Energy Economy

Crude Oil Inventory Jumps, WTI Closing Gap With Brent

Paul Ausick

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Source: Thinkstock
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its weekly petroleum status report Wednesday morning. U.S. commercial crude inventories increased by 5.9 million barrels last week, maintaining a total U.S. commercial crude inventory to 375.9 million barrels and remaining in the upper half of the five-year range for this time of the year.

Total gasoline inventories decreased by 1.5 million barrels last week, but remain near the upper limit of the five-year average range. Total motor gasoline supplied (the EIA’s measure of consumption) averaged 8.6 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up about 1.5% from the same period a year ago.

Distillate inventories fell by 3.1 million barrels last week and remain below the lower limit of the average range. Distillate product supplied averaged more than 3.8 million barrels a day over the past four weeks, up by 5.1% when compared with the same period of last year. Distillate production totaled 4.7 million barrels a day last week, up about 100,000 barrels a day compared with the prior week.

Tuesday evening, the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported that crude inventories rose by 5.92 million barrels in the week ending March 14, together with a drop of 1.4 million barrels in gasoline supplies and a decrease of 674,000 barrels in distillate supplies. For the same period, Platts estimated a rise of 2.6 million barrels in crude inventories, a decline of 1.6 million barrels in gasoline inventories and a drop of 900,000 barrels in distillate inventories.

Crude oil inventories at the Cushing, Okla., hub are dropping quickly as the Seaway Pipeline pushes more than 400,000 barrels a day to the Gulf Coast. Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE: EPD), the pipeline’s owner, now expects to have Seaway’s expanded capacity of 830,000 barrels a day available in May. The price differential between West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent has slipped to less than $6 a barrel as WTI prices react to the availability of more pipeline capacity to the Gulf Coast.

The sharp decline in distillate inventories, coupled with the increase in distillate production, points to a continuing increase in U.S. refined product exports. While crude oil exports are banned, there is no such restriction on exports of refined products.

Crude prices closed at $99.70 on Tuesday and were trading up about 0.6% before the EIA report at around $100.10 a barrel. The WTI price fell slightly to around $99.99 shortly after the report was released.

For the past week, crude imports averaged more than 7.3 million barrels a day, down just 3,000 barrels a day from the previous week. Refineries were running at 85.6% of capacity, with daily input of 15 million barrels a day, flat with the previous week’s total.

According to AAA, the current average pump price per gallon of regular gasoline is $3.528, up from $3.49 a week ago and $3.358 a month ago. Last year, a gallon of regular cost $3.692 on average in the United States.