North Sea Brent crude oil spot prices fell from $95/barrel (bbl) on October 1 to $84/bbl at the end of the month. The causes included weakening outlooks for global economic and oil demand growth, the return to the market of previously disrupted Libyan crude oil production, and continued growth in U.S. tight oil production. Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $87/bbl in October, the first month Brent prices have averaged below $90/bbl since November 2010. EIA projects that Brent crude oil prices will average $83/bbl in 2015, $18/bbl lower than forecast in last month's STEO. There is significant uncertainty over the crude oil price forecast because of the range of potential supply responses from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), particularly Saudi Arabia, and U.S. tight oil producers to the new lower oil price environment.
Driven largely by falling crude oil prices, U.S. weekly regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.99/gallon (gal) on November 3, the lowest level since December 20, 2010. U.S. regular gasoline retail prices are projected to continue to decline for the remainder of the year to an average of $2.80/gal in December, $0.33/gal lower than in last month's STEO. EIA expects U.S. regular gasoline retail prices, which averaged $3.51/gal in 2013, to average $3.39/gal in 2014 and $2.94/gal in 2015.
Total U.S. crude oil production averaged an estimated 8.9 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in October, and monthly average production is forecast to surpass 9.0 million bbl/d in December 2014. Projected total crude oil production averages 9.4 million bbl/d in 2015, a reduction of 0.1 million bbl/d from last month's STEO. If realized, the 2015 forecast would be the highest annual average crude oil production since 1972. Natural gas plant liquids production is expected to increase from an average of 2.6 million bbl/d in 2013 to 3.2 million bbl/d in 2015.
Natural gas working inventories on October 31 totaled 3.57 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 0.24 Tcf (6%) below the level at the same time a year ago and 0.26 Tcf (7%) below the previous five-year average (2009-13). Despite the lower stocks at the start of this winter's heating season, EIA expects the Henry Hub natural gas spot price to average $3.97/million British thermal units (MMBtu) this winter compared with $4.53/MMBtu last winter. This price forecast reflects both lower expected heating demand and significantly higher natural gas production this winter.