This column was originally published on RealMoney on June 10 at 10:56 a.m. EDT.
If demand growth and international supply challenges weren't enough, today brings news that the first tropical storm of the year -- Arlene -- is making its way into the Gulf of Mexico. With the threat of big storms comes the threat of oil and natural gas production disruptions in the Gulf.
Thursday brought the first evacuations of the tropical storm season:
were among the first to announce they would evacuate nonessential personnel from rigs and platforms in the projected path of the storm. Others have followed and, depending on the path of the storm, more may follow.
Clearly, one impact from the brutal force of a tropical storm or, worse yet, hurricane, is the disruption in production. It wasn't until recently that the final repairs were made to bring the Gulf of Mexico "back to normal" from the impacts of last year's unwelcome visitor, Ivan.
Last year, at its peak, Ivan resulted in disruption of about a quarter of all hydrocarbon production in the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, you never know when a storm will become Ivan-like. While Arlene looks relatively timid as far as storms go, a storm can reorganize and pack a wallop of a punch very quickly. Remember, Ivan even paid two visits to parts of the Gulf after coming on shore and working its way back down the Atlantic Seaboard.
With the challenges, however, also come opportunities as companies that are involved in repair, remediation and inspection may benefit from repairs in the Gulf. In other words, here's a quick hurricane oil and gas survival kit.
Looking for Stormy Work
owns the largest fleet of remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, in the world, and recently announced that it will build a dozen more ROVs. An ROV is nothing more than an underwater diver without a person. The ROV is linked via a hydraulic control line called an umbilical with cameras and other measurement devices, and it is used to do deepwater work and inspections.
When it comes to hurricanes and damage, Oceaneering gets to work. The Minerals Management Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, requires any damaged platform to be repaired, inspected and certified safe before it can again be used. As a result, a big storm can create a lot of work for Oceaneering.
Transport companies can also benefit: Companies such as
( OLG) that provide transportation services for offshore rigs get a nice bump in business when storm threats constantly batter the coast. In addition, survey flights often are organized in the immediate aftermath of a storm to survey damage. Transport companies such as OL also gain revenue in that manner.
Another type of transport is also a beneficiary of hurricane season: the lift and work boat business. Companies such as
and a handful of private companies may well benefit from additional duty in the aftermath of a storm. Though they lose revenue during the storm's passing (getting, at best, standby rates for boats), the demand for nautical services will help push price and revenue for many of these companies.
A Superior Play
Superior Energy Services
, with a fleet of higher-end lift boats and a host of well intervention and stimulation services, also may benefit from storm work. A number of producers may have well issues that have to be addressed below the platform. With its fleet of rental tools and intervention expertise, Superior is hired by many to help jump-start operations after a storm.
But there is a hurricane downside for Superior. The company is building a production business through its SPN Resources subsidiary. During Ivan, the company lost meaningful production and took a hit to 2004's fourth-quarter earnings as a result. Interestingly, however, Superior looks to acquire late-lived production properties in the Gulf, and it's possible that after a big storm, such properties could become less expensive, ultimately benefiting Superior. (For details on Superior's business, see
some of my recent writings).
Both oil and natural gas prices are likely to rally on the threat of any storm entering the Gulf of Mexico. However, with oil working from a base of $50 and natural gas from $7, the stakes are higher than in years past.
While I have argued in these pages for some time that the longer-term equilibrium price per barrel for oil is in the mid-to-high $40s and the price per thousand cubic feet for natural gas somewhere in the $6 range, all bets are off with a storm.
The perfect storm gets you to $60 oil and $10 natty in a heartbeat.
Just one more variable to add to your already complicated energy equation: Add the Weather Channel to your list of favorites. And have a dry weekend!
Christopher S. Edmonds is vice president and director of research at Pritchard Capital Partners, a New Orleans energy investment firm. He is based in Atlanta. At time of publication, neither Edmonds nor his firm held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Edmonds cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he appreciates your feedback;
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