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Global oil inventories are falling because of OPEC and non-OPEC production cuts but the road to market balance will be long.

Production cuts have removed approximately 1.8 million barrels per day (mmb/d) of liquids from the world market since November 2016 (Figure 1).

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Saudi Arabia has cut 619 kb/d (35% of total) and the Gulf States Cooperation Council—including Saudi Arabia—has cut 1,159 kb/d (65% of the total). Other significant contributors outside the GCC include Iraq (12%), Russia (12%) and Mexico (9%) (Table 1). Nigeria’s cuts are probably involuntary since it was exempted from the OPEC agreement. Iran and Libya–also exempted–and both increased production.

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Inventories and The Forward Curve

OECD inventories began falling in July 2016, four months before the OPEC production cuts were finalized. Stock levels have declined approximately 107 mmb according to recently revised EIA STEO data (Figure 2). That includes the January 2017 increase recently noted in the April IEA Oil Market Report.

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Although this represents progress toward market balance, stocks must fall at least another 260 mmb to reach the 5-year average level to support oil prices in the $70 per barrel range.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of OECD decline was from non-U.S. inventories. Perhaps the intent of OPEC’s November cuts was to stimulate a decrease in U.S. inventories (about 45% of the OECD total). U.S. stocks and comparative inventories were increasing at the time of the cuts and did not start to fall until February 2017 (Figure 3). Since mid-February, U.S. stocks and comparative inventory have each declined 20%.

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Still, U.S. inventories must fall another ~143 mmb to reach the 5-year average (Figure 4).

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The immediate results of the OPEC cuts were an increase in oil prices and an important change in the term structure of crude oil futures contracts. Before the cuts were announced, the term structure of the WTI oil futures curve was in contango (prices are higher in the near-future). That favored storing rather than selling oil and contributed to growing inventory levels (Figure 5).

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In early March 2017, however, oil prices fell as investors lost confidence that the cuts were working. Forward curves moved into weak backwardation (prices are lower in the near-future). Now, prices have increased with outages in Canada and Libya, and the forward curve has moved into stronger backwardation. That favors selling rather than storing crude oil and contributes to decreasing inventory levels.

Market Balance, Supply and Demand

The latest IEA  Oil Market Report stated, “It can be argued confidently that the market is already very close to balance.” What does that mean?

Market balance means that production and consumption are approximately equal. That is an important first step for a market in which production has exceeded consumption for most of the last 3 years but it hardly means that $70 oil prices are around the corner.

Market balance must be expanded to be useful:  production is not the same as supply, and consumption is not the same as demand. Supply is production plus inventory. Demand is the quantity of oil the market is willing to buy at a certain price–it may be either more or less than production.

Oil prices collapsed in 2014 because demand wasn’t great enough at $100 per barrel to absorb the output from the 2010-2014 production bubble. Prices collapsed to $30 per barrel before a transformed market began a weak and uneven recovery, and production surpluses began to decrease slowly (Figure 6).

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Demand did not increase enough until July 2016 to require critical supply withdrawals from inventory–a small subset of total supply. U.S. inventories did not begin to decline until after the OPEC cuts took effect in February 2017.

In the real world, the 5-year average inventory level represents a dynamic proxy for market balance. Comparative inventory is the measure of how far the present market must rise or fall to reach that level. IEA data indicates that inventories are 330 mmb above the 5-year average although revised EIA data suggests that levels are closer to 260 mmb higher than that important benchmark. In either case, it will take 6 months to a year to approach the 5-year average.

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January, 17 2019
EIA forecasts world crude oil prices to rise gradually, averaging $65 per barrel in 2020

monthly Brent and WTI crude prices

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January 2019

EIA’s January Short-Term Energy Outlook forecasts that world benchmark Brent crude oil will average $61 per barrel (b) in 2019 and $65/b in 2020, an increase from the end of 2018, but overall it will remain lower than the 2018 average of $71/b. U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices were $8/b lower than Brent prices in December 2018, and EIA expects this difference to narrow to $4/b in the fourth quarter of 2019 and throughout 2020.

EIA expects U.S. regular retail gasoline prices to follow changes to the cost of crude oil, dipping from an average of $2.73/gallon in 2018 to $2.47/gallon in 2019, before rising to $2.62/gallon in 2020. Because each barrel of crude oil holds 42 gallons, a $1-per-barrel change in the price of crude oil generally translates to about a 2.4-cent-per-gallon change in the price of petroleum products such as gasoline, all else being equal.

EIA estimates that global petroleum and other liquid fuels inventories grew by an average rate of 0.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018 and by an estimated 1.0 million b/d in the fourth quarter of 2018. EIA expects growth in liquid fuels production in the United States and in other countries not part of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will contribute to global oil inventory growth rates of 0.2 million b/d in 2019 and 0.4 million b/d in 2020.

Although EIA forecasts that oil prices will remain lower than during most of 2018, the forecast includes some increase in prices from December 2018 levels in early 2019 in order to keep up with demand growth and support the increased need for global oil inventories to maintain five-year average levels of demand cover. EIA expects crude oil prices to continue to increase in late 2019 and early 2020 because of an increase in refinery demand for light-sweet crude oil, which is the result of regulations from the International Maritime Organization that will limit the sulfur content in marine fuels used by ocean-going vessels.

world liquid fuels production and consumption balances

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January 2019

EIA expects global oil production growth in 2019 to be led by countries that are not part of OPEC, particularly the United States. EIA expects non-OPEC producers will increase oil supply by 2.4 million b/d in 2019 which will offset forecast supply declines from OPEC members, resulting in an average of 1.4 million b/d in total global supply growth in 2019.

In 2020, EIA expects oil production to increase by 1.7 million b/d because of production growth in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Russia, while overall OPEC crude oil production is expected to remain flat. EIA forecasts global oil demand to grow by 1.5 million b/d in 2019 and in 2020. In both 2019 and 2020, China is the leading contributor to global oil demand growth.

January, 17 2019
Your Weekly Update: 7 - 11 January 2019

Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 7 January 2019 – Brent: US$57/b; WTI: US$49/b

  • Crude oil looks set to climb back to previous support levels as OPEC’s new supply deal kicks in and the US Federal Reserve sought to soothe investor confidence after initiating a surprise hike in interest rates that caused widespread global financial panic in December
  • Even as OPEC+ moves forwards with a planned 1.2 mmb/d cut in collective output, production across OPEC had already fallen over November and December as Saudi Arabia throttled production to support falling prices
  • Together with dwindling production in Venezuela, disruptions in Libya and losses in Iran, oil output from OPEC countries has already fallen by 530,000 b/d in December to 32.6 mmb/d, the sharpest pullback since January 2017
  • This has managed to re-assure the market that the global supply/demand balance is on firmer footing, even as Russian oil output reached a post-Soviet high of 11.16 mmb/d, just slightly off the all-time record of 11.42 mmb/d in 1987
  • With the recovery in prices, planned upstream projects will be back on firmer footing, with Rystad Energy expecting some US$123 billion of offshore projects to be sanctioned over 2019 if Brent crude averages US$60/b
  • Also supporting the upward momentum is the removal of 8 oil rigs from the active US rig count, as American drillers weighed up the risks of the fragile trajectory in WTI prices
  • Crude price outlook: Momentum is with crude oil prices this week, and we expect that to continue as OPEC+ implements its production plan, with Brent recovering to US$60-62/b and WTI to US$51-53/b


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Eni has acquired the remaining 70% of the Oooguruk field in Alaska from Caelus Natural Resources, bringing its stake to 100% to synergise with the nearby Nikaitchuq field, where Eni also owns a 100% interest interest
  • The deepwater Egina field in Nigeria, operated by Total through an FPSO, has started up production, with peak output expected at 200,000 b/d
  • Commercial production of crude at PAO Novatek/Gazprom’s Yaro-Yakhinskoye field has commenced, with output expected at 24,000 b/d
  • Total has sold a 2% interest in Oman’s Block 53 to Sweden’s Tethys Oil, bringing it into Occidental Petroleum’s 100,000 b/d Mukhaizna field
  • Brazil is preparing for its sixth round of upstream auctions, offering up pre-salt acreage in five areas expected to raise more than US$2 billion in sales
  • After recently making its 10th discovery in Guyana, ExxonMobil has its sights set on more as it drills two more exploration wells – Haimara-1 and Tilapia-1 – in the prolific Stabroek block, both close to existing discoveries
  • Ecuador is initiating a probe into some US$4.9 billion worth of oil-related infrastructure projects initiated by the previous administration on charges of corruption and looting

Downstream

  • China appears to be tempering crude demand, with the first batch of crude oil import quotas issued to state and private refineries at 26% lower than 2018, with quotas for teapots at some 78% of the 89.84 million tons approved
  • Saudi Aramco has acquired complete ownership of German specialty chemicals producers Lanxess AG by acquisition Dutch firm Arlanxeo’s 50% stake at €1.5 billion, strengthening its foray into petrochemicals
  • Iran will be investing some US$212 million into Chennai Petroleum’s 180 kb/d expansion of the Nagapatinam refinery on India’s east coast, as Iran looks for ways to ensure captive demand for its crude in one of its largest markets
  • The Mariner East 2 NGLs pipeline – transporting ethane, propane and butane over 560km to the Marcus Hook processing plant in Pennsylvania – has been completed, with the Mariner East 2X pipeline schedules for late 2019

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Shell’s 3.6 mtpa Prelude FLNG has finally started up initial production, the last of Australia’s giant natural gas projects to be completed
  • Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) has completed the onshore Darat Gas Project in Lumut, expanding LNG capacity in Brunei by 5% at the Rasau station
  • ExxonMobil’s Rovuma LNG project in Mozambique will be aiming to sanction FID in 2019 for its first phase, involving two trains with a combined capacity of 7.6 million tpa from the offshore Area 4 block
  • As LNG developments in Papua New Guinea move quickly to commercialisation, the PNG government has passed new laws to impose a domestic gas requirement and other provisions for new gas projects, to ensure adequate supply of resources for growing local demand
January, 11 2019