China is now the world's largest crude oil importer
China surpassed the United States in annual gross crude oil imports in 2017 by importing 8.4 million barrels per day (b/d) compared with 7.9 million b/d of U.S. crude oil imports (Figure 1). China had become the world's largest net importer (imports less exports) of total petroleum and other liquid fuels in 2013. New refinery capacity and strategic inventory stockpiling combined with declining domestic production were the major factors contributing to the recent increase in Chinese crude oil imports.
In 2017, an average of 56% of China's crude oil imports came from countries within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The share of Chinese crude oil imports from OPEC countries declined from a peak of 67% in 2012, while Russia and Brazil increased their market share of Chinese imports more than any other country, from 9% to 14% and from 2% to 5%, respectively (Figure 2). Imports from Russia, which passed Saudi Arabia as China's largest source of foreign crude oil in 2016, totaled 1.2 million b/d in 2017, while Saudi Arabia accounted for 1.0 million b/d. OPEC countries and some non-OPEC countries, including Russia, agreed to reduce crude oil production through the end of 2018, which may have allowed other countries to increase their market share in China in 2017.
Several factors are driving the increase in Chinese crude oil imports. China had the largest decline in domestic petroleum and other liquids production among non-OPEC countries in 2016 and EIA estimates it will have had the second-largest decline in 2017. EIA estimates that total liquids production in China averaged 4.8 million b/d in 2017, a year-over-year decline of 0.1 million b/d (2%), and expects the decline to continue through 2019, according to EIA's January 2018 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO).
In contrast to declining domestic production, EIA estimates that Chinese growth in consumption of petroleum and other liquid fuels in 2017 was the world's largest for the ninth consecutive year, growing 0.4 million b/d (3%) to 13.2 million b/d. Crude oil import growth has been larger than consumption growth because of inventory building for strategic petroleum reserves. In addition, China has reformed its refining sector through liberalizing import and export restrictions. Since mid-2015, China granted crude oil import licenses to independent refineries in northeast China, which have since increased refinery utilization and crude oil imports.
Another factor contributing to increased Chinese crude oil imports is higher refinery runs, which increased by an estimated 0.5 million b/d in 2017 to 11.4 million b/d, driven in part by two refinery expansions in the second half of the year. A 260,000 b/d refinery in Anning in Yunnan province started operating in the third quarter of 2017. This refinery had been delayed several times because of tariff disputes with Myanmar, where crude oil primarily from Saudi Arabia first lands and is then piped to the Anning refinery. In Guangdong province, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) expanded capacity of its Huizhou refinery by 200,000 b/d, increasing its imports from various sources in the third and fourth quarters of 2017 (Figure 3).
Infrastructure expansions will likely contribute to further increases in Chinese crude oil imports. In January 2018, China and Russia began operating an expansion of the East-Siberia Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline, doubling its delivery capacity to approximately 0.6 million b/d (Map – China Import Locations). According to trade press reports, as much as 1.4 million b/d of new refinery capacity is planned to open in China by the end of 2019. Given China's expected decline in domestic crude oil production, imports will likely continue to increase during the next two years.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices increase
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose 4 cents from the previous week to $2.61 per gallon on January 29, 2018, up 31 cents from the same time last year. West Coast prices increased over six cents to $3.09 per gallon, Midwest prices rose four cents to $2.51 per gallon, Gulf Coast prices increased nearly four cents to $2.35 per gallon, East Coast prices increased three cents to $2.59 per gallon, and Rocky Mountain prices increased one cent to $2.48 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose nearly 5 cents to $3.07 per gallon on January 29, 2018, 51 cents higher than a year ago. Midwest prices increased by six cents to $3.03 per gallon, Gulf Coast prices increased over five cents to $2.87 per gallon, West Coast prices rose nearly four cents to $3.43 per gallon, East Coast prices increased over three cents to $3.11 per gallon, and Rocky Mountain prices rose one cent to $2.97 per gallon.
Heating oil prices increase, propane prices decrease
As of January 29, 2018, residential heating oil prices averaged $3.22 per gallon, 1 cent per gallon higher than last week and 59 cents per gallon higher than last year's price at this time. The average wholesale heating oil price for this week averaged $2.27 per gallon, almost 7 cents per gallon higher than last week and 58 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged nearly $2.60 per gallon, 1 cent per gallon less than last week but 20 cents per gallon higher than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged $1.17 per gallon, 11 cents per gallon less than last week but almost 23 cents per gallon higher than last year's price.
Propane inventories decline
U.S. propane stocks decreased by 0.9 million barrels last week to 53.1 million barrels as of January 26, 2018, 7.9 million barrels (12.9%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Midwest, Gulf Coast, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.8 million barrels, 0.2 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively, while East Coast inventories increased by 0.2 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.5% of total propane inventories.
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In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.
Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.
Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.
This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.
But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.
In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.
But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.
Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.
Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.
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