The Energy Information Administration released its weekly reports on the status of various liquid fuels in the United States, covering the week that ended December 6.
The reports cover natural gas and petroleum, presenting data about the production, storage, and prices of the fuels. Changes in the data can reflect natural variations, seasonal trends, long-term market effects, and current events in regions of the globe where liquid fuels are produced, processed, and sold. The most recent release was highlighted by the continuing decline in fuel prices, with many thinking that production declines will have to be in order to offset falling prices in the coming months.
Working natural gas in storage — the volume readily available to the market — decreased by 81 billion cubic feet in the week ended December 6 to 3,533 Bcf, according to EIA estimates. This is down by 273 Bcf from the same period last year but at the upper end of the five-year historical range.
As of Thursday, futures traded at $4.337/mmBTU, up nearly 48 cents on the week and into the $4-to-$6 range within which producers can both earn a profit remain and compete with alternative fuels such as coal.
The data show a trend has developed over the past few years. Inventories have been on the rise as domestic production increases, largely thanks to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology. These advances have contributed to a revolution in energy production in the United States, and producers are rapidly helping make the dream of energy independence come true.
Domestic production supplied the U.S. with 84 percent of its total energy needs in 2012, the highest level since 1991. The EIA estimates that America could become a net exporter of natural gas as early as 2020, assuming regulatory hurdles can be overcome.
U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged about 16.1 million barrels per day during the week ended December 6, with refineries operating at 92.6 percent capacity. U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) decreased by 10.6 million barrels from the previous week. At 375.2 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year.
WTI, a grade of crude oil used as a benchmark in oil pricing, was $97.48 per barrel, $4.93 more than the previous week’s price and $12.03 more than a year ago. With the ramping up of worldwide production in oil, many are concerned that oversupply will lead to continually falling prices in the coming months despite the past week’s spike in prices. This could stand to seriously threaten the economies of countries that are dependent on selling fuel, such as Russia, Venezuela, and many nations in the Middle East.
As the EIA put it, “All else equal, changes in gasoline prices follow changes in crude prices.”
For the week ended December 9, the average retail price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $3.269. This is down 8 cents from the year-ago period and down a fraction from the previous week, as well. It is also down from the summer-to-date peak of $3.68, which was reached on July 22.
In August, the EIA projected that oil and gas prices would decline throughout 2014, with regular gasoline approaching $3 per gallon by the end of the year. Thanks to increased production in the U.S. and other non-OPEC nations, prices could very well still continue to decline into the new year.