The Department of Energy has just released a study that found ‘critical shortcomings’ in U.S. oil inventory data.
The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, expose several errors in the Energy Information Agency’s weekly oil report, including one in September that was large enough to cause a jump in oil prices, and a litany of problems with its data collection, including the use of ancient technology and out-of-date methodology, that make it nearly impossible for staff to detect errors. A weak security system also leaves the data open to being hacked or leaked, the documents show.
Moreover, problems with EIA data underscore the hazards of depending on companies or other firms to self-report data.
While this may been suspected in the past by many in the energy industry, oil inventory data can still be a substantial market mover. Thus it’s worrisome how, at times, it appears that data errors were large enough to make a substantial impact on the market:
On Sept. 16, the EIA released data showing almost four million barrels of oil had vanished from the Cushing storage hub in Oklahoma during a single week. The market paid particular attention because Cushing is the nation’s most important commercial storage facility. Its oil is used to fill orders from buyers on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil futures jumped 2.2% after the report
But out of the sizable drop at Cushing, 1.7 million barrels represented a correction made after the EIA discovered a previous error in one company’s reporting, according to the emails. James Beck, who heads the team that conducts the weekly survey, confirmed the correction in an interview.
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