Unlikely twins and differing fortunes: Malaysia’s Petronas and Indonesia’s Pertamina

Gas flares at a Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) oil refinery at Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex in Pengerang, Malaysia. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)
Updated 08 March 2019
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Unlikely twins and differing fortunes: Malaysia’s Petronas and Indonesia’s Pertamina

  • Malaysia has allowed Petronas to follow its own growth path
  • Pertamina is hobbled by Indonesian government intervention and bears the burden of a subsidy program

JOHOR, Malaysia/JAKARTA: On the southernmost edge of the Asian landmass and on the shores of the busy shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait, Malaysia’s Petronas is starting up a state-of-the art petroleum processing hub, called RAPID.
The huge complex in Malaysia’s Johor province is currently testing its systems, running crude oil through its fuel processing units and labyrinth of pipes and producing large exhaust gas fires from its flare tower. The flames are clearly visible for miles around, including on Indonesian islands just across the narrow strait.
The 300,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) RAPID or Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development will come onstream around May. Among other customers, it will sell fuel to Indonesia, shining a spotlight on the contrast between Petronas and its Indonesian peer Pertamina.
Both are state-owned oil companies that dominate the energy sector in their own nations. But their fortunes have markedly diverged because Malaysia has allowed Petronas to follow its own growth path, while Pertamina is hobbled by Indonesian government intervention and bears the burden of a subsidy program.
“Lots of people see Petronas and Pertamina as twin companies. But that’s not really the case. Petronas is very much a commercial company, almost like an independent oil company while Pertamina is driven more by government policy and agenda, a national oil company,” said Andrew Harwood, research director for Asia/Pacific upstream oil and gas at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
For Petronas, RAPID marks a milestone as it prepares for a future with less crude oil output while serving the region’s booming fuel demand.
RAPID, being built in collaboration with Saudi Aramco, has cost around $15 billion and is one of Petronas’ biggest ever investments. It is part of an even bigger Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC) being developed by more than 50,000 workers at an estimated cost of more than 100 billion ringgit ($24.61 billion), and which will eventually also include a deep-water oil and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal.
Petronas declined to speak with Reuters about the project’s details but has said RAPID “will position Malaysia to capitalize on the growing need for energy and petrochemical products in Asia in the next 20 years ... pushing our country into a new frontier of technology and economic development.”
Like Malaysia, Indonesia is struggling to keep oil production up just as domestic fuel demand soars.
Once a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Indonesia has seen its crude oil output dwindle from a peak of 1.6 million bpd in the early 1990s to below 1 million bpd.
It is now Southeast Asia’s biggest fuel importer, importing more than 400,000 bpd of last year, at a cost of around $10 billion a year at current prices.

Little investment
Yet, the last time Indonesia built a major refinery was around 25 years ago.
A Refinery Development Master Plan (RDMP), launched in 2014 to double refinery output to over 2 million bpd within a decade, was confirmed last week by Pertamina’s chief executive Nicke Widyawati.
“Starting from 2021, we will invest around $7 billion per year as these refineries (developments) are in progress,” Widyawati said.
But many of Indonesia’s refinery projects have suffered set-backs, like the delay in the upgrade of a refinery in the central Java area of Cilacap from 348,000 to 400,000 bpd. Due to be completed in 2021, it has been pushed back to 2023.
Fajar Harry Sampurno, the deputy minister for state owned enterprises, said Cilacap’s delay was because the land for the site had yet to be acquired.
Saudi Aramco has also expressed interest in Cilacap, but Sampurno said “Aramco is still waiting” to invest as it first wants the land rights to be resolved.
Sampurno said such delays were causing Pertamina “big losses.”
But Pertamina itself isn’t investing enough.
The company says its capital spending target would be $4.2 billion to $4.5 billion this year, down from an earlier target of $5.5 billion.
On the other hand, Petronas raised its investment by 10 billion ringgit ($2.46 billion) to 55 billion ringgit in 2018, and spending is expected to rise again this year.
Once RAPID is completed, Petronas would likely start looking for a next big development project, possibly as an investment into overseas production or even in form of corporate acquisitions, said Harwood from Wood Mackenzie.

“No way” to net exports
The consultancy estimates Petronas, which has invested far more than its Indonesian counterpart in exploration and acquisitions, will produce 1.6 million barrels per day of oil equivalent this year, which is a unit to describe joint oil and gas production, against vs 0.8 million barrels of oil equivalent by Pertamina.
Oil and gas reserves are estimated at 7.8 billion barrels of oil equivalent for Petronas and at 5 billion for Pertamina by Wood Mackenzie.
Sampurno, the Indonesian deputy minister, told Reuters there was “no way” Indonesia could become a net oil exporter again.
He said Pertamina should expand its refining capacity to meet booming demand, emulating Petronas.
But the Indonesian state-owned major, described by the government as an “agent of development,” is struggling to keep up the required spending to finance oil and gas production and build the infrastructure to meet rising domestic fuel consumption.
It has also to foot the bill for Indonesia’s fuel subsidies.
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s says this cost Pertamina $1.5 billion-$2 billion in lost profit last year.
While Malaysia also subsidises fuel, the cost is shouldered by the government, not Petronas.
Pertamina’s profits were under 5 trillion rupiah ($352.73 million), the lowest in over a decade, in the first half of 2018. Full 2018 results are yet to be announced.
Petronas, by contrast, achieved 26.6 billion ringgit ($6.54 billion) profit during that time, company data showed.
As President Joko Widodo seeks re-election this year, it seems unlikely that Indonesia’s oil subsidies will be rolled back any time soon.
Chief executive Widyawati, Pertamina’s third CEO in as many years, has made her thoughts clear on subsidies.
“The regulation is clear,” she told reporters last month, adding fuel “intervention is good.”
Should the opposition win, some change may come.
“If we free Pertamina from political intervention, I am sure the profits will return,” opposition vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno told Reuters.
Wood Mackenzie estimates Pertamina needs to boost spending to $6 billion in 2022, from just over $4 billion last year, just to maintain output. Pertamina’s refinery plans and debt servicing will require another $23 billion up to 2025.
“Indonesia and Pertamina could capitalize on the discovery made last week by Repsol, which will attract attention from explorers. If they can capture some of this interest, Pertamina may find additional partnership opportunities,” said Max Petrov, a senior corporate analyst at the consultancy.
A consortium led by Spain’s Repsol last week announced finding new gas resources in South Sumatra in Indonesia, which Repsol claims to be among the 10 largest made in the world over the past year.


Abu Dhabi ties help OMV pivot to Middle East

Updated 18 June 2019
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Abu Dhabi ties help OMV pivot to Middle East

  • OMV is shifting attention toward the Middle East as its chemist chief executive chases his vision of making the Austrian oil and gas group a major supplier of plastics
  • OMV boss Rainer Seele has spent more than €4 billion ($4.5 billion) — 40 percent of the group’s M&A budget until 2025 — for oil and gas concessions in the region

VIENNA: After years of largely banking on low-cost Russia for growth, OMV is shifting attention toward the Middle East as its chemist chief executive chases his vision of making the Austrian oil and gas group a major supplier of plastics.
OMV boss Rainer Seele has spent more than €4 billion ($4.5 billion) — 40 percent of the group’s M&A budget until 2025 — for oil and gas concessions in the region, a 15 percent stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Co’s (ADNOC) refining business and a to-be-formed trading joint venture with ADNOC and Italy’s Eni.
“We want to have a fully integrated business model in Abu Dhabi — from the well via the refinery and the petrochemicals all the way to marketing and trade in international markets,” the chief of Austria’s second-largest listed company told shareholders last month.
OMV traditionally earns its money from producing, distributing and refining oil and gas in Europe. A focus on low-cost oil and gas fields in Russia — a source of investor concern due to US and EU sanctions — helped the group get back on its feet financially in recent years and become one of the best cash-flow generators in the sector.
After fixing a price this month for the purchase of Siberian gas assets from Gazprom, OMV has largely achieved its Russian expansion plans.
The Russia-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, of which OMV is a financing partner, could face delays. However, OMV’s downside risks are limited to the €950 million it has committed, of which it has paid €644 million so far.
“This is already captured by its discounted valuation relative to its peers,” analysts at Berenberg said in a note.
Seele’s new, Middle East-focused strategy stems from a shift in the environment surrounding OMV’s business model, with challenges created by the politically promoted rise of renewable energy and increased use of electric vehicles.
Consultancy Wood Mackenzie forecasts that demand for oil in developed countries will revert to structural decline next year and drop by about 4 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2035. In contrast, it expects demand in developing economies, mainly in Asia, to increase by nearly 16 million bpd in the same period.
The rise in developing-country demand is seen largely driven by the petrochemicals industry, which uses oil to make the plastics needed for fertilizers, packaging, detergents and clothes, as well as for electric-car parts, solar panels and wind turbines.
This is where Seele gets excited. Refraining from expanding into renewables such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell, the CEO plans to monetise his oil with the expected surge in demand for plastics and also jet fuel, especially in China.
For Seele, the new focus is a journey back to his roots. The 58-year-old German holds a PhD in chemistry and started his career as a chemical research scientist.
He has chosen the United Arab Emirates as a base from which to secure a big piece of the Asian petchem pie, aiming to maximize profit via the entire value chain.
“What I am always preaching is, hey guys, try to think integrated,” he told Reuters when asked why he did not simply buy into China. “I cannot come up with an integrated business model in Asia if I buy into a petchem unit there. It would be an isolated investment.”
The UAE, a strategic investor in OMV since 1994, has aggressive energy ambitions for the coming decade. It is cooperating with international groups including Shell, Germany’s Wintershall DEA and US investment firms KKR and BlackRock to pioneer approaches and technologies.
Last year, the UAE launched a $132 billion capex program to become self-sufficient in gas by 2030 and establish itself as an exporter of petrochemical products. It plans to invest $45 billion alone into the Ruwais complex, which is located 240 km (150 miles) west of Abu Dhabi, to make it the largest integrated refinery/petrochemicals facility in the world.
ADNOC Refining plans to spend $1.9 billion annually, according to its five-year business plan. As OMV holds 15 percent, its share would be €285 million per year.
A cost optimization of Ruwais operations will be followed by investments to enable the use of different feedstocks and the processing of heavier, more sour crude at the site, Seele said in explaining the plans for ADNOC Refining. “We will create a Bordeaux,” said Seele, a connoisseur of red wine. “Right now we are only running with Cabernet Sauvignon in Abu Dhabi and we will add some Merlot.”
One challenge will be to export to Ruwais OMV’s European model of bundling refining and petrochemical production in integrated hubs. “We are transferring our European refineries now from predominantly fuel refineries to jet fuel and petchem units,” Seele said. “That’s the transformation we have in mind (for Ruwais as well).”
To deliver on its goal, OMV is working closely with its subsidiary Borealis, which partly runs the Ruwais refinery via its Borouge joint venture with ADNOC. Seele and Achim Stern, chief executive at Borealis, plan big.
Borouge hopes to give the final go-ahead for the construction of a fourth petrochemical complex at the site next year, Stern told Reuters. He did not disclose the cost of the new complex, but said it would be a “multibillion” decision.
OMV’s purchases of a 20 percent stake in Abu Dhabi’s SARB and Umm Lulu offshore oil concessions and a 5 percent stake in the Ghasha offshore gas and condensate fields from ADNOC were crucial for growth as they secure access to cheap feedstock, Seele said.
OMV also plans to recycle used plastic and convert it into synthetic crude oil at the Abu Dhabi complex. It is testing the patented, so-called ReOil technology at home.
“What we see in the market is a clear signal. If we don’t find a solution to recycle plastics, our polymer business will be negatively impacted,” the CEO said with a view to investors, who want the industry to work harder against climate change. “At the latest, in 2025 we would like to have a commercial plant.”
Analysts have praised OMV’s plans, saying major players in the oil and gas industry may envy the company for the deals with its financially strong shareholder ADNOC. However, risks remain: The emirate’s gas fields have proved challenging to monetise in the past due to high operating costs and artificially low local prices for the fuel.
“New technologies and development plans can improve this, but the fields still remain relatively difficult,” said Robin Mills, chief executive at energy consultancy Qamar Energy in Dubai.
Another challenge is inadequate infrastructure. The pipeline network needs to be extended, Seele says, at the same time indicating a solution is under way. “If you identify a problem, solve it.”