Oil prices bounced back on March 24 on a sliding U.S. Dollar, and then again overnight on Middle East turmoil, but the pain may not be over yet.
Oil storage capacity continues to deplete. Storage levels at Cushing, Oklahoma, home to the crucial WTI benchmark, are at record levels. As of March 13, Cushing oil inventories hit 54.4 million barrels, the highest ever, according to the Energy Information Administration. That means that Cushing’s storage is now 77 percent full, up from just 27 percent in October 2014. The glut of oil has led to a flood of crude being diverted into storage tanks. As storage nears capacity, it becomes more likely that prices could drop significantly below current levels. That, of course, depends on if drillers cut back production enough to slow the storage build.
Yet another reason to suggest that oil prices could fall over the next two to three months is the annual planned maintenance that takes place at many U.S. refineries. Spring maintenance often leads to a significant volume of refining capacity temporarily closed down for several months. As that occurs, demand for domestic crude in the United States will decline, potentially pushing down prices. That also would force more output into storage, again exacerbating the shrinking ability for U.S. storage to handle more oil.
WTI could drop to $35 per barrel in the coming months, and Brent may fall to just $51.30 per barrel, according to projections from Facts Global Energy and Societe General.
The predictions echo those made by Goldman Sachs earlier this month, which forecasted oil prices declining to $40 per barrel. Goldman cited weak demand coming from Japan and Korea, which could rely more and more on LNG to offset oil in the electric power sector. Cutting even deeper into oil demand is the possibility that Japan will restart two nuclear reactors, easing the island-nation’s dependence on imported oil to meet power demands.
A renewed bout of weakness in the oil markets, notwithstanding this week’s price gains, was further backed up by comments from the Saudi Arabia’s OPEC governor Mohammed al-Madi, who said on March 22 that a return to $100 per barrel would be hard to reach. Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi reiterated that position, blaming non-OPEC producers for their unwillingness to cut back on production. He said that OPEC will not do it alone, and even revealed the fact that Saudi Arabia recently boosted its oil production to 10 million barrels per day. “The production of OPEC is 30 percent of the market, 70 percent from non-OPEC...everybody is supposed to participate if we want to improve prices,” al-Naimi said.