The U.S. oil market is tightening as commercial crude inventories are declining at a fast clip and driving wider time spreads in the WTI Crude futures curve.
The curve is strengthening into backwardation, the state of the market signaling tighter supplies with the prices of the nearer futures contracts higher than those further out in time.
The premium of the nearest contract to those for later delivery has been widening in recent days, suggesting that immediate supply is tightening. The spread between the cash WTI and the November contract, for example, was $3.40 early on Friday. This is the widest premium of prompt prices to the four-month futures price since 2018, according to Bloomberg estimates.
The tighter prompt market reflects the continuous decline in U.S. commercial crude oil inventories, the relatively flat domestic crude oil production, and the relatively high U.S. oil exports despite the narrow WTI discount to Brent.
U.S. commercial crude inventories fell by 6.7 million barrels for the week to June 25, as per Energy Information Administration data. This was the sixth consecutive weekly drawdown in crude stockpiles.
Total commercial crude inventories at 452.3 million barrels are now 15.2 percent lower than in the same week last year. They are also 3.4 percent lower compared to this time two years ago, before the pandemic.
Inventories at Cushing, Oklahoma – the designated delivery point for NYMEX crude oil futures contracts – are also falling, further boosting the rally in the futures market. Crude stocks at Cushing fell by 1.5 million barrels in the week to June 25 to stand at 40.3 million barrels. This was an 11.7-percent decline compared to this time last year and a drop of 23.3 percent compared to the same week in 2019.
Refineries are also increasing run rates, now operating at 92.9 percent capacity, with those in the Midwest operating at 98.2 percent of their operable capacity. This is higher even compared to the 97.4-percent capacity utilization at this time of the year in the pre-COVID 2019.
For 499 days, New Brunswick has been under a state of emergency. Here’s how far we’ve come. 1:28
More than 500 days after New Brunswick’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, the province enters the green phase of recovery Saturday, without any Public Health restrictions.
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, has warned cases will increase, but because of vaccination rates, she expects they will be less serious and result in few hospitalizations.
A total of 66.7 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated, and 82 per cent had at least one dose, as of Friday.
More than a million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford have been administered.
A year-and-a-half ago, health experts predicted it might take until now just to develop a vaccine.
New Brunswick officials anxiously watched as COVID-19 swept across other parts of the globe, with emergency rooms over capacity and under-equipped, death rates rising and lockdowns increasingly commonplace.
They said it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus reached the province.
But students and teachers from several New Brunswick high schools were about to leave for week-long trips to Europe, including Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries. Hundreds of families were also about to go to Florida, among other destinations, for March break.
The government acted swiftly, ordering those returning from international travel not to attend school for two weeks, but the virus did indeed find its way into the province.
It has infected 2,365 people, claimed the lives of 46, many of whom died alone because of COVID restrictions, and the livelihoods of thousands.
It has shut down borders, kept families separated, and seniors in long-term care homes isolated, longing for human touch.
Saturday marks a new chapter. The emergency mandatory order has ended and all restrictions are lifted, including mandatory masks, gathering limits and provincial border checks for travellers within Canada.
Here is a look back at some of the key events along the province’s winding and sometimes bumpy pandemic journey:
March 11, 2020: First presumptive case
Province confirms 1st case of COVID-19 in New Brunswick 1:15
Public Health announces the first presumptive case of COVID-19 in New Brunswick. It is also the first case in Atlantic Canada.
The woman in her 50s, who has returned from France, was “minimally symptomatic” and self-isolating.
The news comes just hours after the World Health Organization deems the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, infecting more than 100,000 people in more than 100 countries.
March 12, 2020: First case confirmed
It’s getting harder to find toilet paper in some stores because people are snapping it up in a panic. Why are they doing it? Health experts say they don’t have to. 1:27
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell won’t say which part of France the woman was travelling from or what airports she travelled through, citing privacy. She says she doesn’t know how many people came into contact with the woman, but those who have been traced are in self-isolation.
Russell recommends people avoid mass gatherings because they can increase the spread and create additional strain on the health-care system.
Premier Blaine Higgs announces an all-party cabinet committee will help manage the outbreak.
Toilet paper starts to become scarce because some people begin stockpiling in a panic.
Late on a Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs announces all public schools will close for two weeks, possibly longer, to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier in the week, Ontario and Quebec also closed public schools.
Universities and community colleges also close.
The closure will not affect daycares, which Higgs says are an essential service. (Three days later, they too are ordered to close, along with a long list of public places, including arenas and theatres.)
The province’s Tele-Care 811 line is “pretty much jam-packed” with people calling about their health, officials say.
March 19, 2020: State of emergency declared
At a news conference Thursday, Higgs listed the businesses and operations that have been ordered to close immediately. 2:59
Premier Blaine Higgs declares a state of emergency, giving the government broad powers to enforce business closures and Public Health measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“These are unprecedented actions, but these are necessary as we are in unprecedented times,” Higgs tells reporters, as the number of confirmed cases jumps to seven, and probable cases stand at four, with no hospitalizations.
Too many people are not following Public Health advice to stay home if possible and to maintain a social distance of six feet, or about two metres, he says.
“Before this was a recommendation, today it’s a requirement.”
All businesses are ordered to close, except those deemed essential, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, repair garages and automotive parts stores, post offices, convenience stores, hardware stores, animal and fish feed providers, NB Liquor and Cannabis NB. Restaurants can remain open as takeouts.
Asked if it’s possible someone could go to jail for disobeying, Higgs says the declaration does provide authorities with such powers. “But that is not our intent. Nor do we hope that we get there.”
Air Canada reduces flights into New Brunswick until April 30.
March 25, 2020: Border checkpoints announced
New Brunswick sets up screening checkpoints at the Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. borders as the provincial case count jumps to 26.
“Unnecessary travel is no longer permitted,” says Premier Blaine Higgs, citing non-residents entering the province to socialize or shop.
Anyone allowed in must self-isolate for 14 days. Anyone who doesn’t comply is to receive a warning, followed by a fine of up to $10,000.
The province could run out of testing supplies within one week with ramped-up testing, and personal protective equipment (PPE) within three to four weeks, Premier Blaine Higgs says. The global competition for scarce supplies is “very concerning.”
Higgs has already called on the federal government to declare a national state of emergency, saying Canada needs a consistent, national approach to stop the spread of the virus.
April 6, 2020: COVID task force created
Premier Blaine Higgs announces a four-person task force to oversee the health-care system’s response to the pandemic.
The task force’s decision-making authority over all aspects of the system, including health authorities, ambulances, extramural care, special care homes and nursing homes, will allow the government to move more quickly, he says.
Ted Flemming, the health minister at the time, compares the approach to a military structure required to act quickly in a war.
The move comes after it took two weeks to get the required sign-offs from 23 different officials across the health-care system to change a protocol.
“Welcome to the new normal,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, says of the first phase, which also includes reopening businesses, educational facilities, the health-care system, recreational activities, and cultural events.
It comes as New Brunswick marks its sixth straight day with no new cases of COVID-19. There are 11 active cases, including four people in hospital, one of whom is in intensive care
The goal of the first phase is to balance the reopening of social and economic settings while preventing a major resurgence of transmission, Higgs says.
There won’t be any concerts or festivals for at least the rest of the year, he says, and bars and organized sports may not be able to start up again until a vaccine is available, which could take 12 to 18 months.
“Right now the risk of allowing more people to enter the province is simply too great,” he says.
Although Higgs pledges to work with producers to shift some of the 1,500 foreign workers already in the province to fill gaps, Murray Tweedie, owner of M & S Wild Blueberry Farms, says he could face closure.
Twenty-four workers are due to arrive from Jamaica on May 4 to help prepare his fields for pollination by 700 hives of bees coming from Michigan nine days later.
Federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc says the Trudeau government disagrees with the decision because COVID-19 has already brought enough economic uncertainty in the agricultural and seafood sectors.
May 8, 2020: Orange phase of recovery begins
New Brunswick has entered the orange alert phase of recovery. Here are the measures that are now in effect. For more information please visit <a href=”https://t.co/PdhJJAI1B9″>https://t.co/PdhJJAI1B9</a><a href=”https://t.co/aqU30aNBXL”>https://t.co/aqU30aNBXL</a> <a href=”https://t.co/ZvvyJRFDEK”>pic.twitter.com/ZvvyJRFDEK</a>
The closure of non-essential services to slow the spread of COVID-19 has devastated the economy and forced businesses to close temporarily.
New Brunswick’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 4.4 percentage points from March to April, after the province lost 27,900 full-time jobs and 6,400 part-time jobs.
The new phase, the orange phase, allows thousands of non-essential businesses, such as retail shops, restaurants, museums, libraries and campgrounds to welcome back patrons, but they must develop an operational plan to meet Public Health measures. These include physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, screening for symptoms, cleaning and disinfecting practices, signage, facial coverings and enforcement.
Inspectors from Public Health, WorkSafeNB and the Department of Public Safety will be visiting workplaces.
A mask is required in public when one cannot maintain a distance of two metres, and workplaces can require the public to wear a mask to gain entry.
“The impacts of the pandemic are only beginning to be understood, and it will take more time to fully comprehend the effects on our economy and our finances,” Finance Minister Ernie Steeves says.
Earlier, the Royal Bank of Canada estimated New Brunswick was headed for a $600-million deficit based on the trajectory of the economy, and the Bank of Nova Scotia suggested the budget shortfall would reach $1.19 billion.
Among the immediate changes, New Brunswickers can extend their two-household bubbles to include other family and friends, with physical distancing and a 10-person limit recommended for indoor gatherings.
Premier Blaine Higgs announces foreign temporary workers will be allowed back in, starting May 29.
“We are still prioritizing the safety of New Brunswickers but as we restart our economy, we have to find the ways to meet the needs of agriculture and seafood sectors.”.
May 27, 2020: ‘Irresponsible’ medical professional blamed for outbreak
Third case of COVID-19 in Campbellton is a health professional who travelled to Quebec and did not self-isolate on return. 2:51
Premier Blaine Higgs blames an “irresponsible” medical professional for two other confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Campbellton region, Zone 5, and forcing that northern part of the province back into the more restrictive orange phase of recovery.
The medical professional in their 50s travelled to Quebec for “personal reasons, was not forthcoming about their reasons for travel upon returning to New Brunswick and they did not self-isolate as a result,” Higgs says.
The person then treated patients for two weeks at the Campbellton Regional Hospital and possibly other locations.
The hospital’s emergency department was forced to close for 24 hours and all non-urgent or elective health-care services were cancelled “due to the high risk of transmission of COVID-19,” the Vitalité Health Network says.
The other two cases include a person in their 90s and a child who attended two daycares.
Mobile testing is to be set up and everyone in the region is encouraged to get tested.
After two weeks with no active cases in the province, the region is at a higher risk “due to the actions of one irresponsible individual,” Higgs says. “If you ignore the rules, you put your family, your friends and your fellow New Brunswickers at risk.”
June 2, 2020: Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola breaks silence
Premier Blaine Higgs never publicly identifies the medical professional who travelled to Quebec, but Dr. Jean-Robert Ngola, a family physician, is quickly named on social media and his photo circulated.
He says he drove overnight to Montreal to pick up his four-year-old daughter because her mother had gone to Africa for a funeral. He returned to work at the hospital the next day without self-isolating for 14 days.
“Maybe it was an error in judgment,” he says, pointing out that workers, including nurses who live in Quebec, cross the border each day with no isolation period required.
Ngola, who is from Congo, faces racist threats, is suspended by the Vitalité Health Network, and criminally investigated by the RCMP.
June 4, 2020: First COVID-related death, restrictions eased
“He couldn’t beat it. He tried, but it’s a difficult disease,” says his son Michel Ouellette.
On May 29, the care home asked if they could test his father, along with other residents and staff. Two days later, a doctor called saying his father was COVID-positive, unconscious and being transported to the Campbellton Regional Hospital.
It was difficult for the family not to be able to say good-bye to him because of COVID restrictions. “That we couldn’t go see him … comfort him, hold his hand … I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Ouellette said in French.
The 15 active cases in the province include five residents of the Manoir and four employees.
Officials link the outbreak to a medical professional travelling to Quebec and returning to work without self-isolating.
More than 300 people are self-isolating as a result of contact tracing, including six health-care workers.
Cabinet and the all-party COVID-19 committee also deem attending funerals and burials for an immediate family member in New Brunswick essential travel.
Indoor gatherings of up to 10 people in private homes will be permitted everywhere but the Campbellton region. Outdoor gatherings of up to 50, and religious services, wedding and funerals of up to 50 will also be permitted with physical distancing.
Residents in long-term care homes will be allowed to have up to two visitors outdoors.
Elective surgeries and other non-emergency services will increase, and low-contact team sports will be permitted.
Dr. Jennifer Russell says the “unintended consequences” of isolation during the pandemic include damage to mental health, income and the timely access to medical treatment.
June 5, 2020: Masks mandatory to enter public buildings
People should not wear face masks all the time or for extended periods, chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said Wednesday. 1:35
“Once inside the building and if you are able to maintain physical distancing of two metres, the mask can be removed,” the government clarifies nearly four hours after the announcement.
Previously, face coverings were required only in locations where maintaining a physical distance of two metres, was not possible.
June 6, 2020: Province reverses mandatory mask order
Just one day after making masks mandatory to enter public buildings, the province scraps the new rule.
“It was not the intent to place an additional expectation on businesses or the public regarding wearing a face covering in a public space,” it says.
People do have to wear masks if they are in a public space where social distancing cannot be maintained.
July 3, 2020: Atlantic bubble begins
The Atlantic bubble opens, allowing residents of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador to travel in the region for any reason with no need to self-isolate for 14 days.
There are many smiling faces at the Aulac checkpoint, excited to be travelling to New Brunswick and be reunited with family and friends.
With hundreds of vehicles waiting to cross, the delays are frustrating for some.
Aug. 10, 2020: Proposal to delay provincial election
BREAKING: in letter to Liberal leader Kevin Vickers, Higgs asks for agreement on no election until 2022 or official end of pandemic; deal would involve formalization of all-party committee & policy input from all parties. <a href=”https://t.co/3tRtCNL6oS”>pic.twitter.com/3tRtCNL6oS</a>
Premier Blaine Higgs asks the three opposition party leaders to agree to a deal that would avoid forcing an early provincial election. He pledges to listen to their policy ideas if they agree to keep his Progressive Conservatives in power until the scheduled election in October 2022 or until the pandemic is over.
The evolution of the pandemic in the region is “extremely worrying,” says Dr. Jennifer Russell, with the highest active case count in the province at 129 and cases reported in schools, workplaces and residences for the elderly.
“At the current rate, that number will exceed 200 active cases early next week and potentially 400 active cases before the month is over,” she said.
Businesses are told to close or reduce operations to essential activities. Residents are told to stay home and keep to their one-household bubbles.
The next day, Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton are also bumped back to the most restrictive red COVID alert level.
New Brunswick has now recorded 1,087 confirmed COVID cases and 13 people have died.
Feb. 2, 2021: Variant first reported in U.K. detected
The dreaded COVID-19 variants arrive in New Brunswick. Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health, confirms three cases of the variant first reported in the U.K., now referred to as the alpha variant. Two are in the Saint John region, one in the Miramichi region.
Two of the cases are related to international travel and one is related to travel in Canada. All three individuals are self-isolating.
“It is a very fast-moving strain, it infects quickly and in higher numbers, and it will be difficult to get ahead of it,” Russell says.
April 26, 2021: Variant first recorded in India confirmed
A case of COVID-19 previously reported in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, is confirmed as the more aggressive variant first recorded in India, now known as the delta variant.
All variants of concern are highly contagious, cause more severe symptoms, require more people to be hospitalized, result in more ICU admissions and ventilation, and cause more deaths.
But this variant has two mutations that make it “more concerning than all the others,” says Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Public Health declares an outbreak at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton after six cases are confirmed at Magee House, an apartment-style residence with 101 units for mature students, some of whom have children.
The outbreak involves the delta variant.
The lockdown extends to St. Thomas University and the New Brunswick Community College because of the potential for exposure.
Tempers flare at the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border when the highway is blocked by dozens of protesters demonstrating against restrictions that require most travellers from New Brunswick to self-isolate upon arrival in Nova Scotia.
July 11, 2021: 50% of eligible population fully vaccinated
The vaccination campaign reaches a milestone. The COVID-19 dashboard shows 50.4 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and older have received two doses of a vaccine. In other words, half the eligible population is now fully vaccinated.
July 23, 2021: Going green
New Brunswickers say they’re looking forward to their freedom but they’re proceeding with caution. 1:29
Premier Blaine Higgs tells New Brunswickers the province is going green. Effective July 30 at 11:59 p.m., all remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted, regardless of whether the province meets vaccination targets.
No more masks in public spaces. No more limits on gatherings. No more checks at provincial borders.
With so few cases, vaccination rates so high, and no one in hospital, he says it’s a tough sell to keep the emergency order in place.
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