World oil prices are controlled by the amount of crude oil stored at Cushing, Oklahoma. That’s because Cushing is the pricing point for WTI (West Texas Intermediate) oil prices, the most-traded oil futures contract in the world.
Cushing Storage Rules World Oil Prices
WTI (and Brent) oil prices have good negative correlation with the volume of crude oil stored at Cushing. Comparative inventory, the present volume of oil compared with the 5-year average, and oil-price volatility, the rate at which the price of oil moves up and down.
From the beginning of 2014 until the end of July, comparative inventory fell and world oil prices were high averaging more than $100 per barrel. From August to the time of the November 28 OPEC meeting, Cushing inventories rose and oil fell below $70. OPEC’s decision not to cut production caused a spike in volatility and prices dropped to $46 per barrel by the end of January 2015.
Prices rose in February based on hope that falling rig counts would bring declining U.S. production. Rising Cushing inventories brought markets back to reality and they fell again in March.
Cushing storage fell from mid-April to mid-June 2015 and oil prices rallied to $60 per barrel. Concerns about China’s economic growth and the lifting of sanctions on Iran added to flattening Cushing inventories and oil fell to near $38 per barrel by mid-August.
When inventories fell again in late August, prices increased to almost $50 per barrel and then plateaued until the end of October. Storage had flattened but the outlook for Chinese growth had improved as the People’s Bank of China announced stimulus measures.
From the beginning of November to the end of 2015, comparative inventories increased again and oil prices plunged below $30 per barrel with the near-collapse of China’s stock markets.
Flattening comparative inventories in early 2016 and rumors of an OPEC production cut and then, a partial OPEC production freeze moved oil prices back above $30 per barrel where they have remained through February.
Expectation and reality both influence oil prices but Figures 1 and 2 show that the reality of Cushing comparative inventory change is the dominant factor. World economic and political events have the power to affect oil prices but without support from Cushing storage levels, these changes are relatively short-lived.
What Must Happen For Oil Prices to Increase
Cushing, Oklahoma is the largest oil-storage tank farm in the world. It has 73 million barrels of working capacity, about 13% of total U.S. storage. Several important oil pipelines converge there as oil moves from production sites to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Cushing is the delivery and pricing point for West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures contracts. More than 3 billion barrels of WTI oil futures contracts are traded weekly. For the week ending February 26, 2016, the volume of WTI trades (3.1 million contracts) was nearly three times the volume of Brent ICE trades (1.2 million contracts). Each contract is for 1000 barrels of oil.
Few of these contracts result in delivery of physical oil. Instead, most contracts are sold forward to take advantage of the higher contango prices on later-dated contracts.
Limited refining capacity for the light, sweet crude oil from tight oil fields has resulted in the stock-piling of oil at Cushing. Since oil prices collapsed in 2014, it makes more sense to pay storage fees than to sell oil at a loss.
Storage volumes at Cushing have increased since the crude oil export ban was lifted in December. Since then, additions at Cushing have averaged more than 500,000 barrels per week and total U.S. storage has increased about 1.5 million barrels per week. Current storage capacity at Cushing is 89% full. As long as Cushing and Gulf Coast storage remain above 80% of capacity, oil prices will be low.
For oil prices to increase, Cushing inventories must fall. That means that both U.S. tight oil production, chiefly from the Bakken play, and Canadian light oil production brought by pipeline to Cushing must decline.
Bakken production was consistent in 2015 at about 1.2 million barrels per day. Canadian oil imports to the U.S. decreased from April through July 2015 and may have contributed to the fall in Cushing inventories that lead to a $15 per barrel increase in WTI prices. At the same time, decreased production from the Eagle Ford and Permian basin tight oil plays would free up storage in the Gulf Coast that might allow more oil to flow out of Cushing.
Although world events are important, Cushing comparative inventories dominate world oil prices. This does not mean that decreased production and inventories elsewhere in the world would not affect prices. It acknowledges, however, that increased North American unconventional oil production created the global over-supply that caused oil prices to collapse.
Given the history of the past 2 years, oil prices are unlikely to increase until U.S. and Canadian oil production decline enough to reduce Cushing storage. Recent flat comparative inventories suggest that near-term prices could go either way depending on flows in and out of Cushing.
A relatively small decrease of 3 to 5 million barrels in Cushing stocks could result in a $10 to $15 increase in WTI prices, similar to what happened from April through June of 2015. Conversely, an increase in stocks of a few million barrels may push oil prices into the low $20 range. It mostly depends on U.S. and Canadian unconventional oil production.
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Pioneering technology expert tells ADIPEC Energy Dialogue up to 80 per cent of plant shutdowns could be mitigated through combination of advanced electrification, automation and digitalisation technologies
Greater use of renewables in power management processes offers oil and gas companies opportunities to create efficiencies, sustainability and affordability when modernising equipment, or planning new CAPEX projects
Abu Dhabi, UAE – XX August 2020 – Leveraging the synergies created by the convergence of electrification, automation and digitalisation, can create significant cost savings for oil and gas companies when making both operational and capital investment decisions, according to Dr Peter Terwiesch, President of Industrial Automation at ABB, a Swiss-Swedish multinational company, operating mainly in robotics, power, heavy electrical equipment, and automation technology areas.
Participating in the latest ADIPEC Energy Dialogue, Dr Terwiesch said up to 80 per cent of energy industry plant shutdowns, caused by human error, or rotating machinery or power outages, could be mitigated through a combination of electrification, automation and digitalisation.
“Savings are clearly possible not only on the operation side but also, using the same synergies between dimensions, you can bring down the cost schedule and risk of capital investment, especially in a time when making projects work economically is harder,” explained Dr Terwiesch.
A pioneering technology leader, who works closely with utility, industry, transportation and infrastructure customers, Dr Terwiesch said despite the increasing investment by oil and gas companies in renewables and the growing use of renewables to generate electricity, both for individual and industrial uses, hydrocarbons will continue to have an important role in creating energy, in the short to medium term.
“If you look at the energy density constraints, clearly electricity is gaining share but electricity is not the source of energy; it is a conduit of energy. The energy has to come from somewhere and that can be hydrocarbons, or nuclear, or renewables.” he said.
Nevertheless, he added, the greater use of renewables to generate electricity offers oil and gas companies the option of integrating a higher share of renewables into power management processes to create efficiencies, sustainability and affordability when modernising equipment, or planning new CAPEX projects.
The ADIPEC Energy Dialogue is a series of online thought leadership events created by dmg events, organisers of the annual Abu Dhabi International Exhibition and Conference. Featuring key stakeholders and decision-makers in the oil and gas industry, the dialogues focus on how the industry is evolving and transforming in response to the rapidly changing energy market.
With this year’s in person ADIPEC exhibition and conference postponed to November 2021, the ADIPEC Energy Dialogue, along with insightful webinars, podcasts and on line panels continue to connect the oil and gas industry, with the challenges and opportunities shaping energy markets in the run up to, and following, a planned three-day live stream virtual ADIPEC conference taking place from November 9-11.
An industry first of its kind, the online conference will bring together energy leaders, ministers and global oil and gas CEOs to assess the collective measures the industry needs to put in place to fast-track recovery, post COVID-19.
To watch the full ADIPEC Energy Dialogue series go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZzUd32n3_s&t=6s
Utility-scale battery storage systems are increasingly being installed in the United States. In 2010, the United States had seven operational battery storage systems, which accounted for 59 megawatts (MW) of power capacity (the maximum amount of power output a battery can provide in any instant) and 21 megawatthours (MWh) of energy capacity (the total amount of energy that can be stored or discharged by a battery). By the end of 2018, the United States had 125 operational battery storage systems, providing a total of 869 MW of installed power capacity and 1,236 MWh of energy capacity.
Battery storage systems store electricity produced by generators or pulled directly from the electrical grid, and they redistribute the power later as needed. These systems have a wide variety of applications, including integrating renewables into the grid, peak shaving, frequency regulation, and providing backup power.
Most utility-scale battery storage capacity is installed in regions covered by independent system operators (ISOs) or regional transmission organizations (RTOs). Historically, most battery systems are in the PJM Interconnection (PJM), which manages the power grid in 13 eastern and Midwestern states as well as the District of Columbia, and in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). Together, PJM and CAISO accounted for 55% of the total battery storage power capacity built between 2010 and 2018. However, in 2018, more than 58% (130 MW) of new storage power capacity additions, representing 69% (337 MWh) of energy capacity additions, were installed in states outside of those areas.
In 2018, many regions outside of CAISO and PJM began adding greater amounts of battery storage capacity to their power grids, including Alaska and Hawaii, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). Many of the additions were the result of procurement requirements, financial incentives, and long-term planning mechanisms that promote the use of energy storage in the respective states. Alaska and Hawaii, which have isolated power grids, are expanding battery storage capacity to increase grid reliability and reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuel imports.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860, Annual Electric Generator Report
Note: The cost range represents cost data elements from the 25th to 75th percentiles for each year of reported cost data.
Average costs per unit of energy capacity decreased 61% between 2015 and 2017, dropping from $2,153 per kilowatthour (kWh) to $834 per kWh. The large decrease in cost makes battery storage more economical, helping accelerate capacity growth. Affordable battery storage also plays an important role in the continued integration of storage with intermittent renewable electricity sources such as wind and solar.
Additional information on these topics is available in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) recently updated Battery Storage in the United States: An Update on Market Trends. This report explores trends in battery storage capacity additions and describes the current state of the market, including information on applications, cost, market and policy drivers, and future project developments.