According to the US Energy Department, US crude production hit 11 million barrels per day in early July. This was always seen as an inevitability, but the speed at which the mark has been achieved has been astonishing. It was only eight months ago in November 2017 that the US production reached 10 mmb/d – a level that had only been reached (briefly) in 1970. Back then, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that American output would reach 11 mmb/d by November 2018. While the Energy Department’s figures have yet to be confirmed by the EIA – which releases confirmed data on a lag of 2 months – there is no reason not to believe that the mark hasn’t been achieved.
In any other month, this would make the USA the largest crude producer in the world, except for a jump in Russian production to 11.2 mmb/d. The recent OPEC+ agreement means there is room for Russian (and Saudi Arabian) output to grow, so the race for the title of world’s largest crude producer will be tight for a while, but America has more potential and it seems only a matter of time before American production nears the 12 mmb/d mark. Perhaps next year? With crude prices at their healthiest levels for 4 years, there is every reason for American drillers to keep pumping, although concerns over geopolitical issues about supply and global oil demand could curb potential.
The nature of the shale revolution is the US is also changing. Just last week, Concho Resources completed its US$9.5 billion acquisition of RSP Permian, creating the largest unconventional shale producer in the Permian Basin. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell are moving in on the Permian, while BP is looking to be the frontrunner in purchasing BHP Billiton’s onshore shale and gas assets. At the start, the US shale revolution was characterised by a large number of small and nimble players riddled with debt; as it now matures, consolidation is setting in to create a smaller number of larger players. This is viewed as necessary to make the sort of large-scale investments required to take the shale revolution to the next level, but this can also cause inertia in growth, since merged and larger firms are likely to be far more risk averse due, as they are answerable to shareholders.
However there are still some challenges ahead in the Permian. The most important for now seems to be infrastructure, or lack thereof. Pipeline bottlenecks in the onshore shale plays, particularly the Permian, are making it increasingly difficult for producers to get their oil to market, especially the clearing point in Cushing, Oklahoma. This constraint has been behind the large Brent-WTI differential over the past two months, as crude volumes remained stuck without access to the market. Figures indicate that the Permian currently has some 3.56 million barrels per day of pipeline capacity, equivalent to current production, meaning that pipelines are operating at full capacity. New pipelines are being planned, but this will take time, restricting immediate growth. And with more drilling activities taking place, costs in the supply chain is also expected to go up in tandem. The issue about actual profit margins in the Permian has often been debated due to the amount of debt poured into the region, when oil prices were at marginal levels. Current prices do provide some relief but existing operators who are highly leveraged do run a high risk, if prices trend downhill.
Despite all that, the 12 million barrel per day mark seems to be a question of when, not if. If the US succeeds in its aim to reduce Iranian crude exports significantly by November, the additional American volumes could be a necessity, not a spanner. The pieces are all in place for that to happen, and while the Energy Department and the EIA have not issued any formal forecast, we would not be surprised if American oil output came very close to the mark this time next year.
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U.S. crude oil production in the U.S. Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) averaged 1.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018, setting a new annual record. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects oil production in the GOM to set new production records in 2019 and in 2020, even after accounting for shut-ins related to Hurricane Barry in July 2019 and including forecasted adjustments for hurricane-related shut-ins for the remainder of 2019 and for 2020.
Based on EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook’s (STEO) expected production levels at new and existing fields, annual crude oil production in the GOM will increase to an average of 1.9 million b/d in 2019 and 2.0 million b/d in 2020. However, even with this level of growth, projected GOM crude oil production will account for a smaller share of the U.S. total. EIA expects the GOM to account for 15% of total U.S. crude oil production in 2019 and in 2020, compared with 23% of total U.S. crude oil production in 2011, as onshore production growth continues to outpace offshore production growth.
In 2019, crude oil production in the GOM fell from 1.9 million b/d in June to 1.6 million b/d in July because some production platforms were evacuated in anticipation of Hurricane Barry. This disruption was resolved relatively quickly, and no disruptions caused by Hurricane Barry remain. Although final data are not yet available, EIA estimates GOM crude oil production reached 2.0 million b/d in August 2019.
Producers expect eight new projects to come online in 2019 and four more in 2020. EIA expects these projects to contribute about 44,000 b/d in 2019 and about 190,000 b/d in 2020 as projects ramp up production. Uncertainties in oil markets affect long-term planning and operations in the GOM, and the timelines of future projects may change accordingly.
Source: Rystad Energy
Because of the amount of time needed to discover and develop large offshore projects, oil production in the GOM is less sensitive to short-term oil price movements than onshore production in the Lower 48 states. In 2015 and early 2016, decreasing profit margins and reduced expectations for a quick oil price recovery prompted many GOM operators to reconsider future exploration spending and to restructure or delay drilling rig contracts, causing average monthly rig counts to decline through 2018.
Crude oil price increases in 2017 and 2018 relative to lows in 2015 and 2016 have not yet had a significant effect on operations in the GOM, but they have the potential to contribute to increasing rig counts and field discoveries in the coming years. Unlike onshore operations, falling rig counts do not affect current production levels, but instead they affect the discovery of future fields and the start-up of new projects.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Refinery Report
The API gravity of crude oil input to U.S. refineries has generally increased, or gotten lighter, since 2011 because of changes in domestic production and imports. Regionally, refinery crude slates—or the mix of crude oil grades that a refinery is processing—have become lighter in the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and West Coast regions, and they have become slightly heavier in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions.
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, so light oils have high API gravities. Crude oil with an API gravity greater than 38 degrees is generally considered light crude oil; crude oil with an API gravity of 22 degrees or below is considered heavy crude oil.
The crude slate processed in refineries situated along the Gulf Coast—the region with the most refining capacity in the United States—has had the largest increase in API gravity, increasing from an average of 30.0 degrees in 2011 to an average of 32.6 degrees in 2018. The West Coast had the heaviest crude slate in 2018 at 28.2 degrees, and the East Coast had the lightest of the three regions at 34.8 degrees.
Production of increasingly lighter crude oil in the United States has contributed to the overall lightening of the crude oil slate for U.S. refiners. The fastest-growing category of domestic production has been crude oil with an API gravity greater than 40 degrees, according to data in the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production Report.
Since 2015, when EIA began collecting crude oil production data by API gravity, light crude oil production in the Lower 48 states has grown from an annual average of 4.6 million barrels per day (b/d) to 6.4 million b/d in the first seven months of 2019.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production Report
When setting crude oil slates, refiners consider logistical constraints and the cost of transportation, as well as their unique refinery configuration. For example, nearly all (more than 99% in 2018) crude oil imports to the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain regions come from Canada because of geographic proximity and existing pipeline and rail infrastructure between these regions.
Crude oil imports from Canada, which consist of mostly heavy crude oil, have increased by 67% since 2011 because of increased Canadian production. Crude oil imports from Canada have accounted for a greater share of refinery inputs in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions, leading to heavier refinery crude slates in these regions.
By comparison, crude oil production in Texas tends to be lighter: Texas accounted for half of crude oil production above 40 degrees API in the United States in 2018. The share of domestic crude oil in the Gulf Coast refinery crude oil slate increased from 36% in 2011 to 70% in 2018. As a result, the change in the average API gravity of crude oil processed in refineries in the Gulf Coast region was the largest increase among all regions in the United States during that period.
East Coast refineries have three ways to receive crude oil shipments, depending on which are more economical: by rail from the Midwest, by coastwise-compliant (Jones Act) tankers from the Gulf Coast, or by importing. From 2011 to 2018, the share of imported crude oil in the East Coast region decreased from 95% to 81% as the share of domestic crude oil inputs increased. Conversely, the share of imported crude oil at West Coast refineries increased from 46% in 2011 to 51% in 2018.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 7 October 2019 – Brent: US$58/b; WTI: US$52/b
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