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Peak Oil? How About Peak Oil Storage?

Here's how cheap US energy promises an 'epic' turnaround in the US economy...
 
MATT BADIALI is editor of the S&A Resource Report, a monthly investment advisory focusing on natural resources from Stansberry & Associates.
 
A regular contributor to Growth Stock Wire, Badiali has experience as a hydrologist, geologist and consultant to the oil industry, and holds a master's degree in geology from Florida Atlantic University.
 
Here he tells The Gold Report's sister title The Mining Report that cheap oil prices and the economic prosperity they bring can make politicians and investors look smarter than they are. Hence Badiali's forecast that Hillary Clinton...if elected in 2016...could go become one of America's most popular presidents. Yes, really.
 
The Mining Report: You have said that Hillary Clinton could go down in history as one of the best presidents ever. Why?
 
Matt Badiali: Before we get your readership in an uproar, let me clarify that the oddsmakers say that Hillary Clinton is probably going to take the White House in the next election. Even Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet said she is a slam dunk. I'm not personally a huge fan of Hillary Clinton, but I believe whoever the next president is will ride a wave of economic benefits that will cast a rosy glow on the administration.
 
Her husband benefitted from the same lucky timing. In the 1980s, people had money and felt secure. It wasn't because of anything Bill Clinton did. He just happened to step onto the train as the economy started humming. Hillary is going to do the same thing. In this case, an abundance of affordable energy will fuel that glow. The fact is things are about to get really good in the United States.
 
TMR: Are you saying shale oil and gas production can overcome all the other problems in the country?
 
Matt Badiali: Cheap natural gas is already impacting the economy. In 2008, we were paying $14 per thousand cubic feet. Then, in March 2012, the price bottomed below $2 because we had found so much of it. We quit drilling the shale that only produces dry gas because it wasn't economic. You can't really export natural gas without spending billions to reverse the natural gas importing infrastructure that was put in place before the resource became a domestic boom. The result is that natural gas is so cheap that European and Asian manufacturing companies are moving here. Cheap energy trumps cheap labor any day.
 
The same thing is happening in tight crude oil. We are producing more oil today than we have in decades. We are filling up every tank, reservoir and teacup because we need more pipelines. And it is just getting started. Companies are ramping up production and hiring lots of people. By 2016, the US will have manufacturing, jobs and a healthy export trade. It will be an economic resurgence of epic proportions.
 
TMR: The economist and The Prize author Daniel Yergin forecasted US oil production of 14 million barrels a day by 2035. What are the implications for that both in terms of infrastructure and price?
 
Matt Badiali: Let's start with the infrastructure. The US produces over 8.5 million barrels a day right now; a jump to 14 would be a 65% increase. That would require an additional 5.5 million barrels a day.
 
To put this in perspective, the growth of oil production from 2005 to today is faster than at any other time in American history, including the oil boom of the 1920s and 1930s. And we're adding it in bizarre places like North Dakota, places that have never produced large volumes of oil in the past.
 
North Dakota now produces over 1.1 million barrels a day, but doesn't have the pipeline capacity to move the oil to the refineries and the people who use it. There also aren't enough places to store it. The bottlenecks are knocking as much as $10 per barrel off the price to producers and resulting in lots of oil tankers on trains.
 
And it isn't just happening in North Dakota. Oil and gas production in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even parts of Texas is overwhelming our existing infrastructure. That is why major pipeline and transportation companies have exploded in value. They already have some infrastructure in place and they have the ability to invest in new pipelines.
 
The problem we are facing in refining is that a few decades ago we thought we were running out of the good stuff, the light sweet crude oil. So refiners invested $100 billion to retool for the heavier, sour crudes from Canada, Venezuela and Mexico. That leaves little capacity for the new sources of high-quality oil being discovered in our backyard. That limited capacity results in lower prices for what should be premium grades.
 
One solution would be to lift the restriction on crude oil exports that dates back to the 1970s, when we were feeling protectionist. It is illegal for us to export crude oil. And because all the new oil is light sweet crude, the refiners can only use so much. That means the crude oil is piling up.
 
Peak oil is no longer a problem, but peak storage is. If we could ship the excess overseas, producers would get a fair price for the quality of their products. That would lead them to invest in more discovery. However, if they continue to get less money for their products, investment will slow. 
 
TMR: Is everything on sale, as Rick Rule likes to say?
 
Matt Badiali: Everything is on sale. But the great thing about oil is it is not like metals. It is cyclical, but it's critical. If you want your boats to cross oceans, your airplanes to fly, your cars to drive and your military to move, you have to have oil. You don't have to buy a new ship today, which would take metals. But if you want that sucker to go from point A to point B, you have to have oil. That's really important. There have been five cycles in oil prices in the last few years.
 
Oil prices rise and then fall. That's what we call a cycle. Each cycle impacts both the oil price and the stock prices of oil companies. These cycles are like clockwork. Their periods vary, but it's been an annual event since 2009. Shale, especially if we can export it, could change all of that.
 
The rest of the world's economy stinks. Russia and Europe are flirting with recession. China is a black box, but it is not as robust as we thought it was. Extra supply in the US combined with less demand than expected is leading to temporary low oil prices. But strategically and economically, oil is too important for the price to get too low for too long.
 
I was recently at a conference in Washington DC where International Energy Agency Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven predicted that without significant investment in the oil fields in the Middle East, we can expect a $15 per barrel increase in the price of oil globally by 2025.
 
I don't foresee a lot of people investing in those places right now. A shooting war is not the best place to be invested. I was in Iraq last year and met the Kurds, and they're wonderful people. This is just a nightmare for them. And for the rest of the world it means a $15 increase in oil.
 
For investors, the prospect of oil back at $100 per barrel is not the end of the world. With oil prices down 20% from recent highs and the best companies down over 30% in value, it is a buying opportunity. It means the entire oil sector has just gone on sale, including the companies building the infrastructure.
 
As oil prices climb back to $100, companies will continue to invest in producing more oil. And that will turn Hillary Clinton's eight-year presidency into an economic wonderland.
 
TMR: The last time you and I chatted, you explained that different shales have different geology with different implications for cracking it, drilling it and transporting it. Are there parts of the country where it's cheaper to produce and companies will get higher prices?
 
Matt Badiali: The producers in the Bakken are paying about twice as much to ship their oil by rail as the ones in the Permian or in Texas are paying to put it in a pipeline. The Eagle Ford is still my favorite quality shale and it is close to existing pipelines and export infrastructure, if that becomes a viable option. There are farmers being transformed into millionaires in Ohio as we speak, thanks to the Utica Shale.
 
TMR: What about the sands providers? Is that another way to play the service companies?
 
Matt Badiali: Absolutely. The single most important factor in cracking the shale code is sand. If the pages of a book are the thin layers of rocks in the shale, pumping water is how the producers pop the rock layers apart and sand is the placeholder that props them open despite the enormous pressure from above. Today, for every vertical hole, drillers create long horizontals and divide them into 30+ sections with as much as 1,500 pounds of sand per section. A single pad in the Eagle Ford could anchor four vertical holes with four horizontal legs requiring the equivalent of 200 train car loads of sand.
 
Investors need to distinguish between companies that provide highly refined sand for oil services and companies that bag sand for school playgrounds. Fracking sand is filtered and graded for consistency to ensure the most oil is recovered. Investors have to be careful about the type of company they are buying.
 
TMR: Coal still fuels a big chunk of the electricity in the US Can a commodity be politically incorrect and a good investment?
 
Matt Badiali: Coal has a serious headwind, and it's not just that it's politically incorrect. It competes with natural gas as an electrical fuel so you would expect the two commodities would trade for roughly the same price for the amount of electricity they can generate, but they don't. The Environmental Protection Agency is enacting emission standards that are effectively closing down coal-fired power plants. And because it is baseload power, you can't easily shut it off and turn it back on; it has to be maintained. That means it doesn't augment variable power like solar, as well as natural gas, which can be turned on and off like a jet engine turbine. So coal has two strikes against it. It is dirty and it isn't flexible.
 
Some coal companies could survive this transition, however. Metallurgical coal (met coal) companies, which produce a clean coal for making steel, have better prospects than steam coal. Along with steam coal, met coal prices are at a six-year low. 
 
Generally, I want to own coal that can be exported to India or China, where they really need it. Japan has replaced a lot of its nuclear power with coal and Germany restarted all the coal-fired power plants it had closed because of carbon emissions goals. We are already seeing deindustrialization there due to high energy prices. Cheap energy sources, including coal, will be embraced. I just don't know when.
 
TMR: Thank you for your time, Matt.
 
Matt Badiali: Thank you.

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