U.S. Crude Oil Production Continues to Set Records
U.S. crude oil production in each of the first five months of 2019 showed increases over their 2018 levels, with April 2019 establishing a new monthly record. Production grew the most in the Permian region and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) initially expected the decline in crude oil prices between October and December 2018 to slow U.S. crude oil production growth for the first half of 2019. However, several factors have contributed to increases in the U.S. production forecast. First, crude oil prices began rising in early 2019, partially offsetting the price drop seen at the end of 2018. In addition, crude oil prices in Midland, Texas, rose faster than the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI), which is priced in Cushing, Oklahoma. As a result, the price spread between Midland and Cushing narrowed, allowing producers in the Permian region to receive relatively better prices. Several projects have also come online in the GOM this year, boosting production. EIA forecasts U.S. production will grow through 2020, but anticipates growth will slow in 2020 as crude oil prices flatten.
U.S. crude oil production averaged nearly 12.2 MMbpd in April 2019, an increase of 1.7 MMbpd compared with April 2018. In EIA’s July Petroleum Supply Monthly (PSM), production in May was 12.1 MMbpd, only slightly below April’s record high. In the July 2019 update of the Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), EIA forecasts that U.S. production will continue to grow and will reach 13.6 MMbpd in December 2020. The Permian region of Texas and New Mexico accounts for the largest share of total U.S. crude oil production growth, and EIA’s July STEO forecasts year-over-year growth in the Permian of nearly 1.0 MMbpd in 2019 and 0.7 MMbpd in 2020. The GOM accounts for the second-largest volume of growth, according to the July STEO, and is expected to account for 0.2 MMbpd of growth in 2019 and 0.1 MMbpd in 2020.
Crude oil prices are a major driver of the STEO U.S. crude oil production forecast, and increasing crude oil prices in 2019 have contributed to several upward revisions to EIA’s U.S. production forecast from the January 2019 forecast. In the January 2019 STEO, EIA forecast that U.S. crude oil production would average 12.1 MMbpd in 2019 and 12.9 MMbpd in 2020. In the July 2019 STEO, EIA revised expected U.S. production up to 12.4 MMbpd in 2019 and 13.3 MMbpd in 2020 (Figure 2).
The increasing crude oil price forecast is the primary driver of the higher growth forecast in the Permian region. WTI prices in Cushing fell to a recent low of $42/bbl on December 24, 2018. The relatively low crude oil price contributed to a January STEO forecast price for WTI Cushing of $54/bbl in 2019. By the end of January, however, the WTI Cushing price had increased by $11/bbl from its December low. EIA raised the expected price in subsequent STEO forecasts, and EIA forecast in the July STEO that the 2019 WTI Cushing price would average $60/bbl.
In 2019, prices for WTI Midland increased faster than prices for WTI Cushing, and the spread between the two prices narrowed. The WTI Midland-Cushing spread averaged $7/bbl in 2018, down from the 2018 annual high at the end of August when WTI Midland was priced at a nearly $18/bbl discount to WTI Cushing. As of July 30, the 2019 spread averaged less than $2/bbl. A narrow price spread allows producers in the Permian region to receive higher relative wellhead prices and encourages production in the region. In the January STEO, EIA forecast that the price for crude oil at Midland would average $49/bbl in 2019, but in the July STEO, EIA forecast Midland prices would average more than $58/bbl in 2019, reflecting the price increases and the narrowing spread. In the July STEO, EIA also revised the 2020 Midland price up by more than $2/bbl to $62/bbl.
In early 2019, an expansion of the Sunrise Pipeline to move crude oil out of the Permian region came online and the Seminole-Red pipeline, which had previously delivered natural gas liquids from the Permian region to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was repurposed to deliver crude oil. As more pipelines come online and ease transportation constraints, EIA expects that the Cushing-Midland spread will average about $1/bbl for the remainder of 2019 and through 2020.
EIA expects that U.S. crude oil production growth in the Lower 48 states (excluding the GOM) will continue in 2020 but at a slower rate than in 2019 as crude oil prices flatten. In the July STEO, EIA forecasts that the price of WTI Cushing will increase from an average of $60/bbl in 2019 to $63/bbl in 2020, and the price of WTI in Midland will increase from $58/bbl in 2019 to $62/bbl in 2020. In addition, onshore U.S. crude oil production has become more efficient; U.S. crude oil production increased in 2019, even as the number of active oil rigs fell from 952 in January to 861 in June. Based on this trend of increasing efficiency, EIA forecasts that U.S. crude oil production in the Lower 48 states (excluding the GOM) will increase from 10.0 MMbpd in 2019 to 10.7 MMbpd in 2020.
A downside risk to Permian crude oil production is the increased production of associated natural gas from this region. If natural gas pipeline constraints are not eased and tighter limits are put in place on flaring natural gas, drilling in areas with high concentrations of natural gas in the Permian region might be reduced.
Crude oil production in the GOM also set a monthly record high in April, reaching 2.0 MMbpd. Production in May was down slightly to 1.9 MMbpd. Production in the GOM likely fell slightly in July because of weather-related platform shutdowns, but final production data will not be available until October 2019. However, in the July STEO, EIA forecasts that GOM production will increase later in 2019 and surpass 2.0 MMbpd. EIA expects nine projects to begin production in the GOM in 2019 and forecasts GOM production will set a new calendar year record high of 1.9 MMbpd in 2019. The previous record high was 1.7 MMbpd, set in 2018 when 14 new projects came online. EIA expects three more projects to come online next year and forecasts that GOM production will average more than 2.0 MMbpd in 2020. Oil production in the GOM is less sensitive to short-term oil price movements than onshore production in the Lower 48 states because of the time needed to discover and develop large offshore projects.