Crude Oil Report
The October Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) remains subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because mitigation and reopening efforts related to 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 and will continue to affect these patterns in the future. This STEO assumes U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 4.4% in the first half of 2020 from the same period a year ago. It assumes that GDP will rise beginning in the third quarter of 2020, and will grow 3.5% year-over-year in 2021. The U.S. macroeconomic assumptions in this outlook are based on forecasts by IHS Markit.
Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $41 per barrel (b) in September, down $4/b from the average in August. The decrease in oil prices coincided with slowing increases in global oil demand. Month-over-month consumption rose by 1.0 million b/d on average during August and September compared with an increase of 4.1 million b/d from May through July. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that global oil markets have shifted from global liquid fuels inventories building at a rate of 7.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in the second quarter of 2020 to drawing at a rate of 3.1 million b/d in the third quarter. The EIA expects inventory draws in the fourth quarter to be 3.0 million b/d before markets become more balanced, with inventory draws of 0.3 million b/d on average in 2021. Despite expected inventory draws in the coming months, the EIA expects high inventory levels and surplus crude oil production capacity will limit upward pressure on oil prices. The EIA forecasts monthly Brent spot prices will average $42/b during the fourth quarter of 2020 and will rise to an average of $47/b in 2021.
The EIA reported that U.S. crude oil production averaged 11.0 million b/d in July (the most recent month for which historical data are available), up 0.5 million b/d from June. In May, U.S. crude oil production reached a two-and-a-half-year low of 10.0 million b/d, resulting from curtailed production amid low oil prices. Since then, U.S. production has increased mainly because tight oil operators have brought wells back online in response to rising prices. The EIA estimates that production rose to 11.2 million b/d in September. However, EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to generally decline to an average of 11.0 million b/d in the second quarter of 2021 because new drilling activity will not generate enough production to offset declines from existing wells. EIA expects drilling activity to rise later in 2021, contributing to U.S. crude oil production returning to 11.2 million b/d in the fourth quarter of 2021. On an annual average basis, the EIA expects U.S. crude oil production to fall from 12.2 million b/d in 2019 to 11.5 million b/d in 2020 and 11.1 million b/d in 2021.
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Natural Gas Report
In September, the Henry Hub natural gas spot price averaged $1.92 per million British thermal units (MMBtu), down from an average of $2.30/MMBtu in August. Lower natural gas spot prices reflected declining demand for natural gas from the U.S. electric power sector as a result of cooler-than-normal temperatures during the second half of September and relatively low demand for U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports amid hurricane-related activity in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects that rising domestic demand for natural gas and demand for LNG exports heading into winter, combined with reduced production, will cause Henry Hub spot prices to rise to a monthly average of $3.38/MMBtu in January 2021. The EIA expects that monthly average spot prices will remain higher than $3.00/MMBtu throughout 2021, averaging $3.13/MMBtu for the year, up from a forecast average of $2.07/MMBtu in 2020.
The EIA estimates that total U.S. working natural gas in storage ended September at more than 3.8 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 12% more than the five-year (2015–19) average. In the forecast, the EIA expects inventories to be more than 4.0 Tcf on October 31, which would be a record high. However, because expected natural gas production will be lower this winter than last winter, the EIA forecasts inventory draws will outpace the five-year average during the heating season and end March 2021 at 1.7 Tcf, which would be 6% lower than the 2016–20 average.
The EIA expects that total U.S. consumption of natural gas will average 83.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2020, down 1.8% from 2019. The decline in total U.S. consumption reflects less heating demand in early 2020, contributing to residential and commercial demand in 2020 averaging 13.1 Bcf/d (down 0.7 Bcf/d from 2019) and 8.7 Bcf/d (down 0.9 Bcf/d from 2019), respectively. EIA forecasts industrial consumption will average 22.3 Bcf/d in 2020, down 0.8 Bcf/d from 2019 as a result of reduced manufacturing activity. The EIA expects total U.S. natural gas consumption will average 78.7 Bcf/d in 2021, a 5.9% decline from 2020. The expected decline in 2021 is the result of rising natural gas prices that will reduce demand for natural gas in the electric power sector.
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