Global gasoline demand in the first half of 2015 was higher than expected, at a time when crude oil prices were falling, which contributed to very strong refinery wholesale gasoline margins. However, EIA does not project the same pattern to continue next year. The Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), which was released on September 9, forecasts slowing gasoline demand growth. While gasoline margins are projected to show their typical seasonal trend, falling from their 2015 peak to a low point at the end of the year, then rising through spring 2016, next year’s forecast margins are closer to those experienced over the 2011-14 period than to the higher wholesale margins in 2015. In addition to lower expected gasoline demand growth, the outlook for lower margins reflects a forecast rise in Brent crude oil prices during 2016 and the expectation that refinery outages in 2016 will not be as significant for gasoline markets as those experienced in 2015.
The most recent data from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration show Americans drove a record 1.54 trillion miles during the first half of 2015, compared with the previous high of 1.50 trillion miles driven in the first half of 2007, contributing to higher demand for gasoline in the United States. Monthly data show gasoline consumption in the United States increased by 3% during the first half of 2015 compared with the first half of 2014.
U.S. motor gasoline consumption, which rose by 80,000 b/d in 2014, is projected to increase by 210,000 b/d (2.3%) in 2015 as the effects of employment growth and lower gasoline prices outweigh increases in vehicle fleet efficiency. However, gasoline consumption is forecast to remain flat in 2016, as a long-term trend toward vehicles that are more fuel-efficient offsets the effects of other factors.