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Sagging oil price trickles into energy market risk

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LONDON — The collapse in the oil price has forced many energy companies to rethink their risk management budgets and to retain more risk and self-insure more, according to analysis by Willis Towers Watson P.L.C.

Against this backdrop, energy firms are facing evolving threats including cyber risk, increased regulatory risk, environmental concerns, the need to optimize staffing and a changing geopolitical environment, said Robin Somerville, executive director in Willis Towers Watson’s natural resources division, at a briefing in London Tuesday.

At the same time, Willis Towers Watson noted in the report, “Energy Market review: the challenge of global instability, how can the energy industry respond?,” there is ample capacity for energy insurance, and rates have continued to fall.

This may result in some underwriters scaling back or pulling out of the marketplace, the report said.

In the upstream energy insurance market — which provides coverage for the exploration and production phase — there is insurance capacity of more than $7.5 billion, according to Willis Towers Watson estimates.

This is up from just below $7 billion for 2015 and marks the 10th year in a row that available capacity for upstream energy risks has risen, the report said.

As well as established leaders competing for business, there are new entrants looking to lead business, Willis said in the report.

1990s-era lows loom

Rates for upstream coverages are continuing to fall and are approaching the low levels seen in the 1990s, Mr. Somerville said.

At least one traditional leader of upstream energy business has decided to scale back their underwriting, he said.

For global downstream energy business — coverages for energy operations after production and up to the point of sale — excluding Gulf of Mexico windstorm risk, total theoretical market capacity stands at more than $6 billion — a record level, the report said, although the maximum program limit that brokers realistically can place remains at about $4.5 billion.

The increase in available capacity for downstream business has had the effect of generating extra competition between underwriters rather than prompting buyers to increase their program limits, according to the report.

Some composite insurers have increased the capacity they can offer to a given program to as much as $1 billion, Willis Towers Watson said.

Some leaders also will consider writing an “all risks” policy form, which fell out of favor after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, which would include risks such as terrorism, Mr. Somerville said.

Some leaders also increasingly are deleting cyber sub limits for downstream energy coverages, he said.

Rates for onshore construction energy business are likely to fall by about 10% during 2016, Willis noted, and the market continues to be competitive.

The international onshore liability marketplace also has record levels of capacity, at about $3.1 billion, according to the report, but for larger buyers with a global footprint and complex operations that require “meaningful limits,” the pool of available capacity is smaller and rate decreases have been more muted than those seen for smaller buyers, the report said.

And the North American excess liability market has stable capacity at about $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion, the report said.

But risk management budgets continue to come under pressure against the backdrop of falling oil prices, Mr. Somerville said.

Some buyers of this coverage may wish to discuss the possibility of buying multi-year policies, he said.