More Chinese crude oil imports coming from non-OPEC countries
China, the world’s largest crude oil net importer, increased the share of its crude oil imports from countries outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2016. Of the country’s 7.6 million barrels per day (b/d) of 2016 crude oil imports, 57% came from OPEC countries, led by Saudi Arabia (13% of total imports), Angola (11%), Iraq (10%), and Iran (8%). Leading non-OPEC suppliers included Russia (14% of total imports), Oman (9%), and Brazil (5%). While total crude oil imports from OPEC exceed those from non-OPEC sources, crude oil from non-OPEC countries made up 65% of the growth in China’s imports between 2012 and 2016. Recent Chinese import data, crude oil price spreads, and non-OPEC production trends suggest continued growth in non-OPEC countries’ share of China’s growing crude oil imports.
China’s crude oil imports increased by 2.2 million b/d between 2012 and 2016, with the non-OPEC countries’ share increasing from 34% to 43% over the period (Figure 1). Since the beginning of 2012 through February 2017 (the latest month for which data are available), the market shares of three of the top four OPEC suppliers to China (Saudi Arabia, Angola, and Iran) fell when measured using rolling 12-month averages. Over the same period, however, market shares for China’s top four non-OPEC suppliers (Russia, Oman, Brazil, and the United Kingdom), increased. While still comparatively small as a share of China’s crude oil imports, imports from Brazil reached a record high of 0.6 million b/d in December 2016, while imports from the United Kingdom reached their all-time high of 0.2 million b/d in February 2017.
Growth in China’s total crude oil imports in 2016 reflected both lower domestic crude oil production and continued demand growth. After increasing steadily between 2012 and 2015, China’s crude oil production declined significantly in 2016. Total liquids supply in China averaged 4.9 million b/d in 2016, a year-over-year decline of 0.3 million b/d, the largest drop for any non-OPEC country in 2016 (Figure 2). U.S. crude oil production fell by over 0.5 million b/d in 2016, but total liquids declined by under 0.3 million b/d because other liquids production increased by under 0.3 million b/d. Much of Chinese production growth from 2012 through 2015 was driven by more expensive drilling and production techniques, such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR), on older fields. Investments in development of new reserves fell as oil prices declined, contributing to a fall in total Chinese production because of the natural declines of old fields.
China’s demand growth has remained the world’s largest in every year since 2009, including an increase of 0.4 million b/d in 2016. As China increased its imports to address a growing gap between its domestic production and demand, it surpassed the United States as the world’s largest net importer of total petroleum in 2014. Other factors contributed to an increase in Chinese crude oil imports. For example, in July 2015, the Chinese government began allowing independent refiners (those not owned by the government) to import crude oil. The independent refiners previously had restrictions on the amount of crude oil they could import and relied on domestic supply and fuel oil as primary feedstocks. A second factor was the Chinese government’s filling of new Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites.
Total Chinese crude oil imports reached an all-time high of 8.6 million b/d in December 2016, with January and February 2017 data showing record highs for those particular months, at a time when demand is usually lower because of shutdowns related to the Chinese New Year (Figure 3).
Recent market dynamics suggest the market share of non-OPEC suppliers in China may continue to grow as its imports increase and the country remains a competitive market for suppliers. The Brent-Dubai Exchange of Futures for Swaps (EFS), an instrument that allows trade between the Brent futures market and the Dubai swaps market and represents the price premium of Brent over Dubai crude oil, is at the lowest levels for this time of year since 2010 (Figure 4). The relatively low price of Brent crude oil allows long distance arbitrage opportunities for some suppliers, particularly producers in the Atlantic basin market. For Chinese refiners, purchasing crude oil from Atlantic basin producers is generally more expensive because of higher transportation costs. The relatively lower price of Brent crude oil, however, allows some Chinese refiners to purchase Atlantic basin grades less expensively than Middle Eastern grades, even after the cost of shipping. Producers in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and, increasingly, the United States have taken advantage of this arbitrage, boosting flows of non-OPEC oil into China. The March edition of EIA’s monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) forecasts a 0.3 million b/d increase in China’s total liquid fuels demand in both 2017 and 2018.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices rise
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price increased over four cents from the previous week, to $2.36 per gallon on April 3, up 28 cents from the same time last year. The Midwest price rose 10 cents to $2.28 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price rose nearly four cents to $2.12 per gallon, the East Coast price rose nearly three cents to $2.30 per gallon, and the West Coast price increased less than one cent, remaining at $2.85 per gallon. The Rocky Mountain price fell less than one cent, remaining at $2.30 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased over two cents to $2.56 per gallon on April 3, 44 cents higher than a year ago. The Gulf Coast price increased nearly four cents to $2.41 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price rose nearly three cents to $2.62 per gallon, and the West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest prices each increased two cents to $2.84 per gallon, $2.61 per gallon, and $2.48 per gallon, respectively.
Propane inventories fall
U.S. propane stocks decreased by 1.2 million barrels last week to 41.6 million barrels as of March 31, 2017, 23.3 million barrels (35.9%) lower than a year ago. Gulf Coast and East Coast inventories decreased by 1.1 million barrels and 0.5 million barrels, respectively, while Midwest inventories increased by 0.4 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories rose slightly, remaining essentially unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.9% of total propane inventories.
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Refinery Report
The API gravity of crude oil input to U.S. refineries has generally increased, or gotten lighter, since 2011 because of changes in domestic production and imports. Regionally, refinery crude slates—or the mix of crude oil grades that a refinery is processing—have become lighter in the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and West Coast regions, and they have become slightly heavier in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions.
API gravity is measured as the inverse of the density of a petroleum liquid relative to water. The higher the API gravity, the lower the density of the petroleum liquid, so light oils have high API gravities. Crude oil with an API gravity greater than 38 degrees is generally considered light crude oil; crude oil with an API gravity of 22 degrees or below is considered heavy crude oil.
The crude slate processed in refineries situated along the Gulf Coast—the region with the most refining capacity in the United States—has had the largest increase in API gravity, increasing from an average of 30.0 degrees in 2011 to an average of 32.6 degrees in 2018. The West Coast had the heaviest crude slate in 2018 at 28.2 degrees, and the East Coast had the lightest of the three regions at 34.8 degrees.
Production of increasingly lighter crude oil in the United States has contributed to the overall lightening of the crude oil slate for U.S. refiners. The fastest-growing category of domestic production has been crude oil with an API gravity greater than 40 degrees, according to data in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production Report.
Since 2015, when EIA began collecting crude oil production data by API gravity, light crude oil production in the Lower 48 states has grown from an annual average of 4.6 million barrels per day (b/d) to 6.4 million b/d in the first seven months of 2019.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production Report
When setting crude oil slates, refiners consider logistical constraints and the cost of transportation, as well as their unique refinery configuration. For example, nearly all (more than 99% in 2018) crude oil imports to the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain regions come from Canada because of geographic proximity and existing pipeline and rail infrastructure between these regions.
Crude oil imports from Canada, which consist of mostly heavy crude oil, have increased by 67% since 2011 because of increased Canadian production. Crude oil imports from Canada have accounted for a greater share of refinery inputs in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions, leading to heavier refinery crude slates in these regions.
By comparison, crude oil production in Texas tends to be lighter: Texas accounted for half of crude oil production above 40 degrees API in the United States in 2018. The share of domestic crude oil in the Gulf Coast refinery crude oil slate increased from 36% in 2011 to 70% in 2018. As a result, the change in the average API gravity of crude oil processed in refineries in the Gulf Coast region was the largest increase among all regions in the United States during that period.
East Coast refineries have three ways to receive crude oil shipments, depending on which are more economical: by rail from the Midwest, by coastwise-compliant (Jones Act) tankers from the Gulf Coast, or by importing. From 2011 to 2018, the share of imported crude oil in the East Coast region decreased from 95% to 81% as the share of domestic crude oil inputs increased. Conversely, the share of imported crude oil at West Coast refineries increased from 46% in 2011 to 51% in 2018.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 7 October 2019 – Brent: US$58/b; WTI: US$52/b
Headlines of the week
In the October 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts lower crude oil prices in the fourth quarter of 2019 and in 2020 despite tighter global balances. The tighter balances are largely the result of unprecedented short-lived loss of global supply following the September 14 attacks on crude oil production and processing infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. The production declines contribute to overall stock draws in the second half of 2019 with a relatively large stock draw in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, however, EIA forecasts global supply growth will outpace global demand growth, resulting in an inventory build, offsetting some of the third quarter draws (Figure 1). EIA lowered its crude oil price forecast for the fourth quarter of 2019 by $1 per barrel (b) to $59/b, reflecting current price trends, and lowered its crude oil price forecast for 2020 by $2/b to average $60/b because of expected supply growth.
In the October STEO, EIA forecasts total global petroleum stocks in the second half of 2019 will decrease by an average of 290,000 barrels per day (b/d), compared with the September STEO forecast stock build of 250,000 b/d for the same period. EIA forecasts total world crude oil and other liquids production for the second half of 2019 to average 101.3 million b/d, down by 550,000 b/d from the September STEO. Most of the production decline is the result of lower output from Saudi Arabia, reducing the collective output of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to 34.8 million b/d for the second half of 2019.
In the October STEO, EIA assumed the Abqaiq facility and Khurais oil field would produce at their pre-attack levels by the end of October. Compared with the September STEO, EIA revised OPEC spare capacity, most of which is located in Saudi Arabia, lower by an average of 200,000 b/d in the second half of 2019. Saudi Arabia's total capacity (including spare capacity) declined following the Abqaiq attack, and EIA expects Saudi Arabia will use some of its remaining spare capacity to backfill inventories and lost production through the end of 2019. Beginning in January 2020, EIA forecasts that OPEC spare capacity will return above 2.0 million b/d.
Crude oil prices increased sharply following the attacks; Brent front-month futures prices rose by nearly 15% on Monday, September 16, the first day of post-attack trading. This increase was the largest one-day percentage increase on record for Brent front-month futures prices. The increase was larger in the front months of the futures strip than in the later months, indicating the market expected the outage to be relatively short lived, and prices fell quickly after the attack (Figure 2). Saudi Arabia continued to export crude oil by drawing from inventories, increasing production in other fields, and reducing domestic refinery inputs. Abqaiq's relatively quick return to operations likely lessened the extent and duration of the price increases. Brent front-month futures prices fell to lower than pre-attack levels on October 1, settling at $59/b for the December contract and have fallen slightly since then.
The relatively quick return to pre-attack price levels likely reflects demand-side concerns and increased down-side price risk. Despite tighter forecast global petroleum markets in the second half of 2019, EIA expects that the Brent crude oil price will average $60.63/b in the second half of 2019, nearly unchanged from the $60.68/b forecast in the September STEO. EIA forecasts that global petroleum inventories will increase by nearly 550,000 b/d in the first half of 2020, which is expected to put downward pressure on crude oil prices. EIA forecasts the price of Brent crude oil to average $57.34/b during the first half of 2020. However, EIA expects the price of Brent crude oil to increase to $62.48/b in the second half of 2020 as global petroleum stock builds slow and petroleum balances are relatively tighter than during the first half of the year.
The price forecast is highly uncertain and supply or demand factors may emerge that could move prices higher or lower than EIA's current STEO forecast. Driven by revisions to global economic outlook, EIA has revised its 2019 liquid fuels demand growth outlook lower in the STEO for the last nine consecutive months and 2020 consumption has been revised down eight of the last nine months. EIA's price forecast also accounts for a higher level of petroleum supply risk in the aftermath of the attacks in Saudi Arabia.
U.S. average regular gasoline prices increase slightly, diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose less than 1 cent from the previous week to $2.65 per gallon on October 7, 26 cents lower than the same time last year. The West Coast price rose by nearly 10 cents to $3.64 per gallon, and gasoline prices in California continued to rise, increasing by 14 cents to $4.09 per gallon, 55% higher than the national average and 39 cents higher than the same time last year. The Midwest price increased by more than 1 cent to $2.50 per gallon, and the Rocky Mountain price increased by less than 1 cent, remaining at $2.71 per gallon. The Gulf Coast price fell by more than 4 cents to $2.28 per gallon, and the East Coast price fell by 2 cents to $2.49 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell nearly 2 cents to $3.05 per gallon on October 7, 34 cents lower than a year ago. The East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell by more than 2 cents to $3.04 per gallon and $2.80 per gallon, respectively, the Midwest price fell by 2 cents $2.97 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price decreased 1 cent to $3.02 per gallon, and the West Coast price decreased by less than 1 cent to $3.64 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories increase
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 0.1 million barrels last week to 100.8 million barrels as of October 4, 2019, 11.9 million barrels (13.4%) greater than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories increased by 1.0 million barrels, and Midwest inventories rose slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. East Coast inventories decreased by 0.9 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast fell slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 4.4% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential Heating Fuel Price Survey Begins This Week
Beginning this week and continuing through the end of March 2020, prices for wholesale and residential heating oil and propane will be included in This Week in Petroleum and on EIA's Heating Oil and Propane Update webpage.
As of October 7, 2019, residential heating oil prices averaged nearly $2.95 per gallon, 41 cents per gallon lower than at the same time last year. The average wholesale heating oil price for the start of the 2019–20 heating season is $1.99 per gallon, over 48 cents per gallon below the October 8, 2018, price.
Residential propane prices entered the 2019–20 heating season averaging nearly $1.86 per gallon, 53 cents per gallon less than the October 8, 2018, price. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.58 per gallon, 43 cents per gallon lower than the same time last year.