Power Line: A historic oil price meltdown rattles the oil and gas industry, and this week's top clean-energy news

oil rig

Welcome to Power Line, a weekly energy newsletter brought to you by Business Insider.

This week, we dive into the oil industry, which is reeling from a historic price shock. Advertisement

Here's what you need to know:

Let's get to it.

What happened to oil

Since the start of the year, the price of Brent crude, an international benchmark, has fallen by about 60%.
Advertisement

  • On just one day earlier this month, it plunged by 24% - the largest single-day slide since 1991.

Why? Two reasons:

  1. The coronavirus pandemic has been cratering demand for oil because people are traveling less.
  2. Negotiations between top producers Saudi Arabia and Russia to limit supply in response to evaporating demand fell apart earlier this month.
    • Even worse, it sparked a price war between the two countries.
    • Saudi Arabia slashed its official April prices and pledged to ramp up supply - the exact opposite of what is needed to stabilize the market.

What happens when oil is cheap

It's bad news for oil companies. And oil companies are among the largest businesses in the world.
  • Shell, for example, had about $345 billion in revenue last year, per company filings - more than 3 times greater than the revenue of Target and Starbucks combined.
How do we know it's gonna be bad? Well, we've been here before. Many times. Advertisement

  • The last time the price of oil crashed around 2016, nearly 200,000 people lost their jobs and companies went under.

Here are all of their predictions including which kinds of companies could get hit the hardest.

FYI: Cheap oil might not be all bad for renewables.

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, file photo, a flame burns at the Shell Deer Park oil refinery in Deer Park, Texas. Oil prices are plunging Sunday, March 8, 2020, amid worries that an OPEC dispute will lead a virus-weakened economy to be awash in an oversupply of crude. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
Advertisement

We're tracking how top oil companies are responding

Layoffs, furloughs, and spending cuts have already started.

So far, smaller oilfield service companies - which do everything from drilling wells to hauling out wastewater - are suffering the most, but even supermajors are slashing their spending.

Click here to see all of the latest updates. If we missed a company, let us know.Advertisement

All told, the oilfield service industry could lose more than a million jobs, according to the research firm Rystad Energy.

Have you or an acquaintance in the oil industry recently lost their job? Reach out at energy@businessinsider.com.

When the oil crisis will end

The worst may be yet to come. Advertisement

Goldman Sachs predicts that global oil demand will fall by nearly 19 million barrels a day in April.

  • For context: Global demand was about 100 million barrels a day last year.
  • Fun fact: 1 barrel holds 42 gallons.
  • A fact that is even more fun: A barrel maker is called a cooper, which is probably why you have friends with the surname Cooper.
How far will the price fall?
  • The head of analysis at Rystad Energy told me he expects the price to bottom out in May.
  • One Wall Street analyst said the floor will be about $15 for Brent.
  • Other estimates are in the $10-15 range.
  • Yes, and …
oil rig
Advertisement

Some oil prices could even go negative

That means oil producers would literally pay people to take oil off their hands. So if you've got some empty barrels lying around (or you're a Cooper), now is your time to shine (glisten?).

How would this work?

  • For some cheaper grades of oil, the price of oil could be less than the cost of storage and transport.
  • As demand falls and storage fills up, it could become hard to even give it away.
  • So you could see some producers paying people to take their oil.

5 top clean-energy stories this week

Cheap oil and the COVID-19 virus are unlikely to thwart the energy transition, experts told me, even though projections for renewable installations have been slashed for 2020. Advertisement

  • This week, the research firm Wood Mackenzie cut its forecast for wind installations by nearly 5 gigawatts, or 6.5%.
  • Meanwhile, a US solar trade group says coronavirus threatens half of the industry's jobs.
  • That's why the industry wasn't thrilled when Congress left out incentives for clean energy in the $2 trillion aid package.
  • Hey, but there's good news, too - for Lightsource BP, anyway. The company, which is backed by the oil giant BP, closed a $250 million deal for a 260-megawatt solar farm in Texas.
  • SunPower became the first big solar company to publicly announce that it's slashing executive pay, freezing hiring, and reducing capex in response to COVID-19 market conditions.

That's it! Have a great weekend.

- Benji

Get the latest Oil WTI price here.Advertisement

{{}}