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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 Growing Divergence In Energy

Two acquisitions in the energy sector were announced in the last week that illustrate the growing divergence in approaching the future of oil and gas between Europe and the USA. In France, Total announced that it had bought Fonroche Biogaz, the market leader in the production of renewable gas in France. In North America, ConocoPhillips completed its acquisition of Concho Resources, deepening the upstream major’s foothold into the lucrative Permian Basin and its shale riches. One is heading towards renewables, and the other is doubling down on conventional oil and gas.

What does this say about the direction of the energy industry?

Total’s move is unsurprising. Like almost all of its European peers operating in the oil and gas sector, Total has announced ambitious targets to become carbon-neutral by 2050. It is an ambition supported by the European population and pushed for by European governments, so in that sense, Total is following the wishes of its investors and stakeholders – just like BP, Shell, Repsol, Eni and others are doing. Fonroche Biogaz is therefore a canny acquisition. The company designs, builds and operates anaerobic digestion units that convert organic waste such as farming manure into biomethane to serve a gas feedstock for power generation. Fonroche Biogaz already has close to 500 GWh of installed capacity through seven power generation units with four in the pipeline. This feeds into Total’s recent moves to expand its renewable power generation capacity, with the stated intention of increasing the group’s biomethane capacity to 1.5 terawatts per hour (TWh) by 2025. Through this, Total vaults into a leading position within the renewable gas market in Europe, which is already active through affiliates such as Méthanergy, PitPoint and Clean Energy.

In parallel to this move, Total also announced that it has decided not to renew its membership in the American Petroleum Institute for 2021. Citing that it is only ‘partially aligned’ with the API on climate change issues in the past, Total has now decided that those positions have now ‘diverged’ particularly on rolling back methane emission regulations, carbon pricing and decarbonising transport. The French supermajor is not alone in its stance. BP, which has ditched the supermajor moniker in favour of turning itself into a clean energy giant, has also expressed reservations over the API’s stance over climate issues, and may very well choose to resign from the trade group as well. Other European upstream players might follow suit.

However, the core of the API will remain American energy firms. And the stance among these companies remains pro-oil and gas, despite shareholder pressure to bring climate issues and clean energy to the forefront. While the likes of ExxonMobil and Chevron have balanced significant investments into prolific shale patches in North America with public overtures to embrace renewables, no major US firm has made a public commitment to a carbon-neutral future as their European counterparts have. And so ConocoPhillips acquisition of Concho Resources, which boosts its value to some US$60 billion is not an outlier, but a preview of the ongoing consolidation happening in US shale as the free-for-all days give way to big boy acquisitions following the price-upheaval there since 2019.

That could change. In fact, it will change. The incoming Biden administration marks a significant break from the Trump administration’s embrace of oil and gas. Instead of opening of protected federal lands to exploration, especially in Alaska and sensitive coastal areas and loosening environmental regulations, the US will now pivot to putting climate change at the top of the agenda. Although political realities may water it down, the progressive faction of the Democrats are pushing for a Green New Deal embracing sustainability as the future for the US. Biden has already hinted that he may cancel the controversial and long-running Keystone XL pipeline via executive order on his first day in the office. His nominees for key positions including the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and Council on Environmental Quality suggest that there will be a major push on low-carbon and renewable initiatives, at least for the next 4 years. A pledge to reach net zero fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035 has been mooted. More will come.

The landscape is changing. But the two approaches still apply, the aggressive acceleration adopted by European majors, and the slower movement favoured by US firms. Political changes in the USA might hasten the change, but it is unlikely that convergence will happen anytime soon. There is room in the world for both approaches for now, but the future seems inevitable. It just depends on how energy companies want to get there.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$54-56/b, WTI – US$51-53/b
  • Global crude oil benchmarks retreated slightly, as concerns of rising supplies and coronavirus spread impact consumption anticipations; in particular, new Covid-19 outbreaks in key countries such as Japan and China are menacing demand
  • Mapped against the new OPEC+ supply quotas, there is a risk that demand will retreat more than anticipated, weakening prices; however, a leaking pipeline in Libya has reduced oil output there by about 200,000 b/d, which could provide some price support
  • However, the longer-term prognosis remains healthier for oil prices factoring out these short-term concerns; the US EIA has raised its predicted average prices for Brent and WTI to US$52.70 and US$49.70 for the whole of 2021

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January, 22 2021
EIA expects crude oil prices to average near $50 per barrel through 2022

In its January Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects global demand for petroleum liquids will be greater than global supply in 2021, especially during the first quarter, leading to inventory draws. As a result, EIA expects the price of Brent crude oil to increase from its December 2020 average of $50 per barrel (b) to an average of $56/b in the first quarter of 2021. The Brent price is then expected to average between $51/b and $54/b on a quarterly basis through 2022.

EIA expects that growth in crude oil production from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) will be limited because of a multilateral agreement to limit production. Saudi Arabia announced that it would voluntarily cut production by an additional 1.0 million b/d during February and March. Even with this cut, EIA expects OPEC to produce more oil than it did last year, forecasting that crude oil production from OPEC will average 27.2 million b/d in 2021, up from an estimated 25.6 million b/d in 2020.

EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production in the Lower 48 states—excluding the Gulf of Mexico—will decline in the first quarter of 2021 before increasing through the end of 2022. In 2021, EIA expects crude oil production in this region will average 8.9 million b/d and total U.S. crude oil production will average 11.1 million b/d, which is less than 2020 production.

EIA expects that responses to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases will continue to limit global oil demand in the first half of 2021. Based on global macroeconomic forecasts from Oxford Economics, however, EIA forecasts that global gross domestic product will grow by 5.4% in 2021 and by 4.3% in 2022, leading to energy consumption growth. EIA forecasts that global consumption of liquid fuels will average 97.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2021 and 101.1 million b/d in 2022, only slightly less than the 2019 average of 101.2 million b/d.

EIA expects global inventory draws will contribute to forecast rising crude oil prices in the first quarter of 2021. Despite rising forecast crude oil prices in early 2021, EIA expects upward price pressure will be limited through the forecast period because of high global oil inventory, surplus crude oil production capacity, and stock draws decreasing after the first quarter of 2021. EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $53/b in both 2021 and 2022.

quarterly global liquid fuels production and consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO)

You can find more information on EIA’s expectations for changes in global petroleum liquids production, consumption, and crude oil prices in EIA’s latest This Week in Petroleum article and its January STEO.

January, 22 2021
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January, 21 2021