EIA expects Brent prices will average $71 per barrel in 2018 before declining to $68 per barrel in 2019
In the June 2018 update of its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 and $68/b in 2019. The new 2019 forecast price is $2/b higher than in the May STEO. The increase reflects global oil markets balances that EIA expects to be tighter than previously forecast because of lowered expected production growth from both the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the United States. Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $77/b in May, an increase of $5/b from April and the highest monthly average price since November 2014. EIA expects West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices will average almost $7/b lower than Brent prices in 2018 and $6/b lower than Brent prices in 2019 (Figure 1).
EIA expects that OPEC crude oil production will average 32.0 million b/d in 2018, a decrease of about 0.4 million b/d compared with 2017. Total OPEC crude oil output is expected to increase slightly, however, to an average of 32.1 million b/d in 2019, despite expected falling production in Venezuela and Iran, along with decreasing output in a number of other countries.
OPEC, Russia, and other non-OPEC countries will meet on June 22, 2018, to assess current oil market conditions associated with their existing crude oil production reductions. Current reductions are scheduled to continue through the end of 2018. Oil ministers from Saudi Arabia and Russia have announced that they will re-evaluate the production reduction agreement given accelerated output declines from Venezuela and uncertainty surrounding Iran’s production levels. In the June STEO, EIA assumes some supply increases from major oil producers in 2019. Depending on the outcome of the June 22 meeting, however, the magnitude of any supply response is uncertain. EIA currently forecasts global petroleum and other liquids inventories will increase by 210,000 b/d in 2019, which EIA expects will put modest downward pressure on crude oil prices in the second half of 2018 and in 2019.
EIA expects a decline in Iranian crude oil production and exports starting in November 2018, when many of the sanctions lifted in January 2016 are slated to be re-imposed. Iranian crude oil production is expected to fall by 0.2 million b/d in November 2018 compared with October and by an additional 0.5 million b/d in 2019.
The outlook for Venezuelan production is also lower than in the May STEO, with EIA now expecting larger declines in both 2018 and 2019 than previously forecasted. The seizure of state oil company PdVSA’s assets in the Caribbean by ConocoPhillips has diminished PdVSA’s ability to continue meeting its export obligations because it now must rely solely on domestic ports and ship-to-ship transfers to sustain crude oil exports. Venezuela’s domestic export infrastructure, however, is in disrepair and unable to accommodate the volume of exports previously handled out of its Caribbean facilities.
EIA expects that decreases in Iranian and Venezuelan production will be partially offset by increased production from Persian Gulf producers, most notably Saudi Arabia, which will likely increase production in an effort to offset Iranian production losses. Other sources of increasing production include Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, all of which have been restraining their crude oil output in compliance with the November 2016 OPEC/non-OPEC agreement on production cuts.
U.S. crude oil prices in both the Permian region and in Cushing, Oklahoma, traded at lower values relative to Brent in May, continuing the trend of constraints in transporting crude oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast for refining or for export, as discussed in the April and May STEOs. The Brent–WTI front-month futures price spread, in particular, widened to $11.43/b on June 7, the widest since February 2015. Although transportation constraints to the U.S. Gulf Coast are primarily affecting Permian Basin crude oils, the rapid increase in the Brent–WTI futures price spread in May and early June 2018 suggests some constraints are developing in crude oil transported from Cushing (where the WTI futures contract is delivered) to the Gulf Coast.
Because transportation options out of Cushing are limited, it remains uncertain how much the spread could narrow if Gulf Coast refiners increase refinery runs, which were lower than expected in May. In addition, U.S. crude oil exports are currently limited to higher-cost options which, unless port infrastructure buildout is expanded, will likely maintain a wide Brent–WTI spread. EIA is increasing its forecast of the Brent–WTI spot price spread for the second half of 2018 from $5.49/b to $7.67/b and for 2019 from $5.12/b to $5.79/b.
EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil production averaged 10.7 million b/d in May 2018, up 80,000 b/d from the April level. EIA projects that U.S. crude oil production will average 10.8 million b/d for full-year 2018, up from 9.4 million b/d in 2017, and will average 11.8 million b/d in 2019.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices decrease
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price decreased nearly 3 cents from last week to $2.91 per gallon on June 11, 2018, up 55 cents from the same time last year. East Coast prices decreased nearly four cents to $2.84 per gallon, Midwest prices decreased three cents to $2.82 per gallon, Gulf Coast prices decreased nearly three cents to $2.70 per gallon, and West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each decreased less than a penny to $3.45 per gallon and $2.99 per gallon, respectively.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 2 cents from last week to $3.27 per gallon on June 11, 2018, 74 cents higher than a year ago. Midwest prices declined nearly three cents to $3.20 per gallon, while East Coast, Gulf Coast, West Coast, and Rocky Mountain prices each declined nearly two cents to $3.26 per gallon, $3.04 per gallon, $3.77 per gallon, and $3.34 per gallon, respectively.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 3.7 million barrels last week to 50.8 million barrels as of June 8, 2018, 10.7 million barrels (17.4%) lower than the five-year average inventory level for this same time of year. Midwest, Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountain/West Coast, and East Coast inventories increased by 1.9 million barrels, 1.5 million barrels, 0.2 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.7% of total propane/propylene inventories.
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Less than two weeks ago, the VLCC Navarin arrived at Tanjung Pengerang, at the southern end of Peninsular Malaysia. It was carrying two million barrels of crude oil, split equally between Saudi Arab Medium and Iraqi Basra Light grades.
The RAPID refinery in Johor. An equal joint partnership between Malaysia’s Petronas and Saudi Aramco whose 300 kb/d mega refinery is nearing completion. Once questioned for its economic viability, RAPID is now scheduled to start up in early 2019, entering a market that is still booming and in demand of the higher quality, Euro IV and Euro V level fuels RAPID will produce.
Beyond fuel products, RAPID will also have massive petrochemical capacity. Meant to come on online at a later date, RAPID will have a collective capacity of some 7.7 million tons per annum of differentiated and specialty chemicals, including 3 mtpa of propylene. To be completed in stages, Petronas nonetheless projects that it will add some 3.3 million tons of petrochemicals to the Asia market by the end of next year. That’s blockbuster numbers, and it will elevate Petronas’ stature in downstream, bringing more international appeal to a refining network previously focused mainly on Malaysia. For its partner Saudi Aramco, RAPID is part of a multi-pronged strategy of investing mega refineries in key parts of the world, to diversify its business and ensure demand for its crude flows as it edges towards an IPO.
RAPID won’t be alone. Vietnam’s second refinery – the 200 kb/d Nghi Son – has finally started up this year after multiple delays. And in the same timeframe as RAPID, the Zhejiang refinery by Rongsheng Petro Chemical and the Dalian refinery by Hengli Petrochemical in China are both due to start up. At 400 kb/d each, that could add 1.1 mmb/d of new refining capacity in Asia within 1H19. And there’s more coming. Hengli’s Pulau Muara Besar project in Brunei is also aiming for a 2019 start, potentially adding another 175 kb/d of capacity. And just like RAPID, each of these new or recent projects has substantial petrochemical capacity planned.
That’s okay for now, since demand remains strong. But the danger is that this could all unravel. With American sanctions on Iran due to kick in November, even existing refineries are fleeing from contributing to Tehran in favour of other crude grades. The new refineries will be entering a tight market that could become even tighter. RAPID can rely on Saudi Arabia and Nghi Son can depend on Kuwait, both the Chinese projects are having to scramble to find alternate supplies for their designed diet of heavy sour crude. This race to find supplies has already sent Brent prices to four-year highs, and most in the industry are already predicting that crude oil prices will rise to US$100/b by the year’s end. At prices like this, demand destruction begins and the current massive growth – fuelled by cheap oil prices – could come to an end. The market can rapidly change again, and by the end of this decade, Asia could be swirling with far more oil products that it can handle.
Upcoming and recent Asia refineries:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 8 October 2018 – Brent: US$84/b; WTI: US$74/b
Headlines of the week
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production
As domestic production continues to increase, the average density of crude oil produced in the United States continues to become lighter. The average API gravity—a measure of a crude oil’s density where higher numbers mean lower density—of U.S. crude oil increased in 2017 and through the first six months of 2018. Crude oil production with an API gravity greater than 40 degrees grew by 310,000 barrels per day (b/d) to more than 4.6 million b/d in 2017. This increase represents 53% of total Lower 48 production in 2017, an increase from 50% in 2015, the earliest year for which EIA has oil production data by API gravity.
API gravity is measured as the inverse of the density of a petroleum liquid relative to water. The higher the API gravity, the lower the density of the petroleum liquid, meaning lighter oils have higher API gravities. The increase in light crude oil production is the result of the growth in crude oil production from tight formations enabled by improvements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Along with sulfur content, API gravity determines the type of processing needed to refine crude oil into fuel and other petroleum products, all of which factor into refineries’ profits. Overall U.S. refining capacity is geared toward a diverse range of crude oil inputs, so it can be uneconomic to run some refineries solely on light crude oil. Conversely, it is impossible to run some refineries on heavy crude oil without producing significant quantities of low-valued heavy products such as residual fuel.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production
API gravity can differ greatly by production area. For example, oil produced in Texas—the largest crude oil-producing state—has a relatively broad distribution of API gravities with most production ranging from 30 to 50 degrees API. However, crude oil with API gravity of 40 to 50 degrees accounted for the largest share of Texas production, at 55%, in 2017. This category was also the fastest growing, reaching 1.9 million b/d, driven by increasing production in the tight oil plays of the Permian and Eagle Ford.
Oil produced in North Dakota’s Bakken formation also tends to be less dense and lighter. About 90% of North Dakota’s 2017 crude oil production had an API gravity of 40 to 50 degrees. The oil coming from the Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) tends to be more dense and heavier. More than 34% of the crude oil produced in the GOM in 2017 had an API gravity of lower than 30 degrees and 65% had an API gravity of 30 to 40 degrees.
In contrast to the increasing production of light crude oil in the United States, imported crude oil continues to be heavier. In 2017, 7.6 million b/d (96%) of imported crude oil had an API gravity of 40 or below, compared with 4.2 million b/d (48%) of domestic production.
EIA collects API gravity production data by state in the monthly crude oil and natural gas production report as well as crude oil quality by company level imports to better inform analysis of refinery inputs and utilization, crude oil trade, and regional crude oil pricing. API gravity is also projected to continue changing: EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2018 Reference case projects that U.S. oil production from tight formations will continue to increase in the coming decades.