to operate its oil-powered irrigation pumps, and to act as a raw material for making many kinds of products, including medicines and fabrics.

If the price of oil is too low, it will be left in the ground. With low oil prices, production may drop off rapidly. High price encourages more production and more substitutes; low price leads to a whole series of secondary effects (debt defaults resulting from deflation, job loss, collapse of oil exporters, loss of letters of credit needed for exports, bank failures) that indirectly lead to a much quicker decline in oil production.

The view is sometimes expressed that once 50% of oil is extracted, the amount of oil we can extract will gradually begin to decline, for geological reasons. This view is only true if high prices prevail, as we hit limits. If our problem is low oil prices because of debt problems or other issues, then the decline is likely to be far more rapid. With low oil prices, even what we consider to be proved oil reserves today may be left in the ground.

2. Low oil prices tend to cause debt defaults that have wide ranging consequences. If defaults become widespread, they could affect bank deposits and international trade.

With low oil prices, it becomes much more difficult for drillers to pay back the loans they have taken out. Cash flow is much lower, and interest rates on new loans are likely much higher. The huge amount of debt that drillers and explorers like Tullow have taken on suddenly becomes at-risk. so the amount at risk is substantial.

So if the prices continue to fall we may not see production in the near future.