Crude oil held in pipelines (pipeline fill) in the United States grew from 75 million barrels in March 2011, the earliest data available, to nearly 124 million barrels in September 2019, a 64% increase, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Working and Net Available Shell Storage Capacity report (Figure 1). The increase is due to the significant expansion of the U.S. crude oil pipeline system over that period. Almost 97% of the 48 million barrel increase in crude oil pipeline fill, which includes some volumes of crude oil in transit via water and rail, occurred in the Gulf Coast (Petroleum Administration for Defense District, or PADD, 3) and the Midwest (PADD 2).
Pipelines are the primary method of transporting crude oil in the United States. The increase in U.S. crude oil production in recent years has required the construction of new pipelines and reconfiguration of existing pipelines, including the conversion of natural gas pipelines to crude oil pipelines. The Gulf Coast region, which was responsible for 70% of the growth in U.S. crude oil production between 2010 and 2018, has experienced the largest pipeline buildout during that time period. The Permian Basin, covering West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, contributed the most to crude oil production growth and supported higher crude oil inventories in the region, including increased pipeline fill.
According to EIA’s Liquid Pipeline Projects Database, more than 100 crude oil pipeline projects were completed between March 2011 and September 2019. During this time, about 90% of projects were located in either the Gulf Coast or Midwest regions (Figure 2). The most prevalent project types were pipeline expansions and new pipeline builds. The vast majority of the projects were for transporting crude oil within their respective regions.
Many pipeline expansions increased crude oil takeaway capacity from producing regions. For example, in 2018, Enterprise Products Partners L.P.’s 418-mile Midland-to-Echo 1 Pipeline System was placed into service to transport crude oil from the Permian Basin to locations near Houston, Texas. Other Permian Basin projects completed in 2018 included Plains All American’s Sunrise Pipeline Expansion and Enterprise Products Partners L.P.’s new Loving County Pipeline. The Sunrise Pipeline Expansion transports crude oil from the Permian region to Cushing, Oklahoma, and destinations in the Gulf Coast and the Loving County Pipeline transports crude oil from Permian Basin fields in New Mexico to Midland, Texas, a crude oil supply hub.
About 64% of crude oil production, 52% of U.S. petroleum refining capacity (measured by operable distillation capacity), and 52% of crude oil storage is located in the Gulf Coast (Figure 3). Rising Permian crude oil production decreased crude oil imports, and increased demand for crude oil at petroleum refineries have coincided with several projects aimed at increasing crude oil pipeline deliveries to Gulf Coast refineries. For example, the 264-mile Kinder Morgan Crude & Condensate Pipeline (KMCC), which includes a converted 109-mile natural gas pipeline, initiated deliveries of crude oil and condensate from the Eagle Ford region to Houston in 2012. Kinder Morgan later included a 27-mile lateral to Phillips 66’s refinery in Old Ocean, Texas. In 2014, TC Energy’s Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion was placed into service to supply refineries in Port Arthur, Texas.
In the Midwest, Cushing, Oklahoma—a key crude oil storage hub—has experienced significant increases in crude oil pipeline capacity as new crude oil tank farms were built to handle rising supplies. Crude oil working storage capacity in Cushing rose 59% between March 2011 and September 2019 to reach 76 million barrels. Cushing receives large volumes of crude oil by pipeline and rail from various areas such as Canada and the Rocky Mountains (PADD 4). For example, TC Energy’s 2014 expansion of the Keystone Pipeline transports crude oil that originated in Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries via Cushing. Several additional pipeline projects that entered service between 2014 and 2018 were designed to move crude oil from the Rocky Mountains, which includes the Bakken formation, to Cushing.
Growing crude oil exports have also supported increases in crude oil pipeline capacity. The removal of restrictions on U.S. crude oil exports at the end of 2015, combined with higher crude oil production, allowed an increase in crude oil exports in the Gulf region, which grew from 3,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 2010 to 1.8 million b/d in 2018. Petroleum terminals in the Gulf Coast that once imported large volumes of crude oil now load crude oil tankers for export to international destinations. Enterprise Products Partners L.P. recently completed an expansion to its Midland-to-Sealy Pipeline and conversion of its Seminole Red Pipeline to service the Enterprise Crude Houston (ECHO) terminal, a facility where shippers can load U.S. crude oil for export.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell more than 1 cent from the previous week to $2.56 per gallon on December 9, 14 cents higher than the same time last year. The West Coast price fell 7 cents to $3.34 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price fell nearly 3 cents to $2.79 per gallon, and the Gulf Coast price fell more than 2 cents to $2.20 per gallon. The East Coast and Midwest prices remained unchanged at $2.48 per gallon and $2.42 per gallon, respectively.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell more than 2 cents from the previous week to $3.05 per gallon on December 9, 11 cents lower than a year ago. The West Coast price fell by nearly 6 cents to $3.65 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price fell by more than 3 cents to $3.21 gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell by 2 cents to $2.76 per gallon, the Midwest price fell by nearly 2 cents to $2.97 per gallon, and the East Coast price fell by nearly 1 cent to $3.05 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories rise
U.S. propane/propylene stocks increased by 1.7 million barrels last week to 93.5 million barrels as of December 6, 2019, 7.4 million barrels (8.6%) greater than the five-year (2014-18) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain inventories increased by 3.3 million barrels and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Midwest and East Coast inventories decreased by 1.1 million barrels and 0.6 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.8% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating oil prices increase, propane prices decrease
As of December 9, 2019, residential heating oil prices averaged almost $3.02 per gallon, more than 1 cent per gallon above last week’s price but more than 18 cents per gallon below last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged nearly $2.07 per gallon, more than 2 cents per gallon higher than last week’s price and more than 7 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged more than $2.02 per gallon, almost 1 cent per gallon lower than last week’s price and nearly 42 cents per gallon less than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.83 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and nearly 8 cents per gallon below last year’s price.
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In 2020, renewable energy sources (including wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity, or about 21% of all the electricity generated in the United States. Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than renewables in the United States in 2020. Renewables surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time on record. This outcome in 2020 was due mostly to significantly less coal use in U.S. electricity generation and steadily increased use of wind and solar.
In 2020, U.S. electricity generation from coal in all sectors declined 20% from 2019, while renewables, including small-scale solar, increased 9%. Wind, currently the most prevalent source of renewable electricity in the United States, grew 14% in 2020 from 2019. Utility-scale solar generation (from projects greater than 1 megawatt) increased 26%, and small-scale solar, such as grid-connected rooftop solar panels, increased 19%.
Coal-fired electricity generation in the United States peaked at 2,016 billion kWh in 2007 and much of that capacity has been replaced by or converted to natural gas-fired generation since then. Coal was the largest source of electricity in the United States until 2016, and 2020 was the first year that more electricity was generated by renewables and by nuclear power than by coal (according to our data series that dates back to 1949). Nuclear electric power declined 2% from 2019 to 2020 because several nuclear power plants retired and other nuclear plants experienced slightly more maintenance-related outages.
We expect coal-fired electricity generation to increase in the United States during 2021 as natural gas prices continue to rise and as coal becomes more economically competitive. Based on forecasts in our Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), we expect coal-fired electricity generation in all sectors in 2021 to increase 18% from 2020 levels before falling 2% in 2022. We expect U.S. renewable generation across all sectors to increase 7% in 2021 and 10% in 2022. As a result, we forecast coal will be the second-most prevalent electricity source in 2021, and renewables will be the second-most prevalent source in 2022. We expect nuclear electric power to decline 2% in 2021 and 3% in 2022 as operators retire several generators.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review and Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)
Note: This graph shows electricity net generation in all sectors (electric power, industrial, commercial, and residential) and includes both utility-scale and small-scale (customer-sited, less than 1 megawatt) solar.
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The tizzy that OPEC+ threw the world into in early July has been settled, with a confirmed pathway forward to restore production for the rest of 2021 and an extension of the deal further into 2022. The lone holdout from the early July meetings – the UAE – appears to have been satisfied with the concessions offered, paving the way for the crude oil producer group to begin increasing its crude oil production in monthly increments from August onwards. However, this deal comes at another difficult time; where the market had been fretting about a shortage of oil a month ago due to resurgent demand, a new blast of Covid-19 infections driven by the delta variant threatens to upend the equation once again. And so Brent crude futures settled below US$70/b for the first time since late May even as the argument at OPEC+ appeared to be settled.
How the argument settled? Well, on the surface, Riyadh and Moscow capitulated to Abu Dhabi’s demands that its baseline quota be adjusted in order to extend the deal. But since that demand would result in all other members asking for a similar adjustment, Saudi Arabia and Russia worked in a rise for all, and in the process, awarded themselves the largest increases.
The net result of this won’t be that apparent in the short- and mid-term. The original proposal at the early July meetings, backed by OPEC+’s technical committee was to raise crude production collectively by 400,000 b/d per month from August through December. The resulting 2 mmb/d increase in crude oil, it was predicted, would still lag behind expected gains in consumption, but would be sufficient to keep prices steady around the US$70/b range, especially when factoring in production increases from non-OPEC+ countries. The longer term view was that the supply deal needed to be extended from its initial expiration in April 2022, since global recovery was still ‘fragile’ and the bloc needed to exercise some control over supply to prevent ‘wild market fluctuations’. All members agreed to this, but the UAE had a caveat – that the extension must be accompanied by a review of its ‘unfair’ baseline quota.
The fix to this issue that was engineered by OPEC+’s twin giants Saudi Arabia and Russia was to raise quotas for all members from May 2022 through to the new expiration date for the supply deal in September 2022. So the UAE will see its baseline quota, the number by which its output compliance is calculated, rise by 330,000 b/d to 3.5 mmb/d. That’s a 10% increase, which will assuage Abu Dhabi’s itchiness to put the expensive crude output infrastructure it has invested billions in since 2016 to good use. But while the UAE’s hike was greater than some others, Saudi Arabia and Russia took the opportunity to award themselves (at least in terms of absolute numbers) by raising their own quotas by 500,000 b/d to 11.5 mmb/d each.
On the surface, that seems academic. Saudi Arabia has only pumped that much oil on a handful of occasions, while Russia’s true capacity is pegged at some 10.4 mmb/d. But the additional generous headroom offered by these larger numbers means that Riyadh and Moscow will have more leeway to react to market fluctuations in 2022, which at this point remains murky. Because while there is consensus that more crude oil will be needed in 2022, there is no consensus on what that number should be. The US EIA is predicting that OPEC+ should be pumping an additional 4 million barrels collectively from June 2021 levels in order to meet demand in the first half of 2022. However, OPEC itself is looking at a figure of some 3 mmb/d, forecasting a period of relative weakness that could possibly require a brief tightening of quotas if the new delta-driven Covid surge erupts into another series of crippling lockdowns. The IEA forecast is aligned with OPEC’s, with an even more cautious bent.
But at some point with the supply pathway from August to December set in stone, although OPEC+ has been careful to say that it may continue to make adjustments to this as the market develops, the issues of headline quota numbers fades away, while compliance rises to prominence. Because the success of the OPEC+ deal was not just based on its huge scale, but also the willingness of its 23 members to comply to their quotas. And that compliance, which has been the source of major frustrations in the past, has been surprisingly high throughout the pandemic. Even in May 2021, the average OPEC+ compliance was 85%. Only a handful of countries – Malaysia, Bahrain, Mexico and Equatorial Guinea – were estimated to have exceeded their quotas, and even then not by much. But compliance is easier to achieve in an environment where demand is weak. You can’t pump what you can’t sell after all. But as crude balances rapidly shift from glut to gluttony, the imperative to maintain compliance dissipates.
For now, OPEC+ has managed to placate the market with its ability to corral its members together to set some certainty for the immediate future of crude. Brent crude prices have now been restored above US$70/b, with WTI also climbing. The spat between Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have surprised and shocked market observers, but there is still unity in the club. However, that unity is set to be tested. By the end of 2021, the focus of the OPEC+ supply deal will have shifted from theoretical quotas to actual compliance. Abu Dhabi has managed to lift the tide for all OPEC+ members, offering them more room to manoeuvre in a recovering market, but discipline will not be uniform. And that’s when the fireworks will really begin.
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