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Last Updated: February 12, 2020
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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.

STEO Short-Term Energy Outlook liquid fuels EIA Brent Natural Gas Coal renewables emissions electricity
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The Impact of COVID 19 In The Downstream Oil & Gas Sector

Recent headlines on the oil industry have focused squarely on the upstream side: the amount of crude oil that is being produced and the resulting effect on oil prices, against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that is just one part of the supply chain. To be sold as final products, crude oil needs to be refined into its constituent fuels, each of which is facing its own crisis because of the overall demand destruction caused by the virus. And once the dust settles, the global refining industry will look very different.

Because even before the pandemic broke out, there was a surplus of refining capacity worldwide. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, global oil demand was some 99.85 mmb/d. However, this consumption figure includes substitute fuels – ethanol blended into US gasoline and biodiesel in Europe and parts of Asia – as well as chemical additives added on to fuels. While by no means an exact science, extrapolating oil demand to exclude this results in a global oil demand figure of some 95.44 mmb/d. In comparison, global refining capacity was just over 100 mmb/d. This overcapacity is intentional; since most refineries do not run at 100% utilisation all the time and many will shut down for scheduled maintenance periodically, global refining utilisation rates stand at about 85%.

Based on this, even accounting for differences in definitions and calculations, global oil demand and global oil refining supply is relatively evenly matched. However, demand is a fluid beast, while refineries are static. With the Covid-19 pandemic entering into its sixth month, the impact on fuels demand has been dramatic. Estimates suggest that global oil demand fell by as much as 20 mmb/d at its peak. In the early days of the crisis, refiners responded by slashing the production of jet fuel towards gasoline and diesel, as international air travel was one of the first victims of the virus. As national and sub-national lockdowns were introduced, demand destruction extended to transport fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil), petrochemicals (naphtha, LPG) and  power generation (gasoil, fuel oil). Just as shutting down an oil rig can take weeks to complete, shutting down an entire oil refinery can take a similar timeframe – while still producing fuels that there is no demand for.

Refineries responded by slashing utilisation rates, and prioritising certain fuel types. In China, state oil refiners moved from running their sites at 90% to 40-50% at the peak of the Chinese outbreak; similar moves were made by key refiners in South Korea and Japan. With the lockdowns easing across most of Asia, refining runs have now increased, stimulating demand for crude oil. In Europe, where the virus hit hard and fast, refinery utilisation rates dropped as low as 10% in some cases, with some countries (Portugal, Italy) halting refining activities altogether. In the USA, now the hardest-hit country in the world, several refineries have been shuttered, with no timeline on if and when production will resume. But with lockdowns easing, and the summer driving season up ahead, refinery production is gradually increasing.

But even if the end of the Covid-19 crisis is near, it still doesn’t change the fundamental issue facing the refining industry – there is still too much capacity. The supply/demand balance shows that most regions are quite even in terms of consumption and refining capacity, with the exception of overcapacity in Europe and the former Soviet Union bloc. The regional balances do hide some interesting stories; Chinese refining capacity exceeds its consumption by over 2 mmb/d, and with the addition of 3 new mega-refineries in 2019, that gap increases even further. The only reason why the balance in Asia looks relatively even is because of oil demand ‘sinks’ such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Even in the US, the wealth of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast makes smaller refineries on the East and West coasts increasingly redundant.

Given this, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis will be the inevitable hastening of the current trend in the refining industry, the closure of small, simpler refineries in favour of large, complex and more modern refineries. On the chopping block will be many of the sub-50 kb/d refineries in Europe; because why run a loss-making refinery when the product can be imported for cheaper, even accounting for shipping costs from the Middle East or Asia? Smaller US refineries are at risk as well, along with legacy sites in the Middle East and Russia. Based on current trends, Europe alone could lose some 2 mmb/d of refining capacity by 2025. Rising oil prices and improvements in refining margins could ensure the continued survival of some vulnerable refineries, but that will only be a temporary measure. The trend is clear; out with the small, in with the big. Covid-19 will only amplify that. It may be a painful process, but in the grand scheme of things, it is also a necessary one.

Infographic: Global oil consumption and refining capacity (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019)

Region
Consumption (mmb/d)*
Refining Capacity (mmb/d)
North America

22.71

22.33

Latin America

6.5

5.98

Europe

14.27

15.68

CIS

4.0

8.16

Middle East

9.0

9.7

Africa

3.96

3.4

Asia-Pacific

35

34.75

Total

95.44

100.05

*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$33-37/b, WTI – US$30-33/b
  • Crude oil prices hold their recent gains, staying rangebound with demand gradually improving as lockdown slowly ease
  • Worries that global oil supply would increase after June - when the OPEC+ supply deal eases and higher prices bring back some free-market production - kept prices in check
  • Russia has signalled that it intends to ease back immediately in line with the supply deal, but Saudi Arabia and its allies are pushing for the 9.7 mmb/d cut to be extended to end-2020, putting the two oil producers on another collision course that previously resulted in a price war
  • Morgan Stanley expects Brent prices to rise to US$40/b by 4Q 2020, but cautioned that a full recovery was only likely to materialise in 2021

End of Article

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May, 31 2020
North American crude oil prices are closely, but not perfectly, connected

selected North American crude oil prices

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.

The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.

Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.

pricing locations of selected North American crudes

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.

Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.

Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.

Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.

Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett

May, 28 2020
Financial Review: 2019

Key findings

  • Brent crude oil daily average prices were $64.16 per barrel in 2019—11% lower than 2018 levels
  • The 102 companies analyzed in this study increased their combined liquids and natural gas production 2% from 2018 to 2019
  • Proved reserves additions in 2019 were about the same as the 2010–18 annual average
  • Finding plus lifting costs increased 13% from 2018 to 2019
  • Occidental Petroleum’s acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum contributed to the largest reserve acquisition costs incurred for the group of companies since 2016
  • Refiners’ earnings per barrel declined slightly from 2018 to 2019

See entire annual review

May, 26 2020