WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Russian crude disruption fails to lift oil market

It was surprising that the supply outage of Russian Urals crude oil flows to Germany and Poland didn’t cause an upward momentum in oil prices, says Faisal Mrza. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2019

WEEKLY ENERGY RECAP: Russian crude disruption fails to lift oil market

RIYADH: Last week started with a major bullish sentiment in the oil market, after the US said it was halting sanctions waivers on Iranian crude exports. This drove Brent prices to a five-month high, touching $75 per barrel, although they dropped by the end of the week to $72.15.
Though oil prices didn’t change much on a weekly closing basis, a steep price fluctuation took place during the week.
Prices fell sharply at the end of the week on speculation that some Iran crude oil exports may be able to find customers regardless of the end to sanctions waivers. Also, global refining margins fell across the board last week, mostly driven by weak middle distillates margins (diesel and jet fuel), though gasoline margins have remained relatively firm ahead of the high demand season in summer.
Most of the supply distributions have been attributed lately to geopolitical factors; however, some other technical factors have emerged after Europe refineries stopped processing Urals crude from Russia after they found contamination in oil delivered via the Druzhba pipeline.
It was surprising that the supply outage of Russian Urals crude oil flows to Germany and Poland didn’t cause an upward momentum in oil prices, especially given that the global market is already short of supplies of similar crude grades.
Urals crude oil is close in quality to the sour crude produced in the Arabian Gulf. It accounts for most of the Russian crude exports in eastern and central Europe, and almost half of Russia’s total crude oil exports globally.
The contamination came at a time when European refiners are already questioning Urals quality, especially the sulfur levels.
Its unclear whether the concerns will affect Russia’s future market share, and hence the global supply and demand balance. Likewise, it is not yet clear how long the issue will last, given that Reuters reported it could have legal effects, as buyers in Europe could open lawsuits against Russian suppliers.

  •  Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil marketing adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Twitter: @faisalmrza

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste
  • While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”