Daily Energy Blog

Thanks to expanding heavy crude oil production in Western Canada’s oil sands in recent years and increased pipeline access from the region to the U.S. Gulf Coast, re-exports of Canadian heavy crude from Gulf Coast terminals set a record in 2023. With additional production gains on tap in the oil sands, it might seem natural to think that another re-export record is in the works for 2024. However, assuming the much-delayed Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) does indeed start up this year — offering a vastly expanded West Coast outlet for oil sands production — last year’s re-export high might end up being a peak, at least for the number of years it takes for growth in Western Canadian heavy crude production to exceed the capacity of the TMX expansion. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at TMX’s likely impact on Gulf Coast re-exports. 

A handful of U.S. midstreamers are striving to build an offshore export buoy in the Gulf of Mexico that would be able to fully load a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC). If successful, they could facilitate a new wave of crude oil export flows and dynamics. With domestic production back to record highs and global supply and demand dynamics in a constant state of flux, the market developments along the Gulf Coast are something the oil industry is eying intently. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the latest on two export projects — Phillips 66 and Trafigura's Bluewater Texas Terminal and Sentinel Midstream’s Texas GulfLink.

When the Group of Seven (G-7) countries placed a $60/bbl cap on the price of Russian crude oil in December 2022 — one of many responses to Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine — there were two primary goals. The first was to keep Russian barrels flowing to the market to help keep global prices in check, and the second was to slash the profitability of Russian oil exports and thereby reduce its ability to wage war against Ukraine. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how effective the sanctions have been and how Russia has tried to work around the price cap. 

As we step into the new year with record-high U.S. crude oil production and export volumes as strong as ever, there’s a race underway among four offshore export projects that aim to tap into those rising supplies and — with their ability to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) without any reverse lightering — push export volumes to new heights. While Enterprise Products Partners’ Sea Port Oil Terminal (SPOT) might be leading the development race so far, Energy Transfer’s (ET) Blue Marlin Offshore Port has momentum also. In today’s RBN blog, we update Blue Marlin’s progress, look at the critical role anchor shippers play in project development, and show how growing offshore exports could impact existing onshore terminals. 

The impending startup of Canada’s government-owned Trans Mountain Expansion Project, better known as TMX, will add exit capacity for Western Canadian crude oil production and is expected to redirect at least some of Alberta’s output toward California and Asia and away from its traditional North American markets, including complex refiners in Eastern Canada and the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast. Among them, Gulf Coast refiners, who have become the “price-setting” consumers of heavy Western Canadian crude, are expected to be the hardest hit. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the Gulf of Mexico production and imported grades that might become stand-ins for the “lost” Canadian barrels. 

Crude oil, natural gas and NGL production roared back in 2023. All three energy commodity groups hit record volumes, which means one thing: more infrastructure is needed. That means gathering systems, pipelines, processing plants, refinery units, fractionators, storage facilities and, above all, export dock capacity. That’s because most of the incremental production is headed overseas — U.S. energy exports are on the rise! If 2023’s dominant story line was production growth, exports and (especially) the need for new infrastructure, you can bet our blogs on those topics garnered more than their share of interest from RBN’s subscribers. Today we dive into our Top 10 blogs to uncover the hottest topics in 2023 energy markets. 

It seems like everyone has an opinion about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), and everyone is at least a little bit right. For example, many assert the SPR provides a helpful crude oil supply buffer in the event of a major disruption from, say, a strong hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico or a war in the Middle East. Others say the market can take care of itself — the SPR just muddies the waters by getting government (and worse yet, politicians!) involved. Still others say the oil market has changed dramatically since the SPR was established almost a half-century ago and that the strategy behind the reserve should be revised in response to those changes. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the very gradual refilling of the SPR after a big draining — and an ongoing debate about the reserve’s future.

We’ve reached the two-year anniversary of the reversal of the joint-venture Capline crude oil pipeline. With its current north-to-south flow, it adds to the few conduits that can move oil from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, specifically the St. James, LA, oil hub. Flows have been on a steady climb since southbound service began in December 2021, but volumes appear to be short of its available capacity, and there are looming headwinds. In today’s RBN blog, we examine whether Capline’s flows could be affected by the impending startup of the Canadian government-owned Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX). Could rising Alberta production be its golden ticket?  

Crude oil production in the offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) increased by more than 50% from 2013 to 2019, an extraordinary period of growth supported by new discoveries, new offshore platforms and new subsea tiebacks. Then, battered by Covid and major hurricanes, GOM output stumbled in 2020 and 2021, twice falling to less than 1.1 MMb/d, barely half the all-time mark of 2.04 MMb/d achieved in August 2019. More recently, production in the Gulf has been rebounding. But despite these gains — and a relatively mild 2023 hurricane season in the central and western Gulf — the region faces new challenges, including federal leasing delays, a significant oil spill, and an endangered species of sea giants known as Rice’s whales. 

Wider price discounts for Western Canadian heavy crude oil have been weighing on its oil producers for the past few months. This appears to be the result of a combination of weak refinery demand, rapidly rising oil production and insufficient oil takeaway capacity from Western Canada. A more permanent solution for wider discounts might be to increase pipeline export capacity to ensure that rising oil production has more options to reach markets. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the pending startup of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) as a means to do just that.

Well, thanks to you all, we reached another important milestone this week: 40,000 subscribers to RBN’s daily blog. We are quite proud of the achievement. That’s a lot of folks taking time out of their busy day to read a couple thousand words about what’s happening with oil, gas, NGLs and renewables — all in the context of a rock & roll song. We couldn’t have done it without you. Today, after posting a total of about 3,000 blogs over nearly 12 years, we pull back the curtain on the RBN blogosphere and discuss how and why it all happens — and how you help shape what we blog about. 

The price discount for Western Canada’s benchmark heavy crude oil has seen yet another widening in the past few months. Increased pipeline access to the U.S. was believed to be the key to solving this problem in the long term, but more recent fundamental developments surrounding pipeline egress, refinery demand and increasing heavy oil supplies demonstrate that larger discounts can — and do — still happen. This problem could persist for several more months until a better balance is achieved in downstream markets. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the latest drivers of the wider price discounts for Western Canada’s heavy oil. 

U.S. oil, natural gas and NGL markets are more interconnected than ever — with each other and with global dynamics. The deep connections we see today have evolved in the 15 years since the start of the Shale Revolution, and in recognizing how the various segments have impacted one another, we can better explain how they are driving today’s markets. That was the focus of our Fall 2023 School of Energy and it’s the subject of today’s RBN blog, which (warning) is a blatant advertorial for School of Energy Encore, a newly available online version of our recent conference.

Over the past three-plus years, Corpus Christi has dominated the U.S. crude oil export market, largely because of the availability of straight-shot pipeline access from the Permian to two Corpus-area terminals at Ingleside — Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) and South Texas Gateway (STG) — that can partially load the huge 2-MMbbl VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers). But capacity on the pipes to Corpus is now nearly maxed out and, with Permian production rising and exports strong, an increasing share of West Texas crude output is instead being sent to Houston on pipelines with capacity to spare. The catch for Permian shippers with capacity on Permian-to-Houston pipes is that the Midland-to-MEH (Magellan East Houston) price differential for WTI has been depressingly low —$0.22/bbl on average this year, compared to almost $20/bbl for a few months in 2018 and averaging $5.50/bbl as recently as 2019. However, the Midland-to-MEH WTI price spread looks to be on the verge of a rebound of sorts, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog.

A draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) tied to a key water crossing along the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has finally been completed and made public, thereby ending another chapter in the long-running drama about the ultimate fate of DAPL, which is by far the largest crude oil pipeline out of the Bakken. While the DEIS doesn’t finish the story, the document provides hints about possible outcomes — and an opportunity to review just how important the 750-Mb/d pipeline really is to Bakken producers and shippers. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the latest developments regarding DAPL and Bakken production.