Some participants believe WTI may resume premium pricing.

The WTI/Brent price spread will narrow to between $5 and $10 in 2012, according to 62% of responses from 159 energy-stock buyers and E&P executives in early December in the quarterly “Bernstein Energy Investor Sentiment Survey.”

Another 11% believe the spread will fall to between $0 and $5 in the coming year; 3% believe WTI will exceed that of Brent, possibly by as much as $5, report Bernstein Research senior energy analysts Bob Brackett and Scott Gruber. Meanwhile, 22% believe the spread will range in an average of between $10 and $15, and 3% believe it will be between $15 and $20.

The results are remarkably different than investor sentiment in early September, when more than 70% forecast a 2012 spread of between $10 and $25. A few even expected it to exceed $30.

“With plans of a Seaway (pipeline) reversal announced since our last survey, 62% of respondents now believe the spread will average $5 to $10 per barrel in 2012, with $10 to $15 being the next-most-common response. Only 3% see the spread averaging over $15.”

As for 2014, most of the survey participants believe the WTI/Brent spread will continue to persist to some degree with 76% expecting a range of $0 to $10; however, 14% believe the price of WTI will return to a premium over that of Brent.

“We continue to believe enough pipeline takeaway capacity will be installed or reversed by the end of 2013, and see little to justify a spread in 2014,” Brackett and Gruber report. They note that, until the WTI/Brent blowout this year, the quarterly survey didn’t query participants for their thoughts on the spread.

“We note that our survey has historically focused on WTI crude prices, not Brent, so, to address the current, but shrinking, dislocation, we've once again included a question about the spread this quarter.”

–Nissa Darbonne, Editor-at-Large, Oil and Gas Investor, OilandGasInvestor.com, Oil and Gas Investor This Week, A&D Watch, A-Dcenter.com, UGcenter.com. Contact Nissa at ndarbonne@hartenergy.com.