Venezuela's crude oil production is declining amid economic instability
Venezuela's crude oil production has been on a downward trend for two decades, but has experienced significant decreases over the past two years. Crude oil production in Venezuela fell from an annual average of 3.2 million barrels per day (b/d) in 1997 to an average of 2.4 million b/d in 2015 (Figure 1). More recently, Venezuela's crude production fell from a monthly average of 2.3 million b/d in January 2016 to 1.6 million b/d in January 2018. A combination of relatively low global crude oil prices and mismanagement of Venezuela’s oil industry has led to the accelerated decline in production. Venezuela's economy is extremely dependent on oil revenue, so the production declines are having a negative impact on the country's finances as well.
Several indicators suggest that Venezuela's crude oil production will likely continue to decline in the near future. The number of active rigs has fallen from about 70 in the first quarter of 2016 to an average of 43 in the fourth quarter of 2017 (Figure 2). In addition, recent reports indicate that financial difficulties, such as missed payments to oil service companies, a lack of working upgraders, a lack of knowledgeable managers and workers, and declines in oil industry capital expenditures, have also contributed to production declines.
The United States is the largest importer of Venezuela's crude oil, receiving an average of 618,000 b/d in 2017, or about 41% of total Venezuelan exports. China and India received approximately 386,000 b/d and 332,000 b/d, respectively, in 2017. The remaining 186,000 b/d of exports during the year went to countries including Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, Cuba, Singapore, and others (Figure 3).
Venezuela produces extra-heavy crude oil in the Orincoco Oil Belt area and relies extensively on imports of lighter liquids (diluents) to blend with this crude oil to make it marketable. Financial difficulties have recently prevented the state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PdVSA), from importing the necessary volumes of diluent on several occasions to sustain production and exports.
In 2017, refiners in the United States and Asia reported crude oil quality issueswith imported crude oil from Venezuela, resulting in requests for discounts or discontinuation of purchases. Venezuela's crude oil exports to the United States fell from 840,000 b/d in December 2015 to 437,000 b/d in December 2017 (the latest month for which EIA import data are available). As recently as September 2017, Venezuela was the third-largest supplier of U.S. crude oil imports after Canada and Saudi Arabia, occupying a top-three spot since 2015. In December 2017, Venezuela fell behind Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Iraq based on average imported volumes of crude oil during the month.
The fall in exports to the United States is especially harmful to Venezuela's economy because U.S. refiners are among the few customers that still remit cash payments to Venezuela. Some volumes shipped to China, for example, are sent as loan repayments. In January 2018, Venezuela exported about 360,000 b/d of crude oil to China, based on tanker tracking data. Venezuela's exports to India—also a cash remitting customer—have fallen to the lowest levels in about five years. In January, only about 220,000 b/d of Venezuelan crude oil was destined for India, about 20% lower than the level in January 2017, according to crude oil shipping data. This level includes volumes sent to Essar’s Vadinar refinery in India to service debt that Venezuela owes to Russian oil company Rosneft (Rosneft co-owns the Vadinar refinery).
Although the Venezuelan government has not published any economic data in more than two years, Venezuela's National Assembly reported in mid-March that inflation was more than 6,000% between February 2017 and February 2018. The International Monetary Fund projects that inflation will reach 13,000% in 2018 and that Venezuela's economy will contract 15%, resulting in a cumulative GDP decline of nearly 50% from 2013 through the end of 2018.
Venezuela also has high levels of debt with a variety of creditors. During the last quarter of 2017, when Venezuela was late making some bond payments, the main rating agencies declared the country in selective default . Venezuela has more than $8 billion in bond payments coming due in 2018. Given the country's precarious financial situation, a general default is possible. In addition to about $64 billion worth of debt in traded bonds, Venezuela owes $26 billion to creditors and $24 billion in commercial loans, according to Torino Capital, although some estimates place Venezuelan debt as high as $150 billion.
Venezuela's crude oil production is projected to continue to fall through at least the end of 2019, reflecting that crude oil production losses are increasingly widespread and affecting joint ventures. These projections reflect that crude oil production losses are increasingly widespread and affecting joint ventures. With the reduced capital expenditures, foreign partners are limiting activities in the Venezuelan oil sector. Venezuela's economy is heavily dependent on the oil industry, and production declines result in reduced oil export revenues. Venezuela's economy contracted by nearly 9% in 2017, based on estimates from Oxford Economics.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices increase
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose 5 cents from the previous week to $2.65 per gallon on March 26, 2018, up 33 cents from the same time last year. Rocky Mountain prices increased nearly nine cents to $2.53 per gallon, Gulf Coast prices increased nearly eight cents to $2.38 per gallon, West Coast and East Coast prices each increased nearly six cents to $3.27 per gallon and $2.59 per gallon, respectively, and Midwest prices increased two cents to $2.52 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose nearly 4 cents to $3.01 per gallon on March 26, 2018, 48 cents higher than a year ago. Rocky Mountain prices rose nearly seven cents to $2.99 per gallon, West Coast prices increased over five cents to $3.44 per gallon, Gulf Coast and Midwest prices each increased nearly four cents to $2.82 per gallon and $2.93 per gallon, respectively, and East Coast prices increased nearly three cents to $3.04 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.2 million barrels last week to 35.6 million barrels as of March 23, 2018, 9.7 million barrels (21.4%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. East Coast and Midwest inventories each decreased by 0.5 million barrels, while Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 0.2 million barrels. Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories rose slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 8.2% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating oil prices increase, propane prices decrease
As of March 26, 2018, residential heating oil prices averaged almost $3.10 per gallon, nearly 4 cents per gallon higher than last week and 51 cents per gallon higher than last year's price at this time. The average wholesale heating oil price for this week averaged almost $2.12 per gallon, nearly 11 cents per gallon higher than last week and 52 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged $2.48 per gallon, almost one cent per gallon lower than last week but nine cents per gallon higher than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged $0.88 per gallon, 1 cent per gallon higher than last week and nearly 21 cents per gallon higher than last year's price. This is the last data collection for the 2017-2018 State Heating Oil and Propane Program (SHOPP) heating season. Data collection will resume on October 1, 2018 for publication on Wednesday, October 3, 2018.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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