In its January 2018 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that total fossil fuels production in the United States will average almost 73 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2018, the highest level of production on record. EIA expects total fossil fuel production to then set another record in 2019, with production forecast to rise to 75 quadrillion Btu.
Fossil fuels include dry natural gas, crude oil, coal, and hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL). Although EIA tends to express fossil fuel production in physical units, such as cubic feet for natural gas, barrels for oil, and tons for coal, expressing production in heat content allows for comparisons across fuel types.
Record production levels are largely attributable to increased production of natural gas and crude oil enabled by the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques in tight rock formations. EIA expects increases in natural gas production to be the leading contributor to overall fossil fuels production growth in 2018 and increases in crude oil production growth to the be leading contributor in 2019. In both years, expected growth in natural gas, crude oil, and HGL production more than offset expected declines in coal production.
On a heat-content basis, dry natural gas accounted for the largest share of fossil fuel production in 2017 at 41%. Crude oil accounted for 29%, coal for 23%, and HGL for the remaining 7% of the total. As recently as 2010, coal was the leading source of U.S. fossil fuel production, but it was surpassed by dry natural gas in 2011 and by crude oil in 2015.
In 2018, EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will average 80.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), an increase of 9% from 2017 levels. If achieved, this level of production would be the highest annual average on record, surpassing the previous record of 74.2 Bcf/d set in 2015. EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will set another record with 83.0 Bcf/d in 2019. Growth is likely to be concentrated in Appalachia’s Marcellus and Utica shales along with the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico.
EIA expects total U.S. crude oil production to average 10.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018, up 10% from 2017. If achieved, this would be the highest annual average U.S. oil production on record, surpassing the previous record of 9.6 million b/d set in 1970. In 2019, EIA expects crude oil production to continue to increase, reaching an average of 10.8 million b/d.
Increased production from the Permian region in Texas and New Mexico accounts for most of the projected increase in the U.S. total. EIA also expects a significant contribution to crude oil production growth from the Federal Gulf of Mexico, as seven new oil-producing projects are slated to come online by the end of 2019.
EIA forecasts coal production will total 759 million short tons (MMst) in 2018, down 2% from 2017. Coal production is expected to fall to 741 MMst in 2019, a further 2% decline from 2018. In both years, EIA expects production declines in the Appalachia and Western producing regions to be partially offset by production increases in the Interior producing region.
U.S. coal consumption also is projected to fall the next two years. About 90% of domestic coal consumption occurs in the electric power sector, and EIA expects relatively low natural gas prices to reduce demand for coal used to produce electricity. EIA expects demand for U.S. coal exports to fall in 2018 and 2019 after a slight increase in 2017.
Growth in crude oil production, especially in the Permian Basin, is projected to result in increased associated natural gas production and to contribute to growing HGL production at natural gas processing plants. EIA forecasts HGL production will average 4.2 million b/d in 2018 and 4.6 million b/d in 2019.
Principal contributor: Tim Hess
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On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.
But why this and why now?
There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.
There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.
As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.
The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.
So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.
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