The United States continues trend toward exporting more gasoline than it imports
Despite record high gasoline consumption, the United States is on pace to export more gasoline than it imports for the second year in a row. Changes in regional markets, increased demand for exports, and high refinery runs are once again leading to the United States to be a net exporter in 2017.
In 2016, the United States became a net exporter of gasoline for the first time on an annual basis with net gasoline exports of 56,000 barrels per day (b/d). Through September 2017 (the most recently available monthly data), the United States averaged net gasoline exports of 55,000 b/d. The shift toward net exports of gasoline on an annual basis has been a long-running trend.
U.S. gasoline imports and exports are highly seasonal. The United States has typically been a net importer of gasoline in spring and summer months, when domestic consumption increases, and a net exporter in winter months, when demand is lower. However, for every month between April and August 2017, the United States set either record low net imports or record high net exports (Figure 1). Almost year-round net gasoline exports is a major change for U.S. gasoline markets, which is the result of one long-term trend and two more recent trends.
Changes in trends of gasoline production and consumption in the Midwest United States, in part, have driven this trend. Historically, the U.S. Gulf Coast (Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 3) supplied refined products to other regions of the United States where demand exceeded supply, such as the Midwest (PADD 2) and the U.S. East Coast (PADD 1). While the East Coast still relies on supplies from the Gulf Coast and still remains a large net importer of gasoline—619,000 b/d in 2016, the Midwest has reduced its need to draw supplies from the Gulf Coast in recent years. Midwest refineries now are running at higher rates and increased capacity, resulting in more Midwest gasoline demand being met from in-region production. Between 2006 and 2016, Midwest receipts of gasoline from the Gulf Coast declined by 278,000 b/d to 273,000 b/d.
Because of logistical and economic constraints on sending increasing gasoline supplies from the Gulf Coast to other regions, the volumes of gasoline no longer demanded by the Midwest have become available for export. With the Rocky Mountain (PADD 4) and U.S. West Coast (PADD 5) relying largely on in-region or domestic supplies, the balance of U.S. net gasoline imports or exports is between East Coast imports and Gulf Coast exports. Between 2013 and 2016, Gulf Coast gasoline exports increased by 236,000 b/d (54%), while East Coast imports increased by 41,000 b/d (7%), resulting in a shift for the United States as a whole.
Available Gulf Coast gasoline supplies come at a time when both domestic and nearby fuel markets are experiencing increasing demand for multiple petroleum products, including gasoline. A majority of the growth in U.S. gasoline exports has been to markets in Mexico and Central and South America. In the first half of 2017, Mexico accounted for 53% of the 755,000 b/d of U.S. total motor gasoline exports. Low utilization of Mexican refineries and the ongoing market reforms of Mexico’s retail fuel distribution have resulted in continued increased demand for gasoline supplies from the U.S. Gulf Coast.
At the same time, U.S. domestic gasoline consumption has been increasing to record levels. U.S. gasoline consumption, as measured by product supplied, set a new monthly record high of 9.8 million b/d in August 2017. To meet the combined record domestic gasoline demand and the increased export demand for multiple petroleum products—including gasoline—U.S. refineries have been running at increasingly higher rates. U.S. gross refinery inputs set a record high of 17.8 million b/d for the week ending August 25 and have been higher than the five-year range for a majority of 2017 (Figure 3).
If the trends of increasing demand from export markets and U.S. refineries producing near record levels of gasoline continues, the United States is likely to become a monthly net exporter of gasoline more consistently.
U.S. average regular gasoline prices fall, diesel prices increase
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 4 cents from the previous week to $2.53 per gallon on November 27, up 38 cents from the same time last year. The Midwest price fell eight cents to $2.42 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell over two cents to $2.26 per gallon, the East Coast and West Coast prices each fell nearly two cents to $2.51 per gallon and $3.04 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell less than one cent, remaining at $2.54 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased over 1 cent to $2.93 per gallon on November 27, 51 cents higher than a year ago. The Rocky Mountain and Gulf Coast prices each increased over two cents to $3.03 per gallon and $2.71 per gallon, respectively, the East Coast and Midwest prices each increased one cent to $2.91 per gallon and $2.88 per gallon, respectively, and the West Coast price increased less than one cent, remaining at $3.38 per gallon.
Propane inventories decline
U.S. propane stocks decreased by 0.6 million barrels last week to 73.2 million barrels as of November 24, 2017, 10.4 million barrels (12.5%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Gulf Coast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.5 million barrels, 0.3 million barrels, and 0.2 million barrels, respectively, while East Coast inventories rose by 0.5 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 3.5% of total propane inventories.
Residential heating oil and propane prices continue to increase
As of November 27, 2017, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.85 per gallon, over 2 cents per gallon more than last week and almost 45 cents per gallon higher than last year’s price at this time. The average wholesale heating oil price for this week is just under $2.04 per gallon, nearly 1 cent per gallon less than last week but 45 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged $2.43 per gallon, almost 2 cents per gallon more than last week and nearly 36 cents per gallon higher than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged $1.12 per gallon, unchanged from last week but 48 cents per gallon higher than last year's price.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 18 March 2019 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$58/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Risk and reward – improving recovery rates versus exploration
A giant oil supply gap looms. If, as we expect, oil demand peaks at 110 million b/d in 2036, the inexorable decline of fields in production or under development today creates a yawning gap of 50 million b/d by the end of that decade.
How to fill it? It’s the preoccupation of the E&P sector. Harry Paton, Senior Analyst, Global Oil Supply, identifies the contribution from each of the traditional four sources.
1. Reserve growth
An additional 12 million b/d, or 24%, will come from fields already in production or under development. These additional reserves are typically the lowest risk and among the lowest cost, readily tied-in to export infrastructure already in place. Around 90% of these future volumes break even below US$60 per barrel.
2. pre-drill tight oil inventory and conventional pre-FID projects
They will bring another 12 million b/d to the party. That’s up on last year by 1.5 million b/d, reflecting the industry’s success in beefing up the hopper. Nearly all the increase is from the Permian Basin. Tight oil plays in North America now account for over two-thirds of the pre-FID cost curve, though extraction costs increase over time. Conventional oil plays are a smaller part of the pre-FID wedge at 4 million b/d. Brazil deep water is amongst the lowest cost resource anywhere, with breakevens eclipsing the best tight oil plays. Certain mature areas like the North Sea have succeeded in getting lower down the cost curve although volumes are small. Guyana, an emerging low-cost producer, shows how new conventional basins can change the curve.
3. Contingent resource
These existing discoveries could deliver 11 million b/d, or 22%, of future supply. This cohort forms the next generation of pre-FID developments, but each must overcome challenges to achieve commerciality.
Last, but not least, yet-to-find. We calculate new discoveries bring in 16 million b/d, the biggest share and almost one-third of future supply. The number is based on empirical analysis of past discovery rates, future assumptions for exploration spend and prospectivity.
Can yet-to-find deliver this much oil at reasonable cost? It looks more realistic today than in the recent past. Liquids reserves discovered that are potentially commercial was around 5 billion barrels in 2017 and again in 2018, close to the late 2030s ‘ask’. Moreover, exploration is creating value again, and we have argued consistently that more companies should be doing it.
But at the same time, it’s the high-risk option, and usually last in the merit order – exploration is the final top-up to meet demand. There’s a danger that new discoveries – higher cost ones at least – are squeezed out if demand’s not there or new, lower-cost supplies emerge. Tight oil’s rapid growth has disrupted the commercialisation of conventional discoveries this decade and is re-shaping future resource capture strategies.
To sustain portfolios, many companies have shifted away from exclusively relying on exploration to emphasising lower risk opportunities. These mostly revolve around commercialising existing reserves on the books, whether improving recovery rates from fields currently in production (reserves growth) or undeveloped discoveries (contingent resource).
Emerging technology may pose a greater threat to exploration in the future. Evolving technology has always played a central role in boosting expected reserves from known fields. What’s different in 2019 is that the industry is on the cusp of what might be a technological revolution. Advanced seismic imaging, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the cloud and supercomputing will shine a light into sub-surface’s dark corners.
Combining these and other new applications to enhance recovery beyond tried-and-tested means could unlock more reserves from existing discoveries – and more quickly than we assume. Equinor is now aspiring to 60% from its operated fields in Norway. Volume-wise, most upside may be in the giant, older, onshore accumulations with low recovery factors (think ExxonMobil and Chevron’s latest Permian upgrades). In contrast, 21st century deepwater projects tend to start with high recovery factors.
If global recovery rates could be increased by a percentage or two from the average of around 30%, reserves growth might contribute another 5 to 6 million b/d in the 2030s. It’s just a scenario, and perhaps makes sweeping assumptions. But it’s one that should keep conventional explorers disciplined and focused only on the best new prospects.
Global oil supply through 2040
Things just keep getting more dire for Venezuela’s PDVSA – once a crown jewel among state energy firms, and now buried under debt and a government in crisis. With new American sanctions weighing down on its operations, PDVSA is buckling. For now, with the support of Russia, China and India, Venezuelan crude keeps flowing. But a ghost from the past has now come back to haunt it.
In 2007, Venezuela embarked on a resource nationalisation programme under then-President Hugo Chavez. It was the largest example of an oil nationalisation drive since Iraq in 1972 or when the government of Saudi Arabia bought out its American partners in ARAMCO back in 1980. The edict then was to have all foreign firms restructure their holdings in Venezuela to favour PDVSA with a majority. Total, Chevron, Statoil (now Equinor) and BP agreed; ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips refused. Compensation was paid to ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, which was considered paltry. So the two American firms took PDVSA to international arbitration, seeking what they considered ‘just value’ for their erstwhile assets. In 2012, ExxonMobil was awarded some US$260 million in two arbitration awards. The dispute with ConocoPhillips took far longer.
In April 2018, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favour of ConocoPhillips, granting US$2.1 billion in recovery payments. Hemming and hawing on PDVSA’s part forced ConocoPhillips’ hand, and it began to seize control of terminals and cargo ships in the Caribbean operated by PDVSA or its American subsidiary Citgo. A tense standoff – where PDVSA’s carriers were ordered to return to national waters immediately – was resolved when PDVSA reached a payment agreement in August. As part of the deal, ConocoPhillips agreed to suspend any future disputes over the matter with PDVSA.
The key word being ‘future’. ConocoPhillips has an existing contractual arbitration – also at the ICC – relating to the separate Corocoro project. That decision is also expected to go towards the American firm. But more troubling is that a third dispute has just been settled by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunal in favour of ConocoPhillips. This action was brought against the government of Venezuela for initiating the nationalisation process, and the ‘unlawful expropriation’ would require a US$8.7 billion payment. Though the action was brought against the government, its coffers are almost entirely stocked by sales of PDVSA crude, essentially placing further burden on an already beleaguered company. A similar action brought about by ExxonMobil resulted in a US$1.4 billion payout; however, that was overturned at the World Bank in 2017.
But it might not end there. The danger (at least on PDVSA’s part) is that these decisions will open up floodgates for any creditors seeking damages against Venezuela. And there are quite a few, including several smaller oil firms and players such as gold miner Crystallex, who is owed US$1.2 billion after the gold industry was nationalised in 2011. If the situation snowballs, there is a very tempting target for creditors to seize – Citgo, PDVSA’s crown jewel that operates downstream in the USA, which remains profitable. And that would be an even bigger disaster for PDVSA, even by current standards.
Infographic: Venezuela oil nationalisation dispute timeline