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Why are Gas Prices Falling, and How Long will the Trend Last?

By Dave Summers | Wed, 04 December 2013 23:35 | 0

Filling up at the local gas station yesterday I noted that prices are still below $3.00 a gallon, though at $2.99 only just below. Going back to the BBC Calculator this is still $2.04 less per tank than the regional average, and $86 less than I would pay in Italy. So even though the costs are rising over the last time I looked, they are still relatively low.

Relative fuel costs
Figure 1. Relative fuel costs ($/gal) in different locations around the world. (BBC Calculator)

The orange line in figure 1 shows what I paid, and the darker grey horizontal line the regional cost here in the MidWest.

The EIA have noted in last week’s TWIP that the national price is as low as it has been since the beginning of 2011.

Average US retail prices for gasoline
Figure 2. Average US retail prices for gasoline (EIA).

The EIA continues to describe the causes of these relatively low prices:

Related article: Lower Fuel Prices not Enough for U.S. Travelers

Lower global crude oil prices, high profitability for diesel fuel that has been encouraging refiners to increase throughput, high inventories, and the switch to less-costly winter grades of gasoline are among the factors currently driving gasoline prices.

The OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) reports that global oil prices have fallen $2.04 a barrel (to $106.69) – the first decline in five months, as stocks increase and the Northern Hemisphere moves into winter. The estimate for global demand growth this year remains at 0.9 mbd, with the growth for next year anticipated to be at 1.04 mbd. This steady growth in global demand of a million barrels a day keeps raising the question as to where the increase is likely to come from. This is particularly germane given the disturbed conditions in a number of the MENA countries that provide a significant amount of baseline production, as well as anticipated increases.

The problems in Iraq, for example, have now reached the point that the Turkish government is directly working with the Kurds in Northern Iraq, to develop the oil in the Kurdish northern part of Iraq. This comes at a time that Iraq has been negotiating with the different major oil companies that had contracted to help Iraq reach an overall production target of 12 mbd by 2017. There have been considerable doubts cast on that original estimate, with the IEA producing a report, reviewed in an earlier post that concluded that the country would be lucky to achieve a production goal of 6 mbd by 2020, with an out year estimate that the country would be able to reach 8.3 mbd only by 2035.

Recognizing some of the difficulties in gearing up oil production at the different oilfields around Iraq (some of which were discussed in another post last June) production targets for 2017 had already been scaled back to a goal of 9 mbd by 2017, a drop of 25%. Now there has been discussion between Iraq and its partners for the various fields to drop those target values further, despite the large scale of the reserves that are considered available.

Oil reserves by field
Figure 3. Oil reserves by field (Financial Times)

Exxon Mobil had 60% of the stake in the West Qurna oil field, but after it had started to work with the Kurds independently of Baghdad it found that relations with the Central Government rather chilled. Exxon Mobil has thus sold 25% of their stake to Petro China, and 10% to Pertamina of Indonesia, bringing the EM stake down to 25%. The current discussions between the companies and the Iraqi government are aimed at reducing the production target of the field by around 1 mbd..

Oil has just started to be produced at West Qurna Two, but the initial target is to have commercial production by the end of the year has suffered from local disruptions and the initial goal to reach a production of 400 kbd by the end of 2014 is now also in doubt. Commercial production is now not estimated to begin until perhaps the end of the first quarter of 2014. Initially the field was to be producing 1.9 mbd by 2017. That goal had been lowered to 1.2 mbd at the end of 2012. How the current disruptions will play into that target is difficult to estimate yet, but a year ago the parties were assuming that production would have already reached 150 kbd.

Related article: If Peak Oil is Approaching why is Gasoline so Cheap?

Earlier this year ENI had agreed with the Ministry of Oil to lower the target peak production from the Zubair field from 1.2 mbd to 850 kbd with that goal to be reached in 2016.

Discussions are not yet complete on new target production to be achieved from the Majnoon field. Shell has just announced the start of production from the field with the intent of raising production to over 175 kbd by the end of the year. However the long term target of raising production to 1.8 mbd is now in question. Shell is reportedly suggesting that the 2017 target be lowered to 1 mbd.

Similarly over at the Rumaila field BP is in discussion over long-term production, although earlier last month Schlumberger stopped work at the field because of local disturbances. With the field producing 1.4 mbd the disturbance was short-lived and is not reported to have affected current production, though it is indicative of tensions within the country. Current discussions are aimed at lowering the 2017 target production by around 800 kbd.

When these cuts are combined the total reduction is around 3.65 mbd, taking 2017 production down to 5.35 mbd, which is below the earlier best case scenario envisaged by the IEA.

OPEC notes that, after reaching a peak recent production of 3.194 mbd in August, production has fallen back below 3 mbd in September and October, and with Saudi Arabia also cutting back below 10 mbd in October the Organization is lowering production to meet the reduced winter demand, albeit the reduction from Iraq might not have been anticipated.

OPEC production figures through Oct 13, 2013
Figure 4. OPEC production figures through Oct 13, 2013 as reported by others to OPEC (OPEC MOMR )

This means, unfortunately, that if the world was anticipating that the roughly 4 mbd increase in global demand by 2017 would be met largely by increased oil production from Iraq then they are likely to be sadly disappointed. Enjoy the lower gas prices while you may.

By. Dave Summers

About the author

More recent articles by Dave Summers

Thu 16 October 2014
Global Oil Surplus To Disappear Gradually Next Year
Wed 06 August 2014
The Differences In Fracking Tight Sand And Shales
Tue 22 July 2014
Things Continue To Get Worse
Sun 06 July 2014
Oil Production Numbers Keep Going Down
Mon 23 June 2014
More on Iraq – The Baiji Refinery

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