· This edition of the Short-Term Energy Outlook is the first to include forecasts for 2019.
· Benchmark North Sea Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $64 per barrel (b) in December, an almost $2/b increase from the November average and the highest monthly average since November 2014.
· Brent crude oil prices averaged $54/b in 2017 and are forecast to average $60/b in 2018 and $61/b in 2019. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil spot prices are forecast to average $4/b less than Brent prices in both 2018 and 2019. EIA’s forecast for the average WTI price for December 2018 of $58/b should be considered in the context of NYMEX contract values for December 2018 delivery. NYMEX contract values traded during the five-day period ending January 4 suggest that a range of $40/b to $85/b encompasses the market expectation for WTI prices in December 2018 at the 95% confidence level.
· U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.48 per gallon (gal) in December, down almost 9 cents/gal from the average in November but 22 cents/gal higher than at the same time last year. U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.42/gal in 2017 and are forecast to average $2.57/gal in 2018 and $2.58/gal in 2019.
· U.S. crude oil production averaged an estimated 9.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2017 and is estimated to have averaged 9.9 million b/d in December. U.S. crude oil production is forecast to average 10.3 million b/d in 2018, which would mark the highest annual average production in U.S. history, surpassing the previous record of 9.6 million b/d set in 1970. EIA forecasts production to increase to an average of 10.8 million b/d in 2019 and to surpass 11 million b/d in November 2019.
· Dry natural gas production is forecast to average 80.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2018, a 6.9 Bcf/d increase from the 2017 level, which would be the highest year-over-year increase on record. Forecast dry natural gas production increases by an average of 2.6 Bcf/d in 2019.
· Henry Hub natural gas spot prices are forecast to average $2.88 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2018 and $2.92/MMBtu in 2019, compared with the 2017 average of $2.99/MMBtu. EIA’s forecast for the average Henry Hub price for December 2018 of $3.04/MMBtu should be considered in the context of NYMEX contract values for December 2018 delivery. NYMEX contract values traded during the five-day period ending January 4 suggest that a range of $1.83/MMBtu to $4.89/MMBtu encompasses the market expectation for Henry Hub prices in December 2018 at the 95% confidence level.
· Coal production increased by 45 million short tons (MMst) (6%) in 2017 in response to high demand for U.S. coal exports. Coal production is forecast to decline by 14 MMst (2%) in 2018 and by 18 MMst (2%) in 2019, as export demand is expected to slow and natural gas prices are expected to stay below $3/MMBtu during much of the forecast period, which contributes to less coal use for electricity generation.
· EIA expects the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas to rise from 32% in 2017 to 33% in 2018 and to 34% in 2019, as a result of low natural gas prices. Coal's forecast generation share falls from 30% in 2017 to slightly lower than 30% in 2018 and 28% in 2019. The nuclear share of generation was 20% in 2017 and is forecast to average 20% in 2018 and 19% in 2019. Nonhydropower renewables provided almost 10% of electricity generation in 2017, and its 2018 share is expected be similar before increasing to almost 11% in 2019. The generation share of hydropower was more than 7% in 2017 and is forecast to be slightly lower than 7% in both 2018 and 2019.
· After declining by 1.0% in 2017, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are forecast to increase by 1.7% in 2018 and by 0.2% in 2019. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, and energy prices.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 7 January 2019 – Brent: US$57/b; WTI: US$49/b
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At some point in 2019, crude production in Venezuela will dip below the 1 mmb/d level. It might already have occurred; estimated output was 1.15 mmb/d in November and the country’s downward trajectory for 2018 would put December numbers at about 1.06 mmb/d. Financial sanctions imposed on the country by the US, coupled with years of fiscal mismanagement have triggered an economic and humanitarian meltdown, where inflation has at times hit 1,400,000% and forced an abandonment of the ‘old’ bolivar for a ‘new bolivar’. PDVSA – once an oil industry crown jewel – has been hammered, from its cargoes being seized by ConocoPhillips for debts owed to the loss of the Curacao refinery and its prized Citgo refineries in the US.
The year 2019 will not see a repair of this chronic issue. Crude production in Venezuela will continue to slide. Once Latin America’s largest oil exporter – with peak production of 3.3 mmb/d and exports of 2.3 mmb/d in 1999 – it has now been eclipsed by Brazil and eventually tiny Guyana, where ExxonMobil has made massive discoveries. Even more pain is on the way, as the Trump administration prepares new sanctions as Nicolas Maduro begins his second term after a widely-derided election. But what is pain for Venezuela is gain for OPEC; the slack that its declining volumes provides makes it easier to maintain aggregate supply levels aimed at shoring up global oil prices.
It isn’t that Venezuela doesn’t want to increase – or at least maintain its production levels. It is that PDVSA isn’t capable of doing so alone, and has lost many deep-pocketed international ‘friends’ that were once instrumental to its success. The nationalisation of the oil industry in 2007 alienated supermajors like Chevron, Total and BP, and led to ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil suing the Venezuelan government. Arbitration in 2014 saw that amount reduced, but even that has not been paid; ConocoPhillips took the extraordinary step of seizing PDVSA cargoes at sea and its Caribbean assets in lieu of the US$2 billion arbitration award. Burnt by the legacies of Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro, these majors won’t be coming back – forcing Venezuela to turn to second-tier companies and foreign aid to extract more volumes. Last week, Venezuela signed an agreement with the newly-formed US-based Erepla Services to boost production at the Tia Juana, Rosa Mediano and Ayacucho 5 fields. In return, Erepla will receive half the oil produced – generous terms that still weren’t enough to entice service giants like Schlumberger and Halliburton.
Venezuela is also tapping into Russian, Chinese and Indian aid to boost output, essentially selling off key assets for necessary cash and expertise. This could be a temporary band-aid, but nothing more. Most of Venezuela’s oil reserves come from the extra-heavy reserves in the Orinoco Belt, where an estimated 1.2 trillion barrels lies. Extracting this will be extremely expensive and possibly commercially uneconomical – given the refining industry’s move away from heavy grades to middle distillates. There are also very few refineries in the world that can process such heavy crude, and Venezuela is in no position to make additional demands from them. In a world where PDVSA has fewer and fewer friends, recovery will be extremely tough and extremely far-off.
Infographic: Venezuelan crude production:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 31 December 2018 – Brent: US$54/b; WTI: US$46/b
Headlines of the week