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Last Updated: May 13, 2020
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Forecast Highlights

Global liquid fuels

  • Although all market outlooks are subject to many risks, the May edition of EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook remains subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because the effects on energy markets of mitigation efforts related to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are still evolving. Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant changes in energy supply and demand patterns. Crude oil prices, in particular, have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by reduced oil demand because of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Despite the April agreement between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) to reduce production levels beyond the end of the STEO forecast period, crude oil prices have remained at some of their lowest levels in more than 20 years. Uncertainties persist across EIA’s outlook for other energy sources, including natural gas, electricity, coal, and renewables.
  • Brent crude oil prices averaged $18 per barrel (b) in April, a decrease of $13/b from the average in March. EIA forecasts Brent crude oil prices will average $34/b in 2020, down from an average of $64/b in 2019. EIA expects prices will average $23/b during the second quarter of 2020 before increasing to $32/b during the second half of the year. EIA forecasts that Brent prices will rise to an average of $48/b in 2021, $2/b higher than forecast last month, as EIA expects that declining global oil inventories next year will put upward pressure on oil prices.
  • EIA estimates global petroleum and liquid fuels consumption averaged 94.1 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first quarter of 2020, a decline of 5.8 million b/d from the same period in 2019. EIA expects global petroleum and liquid fuels demand will average 92.6 million b/d in 2020, a decrease of 8.1 million b/d from last year, before increasing by 7.0 million b/d in 2021. Lower global oil demand growth for 2020 in the May STEO reflects growing evidence of disruptions to global economic activity along with reduced expected travel globally as a result of restrictions related to COVID-19.
  • EIA expects that global liquid fuels inventories will grow by an average of 2.6 million b/d in 2020 after falling by 0.2 million b/d in 2019. EIA expects inventory builds will be largest in the first half of 2020, rising at a rate of 6.6 million b/d in the first quarter and increasing to builds of 11.5 million b/d in the second quarter as a result of widespread travel limitations and sharp reductions in economic activity. Firmer demand growth as the global economy begins to recover and slower supply growth will contribute to global oil inventory draws beginning in the third quarter of 2020. EIA expects global liquid fuels inventories will fall by 1.9 million b/d in 2021.
  • EIA forecasts significant decreases in U.S. liquid fuels demand during the first half of 2020 as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions and disruptions to business and economic activity. EIA expects the largest impacts will occur in the second quarter of 2020 before gradually dissipating over the next 18 months. EIA expects U.S. motor gasoline consumption to fall from 8.6 million b/d in the first quarter of 2020 to an average of 7.0 million b/d in the second quarter before gradually increasing to 8.7 million b/d in the second half of the year. U.S. jet fuel consumption will fall from 1.6 million b/d in the first quarter of 2020 to an average of 0.8 million b/d in the second quarter. U.S. distillate fuel oil consumption is forecast to decline by 0.6 million b/d to average 3.3 million b/d during the same period. For all of 2020, EIA forecasts that U.S. motor gasoline consumption will average 8.3 million b/d, a decrease of 11% compared with 2019, while jet fuel and distillate fuel oil consumption will fall by 25% and 10%, respectively, during the same period.
  • EIA has revised its current forecast of domestic crude oil production down from the April STEO as a result of lower crude oil prices. EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will average 11.7 million b/d in 2020, down 0.5 million b/d from 2019. In 2021, EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to decline further by 0.8 million b/d. If realized, the 2020 production decline would mark the first annual decline since 2016. U.S. crude oil production has not declined for two years in a row since the 17-year period of declines beginning in 1992 and running through 2008. Typically, price changes affect production after about a six-month lag. However, current market conditions will likely reduce this lag as many producers have already announced plans to reduce capital spending and drilling levels.

Natural gas

  • In April, the Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $1.73 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). EIA forecasts that natural gas prices will generally rise through the rest of 2020 as U.S. production declines. EIA forecasts that Henry Hub natural gas spot prices will average $2.14/MMBtu in 2020 and then increase in 2021, reaching an annual average of $2.89/MMBtu. EIA expects prices to rise largely because of lower natural gas production compared with 2020.
  • EIA expects total consumption of natural gas to average 81.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2020, down 3.9% from the 2019 average primarily because of lower industrial sector consumption of natural gas. EIA forecasts industrial natural gas consumption to average 21.3 Bcf/d in 2020, down 7.1% from 2019 as a result of lower expected manufacturing activity. This expected decline is lower than the 0.3% decline forecast in the April STEO because of large downward revisions to the macroeconomic forecast in the May STEO.
  • U.S. dry natural gas production set a record in 2019, averaging 92.2 Bcf/d. EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will average 89.8 Bcf/d in 2020, with monthly production falling from an estimated 93.1 Bcf/d in April to 85.4 Bcf/d in December. Natural gas production declines the most in the Appalachian region and Permian region. In the Appalachian region, low natural gas prices are discouraging producers from engaging in natural gas-directed drilling, and in the Permian region, low oil prices reduce associated gas output from oil-directed wells. In 2021, forecast dry natural gas production averages 84.9 Bcf/d, rising in the second half of 2021 in response to higher prices.
  • EIA estimates that total U.S. working natural gas in storage ended April at 2.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 20% more than the five-year (2015–19) average. In the forecast, inventories rise by 2.1 Tcf during the April through October injection season to reach almost 4.2 Tcf on October 31, which would be a record level.
  • EIA forecasts that U.S. liquefied natural gas exports will average 5.8 Bcf/d in the second quarter of 2020 and 4.8 Bcf/d in the third quarter of 2020. U.S. liquefied natural gas exports are expected to decline through the end of the summer as a result of lower expected global demand for natural gas.

Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions

  • Although some stay-at-home orders are beginning to be relaxed, the effects of social distancing guidelines are likely to continue affecting U.S. electricity consumption during the next few months. EIA expects retail sales of electricity in the commercial sector will fall by 6.5% in 2020 because many businesses have closed and many people are working from home. Similarly, EIA expects industrial retail sales of electricity will fall by 6.5% in 2020 as many factories cut back production. Forecast U.S. sales of electricity to the residential sector fall by 1.3% in 2020 because of lower electricity demand as a result of milder winter and summer weather, which is offset slightly by increased household electricity consumption as much of the population spends relatively more time at home.
  • EIA forecasts that total U.S. electric power sector generation will decline by 5% in 2020. Most of the expected decline in electricity supply is reflected in lower fossil fuel generation, especially at coal-fired power plants. EIA expects that coal generation will fall by 25% in 2020. Forecast natural gas generation is relatively flat this year, reflecting favorable fuel costs and the addition of new generating capacity. Renewable energy sources account for the largest portion of new generating capacity in 2020, driving EIA’s forecast of 11% growth in renewable generation by the electric power sector. Renewable energy is typically dispatched whenever it is available because of its low operating cost.
  • Although EIA expects renewable energy to be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in 2020, the effects the economic slowdown related to COVID-19 are likely to affect new generating capacity builds during the next few months. EIA expects the electric power sector will add 20.4 gigawatts of new wind capacity and 12.7 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity in 2020. However, these forecasts are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, and EIA will continue to monitor reported planned capacity builds.
  • EIA forecasts U.S. average coal consumption will decrease by 23% to 453 MMst in 2020. The decrease is primarily driven by a 24% decline in electric power sector consumption and persistently low natural gas prices. In 2021, consumption is expected to increase by 10% to 498 MMst because of stronger natural gas prices and an overall economic recovery that results in rising electricity generation.
  • After decreasing by 2.8% in 2019, EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decrease by 11% (572 million metric tons) in 2020. This record decline is the result of restrictions on business and travel activity and slowing economic growth related to COVID-19. CO2 emissions decline from all fossil fuels, particularly coal (23%) and petroleum (11%). In 2021, EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by 5% as the economy recovers and stay-at-home orders are lifted. 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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December, 01 2021
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.

End of Article 

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