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Oil nationalism seen reversing by IEA as shale rattles producers


By Grant Smith
(c) 2014, Bloomberg News.
LONDON — The wave of resource nationalism among oil-producing nations that helped propel prices to a record in 2008 is dissipating as competition from U.S. shale stirs governments to offer better terms, the IEA said.

Sliding crude prices in the face of supply threats in Iraq and Libya reflect that industry concerns of scarcity have been replaced with a perception of sufficiency, said Antoine Halff, head of the Paris-based International Energy Agency's industry and markets division. Producing countries such as Russia and Argentina who sought greater control of resources from international oil companies in the last decade are now changing tack to entice foreign partners, he said.

"Back in 2008, we were at the peak of a cycle of resource nationalism among producing countries," Halff said in an interview. "Now we're in a completely different situation, where some of the very same countries that had indulged in resource nationalism are back-pedaling, and making their investment terms more attractive to foreign companies."

Oil's climb during the last decade, driven by concerns that supplies were dwindling, spurred a competition for reserves that encouraged producing nations to increase their proportion of revenues through higher taxes, Halff said. Surging shale oil output in the U.S. has boosted the nation's production to its highest in three decades.

The shale boom has completely changed the perception of supply scarcity, Halff said by phone on Aug. 12. "Many countries feel threatened by the unconventional revolution in the U.S. There's competition for investment, competition for technology."

Argentina's joint venture with Chevron helped more than triple production in the Neuquen basin shale formation known as Vaca Muerta in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence. Vaca Muerta is the world's second-largest shale gas deposit and fourth-largest shale oil field.

BP Plc signed an agreement on May 24 to work with Rosneft on developing tight oil in Russia while Total agreed this year to explore for shale oil in Western Siberia with Lukoil.

Mexican lawmakers gave final approval this month to rules for awarding private oil contracts for the first time since 1938. The entrance of foreign producers such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron will bring in $50 billion of annual private investment by 2020, according to Grupo Financiero Banorte.

In 2006, Royal Dutch Shell ceded control of the $22 billion Sakhalin-2 gas project to Gazprom after Russian government pressure over rising costs and environmental lapses. Exxon said in 2008 that Venezuela seized 425 million barrels of proved reserves when President Hugo Chavez's government expropriated Exxon-led projects the previous year.

Brent crude futures, which advanced to a peak of $147.50 a barrel in July 2008, have declined 6.4 percent this year to trade Thursday at $103.76 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London. The consensus on global oil demand has also reversed in the intervening years, Halff said.

"Back in 2008 the perception was of unstoppable demand growth from China and other emerging economies," he said. "Today the perception is of a fragile recovery, a very slow moving recovery in the global economy. China is slowing down. Demand growth is not ramping up as fast as was the case previously."

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