The United States exported 2 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2018 to 42 different destinations
In 2018, U.S. exports of crude oil continued to increase to 2.0 million barrels per day (b/d), up 846,000 b/d (73%) from 2017 (Figure 1). The number of destinations for U.S. crude oil exports also increased from 37 to 42. Volumes by destination changed significantly between the first and second halves of 2018.
The increase in U.S. crude oil exports was the result of increasing U.S. crude oil production and infrastructure changes. U.S. crude oil production increased 1.6 million b/d from 2017 to 10.9 million b/d in 2018, with the U.S. Gulf Coast—where more than 90% of U.S. crude oil exports depart from—producing 7.1 million b/d. The increased production is mostly of light, sweet crude oils, but U.S. Gulf Coast refineries are configured mostly to process heavy, sour crude oils. This increasing production and mismatch between crude oil type and refinery configuration causes more of the increasing U.S. crude oil production to be exported.
In early 2018, modifications were made at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) in the Gulf of Mexico to enable the loading of vessels for crude oil exports. LOOP is currently the only U.S. facility capable of accommodating fully loaded Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC), vessels capable of carrying approximately 2 million barrels of crude oil. After LOOP was modified to also allow exports, the increase in cargo scale led U.S. crude oil exports to surpass 2 million b/d for 25 weeks in 2018 compared with just 1 week in 2017. In addition to LOOP, other U.S Gulf Coast export facilities in and around Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, have been investing in increasing the scale of U.S. crude oil export cargos.
In 2018, Asia was the largest regional destination for U.S. crude oil exports, followed by Europe, and, as in previous years, Canada was the largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports. Canada received 378,000 b/d of U.S. crude oil exports, representing 19% of total U.S. crude oil exports in 2018. South Korea surpassed China to become the second-largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports in 2018, receiving 236,000 b/d compared with China’s 228,000 b/d (Figure 2).
However, the distribution of U.S. crude oil exports by destination varied significantly from the first half of 2018 to the second half. In the first half of 2018, the United States exported 376,000 b/d of crude oil to China, which made China the largest single destination for U.S. crude oil exports for that period. However, in August, September, and October of 2018, the United States exported no crude oil to China, and then in November and December it exported significantly less than in earlier months. In the second half of 2018, the United States exported 83,000 b/d of crude oil to China, a decrease of 294,000 b/d from the first half (Figure 3).
In the summer of 2018, as part of ongoing trade negotiations between the United States and China, China temporarily included U.S. crude oil on a list of goods potentially subject to an increase in import tariffs. At the same time, the difference between the international crude oil benchmark Brent and the U.S. domestic price West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures prices narrowed rapidly between June and July 2018. Brent prices went from $9 per barrel (b) higher than WTI in June to $6/b higher than WTI in July. The rapidly narrowing price discount of U.S. crude oils versus international crude oils and the potential for higher import tariffs caused Chinese buying of U.S. crude oil to slow.
Although U.S. crude oil exports to China slowed in the second half of 2018, exports to South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, and India increased significantly. U.S. crude oil exports to South Korea increased 247,000 b/d (222%) between the first and second half of 2018. U.S. crude oil exports to other destinations in Asia also increased, particularly to Taiwan, which rose 111,000 b/d (168%) in the second half of 2018 compared with the first half, and to India, which increased 86,000 b/d (97%) during the same period.
Despite the volume changes in U.S. crude oil destination between the first and second halves of 2018, the list of destinations has remained consistent over the past three years. Of the 27 destinations that took U.S. crude oil in 2016, the first year of unrestricted U.S. crude oil exports, 22 destinations did so again in 2017 and again in 2018 (Figure 4). Furthermore, few destinations appear to be one-time recipients of U.S. crude oil, other than those such as the Marshall Islands that were listed because of data collection methods and ship-to-ship transfers.
U.S. average regular gasoline price increases, diesel price falls
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose nearly 8 cents from the previous week to $2.55 per gallon on March 18, down 5 cents from the same time last year. The East Coast price rose nearly 9 cents to $2.52 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price rose over 8 cents to $2.30 per gallon, the Midwest price rose nearly 8 cents to $2.48 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price rose nearly 7 cents to $2.32 per gallon, and the West Coast price rose nearly 5 cents to $3.03 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell nearly 1 cent to $3.07 per gallon on March 18, nearly 10 cents higher than a year ago. The Midwest price fell nearly 2 cents to $2.99 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell over 1 cent to $2.87 per gallon, and the West Coast price fell nearly 1 cent to $3.50 per gallon. The Rocky Mountain price increased nearly 1 cent, remaining at $2.94 per gallon, and the East Coast price rose less than 1 cent, remaining at $3.12 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 1.0 million barrels last week to 51.1 million barrels as of March 15, 2019, 6.3 million barrels (14.0%) greater than the five-year (2014-2018) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast, East Coast, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased by 1.2 million barrels, 0.4 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively, while Midwest inventories decreased by 0.7 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 12.1% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of March 18, 2019, residential heating oil prices averaged nearly $3.22 per gallon, 1 cent per gallon below last week’s price but 16 cents per gallon above last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged $2.09 per gallon, nearly 4 cents per gallon less than last week’s price but 8 cents per gallon more than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged $2.41 per gallon, less than 1 cent per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 8 cents per gallon lower than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged nearly $0.84 per gallon, less than 1 cent per gallon above last week’s price but 3 cents per gallon below last year’s price.
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
In its January 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that annual U.S. crude oil production will average 11.1 million b/d in 2021, down 0.2 million b/d from 2020 as result of a decline in drilling activity related to low oil prices. A production decline in 2021 would mark the second consecutive year of production declines. Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic led to supply and demand disruptions. EIA expects crude oil production to increase in 2022 by 0.4 million b/d because of increased drilling as prices remain at or near $50 per barrel (b).
The United States set annual natural gas production records in 2018 and 2019, largely because of increased drilling in shale and tight oil formations. The increase in production led to higher volumes of natural gas in storage and a decrease in natural gas prices. In 2020, marketed natural gas production fell by 2% from 2019 levels amid responses to COVID-19. EIA estimates that annual U.S. marketed natural gas production will decline another 2% to average 95.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2021. The fall in production will reverse in 2022, when EIA estimates that natural gas production will rise by 2% to 97.6 Bcf/d.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
EIA’s forecast for crude oil production is separated into three regions: the Lower 48 states excluding the Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) (81% of 2019 crude oil production), the GOM (15%), and Alaska (4%). EIA expects crude oil production in the U.S. Lower 48 states to decline through the first quarter of 2021 and then increase through the rest of the forecast period. As more new wells come online later in 2021, new well production will exceed the decline in legacy wells, driving the increase in overall crude oil production after the first quarter of 2021.
Associated natural gas production from oil-directed wells in the Permian Basin will fall because of lower West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices and reduced drilling activity in the first quarter of 2021. Natural gas production from dry regions such as Appalachia depends on the Henry Hub price. EIA forecasts the Henry Hub price will increase from $2.00 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2020 to $3.01/MMBtu in 2021 and to $3.27/MMBtu in 2022, which will likely prompt an increase in Appalachia's natural gas production. However, natural gas production in Appalachia may be limited by pipeline constraints in 2021 if the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) is delayed. The MVP is scheduled to enter service in late 2021, delivering natural gas from producing regions in northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Natural gas takeaway capacity in the region is quickly filling up since the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was canceled in mid-2020.
Just when it seems that the drama of early December, when the nations of the OPEC+ club squabbled over how to implement and ease their collective supply quotas in 2021, would be repeated, a concession came from the most unlikely quarter of all. Saudi Arabia. OPEC’s swing producer and, especially in recent times, vocal judge, announced that it would voluntarily slash 1 million barrels per day of supply. The move took the oil markets by surprise, sending crude prices soaring but was also very unusual in that it was not even necessary at all.
After a day’s extension to the negotiations, the OPEC+ club had actually already agreed on the path forward for their supply deal through the remainder of Q1 2021. The nations of OPEC+ agreed to ease their overall supply quotas by 75,000 b/d in February and 120,000 b/d in March, bringing the total easing over three months to 695,000 b/d after the UAE spearheaded a revised increase of 500,000 b/d for January. The increases are actually very narrow ones; there were no adjustments for quotas for all OPEC+ members with the exception of Russia and Kazakshtan, who will be able to pump 195,000 additional barrels per day between them. That the increases for February and March were not higher or wider is a reflection of reality: despite Covid-19 vaccinations being rolled out globally, a new and more infectious variant of the coronavirus has started spreading across the world. In fact, there may even be at least of these mutations currently spreading, throwing into question the efficacy of vaccines and triggering new lockdowns. The original schedule of the April 2020 supply deal would have seen OPEC+ adding 2 million b/d of production from January 2021 onwards; the new tranches are far more measured and cognisant of the challenging market.
Then Saudi Arabia decides to shock the market by declaring that the Kingdom would slash an additional million barrels of crude supply above its current quota over February and March post-OPEC+ announcement. Which means that while countries such as Russia, the UAE and Nigeria are working to incrementally increase output, Saudi Arabia is actually subsidising those planned increases by making a massive additional voluntary cut. For a member that threw its weight around last year by unleashing taps to trigger a crude price war with Russia and has been emphasising the need for strict compliant by all members before allowing any collective increases to take place, this is uncharacteristic. Saudi Arabia may be OPEC’s swing producer, but it is certainly not that benevolent. Not least because it is expected to record a massive US$79 billion budget deficit for 2020 as low crude prices eat into the Kingdom’s finances.
So, why is Saudi Arabia doing this?
The last time the Saudis did this was in July 2020, when the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic was at devastating levels and crude prices needed some additional propping up. It succeeded. In January 2021, however, global crude prices are already at the US$50/b level and the market had already cheered the resolution of OPEC+’s positions for the next two months. There was no real urgent need to make voluntary cuts, especially since no other OPEC member would suit especially not the UAE with whom there has been a falling out.
The likeliest reason is leadership. Having failed to convince the rest of the OPEC+ gang to avoid any easing of quotas, Saudi Arabia could be wanting to prove its position by providing a measure of supply security at a time of major price sensitivity due to the Covid-19 resurgence. It will also provide some political ammunition for future negotiations when the group meets in March to decide plans for Q2 2021, turning this magnanimous move into an implicit threat. It could also be the case that Saudi Arabia is planning to pair its voluntary cut with field maintenance works, which would be a nice parallel to the usual refinery maintenance season in Asia where crude demand typically falls by 10-20% as units shut for routine inspections.
It could also be a projection of soft power. After isolating Qatar physically and economically since 2017 over accusations of terrorism support and proximity to Iran, four Middle Eastern states – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt – have agreed to restore and normalise ties with the peninsula. While acknowledging that a ‘trust deficit’ still remained, the accord avoids the awkward workarounds put in place to deal with the boycott and provides for road for cooperation ahead of a change on guard in the White House. Perhaps Qatar is even thinking of re-joining OPEC? As Saudi Arabia flexes its geopolitical muscle, it does need to pick its battles and re-assert its position. Showcasing political leadership as the world’s crude swing producer is as good a way of demonstrating that as any, even if it is planning to claim dues in the future.
It worked. It has successfully changed the market narrative from inter-OPEC+ squabbling to a more stabilised crude market. Saudi Arabia’s patience in prolonging this benevolent role is unknown, but for now, it has achieved what it wanted to achieve: return visibility to the Kingdom as the global oil leader, and having crude oil prices rise by nearly 10%.