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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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Royal Dutch Shell Poised To Become Just Shell

On 10 December 2021, if all goes to plan Royal Dutch Shell will become just Shell. The energy supermajor will move its headquarters from The Hague in The Netherlands to London, UK. At least three-quarters of the company’s shareholders must vote in favour of the change at the upcoming general meeting, which has been sold by Shell as a means of simplifying its corporate structure and better return value to shareholders, as well as be ‘better positioned to seize opportunities and play a leading role in the energy transition’. In doing so, it will no longer meet Dutch conditions for ‘royal’ designation, dropping a moniker that has defined the company through decades of evolution since 1907.

But why this and why now?

There is a complex web of reasons why, some internal and some external but the ultimate reason boils down to improving growth sustainability. Royal Dutch Shell was born through the merger of Shell Transport and Trading Company (based in the UK) and Royal Dutch (based in The Netherlands) in 1907, with both companies engaging in exploration activities ranging from seashells to crude oil. Unified across international borders, Royal Dutch Shell emerged as Europe’s answer to John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil empire, as the race to exploit oil (and later natural gas) reserves spilled out over the world. Along the way, Royal Dutch Shell chalked up a number of achievements including establishing the iconic Brent field in the North Sea to striking the first commercial oil in Nigeria. Unlike Standard Oil which was dissolved into 34 smaller companies in 1911, Royal Dutch Shell remained intact, operating as two entities until 2005, when they were finally combined in a dual-nationality structure: incorporated in the UK, but residing in the Netherlands. This managed to satisfy the national claims both countries make on the supermajor, second only to ExxonMobil in revenue and profits but proved to be costly to maintain. In 2020, fellow Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Unilever also ditched its dual structure, opting to be based fully out of the City of London. In that sense, Shell is following the direction of the wind, as forces in its (soon to be former) home country turn sour.

There is a specific grievance that Royal Dutch Shell has with the Dutch government, the 15% dividend tax collected for Dutch-domiciled companies. It is the reason why Unilever abandoned Rotterdam and is now the reason why Shell is abandoning The Hague. And this point is particularly existentialist for Shell, since its share prices has been battered in recent years following the industry downturn since 2015, the global pandemic and being in the crosshairs of climate change activists as an emblem of why the world’s average temperatures are going haywire. The latter has already caused the largest Dutch state pension fund ABP to stop investing in fossil fuels, thereby divesting itself of Royal Dutch Shell. This was largely a symbolic move, but as religious figures will know, symbols themselves carry much power. To combat this, Shell has done two things. First, it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of energy transition, announcing ambitious emissions reductions plans in line with its European counterparts to become carbon neutral by 2050. Second, it is looking to bump up its dividend payouts after slashing them through the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic and accelerating share buybacks to remain the bluest of blue-chip stocks. But then, earlier this year, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s emissions targets were ‘not ambitious enough’, ordering a stricter aim within a tighter timeframe. And the 15% dividend tax remains – even though Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government has been attempting to scrap it, with (it is presumed) some lobbying from Royal Dutch Shell and Unilever.

As simplistic it is to think that Shell is leaving for London believes the citizens of the Netherlands has turned its back on the company, the ultimate reason was the dividend tax. Reportedly, CEO Ben van Buerden called up Mark Rutte on Sunday informing him of the planned move. Rutte’s reaction, it is said was of dismay. And he embarked on a last-ditch effort to persuade Royal Dutch Shell to change its mind, by immediately lobbying his government’s coalition partners to back an abolition of the dividend tax. The reaction was perhaps not what he expected, with left-wing and green parties calling Shell’s threat ‘blackmail’. With democracy drawing a line, Shell decided to walk; or at least present an exit plan endorsed by its Board to be voted by shareholders. Many in the Netherlands see Shell’s exit and the loss of the moniker Royal Dutch – as a blow to national pride, especially since the country has been basking in the glow of expanded reputation as a result of post-Brexit migration of financial activities to Amsterdam from London. The UK, on the other hand, sees Shell’s decision and Unilever’s – as an endorsement of the country’s post-Brexit potential.

The move, if passed and in its initial stages, will be mainly structural, transferring the tax residence of Shell to London. Just ten top executives including van Buerden and CFO Jessica Uhl will be making the move to London. Three major arms – Projects and Technology, Global Upstream and Integrated Gas and Renewable Energies – will remain in The Hague. As will Shell’s massive physical reach on Dutch soil: the huge integrated refinery in Pernis, the biofuels hub in Rotterdam, the country’s first offshore wind farm and the mammoth Porthos carbon capture project that will funnel emissions from Rotterdam to be stored in empty North Sea gas fields. And Shell’s troubles with activists will still continue. British climate change activists are as, if not more aggressive as their Dutch counterpart, this being the country where Extinction Rebellion was born. Perhaps more of a threat is activist investor Third Point, which recently acquired a chunk of Shell shares and has been advocating splitting the company into two – a legacy business for fossil fuels and a futures-focused business for renewables.

So Shell’s business remains, even though its address has changed. In the grand scheme of things, never mind the small matter of Dutch national pride – Royal Dutch Shell’s roadmap to remain an investment icon and a major driver of energy transition will continue in its current form. This is a quibble about money or rather, tax – that will have little to no impact on Shell’s operations or on its ambitions. Royal Dutch Shell is poised to become just Shell. Different name and a different house, but the same contents. Unless, of course, Queen Elizabeth II decides to provide royal assent, in which case, Shell might one day become Royal British Shell.

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