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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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February, 17 2020
Your Weekly Update: 10 -14 February 2020

Market Watch   

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 February 2020 – Brent: US$53/b; WTI: US$49/b

  • The demand destruction caused by the Covid-19 pandemic – also known as the Wuhan coronavirus – has dragged crude prices to fresh lows, with OPEC+ struggling to present a united front to respond to the demand crisis
  • Earlier indications that OPEC+ was preparing to call for an emergency meeting mid-February to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the oil market were dashed, hinting at divisions within the oil club
  • Reportedly, OPEC’s technical committee was proposing to extend the club’s supply quota agreement through June 2020; Saudi Arabia – along with Iran and Bahrain – were the strongest supporters, but Russia remains reticent to commit
  • A group of key Russian oil producers are in support of extending the OPEC+ cuts, with Gazprom, Lukoil and Rosneft indicating that it ‘made sense’
  • In the face of the huge impact of Covid-19, the so-called Brent red spread sank into contango, indicating an intensely bear-ish market
  • Although the fatality rate of the new coronavirus is much lower than SARS, the spread has been far more severe and wider, with confirmed cases nearing 70,000 and deaths nearing 1,500
  • After being on lockdown for weeks, Chinese factories and businesses have gradually returned to work at a glacial pace, impacting gasoline, gasoil and - most significantly – jet fuel demand, causing Chinese refineries to slash output
  • News that China and the US would both implement tariff cuts on the pre-Phase 1 trade deal levies on February 14 failed to calm the market, supporting the floor for prices rather than raising the ceiling
  • Amid that chaos, the US active rig count dropped four rigs, falling down to 790 total and down 255 sites y-o-y; however, the relationship between this proxy and actual production has diminished over the past two years, as the US continues to produce more oil from less rigs
  • Hopes that the outbreak might have peaked has supported crude oil prices this year, although a major spike in confirmed cases from a wider diagnosis tool nipped that in the bud; expect crude oil prices to continue hovering around the US$50/b mark, at US$51-53/b for Brent and US$49-51/b for WTI


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Chevron and Petrobras will be selling their stakes in the heavy oil Papa-terra field in the Campos Basin, seeking new operatorship for the BC-20 concession asset that is currently split 62.5/37.5 between Petrobras and Chevron
  • Shell plans to boost its output in the Permian Basin to some 250,000 b/d by end-2020, up from a current production level of 100,000 b/d as it announced plans to invest up to US$3 billion per year in the prolific US shale area
  • Eni’s oil production in Libya has halved to 160,000 b/d, as the country continues to grapple with a blockade started by military strongman Khalifa Haftar
  • Disappointing results in Africa have forced Tullow Oil to reduce its headcount in Kenya by 40%, with operations in Kenya, Uganda and Ghana all yielding either poor results or in danger of significant delays
  • BP and Shell have brought the Alligin field in the UK West of Shetlands region online, with initial output at a better-than-expected 12,000 b/d
  • Guyana’s oil riches keep increasing; after ExxonMobil upped estimates at the Stabroek block last month, Eco Atlantic (together with Tullow Oil and Total) have upped reserves in the Orinduik block from 3.98 mmboe/d to 5.14 mmboe/d

Midstream/Downstream

  • Reports suggest that Chinese independent teapot refineries in Shandong have slashed their utilisation rates by 30-50%, scaling down in response to severely diminished fuel and petrochemicals demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Chinese state refiners are following suit with slashing output, with CNOOC, Sinopec and PetroChina all lowering their throughput rates by 10-15%
  • Shell has finalised the sale of its Martinez refinery in California, selling it to PBF Energy for some US$1.2 billion, including its supply/offtake agreements
  • Botswana is accelerating its US$4 billion coal-to-liquids refinery project, now expecting to complete the site by 2025, with the aim of tapping into the country’s major coal reserves that are some of the largest in Africa
  • The UK has extended its goal to end the sale of all gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles in the UK by 2035 to include hybrid vehicles, which would move transport fuel demand entirely to electric vehicles then

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Abu Dhabi and Dubai report that they have made a major natural gas find, with the Jebel Ali reservoir located between the two largest sheikhdoms in the UAE holding some 80 tcf of resources - the world’s largest gas find in 15 years
  • The government of Papua New Guinea has walked away from talks over the P’nyang gas field, impacting the planned expansion of ExxonMobil’s PNG LNG project; the government had previously tried a similar tactic with Total
  • The EU has imposed sanctions on Turkey, in retaliation for its continued exploration of gas resources in the disputed waters off Cyprus that Turkey claims is part of the breakaway Turkish province in the north of the island
  • CNOOC has declared force majeure on some LNG contracts due to the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, but two of the world’s largest LNG traders – Shell and Total – have rejected the Chinese attempt to nullify contractual terms
  • Centrica will take a major write-down on its gas assets in Europe, continuing a trend of the global natural gas glut eroding the value of gas assets worldwide
  • GeoPark has made a new natural gas discovery in Chile, with the Jauke Oeste field in the Fell block of the Magallanese Basin yielding small-but-significant gas flows of some 4.4 mscf/d
February, 14 2020
SHORT-TERM ENERGY OUTLOOK

Forecast Highlights

Global liquid fuels

  • EIA expects global petroleum and liquid fuels demand will average 100.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first quarter of 2020. This demand level is 0.9 million b/d less than forecast in the January STEO and reflects both the effects of the coronavirus and warmer-than-normal January temperatures across much of the northern hemisphere. EIA now expects global petroleum and liquid fuels demand will rise by 1.0 million b/d in 2020, which is lower than the forecast increase in the January STEO of 1.3 million b/d in 2020, and by 1.5 million b/d in 2021.
  • EIA’s global petroleum and liquid fuels supply forecast assumes that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will reduce crude oil production by 0.5 million b/d from March through May because of lower expected global oil demand in early 2020. This OPEC reduction is in addition to the cuts announced at the group’s December 2019 meeting. EIA now forecasts OPEC crude oil production will average 28.9 million b/d in 2020, which is 0.3 million less than forecast in the January STEO. In addition to these production cuts, EIA’s lower forecast OPEC production reflects ongoing crude oil production outages in Libya during the first quarter. In general, EIA assumes that OPEC will limit production through all of 2020 and 2021 to target relatively balanced global oil markets.
  • Global liquid fuels inventories fell by roughly 0.1 million b/d in 2019, and EIA expects they will grow by 0.2 million b/d in 2020. Although EIA expects inventories to rise overall in 2020, EIA forecasts inventories will build by 0.6 million b/d in the first half of the year because of slow oil demand growth and strong non-OPEC oil supply growth. Firmer demand growth as the global economy strengthens and slower supply growth later in the year contribute to forecast inventory draws of 0.1 million b/d in the second half of 2020. EIA expects global liquid fuels inventories will decline by 0.2 million b/d in 2021.
  • Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $64 per barrel (b) in January, down $4/b from December. Brent prices fell steadily through January and into the first week of February, closing at less than $54/b on February 4, the lowest price since December 2018, reflecting market concerns about oil demand. EIA forecasts Brent prices will average $61/b in 2020; with prices averaging $58/b during the first half of the year and $64/b during the second half of the year. EIA forecasts the average Brent prices will rise to an average of $68/b in 2021.

Natural gas

  • In January, the Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $2.02 per million British thermal units (MMBtu), as warm weather contributed to below-average inventory withdrawals and put downward pressure on natural gas prices. As of February 6, the Henry Hub spot price had fallen to $1.86/MMBtu, and EIA expects prices will remain below $2.00/MMBtu in February and March. EIA forecasts that prices will rise in the second quarter of 2020, as U.S. natural gas production declines and natural gas use for power generation increases the demand for gas. EIA expects prices to average $2.36/MMBtu in the third quarter of 2020. EIA forecasts that Henry Hub natural gas spot prices will average $2.21/MMBtu in 2020. EIA expects that natural gas prices will then increase in 2021, reaching an annual average of $2.53/MMBtu.
  • U.S. dry natural gas production set a record in 2019, averaging 92.1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d). Although EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will average 94.2 Bcf/d in 2020, a 2% increase from 2019, EIA expects monthly production to generally decline through 2020, falling from an estimated 95.4 Bcf/d in January to 92.5 Bcf/d in December. The falling production mostly occurs in the Appalachian and Permian regions. In the Appalachia region, low natural gas prices are discouraging natural gas-directed drilling, and in the Permian, low oil prices are expected to reduce associated gas output from oil-directed wells. In 2021, EIA forecasts dry natural gas production to stabilize near December 2020 levels at an annual average of 92.6 Bcf/d, a 2% decline from 2020, which would be the first decline in annual average natural gas production since 2016.
  • EIA estimates that U.S. working natural gas inventories ended January at more than 2.6 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 9% higher than the five-year (2015–19) average. EIA forecasts that total working inventories will end March at almost 2.0 Tcf, 14% higher than the five-year average. In the forecast, inventories rise by a total of 2.1 Tcf during the April through October injection season to reach almost 4.1 Tcf on October 31, which would be the highest end-of-October inventory level on record.

Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions

  • EIA expects the share of U.S. utility-scale electricity generation from natural gas-fired power plants will remain relatively steady; it was 37% in 2019, and EIA forecasts it will be 38% in 2020 and 37% in 2021. Electricity generation from renewable energy sources will rise from a share of 17% last year to 20% in 2020 and 21% in 2021. The increase in the renewables share is the result of expected use of additions to wind and solar generating capacity. Coal’s forecast share of electricity generation will fall from 24% in 2019 to 21% in both 2020 and 2021. The nuclear share of generation, which averaged slightly more than 20% in 2019 will be slightly lower than 20% by 2021, consistent with upcoming reactor retirements.
  • EIA forecasts that U.S. coal production will total 595 million short tons (MMst) in 2020, down 95 MMst (14%) from 2019. Lower production reflects declining demand for coal in the electric power sector and lower demand for U.S. exports. EIA forecasts that electric power sector demand for coal will fall by 81 MMst (15%) in 2020. EIA expects that coal production will stabilize in 2021 as export demand stabilizes and U.S. power sector demand for coal increases because of rising natural gas prices.
  • After decreasing by 2.3% in 2019, EIA forecasts that energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decrease by 2.7% in 2020 and by 0.5% in 2021. Declining emissions in 2020 reflect forecast declines in total U.S. energy consumption because of increases in energy efficiency and weather effects, particularly as a result of warmer-than-normal January temperatures. A forecast return to normal temperatures in 2021 results in a slowing decline in emissions. Energy-related CO2 emissions are sensitive to changes in weather, economic growth, energy prices, and fuel mix.
February, 12 2020