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Last Updated: August 7, 2019
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Forecast HighlightsGlobal liquid fuels

  • Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $64 per barrel (b) in July, almost unchanged from the average in June 2019 but $10/b lower than the price in July of last year. EIA forecasts Brent spot prices will average $64/b in the second half of 2019 and $65/b in 2020. The forecast of stable crude oil prices is the result of EIA’s expectations of a relatively balanced global oil market. EIA forecasts global oil inventories will increase by 0.1 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2019 and 0.3 million b/d in 2020.
  • EIA expects West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices will average $5.50/b less than Brent prices during the fourth quarter of 2019 and in 2020, narrowing from the $6.60/b spread during July. The narrowing spread reflects EIA’s assumption that crude oil pipeline transportation constraints from the Permian Basin to refineries and export terminals on the U.S. Gulf Coast will ease in the coming months. In the July STEO, EIA forecast the Brent-WTI spread to average $4.00/b in 2020. The updated differential forecast reflects EIA’s revised assumptions about the marginal cost of moving crude oil via pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma, to the Gulf Coast.
  • EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil production averaged 11.7 million b/d in July, down by 0.3 million b/d from the June level. The declines were mostly in the Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM), where operators shut platforms for several days in mid-July because of Hurricane Barry. EIA estimates that GOM crude oil production fell by more than 0.3 million b/d in July. Those declines were partially offset by the Lower 48 States onshore region, which is mostly tight oil production, where supply rose by more than 0.1 million b/d. EIA expects monthly growth in Lower 48 onshore production to slow during the rest of the forecast period, averaging 50,000 b/d per month from the fourth quarter of 2019 through the end of 2020, down from an average of 110,000 b/d per month from August 2018 through July 2019. EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will average 12.3 million b/d in 2019 and 13.3 million b/d in 2020, both of which would be record levels.
  • U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.74 gallon (gal) in July, up 2 cents/gal from June but 11 cents/gal lower than the average in July of last year. EIA expects that monthly average gasoline prices peaked for the year in May at an average of $2.86/gal and will fall to an average of $2.64/gal in September. EIA expects regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.62/gal in 2019 and $2.71/gal in 2020.

Natural gas

  • The Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $2.37/million British thermal units (MMBtu) in July, down 3 cents/MMBtu from June. However, by the end of the month, spot prices had fallen below $2.30/MMBtu. Based on this price movement and EIA’s forecast of continued strong growth in natural gas production, EIA lowered its Henry Hub spot price forecast for the second half of 2019 to an average of $2.36/MMBtu. In the July STEO, EIA expected prices to average $2.50/MMBtu during this period. EIA expects natural gas prices in 2020 will increase to an average of $2.75/MMBtu. EIA’s natural gas production models indicate that rising prices are required in the coming quarters to bring supply into balance with rising domestic and export demand in 2020.
  • EIA forecasts that U.S. dry natural gas production will average 91.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, up 7.6 Bcf/d from 2018. EIA expects monthly average natural gas production to grow in late 2019 and then decline slightly during the first quarter of 2020 as the lagged effect of low prices in the second half of 2019 reduces natural gas-directed drilling. However, EIA forecasts that growth will resume in the second quarter of 2020, and natural gas production in 2020 will average 92.5 Bcf/d.
  • EIA estimates that natural gas inventories ended July at 2.7 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 13% higher than levels from a year earlier and 4% lower than the five-year (2014–18) average. EIA forecasts that natural gas storage injections during the 2019 April-through-October injection season will outpace the previous five-year average and that inventories will rise to more than 3.7 Tcf at the end of October, which would be 16% higher than October 2018 levels and slightly above to the five-year average.

Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions

  • EIA has expanded its forecasts for electricity supply in the United States and has introduced new forecasts for wholesale electricity prices. A STEO Supplement provides more information about the changes.
  • Lower costs for natural gas drive EIA’s forecast that annual average wholesale electricity prices will be lower in 2019 than last year in all areas of the United States. The forecast year-over-year declines range from -0.2% in the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to -28% in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) market.
  • EIA expects the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas-fired power plants will rise from 34% in 2018 to 37% in 2019 and then decline slightly in 2020. EIA forecasts that the share of U.S. generation from coal will average 24% in 2019 and in 2020, down from 28% in 2018. The forecast nuclear share of U.S. generation remains at about 20% in 2019 and in 2020. Hydropower averages a 7% share of total U.S. generation in the forecast for 2019 and 2020, similar to 2018. Wind, solar, and other nonhydropower renewables together provided 10% of U.S. total utility-scale generation in 2018. EIA expects they will provide 10% in 2019 and 12% in 2020.
  • EIA expects electric power sector demand for coal to fall by 2% in 2020, compared with an expected decline of 15% in 2019. However, planned coal plant retirements will continue to put downward pressure on overall electricity demand for the fuel. Almost 13 gigawatts of coal-fired electricity generation capacity has retired this year or is scheduled to retire by the end of 2020, accounting for 5% of the capacity existing at the end of 2018.
  • EIA forecasts that renewable fuels, including wind, solar, and hydropower, will collectively produce 18% of U.S. electricity in 2019 and 19% in 2020. EIA expects that annual generation from wind will surpass hydropower generation for the first time in 2019 to become the leading source of renewable electricity generation and maintain that position in 2020.
  • EIA is improving its regional-level trend analysis by inserting a generator-level production cost model that simulates hourly generation at individual power plants. This improves our insight into generation, especially from fast-growing renewable sources like wind and solar.
  • This additional granularity and the assumption that wind will return to more normal levels in 2019, after a windy first half of 2018, results in an EIA forecast that electricity generation from wind power will average 295 billion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2019 and 335 billion kWh in 2020, estimates that are 4% and 7% lower, respectively, than forecast in the July STEO. In addition, the application of hourly dispatch that better models solar incidence lowers the solar electric production forecast by 1.1% in 2019 and by 2.8% in 2020.
  • EIA forecasts that, after rising by 2.7% in 2018, U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decline by 2.3% in 2019 and by 0.5% in 2020. In 2019, EIA forecasts that space cooling demand (as measured in cooling degree days) will be lower than in 2018, when it was 13% higher than the previous 10-year (2008–17) average. In addition, in 2019, EIA expects U.S. CO2 emissions to decline because the forecast share of electricity generated from natural gas and renewables is increasing while the forecast share generated from coal, which is a more carbon-intensive energy source, is decreasing. EIA’s projected emissions decline is lower in 2020 than in 2019 because it forecasts that both heating and cooling requirements will be slightly lower than normal. At the same time, the forecast coal share of generation will remain about the same as in 2019 while the natural gas share declines. Although EIA forecasts that generation from renewables will continue to increase in 2020, a forecast decrease in nuclear power offsets 24% of the renewables’ gain.

Changes to the August STEO

Beginning with the August 6, 2019, publication of the STEO, EIA has expanded its forecasts for regional electricity supply in the United States and has introduced new forecasts for wholesale electricity prices. 

To better present the expanded forecast, EIA will no longer publish table 7e, and the data in tables 7a, 7b, 7d, and 8b will now be stated in billion kilowatthours.

EIA has posted a STEO Supplement that provides more information about the new electricity supply and wholesale price forecasts.

Price Summary
 2017201820192020
aWest Texas Intermediate.
bAverage regular pump price.
cOn-highway retail.
dU.S. Residential average.
WTI Crude Oila
(dollars per barrel)
50.7965.0657.8759.50
Brent Crude Oil
(dollars per barrel)
54.1571.1965.1565.00
Gasolineb
(dollars per gallon)
2.422.732.622.71
Dieselc
(dollars per gallon)
2.653.183.073.22
Heating Oild
(dollars per gallon)
2.513.012.993.07
Natural Gasd
(dollars per thousand cubic feet)
10.8610.4910.4910.61
Electricityd
(cents per kilowatthour)
12.8912.8913.0513.17

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Saudi Aramco Moves Into Russia’s Backyard

International expansions for Saudi Aramco – the largest oil company in the world – are not uncommon. But up to this point, those expansions have followed a certain logic: to create entrenched demand for Saudi crude in the world’s largest consuming markets. But Saudi champion’s latest expansion move defies, or perhaps, changes that logic, as Aramco returns to Europe. And not just any part of Europe, but Eastern Europe – an area of the world dominated by Russia – as Saudi Aramco acquires downstream assets from Poland’s PKN Orlen and signs quite a significant crude supply deal. How is this important? Let us examine.

First, the deal itself and its history. As part of the current Polish government’s plan to strengthen its national ‘crown jewels’ in line with its more nationalistic stance, state energy firm PKN Orlen announced plans to purchase its fellow Polish rival (and also state-owned) Grupa Lotos. The outright purchase fell afoul of EU anti-competition rules, which meant that PKN Orlen had to divest some Lotos assets in order to win approval of the deal. Some of the Lotos assets – including 417 fuel stations – are being sold to Hungary’s MOL, which will also sign a long-term fuel supply agreement with PKN Orlen for the newly-acquired sites, while PKN Orlen will gain fuel retail assets in Hungary and Slovakia as part of the deal. But, more interestingly, PKN Orlen has chosen to sell a 30% stake in the Lotos Gdansk refinery in Poland (with a crude processing capacity of 210,000 bd) to Saudi Aramco, alongside a stake in a fuel logistic subsidiary and jet fuel joint venture supply arrangement between Lotos and BP. In return, PKN Orlen will also sign a long-term contract to purchase between 200,000-337,000 b/d of crude from Aramco, which is an addition to the current contract for 100,000 b/d of Saudi crude that already exists. At a maximum, that figure will cover more than half of Poland’s crude oil requirements, but PKN Orlen has also said that it plans to direct some of that new supply to several of its other refineries elsewhere in Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

For Saudi Aramco, this is very interesting. While Aramco has always been a presence in Europe as a major crude supplier, its expansion plans over the past decade have been focused elsewhere. In the US, where it acquired full ownership of the Motiva joint venture from Shell in 2017. In doing so, it acquired control of Port Arthur, the largest refinery in North America, and has been on a petrochemicals-focused expansion since. In Asia, where Aramco has been busy creating significant nodes for its crude – in China, in India and in Malaysia (to serve the Southeast Asia and facilitate trade). And at home, where the focus has on expanding refining and petrochemical capacity, and strengthen its natural gas position. So this expansion in Europe – a mature market with a low ceiling for growth, even in Eastern Europe, is interesting. Why Poland, and not East or southern Africa? The answer seems fairly obvious: Russia.

The current era of relatively peaceful cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Russia in the oil sphere is recent. Very recent. It was not too long ago that Saudi Arabia and Russia were locked in a crude price war, which had devastating consequences, and ultimately led to the détente through OPEC+ that presaged an unprecedented supply control deal. That was through necessity, as the world faced the far ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But remove that lens of cooperation, and Saudi Arabia and Russia are actual rivals. With the current supply easing strategy through OPEC+ gradually coming to an end, this could remove the need for the that club (by say 2H 2022). And with Russia not being part of OPEC itself – where Saudi Arabia is the kingpin – cooperation is no longer necessary once the world returns to normality.

So the Polish deal is canny. In a statement, Aramco stated that ‘the investments will widen (our) presence in the European downstream sector and further expand (our) crude imports into Poland, which aligns with PKN Orlen’s strategy of diversifying its energy supplies’. Which hints at the other geopolitical aspect in play. Europe’s major reliance on Russia for its crude and natural gas has been a minefield – see the recent price chaos in the European natural gas markets – and countries that were formally under the Soviet sphere of influence have been trying to wean themselves off reliance from a politically unpredictable neighbour. Poland’s current disillusion with EU membership (at least from the ruling party) are well-documented, but its entanglement with Russia is existential. The Cold War is not more than 30 years gone.

For Saudi Aramco, the move aligns with its desire to optimise export sales from its Red Sea-facing terminals Yanbu, Jeddah, Shuqaiq and Rabigh, which have closer access to Europe through the Suez Canal. It is for the same reason that Aramco’s trading subsidiary ATC recently signed a deal with German refiner/trader Klesch Group for a 3-year supply of 110,000 b/d crude. It would seem that Saudi Arabia is anticipating an eventual end to the OPEC+ era of cooperative and a return to rivalry. And in a rivalry, that means having to make power moves. The PKN Orlen deal is a power move, since it brings Aramco squarely in Russia’s backyard, directly displacing Russian market share. Not just in Poland, but in other markets as well. And with a geopolitical situation that is fragile – see the recent tensions about Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian borders – that plays into Aramco’s hands. European sales make up only a fraction of the daily flotilla of Saudi crude to enters international markets, but even though European consumption is in structural decline, there are still volumes required.

How will Russia react? Politically, it is on the backfoot, but its entrenched positions in Europe allows it to hold plenty of sway. European reservations about the Putin administration and climate change goals do not detract from commercial reality that Europe needs energy now. The debate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is proof of that. Russian crude freed up from being directed to Eastern Europe means a surplus to sell elsewhere. Which means that Russia will be looking at deals with other countries and refiners, possibly in markets with Aramco is dominant. That level of tension won’t be seen for a while – these deals takes months and years to complete – but we can certainly expect that agitation to be reflected in upcoming OPEC+ discussions. The club recently endorsed another expected 400,000 b/d of supply easing for January. Reading the tea leaves – of which the PKN Orlen is one – makes it sound like there will not be much more cooperation beyond April, once the supply deal is anticipated to end.

End of Article

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Market Outlook:

-       Crude price trading range: Brent – US$86-88/b, WTI – US$84-86/b

-       Crude oil benchmarks globally continue their gain streak for a fifth week, as the market bounces back from the lows seen in early December as the threat of the Omicron virus variant fades and signs point to tightening balances on strong consumption

-       This could set the stage for US$100/b oil by midyear – as predicted by several key analysts – as consumption rebounds ahead of summer travel and OPEC+ remains locked into its gradual consumption easing schedule 

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