UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 WELLINGTON 000010
STATE FOR EB/ESC/IEC AND EAP/ANP
COMMERCE FOR 4530/ITA/MAC/AP/OSAO/GPAINE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON NZ ENGR
SUBJECT: INDUSTRY MAY FOOT BILL FOR COST OF BOOSTING NEW
ZEALAND'S OIL RESERVES
REF: 04 WELLINGTON 291
(U) Sensitive but unclassified -- protect accordingly. Not
for Internet distribution.
Â¶1. (SBU) Summary: Oil companies are facing the prospect of
shouldering the costly burden of bringing New Zealand's oil
stocks up to an international standard. With the country's
reserves well below the 90-day supply recommended by the
International Energy Agency (IEA), New Zealand's Cabinet has
decided to impose the expense of expanded oil stockpiles on
the four major oil companies and one independent company
operating in New Zealand. The companies say that if the
government wants to meet the IEA standard, then it should
bear the cost. In addition, they contend that if the
government allowed the market to work, oil supplies would be
adequate. The government will accept comments until February
2 on a study it commissioned on the matter and then is
expected to decide how it directs the stockpiling of oil.
The two U.S. companies have not yet requested U.S. government
advocacy of their position, but have asked that post continue
to monitor the issue. End summary.
Â¶2. (U) While New Zealand depends on imports for about 80
percent of its oil consumption, the government does not hold
any reserves or require oil companies to maintain stockpiles.
However, New Zealand relies on industry stockpiles to meet
its obligation as a member of the IEA to hold 90 days of oil
reserves. With the country now holding less than 60 days'
supply, it must arrange storage of about 500,000 additional
tons of oil to meet the IEA target, according to the
government-commissioned study released December 14. The
study was launched in October after the government learned of
New Zealand's shortfall, which was caused by inaccurate
accounting of stockpiles and declining domestic production.
Â¶3. (U) The report estimates the cost of building storage
tanks and acquiring the extra oil to meet the IEA target
would be NZ $640 million (US $448 million) in 2006.
Inventories would have to be increased about 62 percent and
capital investment raised about 26 percent. In a statement
accompanying the study, then Minister of Energy Hodgson said,
"Cabinet has decided that oil companies should be responsible
for providing adequate stocks, not the taxpayer." (In an
unrelated Cabinet reshuffle December 20, Trevor Mallard was
named energy minister.) The study expects the industry would
pass the added costs to end-users, but this would raise pump
prices no more than NZ 1 cent per liter.
Â¶4. (SBU) Oil companies disputed the cost estimates,
contending that the industry and ultimately consumers would
pay more. Mobil Oil New Zealand estimates the expense to
each large oil company would be NZ $100 million to NZ $150
million, which would increase Mobil's working capital
requirements in New Zealand by 25 to 50 percent. Caltex New
Zealand said the estimates do not include the cost of land
for new storage tanks and maintenance. Two other large oil
companies, BP New Zealand and Shell New Zealand, and an
independent company, Gull, operate in the country.
Â¶5. (SBU) Peter Thornbury, public affairs manager for Mobil
Oil New Zealand, said the government confused the issue of
security of supply with meeting the IEA target. As the study
noted, the oil companies in the country have operated on
"sound commercial lines," maintaining reserves that have not
compromised supply to their customers. Peter Doolan,
president of the ExxonMobil Refining and Supply Division in
Singapore, said that if the government wants additional
stockpiles, it -- and not private industry -- should fund
Â¶6. (SBU) Separately, John Kerr, public affairs manager of
Caltex New Zealand, said the government's desire to meet the
IEA target is based on a "societal" assessment of the level
of adequate reserves, rather than on a commercial view of the
possibility of disrupted oil supplies. Kerr asserted that an
interruption of oil supplies from the Middle East over a long
period of time -- the study's key scenario -- is unlikely.
Â¶7. (SBU) New Zealand is unique among IEA members in being
heavily dependent on distant imports, Thornbury and Kerr
noted. A long supply chain -- between 25 to 30 days from
Middle East suppliers and between 15 to 20 days from Far East
suppliers -- means that in-transit oil supplies might be
considered as reserves. They suggested the government seek
the IEA's concurrence to count stocks in transit toward the
reserves requirement. This would enable New Zealand to
satisfy the 90-day target without constructing additional
storage. The study, however, takes the opposite view: The
long supply chain increases New Zealand's vulnerability to
oil shortages. The four major companies import mostly crude
petroleum that must be processed at New Zealand's sole
refinery. Gull imports refined products.
Â¶8. (SBU) The study also cites the need for official oversight
of storage levels, for monitoring compliance and for
implementing a penalties regime. Companies expressed a
wariness of increased regulation of their industry.
Â¶9. (U) Minister Hodgson described the required 90-day reserve
as a "sensible precaution." He called on the government to
consider even larger stockpiles, allowing New Zealand to draw
from them rather than having to restrict demand during a
supply disruption. The study did not analyze the benefits of
membership in the IEA, which New Zealand joined in 1976.
Â¶10. (SBU) Comment: Despite the expected rise in gas prices --
which already went up 12 percent in September over the past
year -- a decision to boost oil stockpiles is not a
politically difficult one for the government in this election
year. It is the oil industry that likely will take the blame
for a price bump caused by plumping the oil reserves.
Directing oil stockpiling also would be consistent with the
government's increasing intervention in the energy sector.
This effort, sparked by its desire to ensure adequate energy
supplies, has in the past year included re-regulating the
electricity sector, instituting incentives for gas
exploration and entering a risk-sharing agreement with a
state-owned enterprise to get a new power project off the