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Last Updated: February 23, 2018
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EIA’s recently released Annual Energy Outlook 2018 (AEO2018) Reference case projects that U.S. tight oil production will generally increase through the early 2040s, when it will surpass 8.2 million barrels per day (b/d) and account for nearly 70% of total U.S. production. Tight oil production made up 54% of the U.S total in 2017. Development of tight oil resources is more sensitive than nontight oil to different assumptions of future crude oil prices, drilling technology, and resource availability, but tight oil remains the largest source of U.S. crude oil production in all of the AEO2018 sensitivity cases.

U.S. crude oil production in AEO2018 reference case, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2018

Recent growth in U.S. crude oil production has been driven by the development of tight oil resources, primarily in the Permian Basin. Three major tight oil plays in the Permian Basin—the Spraberry, Bone Spring, and Wolfcamp—accounted for 36% of U.S. tight oil production in 2017. Production from these three plays is projected to increase and to account for 43% of cumulative tight oil production through 2050 in the Reference case. The Bakken and Eagle Ford formations remain major contributors to U.S. tight oil supply through 2050, accounting for 20% and 17% of cumulative tight oil production in the Reference case, respectively.

In the AEO2018 Reference case, tight oil production increases to 8.2 million b/d in the early 2040s and then remains relatively constant through 2050 as development moves into less productive areas. As a result, total U.S. oil production is expected to increase over the next 20 years, from 9.3 million b/d in 2017 to nearly 12 million b/d in the early 2040s, and then decrease slightly through 2050.

However, future growth potential of domestic tight oil production depends on the quality of resources, technology and operational improvements that increase productivity and reduce costs, and market prices—factors with futures that are both interconnected and uncertain. AEO2018 includes several sensitivity cases that incorporate different assumptions regarding price, technology, and resource recoverability.

U.S. crude oil production in threee AEO2018 cases, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2018

The High Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case uses more optimistic technology and resource assumptions than in the Reference case under the same base world oil price assumptions. In this case, tight oil production increases throughout the projection period, reaching 14.6 million b/d by 2050, or 77% of total U.S. production, as higher productivity reduces development and production costs.

In the Low Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case, which uses more pessimistic technology and resource assumptions under the same base world oil price assumptions, tight oil production still increases from its current level, reaching 5.6 million b/d in 2021, and then decreases to 4.4 million b/d by 2050. Total U.S. oil production in 2050 in this case reaches 7.2 million b/d, which is well below the Reference case level of 11.3 million b/d.

U.S. crude oil production in threee AEO2018 cases, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2018

Oil production is also sensitive to prices. The AEO2018 contains two cases that assume higher and lower oil prices under the same resource and technology assumptions as in the Reference case. In the High Oil Price case, where West Texas Intermediate (WTI) spot prices rise rapidly and are sustained at higher levels, domestic crude oil production increases to nearly 15.0 million b/d by 2030, before declining to 12.2 million b/d in 2050. In this case, tight oil production reaches more than 10.0 million b/d in 2025 (double the 2017 rate of 5.0 million b/d) as higher prices increase the pace of drilling. Tight oil production then declines to 8.4 million b/d in 2050 as drilling moves to less productive areas.

In the Low Oil Price case, sustained low oil prices still allow total domestic production to increase from 9.3 million b/d in 2017 to 9.7 million b/d in 2021 before gradually declining through the rest of the projection. Tight oil production is relatively flat through 2050, averaging near 5.0 million b/d, and accounts for 64% of total domestic oil production in 2050.

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U.S. refineries running at near-record highs

U.S. gross refinery inputs

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Petroleum Status Report

For the week ending July 6, 2018, the four-week average of U.S. gross refinery inputs surpassed 18 million barrels per day (b/d) for the first time on record. U.S. refineries are running at record levels in response to robust domestic and international demand for motor gasoline and distillate fuel oil.

Before the most recent increases in refinery runs, the last time the four-week average of U.S. gross refinery inputs approached 18 million b/d was the week of August 25, 2017. Hurricane Harvey made landfall the following week, resulting in widespread refinery closures and shutdowns along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Despite record-high inputs, refinery utilization as a percentage of capacity has not surpassed the record set in 1998. Rather than higher utilization, refinery runs have increased with increased refinery capacity. U.S. refinery capacity increased by 862,000 barrels per calendar day (b/cd) between January 1, 2011, and January 1, 2018.

The record-high U.S. input levels are driven in large part by refinery operations in the Gulf Coast and Midwest regions, the Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADDs) with the most refinery capacity in the country. The Gulf Coast (PADD 3) has more than half of all U.S. refinery capacity and reached a new record input level the same week as the record-high overall U.S. capacity, with four-week average gross refinery inputs of 9.5 million b/d for the week ending July 6. The Midwest (PADD 2) has the second-highest refinery capacity, and the four-week average gross refinery inputs reached a record-high 4.1 million b/d for the week ending June 1.

Gulf Coast and Midwest gross refinery inputs


U.S. refineries are responding currently to high demand for petroleum products, specifically motor gasoline and distillate. The four-week average of finished motor gasoline product supplied—EIA’s proxy measure of U.S. consumption—typically hits the highest level of the year in August. Weekly data for this summer to date suggest that this year’s peak in finished motor gasoline product supplied is likely to match that of 2016 and 2017, the two highest years on record, at 9.8 million b/d. The four-week average of finished motor gasoline product supplied for the week ending August 3, 2018, was at 9.7 million b/d.

U.S. distillate consumption, again measured as product supplied, is also relatively high, averaging 4.0 million b/d for the past four weeks, 64,000 b/d lower than the five-year average level for this time of year. In addition to relatively strong domestic distillate consumption, U.S. exports of distillate have continued to increase, reaching a four-week average of 1.2 million b/d as of August 3, 2018. For the week ending August 3, 2018, the four-week average of U.S. distillate product supplied plus exports reached 5.2 million b/d.

In its August Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. refinery runs will average 16.9 million b/d and 17.0 million b/d in 2018 and 2019, respectively. If achieved, both would be new record highs, surpassing the 2017 annual average of 16.6 million b/d.

August, 14 2018
Offshore discoveries in the Mediterranean could increase Egypt’s natural gas production


Egypt natural gas fields and select infrastructure

Natural gas production in Egypt has been in decline, falling from a 2009 peak of 5.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) to 3.9 Bcf/d in 2016, based on estimates in BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy. The startup of a number of natural gas development projects located offshore in the eastern Mediterranean Sea near Egypt’s northern coast has significantly altered the outlook for the region’s natural gas markets. Production from these projects could offset the growing need for natural gas imports to meet domestic demand, according to the Egyptian government.

The West Nile Delta, Nooros, Atoll, and Zohr fields were fast-tracked for development by the Egyptian government and have begun production, providing a substantial increase to Egypt’s natural gas supply. The Zohr field’s estimated recoverable natural gas reserves of up to 22 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) would make it the largest natural gas field in the Mediterranean, based on company reports gathered by IHS Markit. The Zohr field is currently producing 1.1 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day and is expected to increase to 2.7 Bcf per day by the end of 2019.

Natural gas production in Egypt has declined largely as a result of relatively low investment, according to Business Monitor International research. Meanwhile, domestic demand for energy has grown, driven by economic growth, increased natural gas use for power generation, and energy subsidies. With the exception of small declines in 2013 and 2014, natural gas consumption has increased every year since at least 1990, and it is up 19% from 2009, when domestic production peaked.

Faced with growing demand and declining supply, Egypt had to close its liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to divert supply to domestic consumption. Egypt became a net natural gas importer in 2015, and although LNG exports resumed in 2016, Egypt’s net imports of natural gas continued to increase.

Egypt dry natural gas production, consumption, and trade

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy

The Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) indicated that Egypt will still need to import small volumes of natural gas in the coming years, particularly for the power sector. MEES reported that the state-owned Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (EEHC) awarded contracts that would add 25 gigawatts (GW) to total generation capacity, 70% of which would come from natural gas-fired projects. Three combined-cycle natural gas turbine power plants with a total capacity of 14.4 GW will collectively require as much as 2.0 Bcf/d of natural gas when they become fully operational in 2020.

August, 15 2018
US Energy Exports Spared the Wrath of the Middle Kingdom

A threat. And then a backing off. As the trade war between the US and China escalates, both countries are moving into politically sensitive areas as they ratchet up the scale of the standoff. When the US first introduced tariffs earlier this year, they were limited to washing machines and solar panels. Then as President Trump moved into a broader range of goods, China responded with tariffs that were designed to maximise impact on Trump’s voter base. That meant the agriculture heartlands of the US in the Midwest where soybeans are grown and shipped in record numbers to China last year to feed its massive demand for animal feed and edible oils. Last week, the US imposed tariffs on an additional US$16 billion worth of Chinese imports, targeting technological sectors, and of course, China replied. The list included for the first time US crude exports, demonstrating China’s willingness to hit one of America’s most vibrant industries. And then, a few days later, it backed down, removing crude oil from the list. 

What happened?

Chatter among the industry suggests that Sinopec had lobbied for the removal. Even though growth has slowed down nominally, China’s fuel demand is still growing massively on an absolute level. In a year where Iranian crude exports are being squeezed by new American sanctions, China needs oil. It may have defied a request by the US to completely halt Iranian exports, but it has also promised not to ramp up orders as well. China imported some 650,000 b/d of crude from Iran last year. To replace even some of that will be challenging without tapping into growing American production, particularly since Sinopec and Petrochina are in a tiff with Saudi Aramco over prices, and the government wants to diversify its crude sources away from overreliance on Russia.

So crude was removed from the tariff list. Leaving only refined fuels and petrochemical feedstocks – tiny in demand except for propane, which has become a key feedstock for China’s petrochemicals producers through PDH plants. But since President Trump has mooted more tariffs, this time on US$200 billion worth of imports, China may have backpedalled for strategic reasons this time – Sinopec’s trading arm had suspended all US purchases until the ‘uncertainty passed’- but can still wield its potent weapon in the future. And not just on crude, but tariffs on LNG as well. The latter is more sensitive, given that many of the LNG projects springing up along the Gulf Coast are depending on projected Chinese demand. Cheniere just signed a 25-year LNG deal with CNPC and is hoping for more to come. That hope burns bright for now, but if the trade war continues escalating at its current pace, the forecast could get a lot cloudier. For now, US energy exports have been spared from the wrath of the Middle Kingdom. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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August, 14 2018