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Total liquid fuels inventories return to five-year average levels in the United States and the OECD


The extended period of oversupply in global petroleum markets that began before the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) November 2016 agreement to cut production has ended, and the large buildup of global inventories during that period has now been drawn down. As OPEC plans to reconvene on June 22, markets now appear more in balance, but uncertainty remains going forward.


The November 2016 OPEC supply agreement took effect in January 2017, whereby OPEC member countries agreed to reduce crude oil production by 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) compared with October 2016 levels and to limit total OPEC production to 32.5 million b/d. In addition, Russia agreed to reduce its crude oil production. OPEC extended the agreement in November 2017, with the production cuts remaining in place until the end of 2018.


Since January 2017, one of the primary indicators of a tightening world oil market has been a decline in crude oil and other liquids inventories. After sustained increases in quarterly global liquid inventories from mid-2014 through most of 2016, inventories declined throughout 2017 and into the first quarter of 2018 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. World liquids fuels production and consumption balance


Data for global petroleum inventories are not collected directly. Instead, increases or decreases in global inventories are implied based on the difference between world production and world consumption estimates. However, inventory data for the United States and for countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are available and can indicate what is happening globally.


From January 2017 to April 2018, U.S. crude oil and other liquids inventories decreased by 162 million barrels while OECD inventories decreased by 234 million barrels. Over this same period, U.S. and OECD crude oil and other liquids inventories moved from 229 million barrels and 334 million barrels, respectively, higher than their five-year averages to 16 million barrels and 2 million barrels lower (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Commercial crude oil and other liquids inventory versus five-year average

Between the first quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018, estimated total world petroleum and other liquids production rose 1.6 million b/d. OECD petroleum and other liquids production rose 1.3 million b/d, and most of this growth came from increased crude oil production in the United States, which increased by 1.2 million b/d, from 9.0 million b/d to 10.2 million b/d. Total OPEC petroleum (crude and other liquids) production increased by 0.4 million b/d over this period. Total OPEC crude oil production remained lower than the 32.5 million b/d agreement level, increasing 0.27 million b/d to 32.4 million b/d.


Total world petroleum and other liquids consumption, on the other hand, increased by an estimated 1.9 million b/d between the first quarters of 2017 and 2018, exceeding the growth in production and resulting in inventory declines. This consumption growth occurred primarily in the United States (0.6 million b/d), China (0.5 million b/d), and other Non-OECD Asia (0.6 million b/d) (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Change in world petroleum production and consumption Q1 2017 to Q1 2018


The days of supply measure (current inventory level divided by next month’s estimated consumption) provides additional insight into market balances. Between January 2017 and April 2017, U.S. and OECD crude oil days of supply fell by 11.5 and 4.5 days, respectively, to 59.2 and 60.6 days. U.S. crude oil and other liquids days of supply fell from 12 days higher than the five-year average to 3.6 days lower. OECD crude oil and other liquids days of supply dropped from 7.4 days higher than the five-year average to 1.6 days lower (Figure 4).

Figure 4. U.S. and OECD crude oil and other liquids days of supply versus five-year average


EIA forecasts that the tightening trend in global petroleum markets will reverse. In the May 2018 Short-Term Energy Outlook, EIA forecasts that both U.S. and OECD petroleum and other liquids inventories will return to surpluses compared with their five-year averages, although on a smaller scale compared with the period between 2015 and 2016. U.S. and OECD days of supply are forecast to remain in a band that is close to the five-year average level through 2019. However, additional uncertainty about future global oil market balances remains in light of, among other factors, the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the continued instability in Venezuela.


U.S. average diesel price increases


The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price for May 14, 2018 was $2.87 per gallon. Please note that on May 14, 2018, EIA implemented new statistical methodologies for conducting the Motor Gasoline Price Survey. Because of these changes, the published price estimates this week are not directly comparable with those published for May 7, 2018, which were based on EIA’s previous sample.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased nearly 7 cents to $3.24 per gallon on May 14, 2018, nearly 70 cents higher than a year ago. Midwest prices rose over eight cents to almost $3.18 per gallon, West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each rose nearly seven cents to $3.73 per gallon and $3.32 per gallon, respectively, and East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each rose nearly six cents to $3.24 per gallon and $3.01 per gallon, respectively.


Propane/propylene inventories rise


U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 1.7 million barrels last week to 40.4 million barrels as of May 11, 2018, 12.3 million barrels (23.4%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Midwest, East Coast, and Gulf Coast inventories increased by 0.8 million barrels, 0.6 million barrels, and 0.4 million barrels, respectively, while Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 7.2% of total propane/propylene inventories.


For questions about This Week in Petroleum, contact the Petroleum Markets Team at 202-586-4522.

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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