Signs point to sustained strong oil prices this year, levels that will continue to support upstream unconventional projects in North America and elsewhere.
North Sea Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil, the world’s two key benchmark prices, averaged around USD 108/bbl and USD 97/bbl, respectively, in 2013. And most price forecasts for 2014, which began emerging from analysts and investment houses in the fourth quarter, predict similar price levels in the new year. The wild card in that scenario, however, is the growth of non-OPEC supply and production levels from Libya and Iraq, which are difficult to anticipate. North American supply is expected to continue its upward swing, and significant increases in Kazakhstan are also forecast. Commercial production at Kashagan, Kazakhstan’s giant Caspian Sea oil field, is expected to begin in the first half of the year. The field was discovered in 2000, one of the largest finds in decades, but development has faced rising costs and numerous delays.
US crude oil production is expected to rise again this year. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) says US crude output averaged 7.5 million BOPD in 2013 and will average 8.5 million BOPD in 2014. When US production hit 8 million BOPD in November, it was the highest monthly output level since 1988. The EIA believes that growth shows no signs of stopping, with US crude production forecast to come to a high of 9.6 million BOPD in 2016, a level not seen since 1970.
The EIA sees non-OPEC production growing from 54.2 million BOPD in 2013 to 55.9 million BOPD this year. Most of the non-OPEC production growth will be from US onshore tight oil formations and Canadian oil sands, with smaller increases from Africa, South America, and Asia. That will continue to put pressure on OPEC, which has watched its market share erode recently. OPEC countries are expected to produce 29.4 million BOPD this year, compared with an average of 30.3 million BOPD in 2013.
Oil prices are notoriously hard to predict. Some of the same analysts who forecasts strong prices this year predicted a sharp drop in oil prices in 2013, something that never happened. Nevertheless, there seems to be a consensus that Brent and WTI will remain near their current levels in the new year.
A survey of price forecasters published by Petroleum Intelligence Weekly in December showed most analysts seeing Brent in a USD 100-110/bbl range for the near year, and WTI at around USD 90-100/bbl. The survey of 10 analysts at consulting groups and investment banks shows Brent crude averaging USD 106/bbl for 2014, while the average for WTI is USD 97/bbl. Forecasters were optimistic that Libyan output would recover after months of disruption, and that a strengthening global economy would help absorb oil supply growth.