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Last Updated: September 19, 2019
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On Saturday, September 14, 2019, an attack damaged the Saudi Aramco Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Abqaiq oil processing facility is the world’s largest crude oil processing and stabilization plant with a capacity of 7 million barrels per day (b/d), equivalent to about 7% of global crude oil production capacity. On Monday, September 16, 2019, the first full day of trading after the attack, Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices experienced the largest single-day price increase since August 21, 2008 and June 29, 2012, respectively.

On Tuesday, September 17, Saudi Aramco reported that Abqaiq was producing 2 million b/d and that its entire output capacity was expected to be fully restored by the end of September. Additionally, Saudi Aramco stated that crude oil exports to customers will continue by drawing on existing inventories and offering additional crude oil production from other fields. Tanker loading estimates from third-party data sources indicate that loadings at two Saudi Arabian export facilities were restored to the pre-attack levels. Likely driven by news of the expected return of the lost production capacity both Brent and WTI crude oil prices fell on Tuesday, September 17.

Crude oil markets will certainly continue to react to new information as it becomes available in the days and weeks ahead, but this disruption and the resulting changes in global crude oil prices will influence U.S. retail gasoline prices.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that Saudi Arabia was producing 9.9 million b/d of crude oil in August, and estimates from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI) indicate the country exported 6.9 million b/d during July, the latest month for which data are available (Figure 1). Estimates from a third-party tanker tracking data service, ClipperData, indicate Saudi Arabian crude oil exports in August remained at 6.7 million b/d. These crude oil production and export levels are each 0.5 million b/d lower than their respective 2018 annual averages. JODI data indicate that Saudi Arabia held nearly 180 million barrels of crude oil in inventory at the end of July 2019. Saudi Arabia can use these inventories to maintain a similar level of crude oil exports as before the strike, assuming the production outage is short in duration, as indicated by Saudi Aramco’s update on September 17.

Figure 1. Saudi Arabia crude oil production and exports

Saudi Arabia is rare among oil producing countries, in that it regularly maintains spare crude oil production capacity as a matter of its oil production policy. EIA defines spare capacity as the volume of production that can be brought online within 30 days and sustained for at least 90 days using sound business practices. In the September Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) EIA estimated that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) spare capacity was 2.2 million b/d in August 2019, nearly all of which was in Saudi Arabia. Outside of OPEC, EIA does not include any unused capacity in its spare capacity total, even when countries periodically hold such capacity (as is the case with Russia). During previous periods of significant oil supply disruptions, Saudi Arabia generally increased production to offset the loss of supplies and stabilize markets (Figure 2).

Figure 2. OPEC spare capacity and Brent crude oil price

Following the September 14 attack and an ensuing outage at the Abqaiq facility, the amount of available spare capacity that can be brought online within 30 days in Saudi Arabia is unknown. In addition, because Saudi Arabia holds most of OPEC’s spare capacity, there is likely little spare production capacity elsewhere to offset the loss. Russia may be able to increase production in response to disruption and higher prices, but the amount of time needed for these volumes to become available is uncertain. The United States would also likely be able to increase production, but it would take longer than 30 days. Therefore, without Saudi Arabian spare capacity, the global crude oil market is vulnerable to production outages, as events would be more disruptive than normal.

The most readily available alternative source of supply during a supply outage is stocks of crude oil. As of September 1, commercial inventories of crude oil and other liquids for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members were estimated at 2.9 billion barrels, enough to cover 61 days of its members’ liquid fuels consumption. On a days-of-supply basis, OECD commercial inventories are 2% lower than the five-year (2014-18) average (Figure 3).

Figure 3. OECD commerical oil inventories days of supply

The United States has two types of crude oil inventories: those that private firms hold for commercial purposes, and those the federal government holds in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) for use during periods of major supply interruption. Weekly data for September 13 indicate total U.S. commercial inventories were equivalent to 24 days of current U.S. refinery crude oil inputs, with the SPR holding additional volumes equal to slightly more than 37 additional days of current refinery inputs, for a total of 62 days. The supply coverage provided by oil inventories can also be measured by days of net crude oil imports (imports minus exports). By this metric, as of June 2019 the United States could meet its net import needs by drawing down the SPR for 162 days. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act states the President may make the decision to withdraw crude oil from the SPR should they find that there is a severe petroleum supply disruption. The SPR has been used in this capacity three times since its creation: first, in 1991 at the beginning of Operation Desert Storm; second, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005; and third, in June 2011 to help offset crude oil supply disruptions in Libya.

Although U.S. imports of crude oil from Saudi Arabia have declined during the past three years—and recently hit a four-week average record low of 380,000 b/d in the week ending September 6—the United States still imports about 7 million b/d of crude oil (Figure 4). As a result, a tighter global crude oil market and increased global crude oil prices will ultimately increase the price of crude oil and transportation fuels in the United States.

Figure 4. U.S. crude oil imports (four-week average)

Crude oil prices are the largest determinant of the retail price for gasoline, the most widely consumed transportation fuel in the United States. In general, because gasoline taxes and retail distribution costs are generally stable, movements in U.S. gasoline prices are primarily the result of changes in crude oil prices and wholesale margins. Each dollar per barrel of sustained price change in crude oil translates to an average change of about 2.4 cents/gal in petroleum product prices. About 50% of a crude oil price change passes through to retail gasoline prices within two weeks and 80% within four weeks. However, this price pass-through tends to be more rapid when crude oil prices increase than when they decrease. Brent crude oil prices are more relevant than WTI prices in determining U.S. retail gasoline prices.

EIA is closely monitoring the developments related to the oil supply disruption in Saudi Arabia and the effects that they have on oil markets. EIA’s findings will be reflected in the October STEO, which is scheduled for release on October 8.

U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices increase

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price rose less than 1 cent from the previous week to remain at $2.55 per gallon on September 16, 29 cents lower than the same time last year. The Rocky Mountain and Midwest prices each rose 2 cents to $2.65 per gallon and $2.46 per gallon, respectively. The East Coast price fell nearly 1 cent to $2.45 per gallon, and the Gulf Coast price fell less than 1 cent to $2.23 per gallon. The West Coast price remained unchanged at $3.25 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose nearly 2 cents to $2.99 per gallon on September 16, 28 cents lower than a year ago. The West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each rose nearly 3 cents to $3.57 per gallon and $2.96 per gallon respectively, the Midwest and Gulf Coast prices each rose nearly 2 cents to $2.88 per gallon and $2.76 per gallon, respectively, and the East Coast price rose nearly 1 cent to $3.00 per gallon.

Propane/propylene inventories rise

U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 2.9 million barrels last week to 100.7 million barrels as of September 13, 2019, 14.3 million barrels (16.6%) greater than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this time of year. Gulf Coast inventories increased by 1.2 million barrels, and East Coast and Midwest inventories each increased by 0.9 million barrels. Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 4.1% of total propane/propylene inventories.

Brent crude oil exports imports inventories stocks prices Saudi Arabia SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) WTI
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Geopolitical Tensions Overshadow a Year of Big Discoveries

2019 has been a fairly good year for big hydrocarbon discoveries. After several years of depressed activities, a slew of major upstream finds were announced this year as oil and gas companies recovered from the slump in oil prices to begin drilling once again. Despite the onshore shale revolution, the US Gulf of Mexico keeps giving, with Shell landing a huge oil discovery in the Perdido Corridor. In Russia, Gazprom hit payday with a 17 tcf gas find in the Dinkov and Nyarmeyskoye fields in the Yamal Peninsula. Beyond established upstream basins, large finds have also come in from new frontiers. In South Africa, Total made a huge discovery at Brulpadda that could transform the economy, while in Guyana, ExxonMobil and Tullow keep adding on to a long list of major oil finds dating back to 2015. Up to 8 tcf of gas was hit in Cyprus – though that lies in disputed waters claimed by Turkey – while Kosmos Energy announced the largest gas discovery of the year at the Orca-1 well in Mauritania.

And then there is Iran. Hammered by US sanctions that have severely curbed its oil exports – and scaring off international investors – Iran has continued to go alone in exploration work within its borders. Just last week, Iran announced that it had struck a new field in its southwest that contains up to 53 billion barrels of oil. This single field would increase Iran’s proven oil reserves by a third. In any other scenario, this would be a trigger for a swathe of investment. But in this geopolitical climate, the question instead is: can Iran even develop this field?

To be fair, the Khuzestan field isn’t actually new. Named Namavaran, the reservoir was first probed in 2016, when the relationship between Iran and the West had thawed with the nuclear agreement deal, with an initial 33 billion barrels proven. Since then, additional test wells recently revealed that Namavaran is far bigger than expected. Stretching over 2,400km from Bostan near the Iraqi border to the Omidiyeh province, an additional 20 billion barrels or so were identified, increasing the total figure to 53 billion barrels. Some of this would have been siphoned off from existing assets that were thought to be standalone – including the Ab Teymour, Mansouri, Soosangerd, Darkhovin, Jofeir and Sepehr fields – but even so, the estimated new exploitable reserves from Namavaran number in the 22-27 billion barrel range.

The problem is who will help Iran tap into this. Initially lured by the promise of the geopolitical cooldown, major players such as Total have since abandoned their assets in Iran in the wake of the new US sanctions. Even China is not immune; CNPC also exited the giant South Pars gas project this year while the imposition of sanctions on China Ocean Shipping threw the global tanker market into disarray in October. But it is apparently on China (and Russia) that Iran is depending on. News in the market suggests that Iran is in talks with Chinese companies to develop and commercialise Namavaran, as part of the latter’s Belt and Road global plan. The same news also suggests that a few international firms – hinted to include Shell and Total – are also interested in participating. But given the current tension between Iran and the US and its Middle East allies, foreign participation is a huge question mark at the moment.

A few months ago, it looked like war was imminent in the Middle East. Today, it seems as if the situation has thawed slightly. Some experts even believe that the US may begin easing sanctions – particularly with the exit of ultra-Iran-hawk John Bolton as National Security Advisor. If this happens (and it is a big if), there are many willing parties waiting at Iran’s doors to help exploit the giant Namavaran field. Even if the door is shut, Iran is ready to go ahead alone, not least because it needs a fair amount of oil for its own domestic use. And when this happen, it will spin a new problem: in a world where OPEC is trying desperately to control prices, how will it deal with an Iran whose oil reserves have just increased by a third?

The Namavaran field in Iran:

  • Initial discovery in 2016, expanded discovery in 2019
  • Iran’s second largest field, after Ahvaz
  • Some 53 billion barrel of proven oil in place
  • Increases Iran’s proven oil reserves from 155.6 billion barrels to 208.6 billion barrels
November, 21 2019
EIA increases U.S. crude oil production forecast

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) revises the U.S. crude oil production forecast it publishes in each Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) based mainly on two factors: updates to EIA’s published historical data and EIA’s crude oil price forecast. In the November 2019 STEO, EIA increased its forecast of U.S. crude oil production in 2019 by 30,000 barrels per day (b/d) (0.2%) from the October STEO. EIA increased its 2020 crude oil production forecast by 119,000 b/d (0.9%) compared with the October STEO (Figure 1). The increases in crude oil production forecast in the November STEO were primarily driven by

  • EIA’s upward revision to historical production in the Lower 48 states of about 90,000 b/d for August, based on EIA’s most recent–October 31, 2019–914 monthly crude oil and natural gas production survey
  • Higher initial production for future wells that will be drilled in the Texas Permian region
  • Slightly higher crude oil price forecast for the November 2019–January 2020 time period than in the October STEO

Figure 1. U.S. crude oil production forecast

In the November STEO, EIA increased its U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price forecast by $2 per barrel (b) in November to $56/b and by $1/b in both December and January to $55/b and $54/b, respectively. The slight increase in crude oil prices also contributed to EIA’s increased production forecast for the first half of 2020 because of EIA’s assumption of a six-month lag between a crude oil price change and a production response.

In the November STEO, EIA now forecasts U.S. crude oil production will increase to 12.3 million b/d in 2019 from 11.0 million b/d in 2018. Production in the Permian region is the primary driver of EIA’s forecast crude oil production growth, and EIA forecasts Permian production will grow by 915,000 b/d in 2019 and by 809,000 b/d in 2020 (Figure 2). Increases in Permian production are supported by the crude oil pipeline infrastructure expansion seen earlier this year, which helped alleviate the transportation bottleneck and supported prices for WTI in Midland, Texas (the price producers may expect to receive in the Permian region), relative to prices for WTI-Cushing. The higher relative prices in the Permian should continue to encourage production in the region. EIA forecasts that the Bakken region will have the next largest crude oil production growth in 2019, and it is forecast to grow by 152,000 b/d in 2019 and 96,000 b/d in 2020. EIA forecasts that production in the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico will increase by 138,000 b/d in 2019 and 116,000 b/d in 2020.

Figure 2. Monthly U.S. crude oil production by region

Although EIA forecasts that overall U.S. crude oil production will increase, EIA expects the growth rate to decline from 11.8% in 2019 to 8.1% in 2020. One of the primary indicators of a slowdown in production growth is the decline in oil-directed rigs. According to Baker Hughes, active rig counts fell from 877 oil-directed rigs in the beginning of January 2019 to 674 rigs in mid-November. Rig counts in the Permian region also declined during this period, falling from 487 to 408 (Figure 3). Because EIA expects WTI-Cushing crude oil prices to stay below $55/b until August 2020, EIA anticipates that drilling rigs will continue to decline as producers cut back on their capital spending, resulting in notable slowing in the growth of domestic crude oil production over the next 14 months.

Figure 3. Total U.S. and Permian Basin region oil rigs

Although U.S. rig counts are declining, improvements in rig efficiency, which allows fewer rigs to drill the same number of wells, partially offset declining rig counts. In addition, higher initial production from wells (although not necessarily the total estimated ultimate recovery) is offsetting some of the slowdown in rigs.

U.S. average regular gasoline prices fall, diesel prices increase slightly

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail fell more than 2 cents from the previous week to $2.59 per gallon on November 18, 2 cents lower than the same time last year. The West Coast price fell by more than 5 cents to $3.54 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell by more than 4 cents to $2.22 per gallon, the East Coast price fell by more than 2 cents to $2.45 per gallon, and the Midwest price fell less than 1 cent, remaining at $2.44 per gallon. The Rocky Mountain price increased by nearly 2 cents to $2.84 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price rose by less than 1 cent to remain at $3.07 per gallon on November 18, 21 cents lower than a year ago. The Rocky Mountain price increased by nearly 3 cents to 3.23 per gallon, and the East Coast price rose by less than 1 cent, remaining at $3.05 per gallon. The Gulf Coast price fell by less than 1 cent to $2.79 per gallon, and the West Coast and Midwest prices each decreased by less than 1 cent, remaining at $3.76 per gallon and $2.97 per gallon, respectively.

Propane/propylene inventories decline

U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 3.4 million barrels last week to 94.2 million barrels as of November 15, 2019, 5.8 million barrels (6.6%) greater than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast and Midwest inventories decreased by 2.5 million barrels and 1.5 million barrels, respectively. East Coast inventories increased by 0.5 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased slightly, remaining virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.4% of total propane/propylene inventories.

Residential heating fuel prices

As of November 18, 2019, residential heating oil prices averaged almost $2.99 per gallon, more than 1 cent per gallon above last week’s price but 33 cents per gallon below last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged nearly $2.06 per gallon, almost 3 cents per gallon more than last week’s price but nearly 13 cents per gallon less than a year ago.

Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.99 per gallon, 5 cents per gallon higher than last week’s price but more than 43 cents per gallon lower than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged nearly $0.85 per gallon, almost 9 cents per gallon higher than last week’s price but nearly 6 cents per gallon below last year’s price.

November, 21 2019
Brazil’s net metering policy leads to growth in solar distributed generation

Brazil’s growth in distributed generation from renewable resources—especially solar—has increased since it implemented net metering policies in 2012. As of mid-November 2019, owners have installed more than 135,000 renewable distributed generation systems in Brazil, totaling about 1.72 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, according to the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency (ANEEL).

Solar photovoltaic accounts for the largest share of the total installed distributed generating resources, representing about 1,571 megawatts (MW), or 91%, of the country’s total distributed generation capacity. Small hydroelectric and wind account for 97 MW and 10 MW, respectively. Net metering policies allow owners of the renewable distributed generation systems to sell excess electricity to the grid for billing credits.

ANEEL’s policy initially allowed small generators using hydro, solar, biomass, wind, and qualified cogeneration of renewable sources of up to 1 MW of capacity to qualify for net metering. In 2015, ANEEL amended the rule to increase the maximum capacity for up to 3 MW for small hydropower and up to 5 MW for other qualified renewable sources.

Qualified generators can choose to sell surplus generated electricity back to Brazil’s grid in return for billing credits. As part of the billing credit structure, net-metering customers can generate credits earned on days when they generated more electricity than they consumed. Before 2015, these credits expired after 36 months, but now credits for excess generation expire after 60 months.

Most of Brazil’s distributed generation units are in the southern, southeastern, and northeastern regions of the country. The states with the most distributed generation units are Minas Gerais with 372 MW, Rio Grande do Sul with 223 MW, and São Paulo with 194 MW.

Brazil distributed generation by technology

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on data from the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency (ANEEL)

At the end of 2018, ANEEL released a regulatory impact analysis and conducted a series of public hearing meetings to discuss economic aspects and sustainable growth of distributed generation in the country.

November, 20 2019