Crude Mystery: Where Did 800,000 Barrels of Oil Go?
Tally of unaccounted for oil hit highest level in 17 years in 2015; Oil data is ‘an imperfect science’By Georgi Kantchev, WSJ
March 17, 2016 5:30 a.m. ET
There is mystery at the heart of the oversupplied global oil market: missing barrels of crude.
Last year, there were 800,000 barrels of oil a day unaccounted for by the International Energy Agency, the energy monitor that puts together data on crude supply and demand. Where these barrels ended up, or if they even existed, is key to an oil market that remains under pressure from the glut in crude.
Some analysts say the barrels may be in China. Others believe the barrels were created by flawed accounting and they don’t actually exist. If they don’t exist then the oversupply that has driven crude prices to decade lows could be much smaller than estimated and prices could rebound faster.
Whatever the answer, the discrepancy underscores how the oil price flips around based on data that investors are often unsure of. Barrels have gone missing before, but last year the tally of unaccounted for oil grew to its highest level in 17 years. At a time when the issue of oversupply dominates the oil industry, this matters.