In the June 2018 update of its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 and $68/b in 2019. The updated 2019 forecast price is $2/b higher than in the May STEO. 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. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices are forecast to average almost $7/b lower than Brent prices in 2018 and $6/b lower in 2019.
Crude oil prices have reached high levels as global oil inventories have generally declined from January 2017 through April 2018. Even though the 2019 oil price forecast is higher than it was in the May STEO, EIA expects oil prices to decline in the coming months because global oil inventories are expected to rise slightly during the second half of 2018 and in 2019.
Expected inventory growth results from forecast oil supply growth outpacing forecast oil demand growth in 2019. EIA currently forecasts global petroleum and other liquids inventories will increase by 210,000 barrels per day (b/d) next year, a factor that, all else being equal, typically puts downward pressure on oil prices.
Most of the growth in global oil production in the coming months is expected to come from the United States. 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. If the 2018 and 2019 forecast annual averages materialize, they would be the highest levels of production on record, surpassing the previous record set in 1970.
Tight oil production in the Permian region of West Texas and New Mexico is the main driver of rising U.S. production. Among other countries outside of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Canada and Brazil are also expected to experience significant growth in oil production in 2019.
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 from the 2017 level. Total OPEC crude oil output is expected to increase slightly in 2019 to an average of 32.1 million b/d. The 2018 and 2019 levels are 0.2 million b/d and 0.3 million b/d lower, respectively, than forecast in the May STEO, reflecting revised expectations of crude oil production in Venezuela and Iran. The lower OPEC forecast is one of the main reasons EIA expects oil prices to be slightly higher in 2019 compared with last month’s forecast.
OPEC, Russia, and other non-OPEC countries will meet on June 22 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 declining Venezuelan and Iranian crude oil production in 2019 will be offset by increasing production from Persian Gulf producers, primarily Saudi Arabia. Depending on the outcome of the June 22 meeting, however, the magnitude of any supply response is uncertain. Overall, EIA expects global oil production to increase by almost 2.0 million b/d in 2019 compared with forecast oil demand growth of 1.7 million b/d.
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This winter, natural gas prices have been at their lowest levels in decades. On Monday, February 10, the near-month natural gas futures price at the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) closed at $1.77 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). This price was the lowest February closing price for the near-month contract since at least 2001, in real terms, and the lowest near-month futures price in any month since March 8, 2016, according to Bloomberg, L.P. and FRED data.
In addition, according to Natural Gas Intelligence data, the daily spot price at the Henry Hub national benchmark was $1.81/MMBtu on February 10, 2020, the lowest price in real terms since March 9, 2016. Henry Hub spot prices have ranged between $1.81/MMBtu and $2.84/MMBtu this winter heating season (since November 1, 2019), generally because relatively warm winter weather has reduced demand for natural gas for heating. Natural gas production growth has outpaced demand growth, reducing the need to withdraw natural gas from underground storage.
Dry natural gas production in January 2020 averaged about 95.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), according to IHS Markit data. IHS Markit also estimates that in January 2020 the United States saw the third-highest monthly U.S. natural gas production on record, down slightly from the previous two months.
IHS Markit estimates that U.S. natural gas consumption by residential, commercial, industrial, and electric power sectors averaged 96 Bcf/d for January, which was about 4.4 Bcf/d less than the average for January 2019, largely because of decreases in residential and commercial consumption as a result of warmer temperatures.
However, IHS Markit estimates that overall consumption of natural gas (including feed gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, pipeline fuel losses, and net exports by pipeline to Mexico) averaged about 117.5 Bcf/d in January 2020, an increase of about 0.2 Bcf/d from last year. This overall increase is largely a result of an almost doubling of LNG feed gas to about 8.5 Bcf/d.
Because supply growth has outpaced demand growth, less natural gas has been withdrawn from storage withdrawals this winter. Despite starting the 2019–20 heating season with the third-lowest level of natural gas inventory since 2009, by January 17, 2020, working natural gas inventories reached relatively high levels for mid-winter. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) data on natural gas inventories for the Lower 48 states as of February 7, 2020, reflect a 215 Bcf surplus to the five-year average. In EIA’s latest short-term forecast, more natural gas remains in storage levels than the previous five-year average through the remainder of the winter.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), January 2020 was the fifth-warmest in its 126-year climate record. Heating degree days (HDDs), a temperature-based metric for heating demand, have been relatively low this winter, which is consistent with a warmer winter. During some weeks in late December and early January, the United States saw 25% to 30% fewer HDDs than the 30-year average. This winter, through February 8, residential natural gas customers in the United States have seen 11% fewer HDDs than the 30-year average.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center data
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 February 2020 – Brent: US$53/b; WTI: US$49/b
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