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This Week in Petroleum

This Week in Petroleum

Release date: March 15, 2017  |  Next release date: March 22, 2017

Despite growth late in the year, U.S. crude oil production decreased in 2016 while both imports and exports increased

Even with a rising crude oil price throughout most of 2016, total U.S. oil production in 2016 was below its 2015 level. However, monthly production began growing in the fourth quarter of the year after declining over its first three quarters. Total production managed to stay above the five-year average thanks to prior year increases. With the removal of restrictions on exports of domestically-produced crude oil at the end of 2015, crude oil exports increased and the difference between Brent and WTI crude prices narrowed, which made crude imports relatively more attractive.

Both Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil spot prices increased in 2016. The Brent spot price increased from $31 per barrel (b) in January to $53/b in December, while the WTI spot price increased from $32/b to $52/b over the same period. The increase for WTI was its largest annual price increase since 2009. It appears that the November 2016 Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) agreement to cut production beginning in January 2017 led prices to rise at the end of 2016 in anticipation of some level of member country compliance with the production cuts.

Through the first three quarters of 2016, U.S. crude oil production trended downward, dropping from 9.2 million barrels per day (b/d) in January to 8.6 million b/d in September. In the last quarter of 2016, production began to rise, reaching 8.8 million b/d in December (Figure 1). Average oil production for 2016 was 8.9 million b/d, below the 2015 level of 9.4 million b/d, but still 1.3 million b/d greater than the average annual level over 2011-15, when production was generally rising. Production trends varied significantly across U.S. regions. Notably, production in the Permian Basin increased from 1.9 million b/d in January 2016 to 2.1 million b/d in December. Production in the federal offshore Gulf of Mexico averaged 1.6 million b/d in 2016, the highest annual production ever recorded for that region.

Although U.S. crude oil inventories were already elevated in 2015, they rose even further in 2016, with end-of-year inventories reaching 484 million barrels, 35 million barrels above their end of 2015 level. Inventories grew despite a 14,000 b/d rise in refinery inputs from 2015 to 16.2 million b/d in 2016.

Crude by rail movements in the United States (including rail shipments to and from Canada) averaged 477,000 b/d in 2016, down 277,000 b/d from 2015, a 37% reduction. Shipments of crude oil by rail from the Midwest (PADD 2) to the East Coast (PADD 1) accounted for 77% of the decline, dropping an average of 212,000 b/d from 2015 to 158,000 b/d in 2016. Declining production in the Midwest, expansions in pipeline capacity, and more attractive imports due to narrowing crude price spreads all contributed to reducing movements of crude by rail.

Total U.S. crude oil imports grew to 7.9 million b/d in 2016, nearly 515,000 b/d higher than in 2015. Narrower spreads with international crude prices made importing more attractive in 2016 compared with the previous year. The Brent-WTI spread averaged $4.82/b in 2015 and dropped to $0.87/b in 2016. East Coast (PADD 1) imports made up nearly half of the total U.S. import growth, climbing 242,000 b/d to average 865,000 b/d for the year. As in 2015, the Gulf Coast (PADD 3) accounted for the largest volume of imports, averaging 3.1 million b/d, but increased only 183,000 b/d from 2015.

In 2016, the first full year with no restrictions on exports of domestically-produced crude oil, U.S. crude oil exports averaged 520,000 b/d, 55,000 b/d (12%) higher than in 2015 (Figure 2). However, with recent declines in U.S. crude oil production, the rate of U.S. crude oil export growth has slowed significantly from its pace over 2013-15 notwithstanding rising U.S. crude oil imports that substituted for some domestic crude use at U.S. refineries.

Prior to the removal of crude oil export restrictions at the end of 2015, nearly all U.S. crude exports went to Canada, which was not subject to those restrictions. After restrictions were lifted, the number of destinations for U.S. crude oil exports increased. In 2016, the United States exported crude oil to 26 different nations compared with 10 different nations in 2015. Canada remained the top destination for U.S. crude oil exports in 2016, receiving 301,000 b/d, 263,000 b/d greater than the Netherlands, the second largest destination.

U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price decreased two cents from the previous week to $2.32 per gallon on March 13, up 36 cents from the same time last year. The Midwest price fell five cents to $2.22 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price fell just under two cents to $2.08 per gallon, and the East Coast price fell over one cent to $2.27 per gallon. The West Coast and Rocky Mountain prices each increased nearly two cents to $2.85 per gallon and $2.31 per gallon, respectively.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased nearly two cents to $2.56 per gallon on March 13, 47 cents higher than a year ago. The West Coast price fell three cents to $2.85 per gallon, the East Coast price fell nearly two cents to $2.62 per gallon, and the Rocky Mountain, Midwest, and Gulf Coast prices each fell one cent to $2.62 per gallon, $2.49 per gallon, and $2.42 per gallon, respectively.

Propane inventories fall

U.S. propane stocks decreased by 0.8 million barrels last week to 44.5 million barrels as of March 10, 2017, 18.0 million barrels (28.9%) lower than a year ago. Gulf Coast and Midwest inventories decreased by 0.6 million barrels and 0.3 million barrels, respectively. East Coast inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels. Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories were virtually unchanged. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 5.5% of total propane inventories.

Residential heating oil price decreases, propane price increases

As of March 13, 2017, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.62 per gallon, just over one cent per gallon less than last week's price but 49 cents per gallon higher than last year's price at this time. The average wholesale heating oil price is nearly $1.60 per gallon, almost 9 cents per gallon less than last week but 31 cents per gallon higher than a year ago.

Residential propane prices averaged $2.43 per gallon, one cent per gallon more than last week's price and nearly 41 cents per gallon higher than a year ago. Wholesale propane prices averaged nearly $0.74 per gallon, almost five cents per gallon higher than last week and just over 18 cents per gallon higher than last year's price.

For questions about This Week in Petroleum, contact the Petroleum Markets Team at 202-586-4522.


Retail prices (dollars per gallon)

Conventional Regular Gasoline Prices Graph.Residential Heating Oil Prices Graph.On-Highway Diesel Fuel Prices Graph.Residential Propane Prices Graph.
 Retail pricesChange from last
 03/13/17WeekYear
Gasoline2.323-0.0180.362
Diesel2.564-0.0150.465
Heating Oil2.616-0.0130.494
Propane2.4300.0110.408

Futures prices (dollars per gallon*)

Crude Oil Futures Price Graph.RBOB Regular Gasoline Futures Price Graph.Heating Oil Futures Price Graph.
 Futures pricesChange from last
 03/10/17WeekYear
*Note: Crude oil price in dollars per barrel.
Crude oil48.49-4.849.99
Gasoline1.600-0.0530.156
Heating oil1.504-0.0900.286

Stocks (million barrels)

U.S. Crude Oil Stocks Graph.U.S. Distillate Stocks Graph.U.S. Gasoline Stocks Graph.U.S. Propane Stocks Graph.
 StocksChange from last
 03/10/17WeekYear
Crude oil528.2-0.236.0
Gasoline246.3-3.1-3.4
Distillate157.3-4.2-4.0
Propane44.468-0.758-18.032