Azerbaijan's oil output is expected to decline in 2018, with the country likely to continue to show strong compliance with the OPEC/non-OPEC production cut deal, according to forecasts from analysts and leading energy information agencies.
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"Azerbaijan is well positioned to continue to fulfil its obligations under the OPEC plus cut agreement," Ashley Sherman, senior research analyst for Russia & Caspian at Wood Mackenzie, said.
OPEC has singled out Azerbaijan as a strong performer in terms of compliance with the OPEC/non-OPEC deal in 2017.
In its latest monthly oil market report released in December, OPEC said it expected Azeri oil output to decline by 50,000 b/d to average 800,000 b/d in 2017.
Its current forecast for Azeri output in 2018 is 760,000 b/d, which would represent a 5% drop in output year on year.
Azerbaijan's output has fluctuated significantly over the course of 2017, however.
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The latest energy ministry data, for December, showed oil production at 810,000 b/d -- the highest level since the OPEC/non-OPEC deal came into force.
The lowest 2017 volumes were seen in March, when output was 733,300 b/d.
There are also significant variations in the baseline production figures used by different organizations to measure Azerbaijan's compliance with its commitment to cut 35,000 b/d under the deal.
The ministry maintains that it is in full compliance with its obligations, but it initially indicated that Azerbaijan's compliance is being calculated against an average of 829,100 b/d in the first 11 months of 2016.
This would put the December production volumes, as well as July and October output, over its commitment.
Some sources have indicated that OPEC is using 869,000 b/d as its baseline figure for Azerbaijan.
Most participants' compliance is being measured against October 2016 output, but the ministry did not publish official data for that month.
State oil and gas producer Socar estimated Azerbaijan's output in that month at 807,000 b/d, while the International Energy Agency is using 815,000 b/d as its baseline figure.
ACG, SHAH DENIZ 2 OUTPUT KEY
Key projects to watch over the next year include the major Azeri Chirag Guneshli project, which accounts for around 75% of Azerbaijan's liquids output, and is expected to see output drop slightly year on year in 2018.
In 2017 the ACG contract was extended and national oil and gas producer Socar's stake increased, which analysts see as positive for both investment and production.
"In the near term, it boosts confidence in drilling investment. In the longer term, commissioning of a new production platform will bolster ACG and Azerbaijan's oil production," Wood Mackenzie's Sherman said. "A key thing to watch in 2018 is further progress towards approving the new platform."
Output at ACG averaged around 585,000 b/d in the first three quarters of 2017, majority stakeholder BP said in a business update released mid-November.
Analysts expect the total for 2017 to be similar, with a slight drop in output expected there in 2018.
"We expect ACG to produce approximately 585,000 b/d in 2017 -- in line with the level in January-September. Steady drilling and investment means that ACG output in 2018 should only be slightly below the 2017 figure -- still about 75% of Azerbaijan's liquids," Sherman said.
In the first three quarters of 2017 ACG also delivered 2.4 Bcm of associated gas to Socar, split between the Sangachal Terminal and the Oil Rocks facility.
The remainder of associated gas produced at ACG was reinjected to maintain reservoir pressure.
In addition to BP, ACG project partners include Socar, Chevron, Inpex, Statoil, ExxonMobil, TPAO, Itochu and ONGC Videsh.
Condensate output is also expected to grow considerably in 2018.
"One source of production growth will be first condensate from Shah Deniz Phase Two, which will be commissioned in 2018," Sherman said.
Shah Deniz is currently contributing 50,000 b/d of condensate production.
Operator AIOC is expected to increase liquids with phase 2 of the project by a further 120,000 b/d, the IEA said in its December oil market report.
Azeri energy ministry data shows that condensate output fluctuated in 2017, with December data showing production of 54,900 b/d, flat month on month.
Despite lows of 30,800 b/d in July and 40,000 b/d in October, condensate output ranged between 50,000 and 55,000 b/d.
Azerbaijan exported all condensate produced last year.