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Last Updated: August 12, 2020
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Forecast Highlights

  • The August Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) remains subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because mitigation and reopening efforts related to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue to evolve. Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in energy demand and supply patterns in 2020. Uncertainties persist across the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) outlook for all energy sources, including liquid fuels, natural gas, electricity, coal, and renewables. The STEO is based on U.S. macroeconomic forecasts by IHS Markit, which assume U.S. gross domestic product declined by 5.2% in the first half of 2020 from the same period a year ago and will rise from the third quarter of 2020 through 2021.
  • Daily Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $43 per barrel (b) in July, up $3/b from the average in June and up $25/b from the multiyear low monthly average price in April. EIA expects monthly Brent spot prices will average $43/b during the second half of 2020 and rise to an average of $50/b in 2021.
  • U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.18 per gallon (gal) in July, an increase of 10 cents/gal from the average in June but 56 cents/gal lower than at the same time last year. EIA expects that gasoline prices will gradually decrease through the rest of the summer to reach an average of $2.04/gal in September before falling to an average of $1.99/gal in the fourth quarter. Forecast U.S. regular gasoline retail prices will average $2.23/gal in 2021, compared with an average of $2.12/gal in 2020.
  • EIA expects high inventory levels and surplus crude oil production capacity will limit upward price pressures in the coming months, but as inventories decline into 2021, those upward price pressures will increase. EIA estimates global liquid fuels inventories rose at a rate of 6.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first half of 2020 and expects they will decline at a rate of 4.2 million b/d in the second half of 2020 and then decline by 0.8 million b/d in 2021.
  • EIA estimates that demand for global petroleum and liquid fuels averaged 93.4 million b/d in July. Demand was down 9.1 million b/d from July 2019, but it was up from an average of 85.0 million b/d during the second quarter of 2020, which was down 15.8 million b/d from year-ago levels. EIA forecasts that consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels globally will average 93.1 million b/d for all of 2020, down 8.1 million b/d from 2019, before increasing by 7.0 million b/d in 2021. Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in energy supply and demand patterns in 2020.
  • EIA estimates that global liquid fuels production averaged 91.8 million b/d in the second quarter of 2020, down 8.6 million b/d year over year. The decline reflects voluntary production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+), and reductions in drilling activity and production curtailments in the United States because of low oil prices. In the forecast, the global supply of oil continues to decline to 90.4 million b/d in the third quarter of 2020 before rising to an annual average of 99.4 million b/d in 2021.
  • EIA estimates that U.S. liquid fuels consumption averaged 16.2 million b/d in the second quarter of 2020, down 4.1 million b/d (20%) from the same period in 2019. The decline reflects travel restrictions and reduced economic activity related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. EIA expects U.S. oil consumption will generally rise through the end of 2021. EIA forecasts U.S. liquid fuels consumption will average 18.9 million b/d in the third quarter of 2020 (down 1.8 million b/d year over year) before rising to an average of 20.0 million b/d in 2021. Although the 2021 forecast level is 1.6 million b/d more than EIA’s forecast 2020 consumption, it is 0.4 million b/d less than the 2019 average.
  • EIA has lowered U.S. crude oil production estimates for 2020 by 370,000 b/d from the previous STEO. EIA expects crude production to average 11.3 million b/d in 2020 and 11.1 million b/d in 2021, down from 12.2 million b/d in 2019. Recently released EIA data show that average monthly U.S. oil production for May was 1.2 million b/d lower than the July STEO forecast, indicating more extensive production curtailments than previously estimated. Also, EIA’s August STEO assumes that the Dakota Access Pipeline will remain operational. A U.S. District Court ordered on July 6 the temporary closure of the Dakota Access Pipeline beginning in early August. A U.S. appeals court has overturned the lower court decision, allowing the pipeline to remain running while further litigation proceedings continue.
  • In July, the Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $1.77 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). EIA expects natural gas prices will generally rise through the end of 2021 but the sharpest increases will be during this fall and winter when they rise from an average of $2.11/MMBtu in September to $3.14/MMBtu in February. EIA expects that rising demand heading into winter, combined with reduced production, will cause upward price pressures. EIA forecasts that Henry Hub natural gas spot prices will average $2.03/MMBtu in 2020 and $3.14/MMBtu in 2021.
  • EIA estimates that total U.S. working natural gas in storage ended July at about 3.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 15% more than the five-year (2015–19) average. In the forecast, inventories rise by 2.0 Tcf during the April-through-October injection season to reach nearly 4.0 Tcf on October 31.
  • EIA expects that total U.S. consumption of natural gas will average 82.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2020, down 3.0% from 2019. The largest decline in consumption occurs in the industrial sector, which EIA forecasts will average 22.0 Bcf/d in 2020, down 1.0 Bcf/d from 2019, as a result of reduced manufacturing activity. The decline in total U.S. consumption also reflects lower heating demand in early 2020, contributing to residential and commercial demand in 2020 averaging 12.8 Bcf/d (down 0.9 Bcf/d from 2019) and 8.8 Bcf/d (down 0.8 Bcf/d from 2019), respectively.
  • U.S. dry natural gas production set an annual record in 2019, averaging 92.2 Bcf/d. EIA forecasts dry natural gas production will average 88.7 Bcf/d in 2020, with monthly production falling from its monthly average peak of 96.2 Bcf/d in November 2019 to 82.7 Bcf/d by April 2021, before increasing slightly. Natural gas production declines the most in the Permian region, where EIA expects low crude oil prices will reduce associated natural gas output from oil-directed rigs. EIA’s forecast of dry natural gas production in the United States averages 84.0 Bcf/d in 2021. EIA expects production to begin rising in the second quarter of 2021 in response to higher natural gas and crude oil prices.
  • EIA estimates that U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports will average 5.5 Bcf/d in 2020 and will average 7.3 Bcf/d in 2021. EIA expects that U.S. LNG exports will decline through the end of the summer as a result of reduced global demand for natural gas. U.S. exports of LNG in July 2020 averaged 3.1 Bcf/d, which is about the same as in May 2018, when the available liquefaction capacity was about one-third of the current capacity. Declines in global natural gas demand associated with COVID-19 mitigation efforts, high natural gas storage inventories in Europe and Asia, and an on-going expansion in LNG liquefaction capacity have contributed to natural gas and LNG prices reaching all-time historical lows. Low international prices have affected the economic competitiveness of U.S. LNG exports and have led to numerous cargo cancellations, particularly at the Sabine Pass, Corpus Christi, and Freeport LNG export terminals. EIA expects LNG exports from the United States to remain low in the next few months. Based on numerous trade press reports, EIA estimates about 45 cargoes have been canceled for upcoming August shipments and about 30 cargoes have been canceled for September shipments.
  • EIA forecasts 3.6% less electricity consumption in the United States in 2020 compared with 2019. The largest decline on a percentage basis is in the commercial sector, where EIA expects retail sales of electricity to fall by 7.4% this year. Forecast industrial retail electricity sales fall by 5.8%. EIA forecasts residential sector retail sales will increase by 2.0% in 2020. Milder winter temperatures earlier in the year led to lower consumption for space heating, but that factor is offset by increased summer cooling demand and an assumed increase in electricity use by more people working from home. In 2021, EIA forecasts total U.S. electricity consumption will rise by 0.8%.
  • EIA expects the share of U.S. electric power sector generation from natural gas-fired power plants will increase from 37% in 2019 to 40% this year. In 2021, the forecast natural gas share declines to 35% in response to higher natural gas prices. Coal’s forecast share of electricity generation falls from 24% in 2019 to 18% in 2020 and then increases to 22% in 2021. Electricity generation from renewable energy sources rises from 17% in 2019 to 20% in 2020 and to 22% in 2021. The increase in the share from renewables is the result of expected additions to wind and solar generating capacity. EIA expects a decline in nuclear generation in both 2020 and 2021, reflecting recent and upcoming retirements of nuclear generating capacity.
  • EIA forecasts that renewable energy will be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in 2020. EIA expects the electric power sector will add 23.2 gigawatts (GW) of new wind capacity and 12.9 GW of utility-scale solar capacity in 2020. However, these future capacity additions are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, and EIA continues to monitor reported planned capacity builds.
  • U.S. coal consumption, which dropped to its lowest point since April, totaled 95 MMst in the second quarter of 2020. EIA expects coal consumption to rise to a seasonal peak of 127 MMst in the third quarter but remain lower than 2019 levels through the end of 2020. EIA estimates that U.S. coal consumption will decrease by 26% in 2020 and increase by 20% in 2021. EIA estimates that total U.S. coal production in 2020 will decrease by 29% from 2019 levels to 502 MMst. In 2021, EIA expects higher demand and rising natural gas prices to a lead to a recovery in coal production of 12%, with a total annual production level of 564 MMst.
  • EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, after decreasing by 2.8% in 2019, will decrease by 11.5% (588 million metric tons) in 2020. This record decline is the result of less energy consumption related to restrictions on business and travel activity and slowing economic growth related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. CO2 emissions decline with reduced consumption of all fossil fuels, particularly coal (24.9%) and petroleum (11.6%). In 2021, EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by 5.6%, 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 Forecast Covid-19 Short Term Energy Outlook EIA USA gas oil coal consumption demand supply oil prices market Brent
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Pricing-in The Covid 19 Vaccine

In a few days, the bi-annual OPEC meeting will take place on November 30, leading into a wider OPEC+ meeting on December 30. This is what all the political jostling and negotiations currently taking place is leading up to, as the coalition of major oil producers under the OPEC+ banner decide on the next step of its historic and ambitious supply control plan. Designed to prop up global oil prices by managing supply, a postponement of the next phase in the supply deal is widely expected. But there are many cracks appearing beneath the headline.

A quick recap. After Saudi Arabia and Russia triggered a price war in March 2020 that led to a collapse in oil prices (with US crude prices briefly falling into negative territory due to the technical quirk), OPEC and its non-OPEC allies (known collectively as OPEC+) agreed to a massive supply quota deal that would throttle their production for 2 years. The initial figure was 10 mmb/d, until Mexico’s reticence brought that down to 9.7 mmb/d. This was due to fall to 7.7 mmb/d by July 2020, but soft demand forced a delay, while Saudi Arabia led the charge to ensure full compliance from laggards, which included Iraq, Nigeria and (unusually) the UAE. The next tranche will bring the supply control ceiling down to 5.7 mmb/d. But given that Covid-19 is still raging globally (despite promising vaccine results), this might be too much too soon. Yes, prices have recovered, but at US$40/b crude, this is still not sufficient to cover the oil-dependent budgets of many OPEC+ nations. So a delay is very likely.

But for how long? The OPEC+ Joint Technical Committee panel has suggested that the next step of the plan (which will effectively boost global supply by 2 mmb/d) be postponed by 3-6 months. This move, if adopted, will have been presaged by several public statements by OPEC+ leaders, including a pointed comment from OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo that producers must be ready to respond to ‘shifts in market fundamentals’.

On the surface, this is a necessary move. Crude prices have rallied recently – to as high as US$45/b – on positive news of Covid-19 vaccines. Treatments from Pfizer, Moderna and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca have touted 90%+ effectiveness in various forms, with countries such as the US, Germany and the UK ordering billions of doses and setting the stage for mass vaccinations beginning December. Life returning to a semblance of normality would lift demand, particularly in key products such as gasoline (as driving rates increase) and jet fuel (allowing a crippled aviation sector to return to life). Underpinning the rally is the understanding that OPEC+ will always act in the market’s favour, carefully supporting the price recovery. But there are already grouses among OPEC members that they are doing ‘too much’. Led by Saudi Arabia, the draconian dictates of meeting full compliance to previous quotas have ruffled feathers, although most members have reluctantly attempt to abide by them. But there is a wider existential issue that OPEC+ is merely allowing its rivals to resuscitate and leapfrog them once again; the US active oil rig count by Baker Hughes has reversed a chronic decline trend, as WTI prices are at levels above breakeven for US shale.

Complaints from Iran, Iraq and Nigeria are to be expected, as is from Libya as it seeks continued exemption from quotas due to the legacy of civil war even though it has recently returned to almost full production following a truce. But grievance is also coming from an unexpected quarter: the UAE. A major supporter in the Saudi Arabia faction of OPEC, reports suggest that the UAE (led by the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi) are privately questioning the benefit of remaining in OPEC. Beset by shrivelling oil revenue, the Emiratis have been grumbling about the fairness of their allocated quota as they seek to rebuild their trade-dependent economy. There has been suggestion that the Emiratis could even leave OPEC if decisions led to a net negative outcome for them. Unlike the Qatar exit, this will not just be a blow to OPEC as a whole, questioning its market relevance but to Saudi Arabia’s lead position, as it loses one of its main allies, reducing its negotiation power. And if the UAE leaves, Kuwait could follow, which would leave the Saudis even more isolated.

This could be a tactic to increase the volume of the UAE’s voice in OPEC+, which has been dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia. But it could also be a genuine policy shift. Either way, it throws even more conundrums onto a delicate situation that could undermine an already fragile market. Despite the positive market news led by Covid-19 vaccines and demand recovery in Asia, American crude oil inventories in Cushing are now approaching similar high levels last seen in April (just before the WTI crash) while OPEC itself has lowered its global demand forecast for 2020 by 300,000 b/d. That’s dangerous territory to be treading in, especially if members of the OPEC+ club are threatening to exit and undermine the pack. A postponement of the plan seems inevitable on December 1 at this point, but it is what lies beyond the immediate horizon that is the true threat to OPEC+.

Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$44-46/b, WTI – US$42-44/b
  • More positive news on Covid-19 vaccines have underpinned a crude price rally despite worrying signs of continued soft demand and inventory build-ups
  • Pfizer’s application for emergency approval of its vaccine is paving the way for mass vaccinations to begin soon, with some experts predicting that the global economy could return to normality in Q2 2021
  • Market observers are predicting a delay in the OPEC+ supply quota schedule, but the longer timeline for the club’s plan – which is set to last until April 2022 – may have to be brought forward to appease current dissent in the group

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November, 25 2020
EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to remain relatively flat through 2021

In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) November Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production will remain near its current level through the end of 2021.

A record 12.9 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil was produced in the United States in November 2019 and was at 12.7 million b/d in March 2020, when the President declared a national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Crude oil production then fell to 10.0 million b/d in May 2020, the lowest level since January 2018.

By August, the latest monthly data available in EIA’s series, production of crude oil had risen to 10.6 million b/d in the United States, and the U.S. benchmark price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil had increased from a monthly average of $17 per barrel (b) in April to $42/b in August. EIA forecasts that the WTI price will average $43/b in the first half of 2021, up from our forecast of $40/b during the second half of 2020.

The U.S. crude oil production forecast reflects EIA’s expectations that annual global petroleum demand will not recover to pre-pandemic levels (101.5 million b/d in 2019) through at least 2021. EIA forecasts that global consumption of petroleum will average 92.9 million b/d in 2020 and 98.8 million b/d in 2021.

The gradual recovery in global demand for petroleum contributes to EIA’s forecast of higher crude oil prices in 2021. EIA expects that the Brent crude oil price will increase from its 2020 average of $41/b to $47/b in 2021.

EIA’s crude oil price forecast depends on many factors, especially changes in global production of crude oil. As of early November, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries (OPEC+) were considering plans to keep production at current levels, which could result in higher crude oil prices. OPEC+ had previously planned to ease production cuts in January 2021.

Other factors could result in lower-than-forecast prices, especially a slower recovery in global petroleum demand. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, some parts of the United States are adding restrictions such as curfews and limitations on gatherings and some European countries are re-instituting lockdown measures.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of U.S. crude oil production in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 19 2020
OPEC members' net oil export revenue in 2020 expected to drop to lowest level since 2002

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will earn about $323 billion in net oil export revenues in 2020. If realized, this forecast revenue would be the lowest in 18 years. Lower crude oil prices and lower export volumes drive this expected decrease in export revenues.

Crude oil prices have fallen as a result of lower global demand for petroleum products because of responses to COVID-19. Export volumes have also decreased under OPEC agreements limiting crude oil output that were made in response to low crude oil prices and record-high production disruptions in Libya, Iran, and to a lesser extent, Venezuela.

OPEC earned an estimated $595 billion in net oil export revenues in 2019, less than half of the estimated record high of $1.2 trillion, which was earned in 2012. Continued declines in revenue in 2020 could be detrimental to member countries’ fiscal budgets, which rely heavily on revenues from oil sales to import goods, fund social programs, and support public services. EIA expects a decline in net oil export revenue for OPEC in 2020 because of continued voluntary curtailments and low crude oil prices.

The benchmark Brent crude oil spot price fell from an annual average of $71 per barrel (b) in 2018 to $64/b in 2019. EIA expects Brent to average $41/b in 2020, based on forecasts in EIA’s October 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). OPEC petroleum production averaged 36.6 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2018 and fell to 34.5 million b/d in 2019; EIA expects OPEC production to decline a further 3.9 million b/d to average 30.7 million b/d in 2020.

EIA based its OPEC revenues estimate on forecast petroleum liquids production—including crude oil, condensate, and natural gas plant liquids—and forecast values of OPEC petroleum consumption and crude oil prices.

EIA recently published a more detailed discussion of OPEC revenue in This Week in Petroleum.

November, 16 2020