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Power plants in Saudi Arabia burned an average 0.4 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil in 2018 directly for power generation, the lowest amount since at least 2009, the earliest year that data are available from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI, Figure 1). According to the JODI data, compared with all other countries, Saudi Arabia burns by far the largest amount of crude oil directly for power generation. Between 2015 and 2017, Iraq used the second-largest amount of crude oil for power generation (over 150,000 b/d on average), but has significantly reduced its direct crude burn since then.

Figure 1. Saudi Arabia direct use of crude oil for power generation (2014 - 2018)

During the summer months, Saudi Arabia typically experiences an increase in electricity consumption as domestic demand for air conditioning rises. Saudi Arabia relies on crude oil and other fossil fuels, such as petroleum products and natural gas, for power generation. Saudi Arabia’s direct crude burn reached a record high during the summer of 2015, averaging 0.9 million b/d from June to August. In comparison, direct crude burn in the summer of 2018 was 41% lower at 0.5 million b/d.

Despite continued, steady increases in both population and electricity consumption, Saudi Arabia managed to reduce its reliance on crude oil for power generation by increasing the use of other energy sources, such as natural gas and fuel oil. Most of the natural gas that Saudi Arabia produces is associated gas, which is natural gas produced along with crude oil from an oil well. In recent years, however, nonassociated natural gas production has increased. The Wasit gas plant reached its full operating capacity of 2.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2016. The plant was built to process nonassociated gas, which it is currently processing from the Hasbah and Arabiyah offshore gas fields, both of which began production in 2016. Saudi Arabia is investing in more natural gas processing capacity, including the construction of the Fadhili gas plant, which will be able to process nonassociated natural gas from both on- and offshore fields. The Fadhili gas plant is expected to be completed by the end of 2019 with a capacity of 2.5 Bcf/d. Consumption of natural gas in Saudi Arabia has steadily increased, averaging 10.6 Bcf/d in 2017, the latest year for which data are available (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Saudi Arabi natural gas and fuel oil consumption

In addition to natural gas, Saudi Arabia has also been using fuel oil as a partial replacement of crude oil in power generation. High-sulfur fuel oil is a relatively cheap petroleum product that can be used to fuel marine vessels and can also be used for power generation. However, because of environmental concerns and competition with other fuels, fuel oil consumption has been generally declining in most regions in the world. In Saudi Arabia, however, fuel oil consumption rose 25% between 2015 and 2018 to 0.5 million b/d on average, according to JODI data. Some trade press reports indicate that one potential side effect of the upcoming changes to the sulfur limits in marine fuels in 2020 is that the stranded high-sulfur fuel oil could be sent to Saudi Arabia to further replace crude oil in power generation.

With less crude oil directly being used for power generation, more crude oil is available for domestic refining and exports. For many years, Saudi Arabia has been working to increase its domestic refinery capacity. Saudi Arabia is able to process 2.9 million b/d of crude oil domestically, which will rise further after the startup of the 400,000-b/d Jazan refinery, which may come online in 2019. Because of its refinery additions, Saudi Arabia has been able to process more of its crude oil domestically. Crude oil refinery runs averaged roughly 1.8 million b/d in 2009 and subsequently rose to an average of 2.6 million b/d by 2018, according to JODI data (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Saudi Arabi crude oil refinery intake and petroleum product exports

As a result of increased refinery runs, Saudi Arabia was also able to increase the amount of petroleum products it could export. Exports of petroleum products more than quadrupled between 2009 and 2018, from 0.4 million b/d to 2.0 million b/d. Saudi Arabia exports more diesel than any other petroleum product, averaging 0.8 million b/d in 2018. Gasoline and fuel oil were the next two most exported petroleum products in 2018 at 0.4 million b/d and 0.3 million b/d, respectively. Saudi Arabia also imports petroleum products; however, over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has generally become a net exporter of most products, according to JODI data.

In addition to refining more crude oil domestically, using less crude oil in power generation can enable Saudi Arabia to increase crude oil exports, if needed. However, in late 2016 and in late 2018, Saudi Arabia, along with other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-OPEC countries, agreed to voluntarily cut crude oil production in order to prevent further declines in crude oil prices. These agreements resulted in lower production of crude oil in Saudi Arabia, which is a more significant factor in how much crude oil the country has available to export throughout the year (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Saudi Arabi crude oil production and exports

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has been cutting production beyond its agreed-upon target, meaning that as Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production falls, production of associated natural gas will also decline. Declines in associated natural gas production could result in an increased need for crude oil used for power generation.

U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices increase

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose nearly 5 cents from the previous week to $2.89 per gallon on April 29, 4 cents higher than the same time last year. The Rocky Mountain price rose over 8 cents to $2.84 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices both increased nearly 5 cents to $2.78 per gallon and $2.58 per gallon, respectively, and the Midwest and West Coast prices each rose over 4 cents to $2.77 per gallon and $3.67 per gallon, respectively.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased more than 2 cents to $3.17 per gallon on April 29, 1 cent higher than a year ago. The Rocky Mountain price increased 4 cents to $3.18 per gallon, the West Coast price increased more than 3 cents to $3.73 per gallon, the Gulf Coast and East Coast prices increased 2 cents to $2.94 per gallon and $ 3.19 per gallon, respectively, and the Midwest price increased nearly 2 cents to $3.06 per gallon.

Propane/propylene inventories rise

U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 1.2 million barrels last week to 58.9 million barrels as of April 26, 2019, 10.3 million barrels (21.1%) greater than the five-year (2014-2018) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Midwest, Rocky Mountain/West Coast, and East Coast inventories increased by 0.9 million barrels, 0.2 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively, and Gulf Coast inventories increased slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 9.6% of total propane/propylene inventories.

electricity electricity generating fuel mix international liquid fuels natural gas oil petroleum OPEC Saudi Arabia
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Pricing-in The Covid 19 Vaccine

In a few days, the bi-annual OPEC meeting will take place on November 30, leading into a wider OPEC+ meeting on December 30. This is what all the political jostling and negotiations currently taking place is leading up to, as the coalition of major oil producers under the OPEC+ banner decide on the next step of its historic and ambitious supply control plan. Designed to prop up global oil prices by managing supply, a postponement of the next phase in the supply deal is widely expected. But there are many cracks appearing beneath the headline.

A quick recap. After Saudi Arabia and Russia triggered a price war in March 2020 that led to a collapse in oil prices (with US crude prices briefly falling into negative territory due to the technical quirk), OPEC and its non-OPEC allies (known collectively as OPEC+) agreed to a massive supply quota deal that would throttle their production for 2 years. The initial figure was 10 mmb/d, until Mexico’s reticence brought that down to 9.7 mmb/d. This was due to fall to 7.7 mmb/d by July 2020, but soft demand forced a delay, while Saudi Arabia led the charge to ensure full compliance from laggards, which included Iraq, Nigeria and (unusually) the UAE. The next tranche will bring the supply control ceiling down to 5.7 mmb/d. But given that Covid-19 is still raging globally (despite promising vaccine results), this might be too much too soon. Yes, prices have recovered, but at US$40/b crude, this is still not sufficient to cover the oil-dependent budgets of many OPEC+ nations. So a delay is very likely.

But for how long? The OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee panel has suggested that the next step of the plan (which will effectively boost global supply by 2 mmb/d) be postponed by 3-6 months. This move, if adopted, will have been presaged by several public statements by OPEC+ leaders, including a pointed comment from OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo that producers must be ready to respond to ‘shifts in market fundamentals’.

On the surface, this is a necessary move. Crude prices have rallied recently – to as high as US$45/b – on positive news of Covid-19 vaccines. Treatments from Pfizer, Moderna and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca have touted 90%+ effectiveness in various forms, with countries such as the US, Germany and the UK ordering billions of doses and setting the stage for mass vaccinations beginning December. Life returning to a semblance of normality would lift demand, particularly in key products such as gasoline (as driving rates increase) and jet fuel (allowing a crippled aviation sector to return to life). Underpinning the rally is the understanding that OPEC+ will always act in the market’s favour, carefully supporting the price recovery. But there are already grouses among OPEC members that they are doing ‘too much’. Led by Saudi Arabia, the draconian dictates of meeting full compliance to previous quotas have ruffled feathers, although most members have reluctantly attempt to abide by them. But there is a wider existential issue that OPEC+ is merely allowing its rivals to resuscitate and leapfrog them once again; the US active oil rig count by Baker Hughes has reversed a chronic decline trend, as WTI prices are at levels above breakeven for US shale.

Complaints from Iran, Iraq and Nigeria are to be expected, as is from Libya as it seeks continued exemption from quotas due to the legacy of civil war even though it has recently returned to almost full production following a truce. But grievance is also coming from an unexpected quarter: the UAE. A major supporter in the Saudi Arabia faction of OPEC, reports suggest that the UAE (led by the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi) are privately questioning the benefit of remaining in OPEC. Beset by shrivelling oil revenue, the Emiratis have been grumbling about the fairness of their allocated quota as they seek to rebuild their trade-dependent economy. There has been suggestion that the Emiratis could even leave OPEC if decisions led to a net negative outcome for them. Unlike the Qatar exit, this will not just be a blow to OPEC as a whole, questioning its market relevance but to Saudi Arabia’s lead position, as it loses one of its main allies, reducing its negotiation power. And if the UAE leaves, Kuwait could follow, which would leave the Saudis even more isolated.

This could be a tactic to increase the volume of the UAE’s voice in OPEC+, which has been dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia. But it could also be a genuine policy shift. Either way, it throws even more conundrums onto a delicate situation that could undermine an already fragile market. Despite the positive market news led by Covid-19 vaccines and demand recovery in Asia, American crude oil inventories in Cushing are now approaching similar high levels last seen in April (just before the WTI crash) while OPEC itself has lowered its global demand forecast for 2020 by 300,000 b/d. That’s dangerous territory to be treading in, especially if members of the OPEC+ club are threatening to exit and undermine the pack. A postponement of the plan seems inevitable on December 1 at this point, but it is what lies beyond the immediate horizon that is the true threat to OPEC+.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$44-46/b, WTI – US$42-44/b
  • More positive news on Covid-19 vaccines have underpinned a crude price rally despite worrying signs of continued soft demand and inventory build-ups
  • Pfizer’s application for emergency approval of its vaccine is paving the way for mass vaccinations to begin soon, with some experts predicting that the global economy could return to normality in Q2 2021
  • Market observers are predicting a delay in the OPEC+ supply quota schedule, but the longer timeline for the club’s plan – which is set to last until April 2022 – may have to be brought forward to appease current dissent in the group

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November, 25 2020
EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to remain relatively flat through 2021

In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) November Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will remain near its current level through the end of 2021.

A record 12.9 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil was produced in the United States in November 2019 and was at 12.7 million b/d in March 2020, when the President declared a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Crude oil production then fell to 10.0 million b/d in May 2020, the lowest level since January 2018.

By August, the latest monthly data available in EIA’s series, production of crude oil had risen to 10.6 million b/d in the United States, and the U.S. benchmark price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil had increased from a monthly average of $17 per barrel (b) in April to $42/b in August. EIA forecasts that the WTI price will average $43/b in the first half of 2021, up from our forecast of $40/b during the second half of 2020.

The U.S. crude oil production forecast reflects EIA’s expectations that annual global petroleum demand will not recover to pre-pandemic levels (101.5 million b/d in 2019) through at least 2021. EIA forecasts that global consumption of petroleum will average 92.9 million b/d in 2020 and 98.8 million b/d in 2021.

The gradual recovery in global demand for petroleum contributes to EIA’s forecast of higher crude oil prices in 2021. EIA expects that the Brent crude oil price will increase from its 2020 average of $41/b to $47/b in 2021.

EIA’s crude oil price forecast depends on many factors, especially changes in global production of crude oil. As of early November, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) were considering plans to keep production at current levels, which could result in higher crude oil prices. OPEC+ had previously planned to ease production cuts in January 2021.

Other factors could result in lower-than-forecast prices, especially a slower recovery in global petroleum demand. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, some parts of the United States are adding restrictions such as curfews and limitations on gatherings and some European countries are re-instituting lockdown measures.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of U.S. crude oil production in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 19 2020
OPEC members' net oil export revenue in 2020 expected to drop to lowest level since 2002

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will earn about $323 billion in net oil export revenues in 2020. If realized, this forecast revenue would be the lowest in 18 years. Lower crude oil prices and lower export volumes drive this expected decrease in export revenues.

Crude oil prices have fallen as a result of lower global demand for petroleum products because of responses to COVID-19. Export volumes have also decreased under OPEC agreements limiting crude oil output that were made in response to low crude oil prices and record-high production disruptions in Libya, Iran, and to a lesser extent, Venezuela.

OPEC earned an estimated $595 billion in net oil export revenues in 2019, less than half of the estimated record high of $1.2 trillion, which was earned in 2012. Continued declines in revenue in 2020 could be detrimental to member countries’ fiscal budgets, which rely heavily on revenues from oil sales to import goods, fund social programs, and support public services. EIA expects a decline in net oil export revenue for OPEC in 2020 because of continued voluntary curtailments and low crude oil prices.

The benchmark Brent crude oil spot price fell from an annual average of $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 to $64/b in 2019. EIA expects Brent to average $41/b in 2020, based on forecasts in EIA’s October 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). OPEC petroleum production averaged 36.6 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018 and fell to 34.5 million b/d in 2019; EIA expects OPEC production to decline a further 3.9 million b/d to average 30.7 million b/d in 2020.

EIA based its OPEC revenues estimate on forecast petroleum liquids production—including crude oil, condensate, and natural gas plant liquids—and forecast values of OPEC petroleum consumption and crude oil prices.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of OPEC revenue in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 16 2020