The United States exported 7.3 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil and petroleum products in the first half of 2018, when exports of crude oil and hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL) set record monthly highs. Crude oil surpassed HGLs to become the largest U.S. petroleum export, with 1.8 million b/d of exports in the first half of 2018. U.S. exports of crude oil, HGLs, and motor gasoline grew in the first half of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017, while distillate exports decreased 84,000 b/d (Figure 1).
U.S. crude oil exports increased by 787,000 b/d (almost 80%) from the first half of 2017 to the first half of 2018 and set a new monthly record of at 2.2 million b/d in June. Destinations in Asia and Oceania were the largest recipients of U.S. crude oil exports in the first half of 2018, and U.S. crude oil exports to China more than doubled—increasing by 193,000 b/d—from the first half of 2017. U.S. crude oil exports to South Korea and India also increased significantly during this period, up 81,000 b/d and 72,000 b/d, respectively.
Europe was the second-largest market for U.S. crude oil exports, receiving 555,000 b/d in the first half of 2018. U.S. crude oil export volumes to Europe are more equally distributed than in other regions. Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, each received more than 120,000 b/d in the first half of 2018. Canada was the only major U.S. crude oil export destination where exports decreased somewhat, down 13,000 b/d in the first half of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017 (Figure 2).
HGLs were the second-largest petroleum export from the United States in the first half of 2018 at 1.6 million b/d. Destinations in Asia and Oceania were also the primary recipients of U.S. HGLs at 618,000 b/d in the first half of 2018. The region’s main importers were Japan, South Korea, China, and India, many of which have expanded petrochemical facilities that import U.S. HGLs as a feedstock. The second-largest regional destinations for U.S. HGL exports in the first half of 2018 were Canada and Mexico in North America, which received a combined 453,000 b/d in the first half of 2018 (Figure 3). U.S. HGL exports also set a new monthly record in the first half of 2018 at 1.7 million b/d in May 2018.
In the first half of 2018, the United States exported 1.3 million b/d of distillate, primarily to destinations in Central and South America, with Brazil and Chile as the two largest destinations, receiving 131,000 b/d and 114,000 b/d, respectively. The decline in U.S. distillate exports in the first half of 2018 compared with the first half of 2017 is mostly the result of lower exports to a number of destinations in Central and South America and in Europe. However, U.S. distillate exports are typically higher in summer months, most of which occur in the second half of the year. The largest single destination for U.S. distillate exports in the first half of 2018 was Mexico at 289,000 b/d (Figure 4). Despite being the third-largest U.S. petroleum export, U.S. distillate exports go to the largest number of destinations—as 49 different destinations received at least 1,000 b/d in the first half of 2018.
The United States exported 913,000 b/d of motor gasoline in the first half of 2018, an increase of 144,000 b/d compared with the same period in 2017. Mexico accounted for more than half of U.S. motor gasoline exports in the first half of 2018, the largest single-destination concentration for any U.S. petroleum export (Figure 5). Years of under investment in Mexico’s refineries, combined with a mismatch between the type of crude oil produced locally and the type of crude oil Mexico’s refineries were designed to process, has resulted in low refinery utilization rates. Low refinery utilization has resulted in increased imports of motor gasoline and other petroleum products, from the United States. Mexico’s gasoline consumption ranges from 780,000 b/d to 800,000 b/d based on recent history. In the first half of 2018, U.S. gasoline exports to Mexico accounted for more than 60% of the gasoline consumed in Mexico.
U.S. average regular gasoline price decreases, diesel price increases
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price decreased less than 1 cent from last week to $2.82 per gallon on September 3, 2018, up 15 cents from the same time last year. West Coast prices increased nearly two cents to $3.33 per gallon, and East Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each rose over one cent to $2.78 per gallon and $3.01 per gallon, respectively. Midwest prices fell nearly three cents to $2.73 per gallon and Gulf Coast prices decreased two cents to $2.55 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased over 2 cents from last week to $3.25 per gallon on September 3, 2018, 49 cents higher than a year ago. Midwest prices increased nearly four cents to $3.19 per gallon, Gulf Coast prices rose over three cents to $3.04 per gallon, West Coast prices increased more than two cents to $3.74 per gallon, and East Coast prices increased over one cent to $3.24 per gallon. Rocky Mountain prices were unchanged, remaining at $3.36 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 2.0 million barrels last week to 73.4 million barrels as of August 31, 2018, 9.7 million barrels (11.7%) lower than the five-year (2013-2017) average inventory level for this same time of year. Midwest, Gulf Coast, and East Coast inventories increased by 1.2 million barrels, 0.5 million barrels, and 0.3 million barrels, respectively, while Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories fell slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 3.9% of total propane/propylene inventories.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 18 March 2019 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$58/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
Risk and reward – improving recovery rates versus exploration
A giant oil supply gap looms. If, as we expect, oil demand peaks at 110 million b/d in 2036, the inexorable decline of fields in production or under development today creates a yawning gap of 50 million b/d by the end of that decade.
How to fill it? It’s the preoccupation of the E&P sector. Harry Paton, Senior Analyst, Global Oil Supply, identifies the contribution from each of the traditional four sources.
1. Reserve growth
An additional 12 million b/d, or 24%, will come from fields already in production or under development. These additional reserves are typically the lowest risk and among the lowest cost, readily tied-in to export infrastructure already in place. Around 90% of these future volumes break even below US$60 per barrel.
2. pre-drill tight oil inventory and conventional pre-FID projects
They will bring another 12 million b/d to the party. That’s up on last year by 1.5 million b/d, reflecting the industry’s success in beefing up the hopper. Nearly all the increase is from the Permian Basin. Tight oil plays in North America now account for over two-thirds of the pre-FID cost curve, though extraction costs increase over time. Conventional oil plays are a smaller part of the pre-FID wedge at 4 million b/d. Brazil deep water is amongst the lowest cost resource anywhere, with breakevens eclipsing the best tight oil plays. Certain mature areas like the North Sea have succeeded in getting lower down the cost curve although volumes are small. Guyana, an emerging low-cost producer, shows how new conventional basins can change the curve.
3. Contingent resource
These existing discoveries could deliver 11 million b/d, or 22%, of future supply. This cohort forms the next generation of pre-FID developments, but each must overcome challenges to achieve commerciality.
Last, but not least, yet-to-find. We calculate new discoveries bring in 16 million b/d, the biggest share and almost one-third of future supply. The number is based on empirical analysis of past discovery rates, future assumptions for exploration spend and prospectivity.
Can yet-to-find deliver this much oil at reasonable cost? It looks more realistic today than in the recent past. Liquids reserves discovered that are potentially commercial was around 5 billion barrels in 2017 and again in 2018, close to the late 2030s ‘ask’. Moreover, exploration is creating value again, and we have argued consistently that more companies should be doing it.
But at the same time, it’s the high-risk option, and usually last in the merit order – exploration is the final top-up to meet demand. There’s a danger that new discoveries – higher cost ones at least – are squeezed out if demand’s not there or new, lower-cost supplies emerge. Tight oil’s rapid growth has disrupted the commercialisation of conventional discoveries this decade and is re-shaping future resource capture strategies.
To sustain portfolios, many companies have shifted away from exclusively relying on exploration to emphasising lower risk opportunities. These mostly revolve around commercialising existing reserves on the books, whether improving recovery rates from fields currently in production (reserves growth) or undeveloped discoveries (contingent resource).
Emerging technology may pose a greater threat to exploration in the future. Evolving technology has always played a central role in boosting expected reserves from known fields. What’s different in 2019 is that the industry is on the cusp of what might be a technological revolution. Advanced seismic imaging, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the cloud and supercomputing will shine a light into sub-surface’s dark corners.
Combining these and other new applications to enhance recovery beyond tried-and-tested means could unlock more reserves from existing discoveries – and more quickly than we assume. Equinor is now aspiring to 60% from its operated fields in Norway. Volume-wise, most upside may be in the giant, older, onshore accumulations with low recovery factors (think ExxonMobil and Chevron’s latest Permian upgrades). In contrast, 21st century deepwater projects tend to start with high recovery factors.
If global recovery rates could be increased by a percentage or two from the average of around 30%, reserves growth might contribute another 5 to 6 million b/d in the 2030s. It’s just a scenario, and perhaps makes sweeping assumptions. But it’s one that should keep conventional explorers disciplined and focused only on the best new prospects.
Global oil supply through 2040
Things just keep getting more dire for Venezuela’s PDVSA – once a crown jewel among state energy firms, and now buried under debt and a government in crisis. With new American sanctions weighing down on its operations, PDVSA is buckling. For now, with the support of Russia, China and India, Venezuelan crude keeps flowing. But a ghost from the past has now come back to haunt it.
In 2007, Venezuela embarked on a resource nationalisation programme under then-President Hugo Chavez. It was the largest example of an oil nationalisation drive since Iraq in 1972 or when the government of Saudi Arabia bought out its American partners in ARAMCO back in 1980. The edict then was to have all foreign firms restructure their holdings in Venezuela to favour PDVSA with a majority. Total, Chevron, Statoil (now Equinor) and BP agreed; ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips refused. Compensation was paid to ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, which was considered paltry. So the two American firms took PDVSA to international arbitration, seeking what they considered ‘just value’ for their erstwhile assets. In 2012, ExxonMobil was awarded some US$260 million in two arbitration awards. The dispute with ConocoPhillips took far longer.
In April 2018, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favour of ConocoPhillips, granting US$2.1 billion in recovery payments. Hemming and hawing on PDVSA’s part forced ConocoPhillips’ hand, and it began to seize control of terminals and cargo ships in the Caribbean operated by PDVSA or its American subsidiary Citgo. A tense standoff – where PDVSA’s carriers were ordered to return to national waters immediately – was resolved when PDVSA reached a payment agreement in August. As part of the deal, ConocoPhillips agreed to suspend any future disputes over the matter with PDVSA.
The key word being ‘future’. ConocoPhillips has an existing contractual arbitration – also at the ICC – relating to the separate Corocoro project. That decision is also expected to go towards the American firm. But more troubling is that a third dispute has just been settled by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunal in favour of ConocoPhillips. This action was brought against the government of Venezuela for initiating the nationalisation process, and the ‘unlawful expropriation’ would require a US$8.7 billion payment. Though the action was brought against the government, its coffers are almost entirely stocked by sales of PDVSA crude, essentially placing further burden on an already beleaguered company. A similar action brought about by ExxonMobil resulted in a US$1.4 billion payout; however, that was overturned at the World Bank in 2017.
But it might not end there. The danger (at least on PDVSA’s part) is that these decisions will open up floodgates for any creditors seeking damages against Venezuela. And there are quite a few, including several smaller oil firms and players such as gold miner Crystallex, who is owed US$1.2 billion after the gold industry was nationalised in 2011. If the situation snowballs, there is a very tempting target for creditors to seize – Citgo, PDVSA’s crown jewel that operates downstream in the USA, which remains profitable. And that would be an even bigger disaster for PDVSA, even by current standards.
Infographic: Venezuela oil nationalisation dispute timeline