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
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.
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.
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.
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In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) February Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that the Lower 48 states’ working natural gas in storage will end the 2019–20 winter heating season (November 1–March 31) at 1,935 billion cubic feet (Bcf), with 12% more inventory than the previous five-year average. This increase is the result of mild winter temperatures and continuing strong production. EIA forecasts that net injections during the refill season (April 1–October 31) will bring the total working gas in storage to 4,029 Bcf, which, if realized, would be the largest monthly inventory level on record.
Mild winter temperatures for the current winter have put downward pressure on natural gas prices and led to smaller withdrawals from natural gas into storage. Year-over-year growth in dry natural gas production and natural gas exports—especially liquefied natural gas (LNG)—throughout 2019 also affected natural gas storage levels. On October 11, 2019, the total natural gas in storage surpassed the previous five-year average—an indicator of typical storage levels—for the first time since mid-2017.
The total natural gas in storage at the start of this heating season was 3,725 Bcf on October 31, 2019. EIA expects withdrawals from working natural gas storage to total 1,790 Bcf at the end of March 2020. If realized, this would be the least natural gas withdrawn during a heating season since the winter of 2015–16, when temperatures were also mild.
Injections into and withdrawals from natural gas storage balance seasonal and other fluctuations in consumption. Natural gas demand is greatest in the winter months, when residential and commercial demand for natural gas for space heating increases. Natural gas consumption in the power sector is greatest in summer months, when overall electricity demand is relatively high because of air conditioning.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
In the latest STEO, EIA expects the total working natural gas in storage will exceed the previous five-year average for the remainder of 2020, despite declines in dry natural gas production, increases in natural gas consumption in the electric power sector, and increases in natural gas exports. EIA expects monthly natural gas production to decline from last year’s record levels in 2020 as lower natural gas prices reduce incentives for natural gas-directed drilling and as lower crude oil prices reduce incentives for oil-directed drilling and associated gas production.
At the start of February, a major new find was jointly announced by the two largest emirates within the UAE: the oil-rich Abu Dhabi and the ambitious Dubai. Between them, they literally made the world’s largest natural gas discovery since 2005. Located at the border between the two sheikdoms, the Jebel Ali field is estimated to contain some 80 trillion scf of natural gas, the largest global find since the Galkynysh field in Turkmenistan.
Stretching over 5,000 square km, an exploration campaign by Abu Dhabi involving over 10 wells confirmed the enormous discovery in early January 2020. The shallow nature of the onshore reserves should make it easier to extract gas at lower costs, hastening the time-to-market. At current estimated figures, Jebel Ali would be the fourth-largest gas field in the Middle East, behind Qatar’s North Field, Iran’s South Pars and Abu Dhabi’s own Bab field.
The politics of the UAE can be complicated; each emirate is essentially self-governing with federal oversight, which is dominated by Abu Dhabi and Dubai (which always hold the President and Prime Minister roles, according to convention). This essentially means that each emirate has grew quite independently. Fujairah, for example, developed into a bunkering port, while Sharjah went into industry and manufacturing. Dubai is globally famous for its titanic real estate projects, pursued finance, services and media, while Abu Dhabi, the largest and most blessed of all with hydrocarbon resources, turned into an energy powerhouse. Oil & gas wealth in the UAE is mainly in Abu Dhabi; so while the Jebel Ali discovery is a welcome addition for Abu Dhabi, it is a game changer for Dubai, which imports most of its energy needs.
Speculation has raised that possibility that the Jebel Ali field could vault the UAE into gas self-sufficiency, because even Abu Dhabi imports gas. The UAE has a stated goal to be gas independent by 2030. On paper, that’s possible. Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC has agreed to develop the field with Dubai’s gas supplier, the Dubai Supply Authority (DUSUP), with the entire supply will be channel to DUSUP for use in Dubai. Jebel Ali could begin producing gas by 2023, and will likely be distributed domestically through pipeline. The enormous reserves could supply the entire UAE’s gas demand for nearly 30 years, assuming optimal recovery conditions. However, in practice, self-sufficiency might take longer to achieve.
Dubai and indeed, Abu Dhabi are currently reliant on Qatar for their gas supply. An existing sales agreement that expires in 2032 sees Qatar pipe 2 bcf/d of gas to the UAE through Abu Dhabi. The problem is that these neighbours are erstwhile friends. A division in the Middle East between the pro-Saudi Arabia and pro-Iran blocs has caused a rift. Led by Saudi Arabia, several Persian Gulf states including the UAE implemented a diplomatic and trade blockade on Qatar, isolating it. The blockade, slightly weakened, still continues today. Even now, planes flying into Qatar have to make strange manoeuvres when approaching to avoid encroaching on Saudi and UAE airspace. However, the gas supply arrangement remains in place.
And this is where the Jebel Ali discovery could come in handy. Qatar is already on track to be self-sufficient in gas terms by 2025, but will probably honour the Qatar deal until expiration. Dubai has been increasingly reliant on LNG through an FSRU for power generation, but has attempted over the years to kick-start a number of coal or solar-power projects. Jebel Ali won’t kick the addiction, but it could definitely reduce Dubai’s reliance on Qatari gas.
Jebel Ali wasn’t the only recent gas discovery made in the UAE. Further north, the Sharjah National Oil Corp and Italy’s Eni announced a new onshore gas and condensate discovery. Though tiny in comparison to Jebel Ali, some 50 mscf/d of lean gas and condensate. The cumulative effects of these discoveries could make gas self-sufficiency a reality sooner. At this point, the UAE consumes some 7.4 bcf gas per day, while marketed production is some 6.2 bcf/d. An ambitious plan to develop Abu Dhabi’s large gas fields was the rationale behind naming the 2030 self-sufficiency deadline. With the discovery of Jebel Ali, that can now be brought forward by a couple of years at least. And there might even be some left over to be exported as LNG
The UAE Major Gas Projects:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 17 February 2020 – Brent: US$53/b; WTI: US$49/b
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