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Why Gas Prices are Rising Again

Every time gas prices start to go up, my essay “Why Are Gas Prices Rising?” gets a lot of hits from Google searches by people looking for an explanation. Because the supply/demand dynamics have changed, that essay needs dusting off, especially in light of stories like this:

Pros puzzled by gas prices

Fuel industry pundits have been left scratching their heads at the recent jump in gas prices, which have increased despite plummeting crude prices.

“The nationwide average retail price of self-serve regular gasoline seems to be defying gravity this month,” according to American Automobile Association (AAA) Director of Public Relations, Geoff Sundtrom, “as it continued to rise in the face of sharply lower prices for crude oil and wholesale gasoline.”

Oil prices closed out at $34.78 per barrel last Friday, according to AAA, the lowest they’ve been since April 5, 2005, when the nationwide average retail gasoline price was $1.76 per gallon compared to Monday’s nationwide average of $1.842. Average nationwide prices jumped slightly to $1.848 on Wednesday. The statewide average is slightly higher at $1.851 per gallon. By this Friday, prices had risen to $46.47, according to The Associated Press.

First things first. Checking the EIA data, their numbers/trends don’t match up. Per the EIA, in April 2005 retail gas prices were $2.28 a gallon (Source) when West Texas Intermediate was trading at $52.98. In early 2009, retail gas prices (per the EIA) are at $1.84 with WTI hovering around $40. AAA is obviously using their own metrics, but a scan of the various EIA gas prices show a pretty consistent trend: Gas and oil prices both sharply down from 2005.

But, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that gas prices would be headed back up – even if oil prices are stagnant. Gasoline had over-corrected to the downside in relation to oil prices. In fact, crack spreads – a measure of the difference between the price of oil and the price of the products – did go negative in late 2008. That is unsustainable, and an indication that gas prices must correct to the upside (or refiners will start to cut production since they are losing money on every barrel). So why are gas prices rising? Because they fell too far. (Nobody ever seems to ask why gas prices fell so much in relation to crude oil; they only get excited when the opposite occurs).

There is another key factor to consider when comparing the behavior of gasoline and oil prices. I have seen them move in opposite directions on numerous occasions. Here is an example of when they might do that. Let’s presume that we have a glut of oil, but a refining bottleneck. In such a case, you would see little demand for oil, keeping the price low. But if refiners are having trouble keeping the gasoline market supplied, then gasoline prices will rise in relation to oil prices. This has taken place multiple times over the past few years, and can usually be understood if you watch the crude and finished product inventories reported each week in This Week in Petroleum.

Other factors that impact the price of gasoline include the strength of gasoline imports (primarily from Europe), and refinery utilization (both of which are reported weekly at the EIA). If gasoline demand is strong, and something happens to reduce the utilization number (e.g., hurricane), prices spike. If demand starts to slacken, you will see refiners start to dial back their utilization.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, oil inventories, oil prices, twip | 54 Comments

Haven’t We Seen This Before?

At this year’s ASPO conference, I was twice asked about the gasoline supply situation – once at a panel session and once by a reporter. At the time, there were gas shortages throughout the southeast, and some of the speakers gave the impression that this was the beginning of the end: Gas shortages are here to stay, and we are on the verge of the entire country running out of gasoline. There were a number of predictions along the lines of “It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”

While first discussing the source of the gas shortages – low inventories followed by a hurricane that sidelined a significant source of refining capacity – I answered the question as follows: “This is a temporary event. We will see imports start to pick up and fill the shortfall. We will see refining capacity start to come back online, and I predict that a month from now gasoline inventories will be higher than they are today.”

Of course that doesn’t mean that we won’t find ourselves right back in this position, nor that it won’t be worse next time. But I think failure to understand how the refinery/pipeline/import system works – sometimes by people in positions of authority – can cause premature predictions of imminent disaster. I think we have far too many people who can’t identify a wolf telling the villagers that the wolf is here. Many know that this is a pet peeve of mine.

So what has happened since ASPO? The ASPO conference took place 4 weeks ago. At the time, gasoline inventories stood at 178.7 million barrels. Imports at that time were at 1.2 million barrels a day. Since then, we have seen 3 consecutive weeks of inventory build, and inventories now stand at 193.8 million barrels, just 2 million barrels short of their position of a year ago. Why have inventories built? Three reasons. Imports, as I predicted, picked up and have been above the 1.2 million barrel level in each of the past 3 weeks. Demand remains historically low due to high prices. And refinery utilization has increased in each of the past 3 weeks.

However, there was one thing I didn’t predict, and that is the primary topic of this essay. If someone had asked me, I would have guessed that because of the inventory situation, gasoline prices would remain strong. That hasn’t happened. (I think the anti-gouging laws worked to keep prices in check, at the expense of worsening the shortages. See Rationing by Running Out).

As inventories have recovered, gasoline prices have plummented. Retail gasoline prices have fallen each of the past 3 weeks, and are now down by $0.50 since the conference. This is of course being driven by the collapse of oil prices, but doesn’t bode well for spring gasoline prices. Why? It seems that we have been here before.

In August of 2006, retail gasoline prices briefly touched $3.00/gal. Prices then plummented by more than $0.70/gal, and spent the late fall/early winter in the $2.20/gal range. The sudden arrival of lower prices had two primary impacts. First, imports dried up, as it wasn’t nearly as financially attractive for exporters to send gasoline to the U.S. Second, demand picked up sharply, eventually reaching winter levels of 9.5 million barrels/day – unprecedented for that time of year. As one might expect, this resulted in a steep decline in gasoline inventories, and we went into the spring of 2007 with historically low inventories.

I devoted a lot of time in the first half of 2007 toward discussing the plunging inventory situation – and predicted much higher gasoline prices as a result. In mid-April, I even got into a debate with Doug MacIntyre, who at that time was the author of This Week in Petroleum, about the direction of gasoline prices. He felt like prices were peaking in April of 2007, I thought they still had room to run. In fact gasoline prices ran up another $0.33/gal in the six weeks following our discussion, setting a national retail gasoline price record at that time of $3.26/gal.

So now we return to the fall of 2008. Because of record gasoline prices, demand this year has been much lower than last year. At times this year, gasoline demand has been half a million barrels a day lower than at this time last year (or in 2006). But gasoline prices – currently still much higher than in 2006 or 2007 – are on a downward trajectory that is certain to result in an increase in demand. In fact, demand last week reversed course and trended higher for the first time since late August. If prices continue to fall, keep a close eye on demand, imports, and ultimately inventories. This is all setting up to be similar to the situation we saw of much lower prices in late 2006, which led to record gasoline prices by the summer of 2007.

This all highlights the fact that we are playing with fire with our gasoline inventories. It was no surprise to inventory watchers that parts of the country quickly ran out of gasoline following Hurricane Ike. This is the risk we run when we maintain gasoline inventories at a low level: Events that disrupt gasoline supplies can very quickly cause havoc. The solution to the problem isn’t easy. Refiners have seen margins evaporate, and thus don’t want to maintain high inventories. A strategic gasoline reserve would seem to be an answer, but it would be difficult to maintain because of the seasonal variations in gasoline blends. The shelf life just wouldn’t be long enough.

So while I expect this trend of shortages to continue, you can give yourself an advantage by being educated about the inventory situation – especially in your particular part of the country. That won’t prevent entire cities from running short of gasoline in the event of a disruption, but it can prevent you personally from being one of the masses of people waiting in gasoline lines, wondering exactly what went wrong.

October 19, 2008 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, gas shortages, gasoline demand, twip | 627 Comments

You Heard it Here First

As I warned on Saturday:

Gas Prices Climb Quickly as Refineries Remain Closed

At least 14 Texas refineries, representing nearly a quarter of the nation’s refining capacity, will probably remain shut for the next week or more. Three more Louisiana refineries may be damaged from widespread flooding.

“It may not be possible for us — and other manufacturers — to maintain normal supplies in the coming days,” Chevron stated in a bleak assessment on its Web site on Sunday, warning of “severe supply disruptions in the wake of Hurricane Ike.”

Hopefully you heeded the warning and got yourself some gasoline on Saturday. If you didn’t – especially if you live in the South – you are probably going to pay a lot more for it now.

The situation looks to be tight for at least another 2-3 weeks:

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, “We are looking at another week or eight or nine days before refineries are up and going, so refined gasoline is going to be in a shortage situation because of the power outages and flooding.”

“It is going to be felt for the next week that we have gasoline shortages,” Ms. Hutchison said, “so people need to be prepared for that.”

Plan on at least 3 weeks of this. Limit your gasoline consumption whenever possible and hope that another hurricane doesn’t enter the gulf before hurricane season ends.

September 15, 2008 Posted by | gas inventories, gas prices, hurricanes | 298 Comments

Flirting with Disaster

Update: Governors in several states have now declared states of emergency due to potential gasoline shortages. One example:

Governor Riley Declares State of Emergency

MONTGOMERY – [Alabama] Governor Bob Riley on Friday afternoon declared a state of emergency for Alabama after he received new information from the U.S. Department of Energy that energy shortages will likely occur in the state due to Hurricane Ike.

The Governor’s declaration notes that “disruption of essential utility services, systems and severe energy shortages will likely occur.”

“I believe this new information means a threat to public health is a strong possibility due to the shortage of fuels,” said Governor Riley. “I deem it an emergency.”

Many of these declarations are designed to put anti-price gouging rules into effect, but I am reading more and more reports of actual outages being reported.

———————

It may seem like a given that gasoline prices would rise in the face of a hurricane that is shutting down a lot of oil production and refining capacity. Gas prices had been slipping recently as oil prices have plunged from the record highs set earlier this year, but are now expected to rise as supplies are crimped as a result of the hurricanes. To determine just how much gas prices might rise, I went to the best source of energy data around, the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Take a look at the current situation with gasoline supplies:

Now that is a situation that raises some concern. Total U.S. gasoline stocks heading into Hurricane Ike were 188 million barrels. If I scan back over the historical data (found here), it looks like this is the lowest gasoline inventory level since 2000. That level is also only a couple million barrels above the lowest inventories recorded in the past 20 years. So the gasoline price rise is likely to be sharp, especially if there is extensive damage to refineries around Houston.

Coming on the back of Hurricane Gustav, which also ran through major oil production/refining infrastructure – it is going to take a major effort to get all of that infrastructure back up and running or we are likely to start seeing gasoline shortages (and runaway prices). According to this report, the minimum operating level – defined as the inventory level required in the system before shortages start to occur – is 170 million barrels. If we put that in terms of our present gasoline consumption (9 million barrels per day), then the U.S. has two days of gasoline supply between current inventories and gasoline shortages. And according to Oil and Gas Journal, 21% of U.S. refinery capacity has been idled as a result of the storm (3.6 million bpd idled).

Simply put, we are flirting with disaster here. If the refinery outages are prolonged, or we see another storm entering the gulf any time soon, then there is a significant probability of seeing gasoline shortages. That means either 1). Prices will rise sharply; 2). Rationing will take place; or 3). You just won’t be able to get gasoline.

In the meantime, gasoline imports from Europe will likely pick up, but the response time for that is weeks. I would advise to keep your gasoline tanks topped off. And if we happen to dodge a bullet here, we really need to give some thought to how we prevent gasoline inventories from running low, especially during hurricane season. Maybe we need to consider establishing a Strategic Gasoline Reserve to go along with our Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Footnote: For the best coverage of Hurricane Ike, especially as it relates to oil and gas infrastructure, see this story at The Oil Drum.

September 13, 2008 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, Hurricane Ike | 9 Comments

Flirting with Disaster

Update: Governors in several states have now declared states of emergency due to potential gasoline shortages. One example:

Governor Riley Declares State of Emergency

MONTGOMERY – [Alabama] Governor Bob Riley on Friday afternoon declared a state of emergency for Alabama after he received new information from the U.S. Department of Energy that energy shortages will likely occur in the state due to Hurricane Ike.

The Governor’s declaration notes that “disruption of essential utility services, systems and severe energy shortages will likely occur.”

“I believe this new information means a threat to public health is a strong possibility due to the shortage of fuels,” said Governor Riley. “I deem it an emergency.”

Many of these declarations are designed to put anti-price gouging rules into effect, but I am reading more and more reports of actual outages being reported.

———————

It may seem like a given that gasoline prices would rise in the face of a hurricane that is shutting down a lot of oil production and refining capacity. Gas prices had been slipping recently as oil prices have plunged from the record highs set earlier this year, but are now expected to rise as supplies are crimped as a result of the hurricanes. To determine just how much gas prices might rise, I went to the best source of energy data around, the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Take a look at the current situation with gasoline supplies:

Now that is a situation that raises some concern. Total U.S. gasoline stocks heading into Hurricane Ike were 188 million barrels. If I scan back over the historical data (found here), it looks like this is the lowest gasoline inventory level since 2000. That level is also only a couple million barrels above the lowest inventories recorded in the past 20 years. So the gasoline price rise is likely to be sharp, especially if there is extensive damage to refineries around Houston.

Coming on the back of Hurricane Gustav, which also ran through major oil production/refining infrastructure – it is going to take a major effort to get all of that infrastructure back up and running or we are likely to start seeing gasoline shortages (and runaway prices). According to this report, the minimum operating level – defined as the inventory level required in the system before shortages start to occur – is 170 million barrels. If we put that in terms of our present gasoline consumption (9 million barrels per day), then the U.S. has two days of gasoline supply between current inventories and gasoline shortages. And according to Oil and Gas Journal, 21% of U.S. refinery capacity has been idled as a result of the storm (3.6 million bpd idled).

Simply put, we are flirting with disaster here. If the refinery outages are prolonged, or we see another storm entering the gulf any time soon, then there is a significant probability of seeing gasoline shortages. That means either 1). Prices will rise sharply; 2). Rationing will take place; or 3). You just won’t be able to get gasoline.

In the meantime, gasoline imports from Europe will likely pick up, but the response time for that is weeks. I would advise to keep your gasoline tanks topped off. And if we happen to dodge a bullet here, we really need to give some thought to how we prevent gasoline inventories from running low, especially during hurricane season. Maybe we need to consider establishing a Strategic Gasoline Reserve to go along with our Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Footnote: For the best coverage of Hurricane Ike, especially as it relates to oil and gas infrastructure, see this story at The Oil Drum.

September 13, 2008 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, Hurricane Ike | 54 Comments

Drowning in Gasoline

It sort of crept up on me, but last night as I reviewed This Week in Petroleum, I was struck by just how fast the U.S. has built gasoline inventories. Currently at 230 million barrels, I could not recall ever seeing gasoline inventories that high. So, I went back and looked, and the last time gasoline inventories stood at this level was in 1994. While crude, distillate, and propane inventory levels are typical for this time of year, the gasoline situation bears investigating.

Inventories from a year ago were fairly high at 222 million barrels, but then in mid-February we started a steep slide (accompanied by a steep increase in gasoline prices) to record low territory. We bottomed out in May – just before summer driving season – at 193 million barrels. We then struggled to build inventories back, and spent from May until December hovering along near the bottom of range for gasoline inventories.

But starting in December, we had a very steep build that has now put us well above normal. Why, and what is the significance?

I think the “why” is two-fold. First, gasoline prices this winter were much higher than they were a year ago. There were conflicting reports about whether gasoline demand had fallen, and by how much, but EIA data do suggest that demand during late 2007 fell marginally year over year. It is encouraging to me that (some) people are willing to change (some) behaviors as prices soar.

Of more significance, though, is the difference in imports from a year ago. In late 2006, gasoline prices really crashed, and this had an impact on imports; they fell from previous year levels. In late 2007, gasoline prices were about $0.80/gallon higher than the prior year levels, and this attracted more imports. The sharpest contrast can be seen by comparing December 2006 to December 2007. In 2006, imports were never above 1 million bpd, and in 2 of 4 weeks they were below 900,000 bpd. In 2007, imports were only just shy of 1 million bpd once (0.985 million bpd) and then in 2 weeks out of 4 they were above 1.1 million bpd. That is the primary reason inventories bounced back so sharply starting in December of 2007.

We could still potentially see $4 gasoline by summer, but it is looking increasingly less likely that inventories will drive the price as they did last year. Inventories should start to come down as turnaround season gets into full gear, but we are starting this year in a more comfortable place than last year. To hit $4 by summer, oil prices will need to continue the current run – maybe to the $120/bbl range – and/or gasoline inventories need to start coming down quickly. If oil holds at around $100, we are going to have to see a pretty steep draw to get to $4 before summer.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories | 301 Comments

This Week in Petroleum 1-30-08

Updated

Gasoline inventories did in fact edge upward, as gasoline imports were very strong. Had that not been the case, gasoline inventories would have definitely come down, as utilization continues to trend down. In fact, just glancing over the data, more gasoline may have been imported this January than in any other January before. As long as that continues, gasoline prices won’t gain much traction. But European refiners have to take turnarounds as well, so gasoline imports typically fall off in February and March.

Here is the summary:

Summary of Weekly Petroleum Data for the Week Ending January 25, 2008

U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 14.6 million barrels per day during the week ending January 25,down 302,000 barrels per day from the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 85.0 percent of their operable capacity last week. Gasoline production edged slightly lower compared to the previous week, averaging about 8.9 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel production fell last week, averaging nearly 3.9 million barrels per day.

U.S. crude oil imports averaged about 10.1 million barrels per day last week, down 100,000 barrels per day from the previous week. Over the last four weeks, crude oil imports have averaged 10.1 million barrels per day, unchanged from the same four-week period last year. Total motor gasoline imports (including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components) last week averaged nearly 1.2 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel imports averaged 277,000 barrels per day last week.

U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) rose by 3.6 million barrels compared to the previous week. At 293.0 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 3.6 million barrels last week, and are above the upper limit of the average range. Both finished gasoline inventories and gasoline blending components inventories increased last week. Distillate fuel inventories declined by 1.5 million barrels, and are in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. Propane/propylene inventories decreased by 3.0 million barrels last week. Total commercial petroleum inventories decreased by 1.0 million barrels last week, and are in the middle of the average range for this time of year.

Pre-Release Commentary

OPEC is meeting later this week, but the comments coming from various members indicate that they are unlikely to boost production. I think this continues the theme that we saw most of last year, where truly low inventories were mostly prevented by higher prices, and then OPEC used the inventory situation to suggest that markets are adequately supplied – which completely ignores the price signal. But certain OPEC members have now grown dependent upon the revenues provided by $100 oil. As long as they maintain solidarity, it is unlikely they will allow the price to drop too much – recession or now.

Here is what analysts are forecasting for this week:

A Reuters poll of analysts ahead of weekly U.S. government inventory data forecast a 2.1-million-barrel rise in crude stocks, a 1.9-million-barrel draw in distillate inventories and a 2-million-barrel build in gasoline stockpiles.

If spring turnarounds are indeed starting early, then the only way gasoline stockpiles will build is if gasoline imports remain strong (which they were last week). If that is the case, then $4 gasoline will remain elusive, as imports will keep pressure off of inventories.

That same story also had a note about speculative positions:

U.S. regulator data on Friday showed NYMEX crude oil speculators slashed their bets on rising prices in the week to Jan. 22 to their lowest since mid-December, cutting net long positions by nearly 50,000 lots to 37,000. “It shows the large speculative funds reducing aggressively their net length exposure on futures through a combination of long liquidation and fresh short positions,” said Olivier Jakob at Petromatrix.

There is concern about a recession dropping prices, but I think the counter to that is that OPEC would probably be willing to cut if prices dropped too much. I will update following the release of the report.

January 29, 2008 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, oil inventories, oil prices, twip | 40 Comments

This Week in Petroleum 1-24-08

Updated:

Not too much to get excited about. Those reports of some refineries coming down early for turnarounds due to low margins look to be accurate, given the drop in refinery utilization. That would also explain the rise in crude inventories, but typically you start to see gasoline inventories coming down as the refineries come offline. Gasoline production did fall, as one would expect as turnaround season begins. However, gasoline inventories increased on the back of very strong gasoline import numbers.

The highlights:

Summary of Weekly Petroleum Data for the Week Ending January 18, 2008

U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 14.9 million barrels per day during the week ending January 18, down 91,000 barrels per day from the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 86.5 percent of their operable capacity last week. Gasoline production moved slightly lower compared to the previous week, averaging about 9.0 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel production fell last week, averaging 4.1 million barrels per day.

U.S. crude oil imports averaged about 10.2 million barrels per day last week, down 233,000 barrels per day from the previous week. Over the last four weeks, crude oil imports have averaged nearly 10.1 million barrels per day, or 0.1 million barrels per day more than averaged over the same four-week period last year. Total motor gasoline imports (including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components) last week averaged 1.2 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel imports averaged 242,000 barrels per day last week.

U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) rose by 2.3 million barrels compared to the previous week. At 289.4 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 5.0 million barrels last week, and are above the upper limit of the average range. Distillate fuel inventories declined by 1.3 million barrels, and are near the middle of the average range for this time of year. Propane/propylene inventories decreased by 3.3 million barrels last week. Total commercial petroleum inventories increased by 2.2 million barrels last week, and are in the middle of the average range for this time of year.

Pre-Release Commentary

This week’s inventory report will be delayed until Thursday due to Monday’s holiday. As we move toward spring, inventory levels will be influenced by 1). Spring turnaround season; and 2). The return of summer gasoline blends. Typically, turnaround season doesn’t really kick off until late February to early-March, but a note from the OPIS report that came out on Wednesday stated “Apparently, the 2008 refinery turnaround season has been launched early, particularly at the U.S. Gulf Coast.” In the face of horrible margins, it makes sense to move turnarounds up and take the outages now, as opposed to later when margins should firm up.

If lots of refiners do push up their turnarounds, we will see crude inventories start to build earlier than normal (which may have already started), and gasoline inventories will start to be pulled down as they were last spring. Gasoline inventories have recovered from the record low levels of last year, and are setting in pretty good shape heading into the turnarounds. Whether we reach $4 gasoline is going to depend on the draw down rate, which last spring was very steep.

Back to the OPIS reports, last Friday’s report contained a very interesting story that I have not seen reported in the media. Here is an excerpt:

A couple of traders and refiners on the U.S. West Coast may have found an outlet for the burgeoning gasoline stocks after fixing two ships to sail to Asia or Australia, industry sources said on Friday.

The West Coast gasoline stocks have reached the highest level since February 2006, prompting some traders to look for outlets in the East Coast in a potentially unprecedented move, and, possibly, the Gulf Coast, Asia, Australia or the west coast of Mexico.

As of Thursday, two ships were booked to load gasoline on the West Coast for delivery to Asia or Australia. Pacific Ruby was booked to load at the end of January, and Wang Chi was fixed to load on Feb. 1. These ships are likely to sail to Singapore or China or Australia.

“Those two vessels were booked earlier this week,” a source said. “A few ships were provisionally booked on Thursday for the same voyage, but all those fixtures failed.”

Good Resources

It goes without saying that the inventory reports from the EIA are must reads every week for me. There are several other resources that I utilize on a daily basis to keep up with what’s going on in the world of energy. One is The Oil Drum, where the important headlines are usually captured in the daily Drumbeat. The daily subscriber reports from OPIS are a very valuable source of information on the energy markets, and they often contain information that I never seen in any publicly available sources. The reports also have daily pricing updates for gasoline (and gasoline blending components), distillates, and ethanol. (I see that spot ethanol prices are headed back up, and are once again higher than spot premium gasoline on the West Coast).

Platts is another good resource that covers a lot of areas that OPIS doesn’t. Platts also has a blog, The Barrel, that usually covers supply/demand issues (and links back to both TOD and my blog). Finally, Rigzone usually keeps me updated on the latest exploration and discovery news. One source that I have available with my company is a daily news summary from various categories such as Energy, Oil, Alternative Energy, etc. Sometimes I spot a story there that I find particularly interesting, and I link to the original source and write about it. Anyway, just wanted to share some of the resources that I find especially useful.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, oil inventories, oil prices, twip | 120 Comments

This Week in Petroleum 1-16-08

With all of the traveling, and then trying to catch up after the holidays, I haven’t had time to do a proper TWIP. Anyway, mostly what we saw for the past month were crude draws, and gasoline inventories climbing back up and getting in pretty good shape prior to spring turnaround season. Part of the draw down in crude was tax-related. Many countries, including the U.S., tax crude inventories at year end. So, there is a bit of a balancing act as refiners try to draw down inventories while still maintaining enough on hand to weather any supply disruptions.

This week saw a large gain across the complex, and crude prices are falling as a result.

Summary of Weekly Petroleum Data for the Week Ending January 11, 2008

Some highlights:

U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged nearly 15.0 million barrels per day during the week ending January 11, down 760,000 barrels per day from the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 87.1 percent of their operable capacity last week.

U.S. crude oil imports averaged 10.4 million barrels per day last week, up 583,000 barrels per day from the previous week. Over the last four weeks, crude oil imports have averaged 10.0 million barrels per day, or 219,000 barrels per day more than averaged over the same four-week period last year.

U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) rose by 4.3 million barrels compared to the previous week. At 287.1 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are in the lower half of the average range for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 2.2 million barrels last week, and are near the upper limit of the average range. Total commercial petroleum inventories increased by 3.6 million barrels last week, and are in the middle of the average range for this time of year.

CNN’s take:

Oil below $90 on surprise supply increase

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Oil prices fell sharply Wednesday after the government reported a surprise increase in crude supplies.

U.S. light crude for February delivery fell $2.20 to $89.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil had traded down $1.21 prior to the report’s release.

In its weekly inventory report, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude stocks grew by 4.3 million barrels last week, after posting declines for eight weeks in a row. Analysts were looking for a drop of 300,000 barrels according to a Dow Jones poll.

“The market looked at the report as bearish, given the increase in crude stocks,” said Andrew Lebow, a broker at MF Global in New York.

My take: As we move into refinery turnaround season from late February through April, we should see crude inventories start to build, and gasoline inventories should get pulled down. That should start a run toward $4 gasoline.

January 16, 2008 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, oil inventories, oil prices, twip | 4 Comments

This Week in Petroleum 12-12-07

Updated: You would think if last week’s large inventory drop was due to fog-induced delays, all of that crude would show up this week. Not so, as another drop in crude inventories was recorded:

U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) dropped by 0.7 million barrels compared to the previous week. At 304.5 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are in the upper half of the average range for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventories increased by 1.6 million barrels last week, but are near the lower end of the average range. Both finished gasoline inventories and gasoline blending components inventories increased during this period. Distillate fuel inventories decreased by 0.8 million barrels, but are in the lower half of the average range for this time of year.

If gasoline inventories continue to improve, we may yet avoid $4 gasoline in the spring. But I still wouldn’t count on it. More from the report:

U.S. crude oil imports averaged nearly 10.1 million barrels per day last week, up 689,000 barrels per day from the previous week. Over the last four weeks, crude oil imports have averaged 9.9 million barrels per day, or 86 thousand barrels per day more than averaged over the same four-week period last year.

Well, on the other hand the sharp rise in crude imports would tend to support the fog story. Refinery utilization fell, which would help keep crude inventories up, but lower gasoline inventories:

U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged nearly 15.3 million barrels per day during the week ending December 7, down 172,000 barrels per day from the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 88.8 percent of their operable capacity last week. Gasoline production moved higher compared to the previous week, averaging nearly 9.2 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel production fell last week, averaging 4.2 million barrels per day.

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Just as last week’s report was largely overshadowed by the OPEC meeting, this week’s report will come on the heels of the Fed’s announcement on interest rates. (Update: The Fed cut interest rates by a quarter point). Here are the expectations:

U.S. gasoline stockpiles probably rose for a fifth time last week, gaining 1.5 million barrels, based on the median estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Supplies of distillates probably climbed 500,000 barrels, their second gain, while crude oil inventories probably rose 50,000 barrels after dropping 7.9 million barrels a week earlier when the Houston Ship Channel was shut by fog.

Investors will be more focused on the Fed announcement, Excel’s Waggoner said. While a quarter-point cut is a “foregone conclusion” there is a chance the bank may lower rates by a half point, which would weaken the dollar and may slow the decline in oil prices, he said.

I think that if the reason for last week’s large decline in crude inventories was due to delayed offloading of shipments because of the fog, we will probably see a larger increase than 50,000 barrels of crude this week.

However, next week’s report should be interesting, because on Monday an ice storm shut down the terminal at Cushing, Oklahoma – the delivery point for NYMEX crude:

NEW YORK, Dec 11 (Reuters) – The largest crude oil terminal at the delivery point for NYMEX crude oil futures at Cushing, Oklahoma, and two major pipelines at the hub were still shut Tuesday after an ice storm hit the area Monday, a spokesman for the terminal said.

Enbridge Energy Partners LP’s 16.7 million barrel crude oil terminal and the Spearhead and Ozark crude oil pipelines operated by parent company Enbridge Inc were shut Monday, Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer said.

“They went down about 1:00 (Central Time),” said Springer.

Spearhead transports 125,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from the Chicago area to Cushing. The Ozark line can carry approximately 200,000 bpd from Cushing to Wood River in southern Illinois.

Springer said that the crude oil terminal at the Cushing was also closed due to power outages.

I am all too familiar with the devastation that can be caused by Oklahoma ice storms. I have been through a couple of bad ones. Oil futures are rallying on the news.

Note: As I mentioned a couple of days ago, this is likely to be the last TWIP update from me for the next four weeks.

December 11, 2007 Posted by | EIA, gas inventories, gas prices, oil inventories, oil prices, twip | Comments Off on This Week in Petroleum 12-12-07