On Friday, TransCanada finally secured a Presidential Permit for the U.S. portion of its Keystone XL pipeline, and the company committed to pursuing the state approvals it still needs to build the project. But three hard truths—crude oil prices below $50/bbl, the high cost of producing bitumen and moving it to market, and more attractive energy investments available elsewhere—have thrown a wet blanket on once-ambitious plans to significantly expand production in Western Canada’s oil sands, the primary source of the product that would flow through Keystone XL. Today we begin a series on stagnating production growth in the world’s premier crude bitumen area, the odds for and against a rebound any time soon, and the need (or lack thereof) for more pipelines.
According to Energy Information Administration data, the 26 refineries in the Midwest/PADD 2 region processed an average 3.6 MMb/d of crude oil in 2016—up 300 Mb/d from the 3.3 MMb/d refined in 2010. Over the same six-year period, production of light oil production in the region shot up by over 1 MMb/d, mostly from the prolific Bakken formation in North Dakota. Yet Midwest refiners did little to take advantage of the sudden abundance of “local” production, increasing instead their appetite for imported heavy crude from Western Canada by nearly 1 MMb/d—from 800 Mb/d in 2010 to 1.8 MMb/d in 2016. Today we explore the trend for PADD 2 refineries to run more heavy crude even as shale output surged in their backyard.
U.S. crude oil production is back above where it was this time last year—at 9.1 MMb/d, 700 Mb/d over the low point last summer. Nearly 400 Mb/d of that surge has been since end-November when the OPEC deal was announced. So, in less than four months, U.S. producers have already taken one-third of the 1.2 MMb/d market share OPEC gave up. No doubt about it: The U.S. E&P sector is back. But not because prices are above $60 or $70/bbl. Instead, this recovery is being driven by rising productivity in the oil patch. And that makes it a whole different kind of animal than we’ve seen before, with implications for upstream, midstream, downstream and just about anything that touches energy markets. That’s the theme for our upcoming School of Energy—Spring 2017—“Back in the Saddle Again—Market Implications of the 2017 U.S. Oil and Gas Recovery” that we summarize in today’s blog.
Despite OPEC’s production cuts, crude oil prices are still hovering just below $50/bbl, and there are certainly no guarantees that they won’t fall back to $40 or lower (at least for a while). So the survival of many exploration and production companies continues to depend on razor-thin margins, meaning that E&Ps need to trim their capital and operating costs to the bone. Lease operating expenses—the costs incurred by an operator to keep production flowing after the initial cost of drilling and completion—are a go-to cost component in assessing the financial health of an E&P. But there’s a lot more to LOEs than meets the eye, and understanding them in detail is as important now as ever. Today we continue our series on the little-explored but important topic of lease operating expenses.
The ability to increase the capacity of existing and planned crude oil pipelines with minimal capital expense has genuine appeal to midstream companies, producers and shippers alike. Enter drag reducing agents: special, long-chain polymers that are injected into crude oil pipelines to reduce turbulence, and thereby increase the pipes’ capacity, trim pumping costs or a combination of the two. DRAs are used extensively on refined products pipelines too. Today we continue our look at efforts to optimize pipeline efficiency and minimize capex through the expanded use of crude-oil and refined-product flow improvers.
Last week, crude oil prices dropped below $50/bbl, in part due to continued increases in U.S. crude oil inventories, and fell further over the next few days. Then yesterday, prices perked up by $1.14 to $48.86/bbl; again one of the factors was the weekly inventory number from the Energy Information Administration which showed inventories down by a fraction of a percentage point for the week. The market seems to react spontaneously to changes in that crude-stocks statistic. Up is bearish, down is bullish. These days even a very modest decline in inventories is bullish. But serious analysis requires a more detailed, more nuanced understanding of why crude oil inventories behave as they do. Were inventories driven up by higher production or lower refinery runs? By higher imports? By lower exports? The reasons behind the inventory change are more important than the change itself. Today we continue our series on the modeling of U.S. crude oil supply and demand, and the sourcing of input data used in those calculations.
New International Maritime Organization rules slashing allowable sulfur content in bunker fuels come January 2020 are expected to be a boon to complex refineries with coking units that can break residual high-sulfur fuel oil (HSFO) into low-sulfur middle distillates and other high-value products. The IMO rules also are expected to undermine the already shaky economics of many simpler refineries that don’t have cokers and are therefore left with a lot of residual HSFO. Today we conclude our blog series on the far-reaching effects of the new cap on bunker fuel sulfur content with a look at how the IMO rules will create winners and losers among refineries, and improve diesel refining margins.
The latest sharp drop in crude oil prices, which was blamed in part on unexpected gains in already record-high U.S. inventories, is a stark reminder of the importance of understanding and routinely calculating estimates of the oil supply/demand balance. Only by keeping up with the ever-changing relationship between crude availability and crude consumption—and by anticipating shifts in that relationship—can oil traders and others whose daily success or failure depends on crude pricing trends make informed decisions. Today we begin a blog series on the modeling of U.S. crude oil supply and demand, and the sourcing of input data.
The expectation that crude oil production in the Permian Basin will continue growing has set off a competition among midstream companies, a number of which are known to be developing plans for additional pipeline takeaway capacity out of what is clearly America’s top-of-the-charts tight-oil play. One of the biggest topics of conversation the past few days has been the plan by EPIC Pipeline Co. to build a new crude pipeline from the Permian’s Delaware and Midland basins to planned storage/distribution and marine terminals in Corpus Christi. Today we detail EPIC’s plan and explain the rationale for the pipeline’s route and destination.
Much tougher rules governing emissions from ships plying international waters soon will force wrenching change on the energy industry. Demand for high-sulfur fuel oil is expected to plummet; ditto for HSFO prices. Demand for low-sulfur distillates from the shipping industry will rise sharply, putting upward pressure on prices for marine gas oil, marine diesel oil and ultra-low-sulfur diesel. These demand and pricing shifts, in turn, will have a number of significant effects on refiners. Today we continue our series on the far-reaching effects of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) mandate to slash emissions from tens of thousands of ships starting in January 2020.
A number of the Bakken’s leading producers are talking up the shale play’s prospects for crude oil production gains in 2017—and especially in 2018—but we are still waiting on numbers that would prove that the play has truly turned a corner. What is crystal clear, though, is that the Bakken’s biggest takeaway project ever, the 470-Mb/d Dakota Access Pipeline to Illinois, is finally nearing completion and operation after a very public delay. When DAPL comes online this spring, it will further reduce crude-by-rail volumes out of the Bakken and should help to increase the odds that production in the play will begin to rebound in earnest. Today we update production and takeaway capacity in the nation’s third-largest crude-focused shale play.
A new international rule slashing allowable sulfur content in the marine fuel or “bunker” market will have profound effects on global demand for high sulfur fuel oil and low-sulfur middle distillates—and with that, major impacts on the price of those products, the demand for various types of crude, and the need for refinery upgrades. What we have in the making here is a refining-sector shake-up that will extend well into the 2020s. Today we begin a series on the rippling effects of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) mandate that, starting in January 2020, all vessels involved in international trade use marine fuel with sulfur content of 0.5% or less.
A number of indicators suggest that the energy slump that started in the latter half of 2014 has bottomed out, and that happy days are here again (at least for now). Who would have thought back in the good ol’ days three years ago this month—when the spot price for crude oil was north of $100/bbl and the Henry Hub natural gas price averaged $5.15/MMbtu—that Friday’s $54 crude and $2.63 gas would be seen as anything but a catastrophic meltdown. But not so. The fact is that in 2017, producers in a number of basins can make good money at these price levels. Consequently, drilling activity is coming on strong. Crude oil production is up more than 500 Mb/d since October 2016 to 9 MMb/d, a level not seen in almost a year. And gas output has also been poised to rise, if only real winter demand had kicked in this year. What’s going on? Today we discuss the fact that what we have here, folks, is a rebound unlike any we’ve seen before.
The Shale Revolution has caused big changes in U.S. crude oil production, in domestic flows of crude via pipelines, ships and rail tankcars, and in crude import volumes. Flow changes in particular have negatively affected the Strategic Petroleum Reserve’s ability to accomplish its two primary goals: protecting U.S. refineries from the worst effects of a major crude oil supply interruption, and—when called upon by the International Energy Agency—quickly injecting large volumes of crude into global markets. A fix now in the works would add Gulf Coast marine terminals dedicated specifically to moving SPR-stockpiled crude to those who need it, both within the U.S. and overseas. Today we conclude a two-part blog series on challenges and coming changes at the SPR.
More than a dozen crude oil pipelines can deliver up to 3.4 million barrels/day (MMb/d) to the greater Houston area, with another 550 Mb/d of capacity planned, and as domestic production starts to grow again, a new round of projects is under way to build-out the region’s distribution pipelines, storage and marine-dock infrastructure. The developers of these Houston-area projects include a range of midstream players: from large, diversified midstreamers that own the long-distance pipelines flowing into the region to smaller players planning their first Houston projects. Today we conclude a two-part blog series on the latest round of projects and on the increasingly intense competition for barrels.