Brazil Oil Finds May End Reliance on Middle East, Zeihan Says
By Joe Carroll
Brazil's discoveries of what may be two of the world's three biggest oil finds in the past 30 years could help end the Western Hemisphere's reliance on Middle East crude, Strategic Forecasting Inc. said.
Saudi Arabia's influence as the biggest oil exporter would wane if the fields are as big as advertised, and China and India would become dominant buyers of Persian Gulf oil, said Peter Zeihan, vice president of analysis at Strategic Forecasting in Austin, Texas. Zeihan's firm, which consults for companies and governments around the world, was described in a 2001 Barron's article as “the shadow CIA.''
Brazil may be pumping “several million'' barrels of crude daily by 2020, vaulting the nation into the ranks of the world's seven biggest producers, Zeihan said in a telephone interview. The U.S. Navy's presence in the Persian Gulf and adjacent waters would be reduced, leaving the region exposed to more conflict, he said.
“We could see that world becoming a very violent one,'' said Zeihan, former chief of Middle East and East Asia analysis for Strategic Forecasting. “If the United States isn't getting any crude from the Gulf, what benefit does it have in policing the Gulf anymore? All of the geopolitical flux that wracks that region regularly suddenly isn't our problem.''
Tupi and Carioca
Brazil's state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA in November said the offshore Tupi field may hold 8 billion barrels of recoverable crude. Among discoveries in the past 30 years, only the 15-billion-barrel Kashagan field in Kazakhstan is larger.
Haroldo Lima, director of the country's oil agency, last week said another subsea field, Carioca, may have 33 billion barrels of oil. That would be the third biggest field in history, behind only the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia and Burgan in Kuwait.
Analysts Mark Flannery of Credit Suisse Group and Gustavo Gattass of UBS AG challenge the estimate for Carioca. Lima, the Brazilian oil agency director, later attributed the figure to a magazine.
Flannery told clients during an April 16 conference call that 600 million barrels is a “reasonable'' estimate and suggested Lima may have been referring to the entire geologic formation to which Carioca belongs.
Carioca is one of seven fields identified so far in the BM- S-9 exploration area, part of a formation called Sugar Loaf.
If additional drilling by Petrobras, as Petroleo Brasileiro is known, confirms the Tupi and Carioca estimates, the fields together would contain enough oil to supply every refinery on the U.S. Gulf Coast for 15 years. Petrobras said it needs at least three months to determine how much crude Carioca may hold.
Zeihan said that beyond supply gains from Brazil, it will take a tripling of Canadian oil-sands output and greater fuel efficiency to end Western reliance on Middle East oil.
The U.S. imports about 10 million barrels of oil a day, or 66 percent of its needs, according to the Energy Department in Washington. Saudi Arabia was the second-largest supplier in January, behind Canada.
Persian Gulf nations accounted for 23 percent of U.S. imports, compared with Brazil's 1.7 percent share. Brazilian crude output rose 1.9 percent last year to 2.14 million barrels, according to the International Energy Agency.
“Hemispheric energy independence sounds a little pie-in- the-sky given that this hemisphere already is generating one- third of overall global demand,'' said Jason Gammel, an oil analyst at Macquarie Bank Ltd. in New York. “It's pretty tough to talk about self-sufficiency unless we were to see food-based biofuels taking an even bigger role in the next five to 10 years than is already mandated.''
Zeihan predicts a 2012 start to production at Tupi. Technology needed to tap fields like Tupi, which sit hundreds of miles offshore beneath thousands of feet of rock, sand and salt, hasn't been developed, he said.
Petrobras, Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Norsk Hydro ASA plan to start pumping oil from eight Brazilian fields in the next 2 1/2 years that will produce a combined 1.02 million barrels a day, enough to supply two-thirds of the crude used by U.S. East Coast refineries.
More discoveries will follow in Brazil's offshore basins, most of which have yet to be opened to exploration, Zeihan said. Repsol YPF SA, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Devon Energy Corp. are among the producers scouring Brazil's waters for reserves.
“The finds they've got so far are just the tip of the iceberg,'' Zeihan said. “Brazil is going to change the balance of the global oil markets, and Petrobras will become a geopolitical supermajor.''