The possibility of reversing the flow on Capline — the U.S.’s largest northbound crude oil pipeline — has been discussed for a number of years now. Finally, it may be on the horizon. The three owners of Louisiana-to-Illinois pipeline announced last week that this month they plan to initiate a binding open season for a reversed Capline system that would enable southbound flows starting in the third quarter of 2020 — only a year and a half from now. And, as we discuss in today’s blog, reversing Capline’s direction could open up new crude-slate possibilities for Louisiana refineries and boost crude exports out of the Bayou State.
LPG exports out of Gulf Coast marine terminals averaged 1 MMb/d in 2018, a gain of 12% from 2017 and 35% from 2016. And, with U.S. NGL production rising steadily, 2019 is looking to be another banner year for LPG shipments to overseas buyers. The increasing volume of propane and normal butane — the NGL purity products generally referenced as LPG — is filling up the existing export capacity of the Gulf Coast’s six LPG terminals and spurring the development of a number of expansion projects. Today, we continue our blog series on propane and butane export facilities along the Gulf, West and East coasts, and what’s driving the build-out of these assets.
In 2018, a handful of midstream companies started racing to develop deepwater export terminals along the Gulf Coast that can fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) with 2 MMbbl of crude oil from the Permian and other plays. While some of those companies are moving toward final investment decisions (FIDs) that would bring their plans to fruition in the early 2020s, terminal operators with existing VLCC-capable assets — both onshore and offshore — turned up the volume in a major way in December. Today, we outline the strides made in recent days by the export programs of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), Seaway Texas City and Moda Midstream.
The Cushing, OK, storage and trading hub plays critically important roles in both the physical and financial sides of the crude oil market. Located at a central point for receiving crude from a wide range of major production areas — Western Canada, the Bakken, the Rockies, SCOOP/STACK and the Permian among them — the hub also has numerous pipeline connections to Gulf Coast refineries and export docks, and to a large number of inland refineries. And, with Cushing’s 94 MMbbl of storage capacity and status as the delivery point for NYMEX futures contracts for West Texas Intermediate, the hub’s inventory levels and the WTI-at-Cushing price are closely watched market barometers. But like a lot of other U.S. energy infrastructure in the Shale Era, Cushing’s place in the energy world has been in flux. Most importantly, Permian production has been surging, the ban on U.S. oil exports is a fading memory, and the Gulf Coast — not Cushing — is where most U.S. crude production wants to go. Today, we discuss Cushing’s changing role and highlights from RBN’s new Drill Down Report on the U.S.’s most important crude hub.
There’s a reason why more than half a dozen midstream companies and joint ventures are clamoring to build deepwater loading terminals on the Gulf of Mexico: because it’s a major pain to load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) any other way. These days, the standard operating procedure for loading the vast majority of VLCCs along the Gulf Coast involves a complex, time-consuming and costly process of ship-to-ship transfers called reverse-lightering, in which smaller tankers ferry out and transfer crude to VLCCs in specified lightering areas off the coast. Today, we ponder the current dynamics for U.S. crude exports via VLCC.
For months, the crude oil market had Canada figured out. Production was growing, bit by bit. Pipelines were maxed out. Railcars were hard to come by but were providing some incremental takeaway capacity. Midwest refineries, a big destination for Canadian crude, went in and out of turnaround season, moving prices as they ramped up runs. Overall, the supply and demand math was straightforward also, tilted towards excess production. Canadian crude prices were going to continue to be heavily discounted for the next year or two, until one of the new pipeline systems being planned was approved and completed. Western Canadian Select (WCS) — a heavy crude blend and regional benchmark — was averaging at a discount to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) near $40/bbl in November, dragging down Syncrude prices with it. As the market was settling in for a long, cold winter in Canada, a bombshell dropped: Alberta’s premier announced on December 2 (2018) that regulators would institute a mandatory production cut, taking 325 Mb/d of production offline, and that the government would invest in new crude-by-rail tankcars. That announcement has had a massive impact on prices, with WCS’s differential narrowing to $18.50/bbl most recently. In today’s blog, we look at several catalysts for the recent swing in Canadian prices, and how the recent governmental intervention will impact differentials.
This summer and fall, more than a half dozen companies and midstream joint ventures have announced plans for new deepwater export terminals along the Gulf Coast that — if all built — would have the capacity to load and send out more than 10 MMb/d, which is notable because the U.S. Lower 48 currently produces 11.2 MMb/d. Most of these projects won’t get built, of course — export volumes may well continue rising, and the economics of fully loading VLCCs at deepwater ports are compelling, but even the most optimistic forecasts suggest that only one or two of these new terminals will be needed through the early 2020s. So, there’s a fierce competition on among developers to advance their VLCC-ready export projects to Final Investment Decisions (FIDs) first. Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on deepwater crude export terminals as well as the export growth and tanker-loading economics that are driving the project-development frenzy.
During the summer of 2018, crude oil inventories at the trading hub in Cushing, OK, dropped to extreme lows. With estimated tank bottoms around 14.6 MMbbl, Cushing stockpiles hit 21.8 MMbbl for the week of August 3. Traders’ alarm bells were ringing, and upstream and downstream observers were wondering if low storage levels were going to cause significant operational issues. But just when it seemed tanks were nearing catastrophic lows, inventories reversed course and started to climb. Since August, crude stocks have increased by 13.6 MMbbl, or nearly 60%, and there is now talk of potentially too much crude en route to Cushing, maxing out capacity there. There are many contributing factors to this most recent inventory swing, with increased domestic production and the tail end of refinery turnaround season being two of the bigger fundamental drivers. But the main catalyst has been the shift from a backwardated forward curve to a contango forward curve in the WTI futures market. Today, we continue our Cushing series with a snapshot of recent contango markets and the impact those prices have had on stockpiles at the central Oklahoma hub.
The race is on and here comes WTI up the backstretch. On November 5, CME Group launched a Houston WTI futures contract, challenging a similar trading vehicle from Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) that started up in mid-October. Ever since crude flows to the Gulf Coast took off five years ago, the crude market has been clamoring for a trading vehicle that would accurately reflect pricing in the region that dominates U.S. demand from refineries, imports and exports. Now there are two. But their features are quite distinct. ICE’s contract reflects barrels delivered to Magellan East Houston, while CME’s contract is based on deliveries into Enterprise’s Houston system. The specs are different, as are the physical attributes of the two delivery points. Will both survive? Probably not. Futures markets tend to concentrate liquidity — trading activity — into a single vehicle that best meets the needs of the market. So, which of these will come out on top? That’s what the crude oil market wants to know. In today’s blog, we delve into the differences between the two new futures contracts for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude delivered to Houston and ponder the market implications of these new hedging and trading tools.
Between new sanctions on Iran and the potential for more escalation in the trade war with China, oil exports from the U.S. have been changing their flows dramatically in the past few months. China from October 2017 through July 2018 rivaled Canada as the largest buyer of U.S. crude; in June, when total U.S. exports hit a record 2.2 MMb/d, nearly one-quarter of those volumes flowed to China. But since trade tensions between the two nations intensified, not a single barrel of U.S. crude has arrived in China since July. Thankfully, the U.S. has found ways to fill the Chinese void by increasing the volumes sold to South Korea and India, two historically prominent buyers of Iranian oil. Today, we lay out the reasons why U.S. sanctions on Iran are helping the U.S. continue to sell crude to Asia, even as relations with China have chilled.
It’s been well-reported that crude oil pipeline capacity is getting maxed out in many basins across the U.S. and Canada. From Alberta, through the heart of the Bakken, all the way down to the Permian, pipeline projects are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth in some of North America’s largest oil-producing regions. Crude by rail (CBR) has frequently been the swing capacity provider when production in a basin overwhelms long-haul pipelines. While it is more expensive, more logistically challenging, and more time-intensive, CBR capacity is typically able to step in and provide a release valve for stranded volumes. But recently, CBR capacity has been tougher to come by and has taken longer than expected to ramp up. A key aspect of this issue is a new requirement for up-to-date rail cars. Today, we look at how new rail demands and uncertainty in domestic oil markets are combining to create a major hurdle for new CBR capacity.
Crude oil production has been increasing in virtually all of the shale and tight oil plays that send their output to the storage and distribution hub in Cushing, OK. A number of pipeline projects are being built and planned to accommodate that growth, and — despite the fact that two-thirds of Cushing’s existing storage capacity is currently unused — several million barrels of new tankage is being installed at the hub, again in anticipation of incremental needs in 2019, 2020 and beyond. So it should come as no surprise that midstream companies also are planning a good bit of new pipeline capacity out of Cushing, some to refinery customers in the Midwest and Midcontinent areas but some to refineries and export docks along the Gulf Coast. Today, we continue our series on the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a review of rock-solid and potential plans to enable more crude to flow out of the central Oklahoma hub.
There’s been a lot of talk lately that the crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, is losing its luster — that it may not be as important as it once was. Folks point to the precipitous, months-long decline in crude inventories that started last fall, or to the fact that just about all of the planned oil pipelines out of the red-hot Permian are pointed toward Gulf Coast refineries and export docks, not central Oklahoma. Then you’ve got ICE and CME’s new WTI futures contracts, both deliverable in Houston — another challenge to Cushing. While Cushing’s role as the epicenter of crude storage and trading may be in flux, rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, as evidenced by the long list of midstream projects under development to transport more crude to — and out of — the Oklahoma hub, and to add storage tanks there. Just yesterday (November 5), in fact, Magellan Midstream Partners and Navigator Energy Services announced plans for what would be the first new Cushing-to-Houston pipeline since 2014. Today, we continue our comprehensive review of the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a look at the many capacity-expansion efforts now under way.
Right now, pipeline capacity out of the Permian is constrained, and consequently some producers have cut back on well completions, more gas is getting flared, and ethane recovery is being driven more by bottlenecks than by gas plant economics. But even with these issues, there are still 487 rigs drilling for oil in the basin (according to Baker Hughes), and all will come along with sizable quantities of natural gas. Not only does this production need to be moved out of the Permian, the volumes need to find a home — either in the domestic market or overseas. These were all issues that were considered by our speakers, panelists and RBN analysts last month at PermiCon, our industry conference designed to bridge the gap between fundamentals analysis and boots-on-the-ground market intelligence. In today’s blog, we continue our review of some of the key points discussed during the conference proceedings.
Refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC), which account for half of the country’s total refining capacity, are generally among the most sophisticated and complex anywhere, with configurations that enable them to break down heavy, sour crude oil into high-value, low-sulfur refined products. However, over the past eight years, the USGC has been flooded with increasing volumes of light, sweet crudes produced in the Eagle Ford, the Permian and other U.S. shale plays as new pipelines were constructed or reversed to the coast for domestic refining or export. Still more pipelines will be coming online over the next year. Today, we evaluate how much domestic crude oil has been absorbed into the USGC refining system, the implications to the overall crude slate qualities, and options for increasing domestic crude oil processing in the near term.