In the January 2020 update of its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will average 13.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2020, a 9% increase from 2019 production levels, and 13.7 million b/d in 2021, a 3% increase from 2020. Slowing crude oil production growth results from a decline in drilling rigs during the past year that EIA expects will continue through most of 2020. Despite the decline in rigs, EIA forecasts production will continue to grow as rig efficiency and well-level productivity rise, offsetting the decline in the number of rigs until drilling activity accelerates in 2021.
EIA’s U.S. crude oil production forecast is based on the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price forecast in the January 2020 STEO, which rises from an average of $57 per barrel (b) in 2019 to an average of $59/b in 2020 and $62/b in 2021. The price forecast is highly uncertain, and any significant divergence of actual prices from the projected price path could change the pace of drilling and new well completion, which would in turn affect production.
Crude oil production in the Lower 48 states has a relatively short investment and production cycle. Changes in Lower 48 crude oil production typically follow changes in crude oil prices and rig counts with about a four- to six-month lag. Because EIA forecasts WTI prices will decline during the first half of 2020 but begin increasing in the second half of the year and into 2021, forecast U.S. crude oil production grows slowly month over month until the end of 2020. In contrast, crude oil production in Alaska and the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is driven by long-term investment that is typically less sensitive to short-term price movements.
In 2019, Lower 48 production reached its largest annual average volume of 9.9 million b/d, and EIA expects it to increase further by an average of 1.0 million b/d in 2020 and 0.4 million b/d in 2021. EIA forecasts the GOM region will grow by 0.1 million b/d in 2020 to 2.0 million b/d and to remain relatively flat in 2021 because several projects expected to come online in 2021 will not start producing until late in the year and will be offset by declines from other producing fields. Alaska’s crude oil production will remain relatively unchanged at about 0.5 million b/d in 2020 and in 2021.
The Permian region remains the most prolific growth region in the United States. Favorable geology combined with technological improvements have contributed to the Permian region’s high returns on investment and years of remaining oil production growth potential. EIA forecasts that Permian production will average 5.2 million b/d in 2020, an increase of 0.8 million b/d from 2019 production levels. For 2021, the Permian will produce an average of 5.6 million b/d. EIA forecasts that the Bakken region in North Dakota will be the second-largest growth area in 2020 and 2021, growing by about 0.1 million b/d in each year (Figure 2).
EIA expects crude oil prices higher than $60/b in 2021 will contribute to rising crude oil production because producers will be able to fund drilling programs through cash flow and other funding sources, despite a somewhat more restrictive capital market. Financial statements of 46 publically-traded U.S. oil producers reveal that these companies generated sufficient cash from operating activities to fund investment and grow production with WTI prices in the $55/b–$60/b range. The 46 selected companies produced more than 30% of total U.S. liquids production in the third quarter of 2019. The four-quarter moving average free cash flow for these companies ranged between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion from the fourth quarter of 2017 through the second quarter of 2019. The third quarter of 2019—the latest quarter for which data are available—had less cash from operations than investing activities, but this figure was skewed by the large, one-time acquisition cost of Anadarko Petroleum by Occidental, valued at $55 billion (Figure 3).
Results for these 46 publicly traded companies do not represent all U.S. oil producers because private companies that do not publish financial statements are not included in EIA’s analysis. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Energy Survey sheds some light on the financial position of a broader set of companies. Released quarterly, the bank’s survey asks oil companies about business activity and employment and asks a few special questions that change each quarter. The number of companies that participate varies each quarter, but generally the survey includes about 100 exploration and production companies. In the most recent survey (from the fourth quarter of 2019), 75% of survey respondents said they can cover their capital expenditures through cash flow from operations at a WTI price of less than $60/b. In addition, 40% of survey respondents plan to increase capital expenditures in 2020 compared with 2019, while 24% of respondents expect to spend about the same (Figure 4).
Since about 2017, large, globally integrated oil companies have acquired more acreage in Lower 48 regions, particularly in the Permian. These companies have announced investment plans to make Lower 48 production an increasing portion of their portfolios. These companies can typically fund their investment programs through cash flow from operations and are generally less susceptible to tighter capital markets than smaller oil companies. The financial results of the public companies shown in Figure 3 and the Federal Reserve survey support EIA’s production forecast and suggest that U.S. crude oil production can continue to grow under EIA’s price forecast for 2020 and 2021 because many companies are less dependent on debt or equity to fund investment.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices decline
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell more than 3 cents from the previous week to $2.54 per gallon on January 20, 29 cents higher than the same time last year. The Midwest price fell over 5 cents to $2.39 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell nearly 5 cents to $2.23 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price fell more than 3 cents to $2.57 per gallon, the East Coast price fell more than 2 cents to $2.50 per gallon, and the West Coast price fell nearly 2 cents to $3.18 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell nearly 3 cents from the previous week to $3.04 per gallon on January 20, 7 cents higher than a year ago. The Rocky Mountain price fell nearly 6 cents to $3.01 per gallon, the East Coast price fell nearly 4 cents to $3.08 per gallon, the Midwest price declined almost 3 cents to $2.94 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 2 cents to $3.57 per gallon, and the Gulf Coast price dropped more than 1 cent to $2.80 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.4 million barrels last week to 86.5 million barrels as of January 17, 2020, 17.1 million barrels (24.6%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Midwest, East Coast, Gulf Coast, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decreased by 0.7 million barrels, 0.4 million barrels, 0.2 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 6.9% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of January 20, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged nearly $3.07 per gallon, 3 cents per gallon below last week’s price and 10 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged almost $1.96 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon below last week’s price and more than 7 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged almost $2.01 per gallon, less than 1 cent per gallon below last week’s price and more than 42 cents per gallon less than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.60 per gallon, nearly 4 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and 20 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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