WASHINGTON — Crude oil production in the United States is on the rise, consumption is decreasing and future prices of both crude and price-at-the-pump remain uncertain, experts said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies panel Monday.
Crude oil supply increased from 5,000 barrels per day in 2011 to almost 1 million barrels per day, but demand has yet to catch up, posing more uncertainty, said Roger Diwan, managing director of financial advisory at PFC Energy.
Gasoline consumption, however, is expected to decline. Projections show that the current gasoline consumption of 9 million barrels a day is on track to fall to 5 million barrels a day.
“The pressure is downward,” Morse said.
As consumers stop buying more at the pump, prices may actually increase as companies slow production to offset the reduce demand.
The cost of crude oil determines two-thirds of the gas price, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The remaining one-third comes from differences in refinery configuration, weather, inventory behavior and elasticity of demand.
Uncertainty of oil demands has deterred refineries from building new plants, said Ed Morse, chief commodities analyst at Citi Research.
“There are very good reasons why the refiners aren’t going to build new plants,” Morse said. “It’s expensive. There’s a history of over build and under build… They’re not likely to spend shareholder capital given their history.”
The refining industry boomed in the 1970s when the U.S. government imposed restrictions on U.S. crude oil exports. American companies then focused on refining petroleum products like gasoline and diesel.
But a crude oil embargo may not be the best option today when the EIA continues to project increased domestic oil production.
“There is some possibility it actually takes Congress to work this out,” said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners.
But Congress, especially House members, are “skittish” about allowing crude oil exports because it could cause a gas price hike, he said.
Political leaders tend to be more attuned to gasoline prices than production growth, he said.
In some states – mostly in the middle of the country and more likely to be Republican – a greater share of their constituents’ disposable income goes towards gas so it’s a political re-election calculation as well as a policy decision for some lawmakers, Book said.