Daily Energy Post Blog Articles

Wednesday, 01/13/2021

Just before the holidays, the Federal Regulatory Commission issued its final decision on the oil pipeline index rate for the next five years. The what?? Well, once rates for interstate oil pipelines are set and accepted by FERC, the rates can move around to match the market, but any increases are capped by an annual index announced by the FERC each year. The index is equal to the current year’s inflation rate, plus an “adder” that is calculated by the FERC every five years based on an examination of the industry’s results from the previous five years. In today’s blog, we explain how a few tweaks in the way FERC calculates the cost-of-service-based adder will significantly affect how much liquids pipeline rates can rise through the first half of the 2020s.

Wednesday, 01/06/2021

The province of Alberta has lifted its cap on crude oil production, oil-sands producers are implementing plans to increase their output through the 2020s, and new pipeline capacity from Western Canada into the central U.S. is being added on the all-important Enbridge Mainline system. With those stars aligning, the next big push by midstream companies will be expanding their ability to move Canadian barrels south to the Cushing hub in Oklahoma, the Patoka hub in Illinois, and refineries and export docks along the Gulf Coast. As a group, these new and expanded lines — plus a major pipe reversal — will represent one of the biggest midstream build-outs in the U.S. of this coming decade. Today, we begin a blog series about these projects and what’s driving their development.

Sunday, 01/03/2021

Welcome to 2021! We finally have that train wreck of a year 2020 behind us, and it’s time to look forward.  At RBN, we have a long-standing tradition of doing just that in our annual Top 10 Energy Prognostications, where we lay out our expectations for the most important developments for the coming year. But how is that possible amid the chaotic market conditions still ahead? So much has changed, so many market factors have been disrupted, and so few guideposts remain unscathed, there is just no way to predict what is going to happen next, right? Nah. All we need to do is stick out our collective RBN necks one more time, peer into our crystal ball, and see what 2021 has in store.

Thursday, 12/31/2020

Whew. We made it! 2020 is finally in the rear-view mirror. And with the New Year, it’s time for the annual Top 10 Energy Prognostications blog, our long-standing RBN tradition where we lay out the most important developments we see for the year ahead. Unlike many forecasters, we also look back to see how we did with our predictions the previous year. That’s right! We actually check our work. Usually we roll our look back and prognostications for the upcoming year into a single blog. But after the mayhem of 2020, and considering how that upheaval has changed the landscape for 2021, this time around we are splitting our prognostications into two pieces. Monday’s blog will look into the RBN crystal ball one more time to see what 2021 has in store for energy markets. But today we look back. Back to what we posted on January 2, 2020.

Wednesday, 12/30/2020

Well, here we are. The last day of 2020. We are tempted to say “unprecedented” to describe the year. But the word is so overused — there’s been an unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented” — let’s just say it will be good riddance to have this one behind us. After all, we’ve seen a collapse in transportation fuel demand, an oil price war between major producers, negative $37/bbl crude prices, massive LNG cargo cancellations — the list goes on — all in the context of a global pandemic and much of the world committed to weaning itself off fossil fuels over the next few decades. How do you make sense of all that? How do you anticipate when it’s going to be “all right” again? Well, one thing we can do is to heed the events and trends that captured the market’s attention during all this chaos. In other words, to put a spotlight on the things that the market considers top priority — crowd-sourced market intelligence, if you will. Well, at RBN we have one way to do that. We scrupulously monitor the website hit rate of the RBN blogs that are fired off to over 30,000 people each day and, at the end of each year, we look back to see which topics generated the most interest from you, our readers. That hit rate reveals a lot about major market trends. So, once again, we look into the rear-view mirror to check out the Top 10 blogs of the year based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits.

Wednesday, 12/23/2020

Cushing. This small town in central Oklahoma is the center of the U.S. crude oil universe, with prices at the Cushing hub serving as the reference price for all of the crude produced in the U.S. — and given the role that U.S. oil has assumed on the global stage, one of the most important determinants of global crude oil pricing. Considering the hub’s significance, it’s frequently surprising to industry veterans just how misunderstood Cushing can be. Like, for example, how SHOCKED the world was when Cushing prices dropped below zero back in April. Cushing traders had seen that coming for weeks — the only surprise to them was how far the price plunged that crazy Monday morning. It’s easy to see how something as enigmatic and complex as Cushing might be misunderstood — or underestimated — if you’re not familiar with its history, its inner workings, and its many crucial roles in both the physical and financial crude oil markets. It’s also tempting to think you can get by with only a passing knowledge of Cushing and how it operates. Au contraire! Cushing really matters, and market participants ignore it at their peril. The good news is that there’s finally a combo encyclopedia and user’s manual for “The Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” Today, we examine the hub’s significance to producers, refiners, midstreamers, marketers, and traders, and discuss highlights from RBN’s new Cushing Playbook.

Tuesday, 12/22/2020

PADDs 4 and 5 — the Rockies and the West Coast regions, respectively — are each outliers in the U.S. refining sector. Refineries in the Rockies, for example, are generally far smaller than those in other PADDs and, due to pipeline flows, source their crude oil from either Western Canada, the Bakken, or in-region production, including the Niobrara and Utah’s Uinta Basin. West Coast refineries, in turn, have no crude oil pipeline links with U.S. points to the east, and depend on a mix of imported crude from Canada, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as domestic oil from California, Alaska, and rail receipts. Today, we conclude a series on region-by-region crude oil imports and refinery crude slates with a look at PADDs 4 and 5.

Monday, 12/21/2020

No one could’ve seen the energy market disruptions of 2020 coming, and most of us are ready to write off what has been one of the most challenging years the industry has seen in a long time. Yet the events of the past year will most certainly define what unfolds in the New Year and beyond. To make sense of what 2020 will mean for the post-COVID era, we retooled and refreshed our models and forecasts to tackle the hard questions facing U.S. crude oil, natural gas, and NGL markets. As it turns out, beyond the immediate chaos of the pandemic, there is a new order taking shape, and that’s what we laid out in the RBN Fall Virtual School of Energy, sharing our results and the Excel spreadsheets behind the models to get you ready for what’s coming. Some of what we expected has come to fruition, and we still think that there is a pretty good chance that the rest will unfold in the months and years ahead. If you weren’t able to join us for the live broadcast, we invite you to sit by the fire, put your feet up and dig in over the holidays. The entire 14+ hours of streaming content, plus slide decks and spreadsheets, are available online. Today’s advertorial blog provides highlights from our key findings and the overall conference curriculum.

Thursday, 12/17/2020

U.S. crude oil exports are off from the record highs they reached earlier this year, leaving the Gulf Coast even more flush with surplus export capacity than it had been going into 2020. And yet … Energy Transfer is developing an crude export terminal off the coast of Beaumont, TX, that would be capable of fully loading a 2-MMbbl VLCC every day or so. Is the company’s Blue Marlin project based simply on a hunch that U.S. oil production and exports will rebound over time and eventually leave PADD 3 short of dock and ship-loading capacity? Or is Energy Transfer’s proposed offshore terminal, with its extensive re-use of existing infrastructure, a cost-efficient way of giving oil-sands, Bakken and other producers more direct access to deep water and the supertankers that long-distance shippers prefer? Today, we discuss what may be behind the seemingly long-shot effort to develop new export capacity in a region that’s already got way too much.

Tuesday, 12/15/2020

Back in 2005, marine terminals along the Gulf Coast were importing more than 6 MMb/d of crude oil, mostly to feed refineries within PADD 3 but also to pipe or barge north to PADD 2. By 2019, with U.S. shale production finishing up a decade-long rise, imports to the Gulf Coast had declined to less than 1.7 MMb/d. In COVID-impacted 2020, imports sagged, soared, then sagged again, recently settling in at about 1.2 MMb/d, their lowest level in — wait for it — 35 years! The 80% decline in Gulf Coast oil imports since the mid-2000s was made possible in part by big changes in the crude slates at refineries in Texas, Louisiana, and other PADD 3 states, mostly involving the swapping out of light sweet crude from overseas with favorably priced light sweet crude from the Permian and other U.S. shale plays. Today, we look at imports into PADD 3, the home of more than half of the U.S.’s total refining capacity.

Tuesday, 12/08/2020

Cushing. This small town in central Oklahoma is the center of the U.S. crude oil universe, with prices at the Cushing hub serving as the reference price for all of the crude produced in the U.S. — and given the role that U.S. oil has assumed on the global stage, one of the most important determinants of global crude oil pricing. Considering the hub’s significance, it’s frequently surprising to industry veterans just how misunderstood Cushing can be. Like, for example, how SHOCKED the world was when Cushing prices dropped below zero back in April. Cushing traders had seen that coming for weeks — the only surprise to them was how far the price plunged that crazy Monday morning. It’s easy to see how something as enigmatic and complex as Cushing might be misunderstood — or underestimated — if you’re not familiar with its history, its inner workings, and its many crucial roles in both the physical and financial crude oil markets. It’s also tempting to think you can get by with only a passing knowledge of Cushing and how it operates. Au contraire! Cushing really matters, and market participants ignore it at their peril. The good news is that there’s finally a combo encyclopedia and user’s manual for “The Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” Today, we examine the hub’s significance to producers, refiners, midstreamers, marketers, and traders, and discuss highlights from RBN’s new Cushing Playbook.

Tuesday, 12/01/2020

Fifteen years ago, just before the dawn of the Shale Era, more than 1.8 MMb/d of Gulf Coast and imported crude oil was being piped and barged north from PADD 3 to refineries in the Midwest. By 2019, those northbound flows had fallen by half, to less than 930 Mb/d, and in the first nine months of  this year they averaged only 550 Mb/d. Refineries in PADD 2, many now equipped with cokers and other hardware that enables them to break down heavy, sour crude into valuable refined products, have replaced those barrels — and more — with piped- and railed-in imports of favorably priced crude from Western Canada, including a lot of dilbit and railbit from Alberta’s oil sands. Today, we discuss the evolution of feedstock supply to the Midwest refinery sector.

Thursday, 11/26/2020

On October 25, a major consolidation of two Canadian oil and gas companies was announced with the planned merger of Cenovus Energy and Husky Energy. The prospective consolidation will offer the opportunity for corporate-level synergies and, over the longer term, for the physical integration of some of the companies’ operations, especially in Alberta’s oil sands. In today’s blog, we discuss some of the more nuanced elements of the consolidation, including potential improvement in crude oil market access and the larger presence of the combined company in PADD 2 refining, a sector that has taken a major hit during the pandemic. This blog also introduces a new weekly report from RBN and Baker & O’Brien: U.S. Refinery Billboard.

Thursday, 11/19/2020

For most of the past few years, crude oil producers in Alberta have dealt with pipeline constraints that often forced them to sell their crude at steep discounts. While the constraints eased somewhat earlier this year as producers reduced their output due to cratering oil demand and oil prices, production more recently has been rebounding, resulting in the return of takeaway concerns. The big hope is that long-planned pipeline projects like the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) and Keystone XL will finally be built and commissioned, but they still face legal and regulatory hurdles before being completed. Lately, a different option has gained momentum focusing on a proposed rail line linking Alaska to the immense oil sands region of northern Alberta, potentially creating another corridor for the export of oil sands crude. Today, we describe recent developments in a bold plan to build a rail line from Alberta, across northern Canada, and into Alaska.

Tuesday, 11/17/2020

Bombarded by COVID-related demand destruction and weak — sometimes dismal — crude oil pricing, producers have been pulling in their horns this year, and midstream companies have been doing the same. A number of major pipeline projects have been delayed, scrapped, or simply removed from midstreamers’ slide-deck presentations, having failed to garner the long-term shipper commitments they needed to remain viable in this era of retrenchment and fingers-crossed-we-survive. Even with the 2020 pullback in pipeline development, at least a couple of major production areas — the Permian and the Bakken — may well end up with considerably more takeaway capacity than they will need for the foreseeable future. Today, we discuss the oil pipeline projects that have stalled or died this year, and the ones that have managed to move forward despite it all.