In the lead up to this year’s La Jolla Conference, the energy world was rocked by the return of volatility in international oil markets. Promising to course through all of the agenda topics at the conference, the price of oil was indeed on the minds of attendees.
But the specter of lower oil prices that seemingly threatened to overshadow all other energy trends in 2015 has not entirely played out. The US shale revolution bubble has not burst nor does it appear that price issues alone will seriously undermine Mexico’s Round One oil and gas auction. And renewable energy projects are not being mothballed.
Dropping rig counts in the United States has not led directly to corresponding declines in production, and exports of liquefied natural gas are set to plug the US into the global gas market beyond North America. The debate over US crude oil exports rumbles on, more a victim of the political calendar than oil prices.
Experts and panelists at the Institute of the Americas’ XXIV La Jolla Energy Conference on May 20-21 underscored Latin America’s relative competitiveness in spite of the current downturn. Several speakers were quick to emphasize that this is not your father’s oil price collapse.
On the other hand, there is surely near-term uncertainty facing the region’s outlook, but also several fundamentals that point to significant potential in the medium and long-term. Indeed, many panelists cautioned that in Mexico and other parts of the region, patience remains a virtue. In addition, how the region embraces and adapts the lessons from the US unconventional revolution, particularly in terms of cost and efficiency figure importantly into the mosaic of opportunities for the region’s investment and production outlook.
Whether due to the oil price downturn or not, the discussions that surrounded the understanding of the regional energy context and what could perhaps be called the aura of competition across several key energy markets were intriguing. The newly installed head of Colombia’s regulator, ANH, minced no words when he noted that Colombia had to do a better job competing for and retaining investors, particularly as Mexico moves forward with its Round One auction.
Representatives from Mexico, which was a bit maligned at the conference for its increasingly bureaucratic implementation of the nation’s energy reform, also made great efforts to highlight the interest and attractiveness of the three calls offered to date. A representative of the country’s hydrocarbon commission, CNH, also spoke to efforts to redress pervasive complaints over contract stipulations and terms, revisions due out only days after the La Jolla Conference.
But beyond oil prices and competition, it bears noting that energy security has become more important than ever in the region. Countries are focused on efforts to refine domestic energy markets through offshore exploration, unconventional resources, efficiencies in power generation, and revitalized and improved energy integration.
Additionally, confronting above ground or non-technical risks that stem from environmental and community concerns and institutional weaknesses have quickly ascended the list of priorities for policy makers and industry.
Beyond the uncontrollable element of international oil prices, if countries in Latin America are able to address many of the aforementioned issues and other concerns, there will be no shortage of opportunities for energy players and the region’s outlook should command attention. To keep a glass-half-full outlook, it is useful to recall how a panelist from US-based equity fund Carlyle Group described the potential for Mexico’s energy investment future: mind blowing.