Brent crude oil prices are forecast to average $34 per barrel in 2016 and $40 per barrel in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) forecasts published in its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), and which are $3 per barrel and $10 per barrel lower than forecast in last month’s STEO, respectively.
The lower forecast prices reflect oil production that has been more resilient than expected in a low-price environment and lower expectations for forecast oil demand growth, the EIA said.
North Sea Brent crude oil prices averaged $32 per barrel in February, a $1 per barrel increase from January.
According to the EIA, forecast West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices are expected to average the same as Brent in 2016 and 2017. However, the current values of futures and options contracts suggest high uncertainty in the price outlook. For example, EIA’s forecast for the average WTI price in June 2016 of $35/b should be considered in the context of recent Nymex contract values for June 2016 delivery (Market Prices and Uncertainty Report) suggesting that the market expects WTI prices to range from $24/b to $58/b (at the 95% confidence interval).
U.S. crude oil production averaged an estimated 9.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2015, and it is forecast to average 8.7 million b/d in 2016 and 8.2 million b/d in 2017. EIA said it estimates that crude oil production in February averaged 9.1 million b/d, which was 80,000 b/d below the January level.
Natural gas working inventories were 2,536 billion cubic feet (Bcf) on February 26, 46% higher than during the same week last year and 36% higher than the previous five-year average (2011-15) for that week. EIA forecasts that inventories will end the winter heating season (March 31) at 2,288 Bcf, which would be 54% above the level at the same time last year. Henry Hub spot prices are forecast to average $2.25/million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2016 and $3.02/MMBtu in 2017, compared with an average of $2.63/MMBtu in 2015.
Natural gas is expected to fuel the largest share of electricity generation in 2016 at 33%, compared with 32% for coal. This would be the first time that natural gas provides more electricity generation than coal on an annual average basis. In 2017, natural gas and coal are both forecast to fuel 32% of electricity generation. For renewables, the forecast share of total electricity generation supplied by hydropower rises from 6% in 2016 to 7% in 2017, and the forecast share for other renewables increases from 8% in 2016 to 9% in 2017.