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Reshaping Energy Markets

The US shale sector continues to disrupt global oil markets. Soaring US crude production and the resulting exports to Asia and Europe, are transforming worldwide trade flows and changing how consumer countries price crude.

The US has overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest exporter, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported in September, as its crude oil exports rose to more than 3 million B/D and its total exports of crude and products reached almost 9 million B/D. Saudi Arabia was the globe’s top exporter for part of the third quarter as hurricanes and the US-China trade dispute affected US exports but that appeared to be temporary. In the past decade, US has more than doubled oil production, to 12.3 million B/D, becoming the world’s largest producer. “Since the last in-depth (IEA) review 5 years ago, the United States has reshaped energy markets both domestically and around the world,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director,

The US’ new role was underscored last month when a drone strike knocked out a large portion of Saudi Arabian production. In previous years, oil markets would have panicked, but traders quickly looked to the US to make up much of the difference.

The US lifted its ban on exporting oil in 2015—put in place after the oil embargoes of the late 1970s—and, in December 2015 exported its first oil cargo in 40 years. That shipment of Eagle Ford light oil to the Mediterranean ushered in a new age and, within 2 years, the US was exporting more than 1 million B/D. Exports of unconventional crude from the Permian, Bakken, Niobrara, and Eagle Ford joined output from Gulf of Mexico fields such as Mars and Thunderhorse headed abroad.

The impact on trade flows has been significant. Just a few years ago, Nigeria sold the US more than 1 million B/D of crude annually, but that volume has been replaced by the similar light, sweet crude produced in the Permian Basin. US crude has flowed to European refineries, which have seen declines in North Sea output, and to Asia, principally China. Since the US-China trade dispute began, Chinese refineries have cut back on US imports significantly, but consumption in India, Indonesia, and Taiwan has risen sharply at the same time. Asia has accounted for 45% of all US crude exports so far in 2019.

That shift is changing how crude oil is bought and sold. The US Gulf Coast is quickly becoming a benchmark center for the worldwide oil market, with oil priced in relation to West Texas Intermediate’s value at the coast. Global exports to Asia previously were priced against North Sea Brent crude, but output there has been in decline, or Dubai crude, which is dominated by only a few participants. As new infrastructure is built in the US, carrying more crude to the coast, WTI priced at the Gulf of Mexico will only grow in stature as a pricing benchmark.

Many analysts believe the shale boom is moderating because of the decline in oil prices since the start of the fourth quarter of 2018, and that the deceleration might continue through the rest of this year and into 2020. But production from the Permian Basin in particular has swamped available pipeline capacity to bring the oil to market, and several pipeline projects are scheduled to be completed this year and next, which should allow for even higher exports.

Reshaping Energy Markets

John Donnelly, JPT Editor

01 October 2019

Volume: 71 | Issue: 10

No editorial available

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