They are unsung heroes, the guys and gals who get in early, stay late, and are usually working odd hours on the weekends. They resolve issues before they arise, solve complex problems when they do pop up, and are always working the phones to get the next hot piece of intel. No, we’re not talking about the new cast from Season 2 of “Jack Ryan,” and no, it’s not the kids from “Stranger Things.” The keyboard warriors we’re referring to are crude oil schedulers. They’re at the forefront of the daily logistics taking place at truck injection points, gathering systems, and takeaway pipelines from Western Canada down to the Gulf Coast (and around the rest of the world as well). As more and more new pipelines get built out in places like West Texas, it’s important to revisit the basics of how crude oil moves and the role that crude schedulers play. Today, we bring it back to the roots of crude oil operations and shine some light on an underappreciated group of crude oil operators.
Crude oil production in the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin has nearly doubled since January 2016 — only the Permian has outpaced the D-J’s growth rate over the same period — and production there now averages about 640 Mb/d. The D-J has just about everything producers want, including an unusually intense concentration of hydrocarbons within four geologic layers, or “benches,” only a few thousand feet below the surface, low per-well drilling costs, and direct pipeline access to the crude hub in Cushing, OK. Production growth in the D-J has spurred a rapid build-out of crude gathering systems and other infrastructure, especially in Colorado’s Weld County, the epicenter of D-J activity, which is located a short drive northeast of Denver. Today, we begin a series on existing and planned pipeline networks to move D-J crude from the lease to regional hubs and takeaway pipes.
Like the proverbial dog who finally catches the truck he’s been chasing, only to wonder what to do next, midstreamers at long last have brought on enough crude oil pipeline capacity to move Permian barrels to the Gulf Coast. In fact, right now there appears to be more than enough pipeline space, with several pipes flowing less than their capacity. What midstream companies now face is a race to the bottom as their pipelines compete with each other to attract barrels by offering service to Gulf Coast markets at the lowest price — resulting in transportation rate compression. Today, we begin a blog series on the tug-of-war for barrels and its effect on prices.
Crude-by-rail has saved the day for Alberta producers before, and it’s about to again. The talk of the Western Canadian province the past few days has been the Alberta government’s October 31 announcement that it will allow incremental crude oil production beyond the province’s 3.8-MMb/d cap — if that crude is transported to market by rail. Within hours of the government’s statement, a trio of major producers indicated that they now expect to ramp up their Alberta output by a total of more than 100 Mb/d over the next few months, with a good bit of the gain occurring by year’s end. Production increases from others are likely to follow, as are parallel plans to load that crude into tank cars and rail it to market. But can Alberta producers really thrive without more pipeline capacity? Today, we review recent developments in “Canada’s Energy Province” and what they mean for producers and Alberta crude prices.
In our blogs and at our 2019 School of Energy a couple of weeks ago, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the ins and outs and pros and cons of a multitude of proposed crude oil export terminals. What we’ve come to believe is that, with U.S. production growth appearing to slow and market players fearful of overbuilding, many of these multibillion-dollar greenfield projects are unlikely to advance to financing and construction. Odds are that the midstream sector instead will focus on ways to add new capacity to existing terminals, even if that means still relying on reverse lightering in the Gulf of Mexico to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). In today’s blog, we discuss why producers, traders and midstreamers alike may be pulling back from investments in big, expensive export projects, and what it could mean down the road.
To hear proponents of Uinta Basin waxy crude oil tell it, all that’s keeping the hydrocarbon-packed region in northeastern Utah from significantly increasing production in the 2020s is a better way to transport their shoe-polish-like crude to Gulf Coast refineries than trucking to existing transloading facilities. And now, they think they’ve finally found it. If all goes to plan, by early 2023 a new, 85-mile short-line railroad will be in place to move at least two 110-car unit trains of waxy crude a day from the epicenter of Uinta Basin production to interconnections with two long-haul rail lines. That would give producers significantly enhanced access to markets far beyond the five Salt Lake City-area refineries to which they now truck some 90% of their output. Today, we conclude our series on the Uinta Basin with a look at the proposed Uinta Basin Railway crude-by-rail project and what it would mean for the play’s producers, as well as for Gulf Coast refiners.
Every so often, there’s talk that the crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, isn’t as important as it used to be. Don’t believe it. Want proof that Cushing is alive and well? Consider the growing list of pipeline projects into and out of the hub that have been coming online or advancing to final investment decisions, as well as the efforts to push Cushing’s storage capacity toward the 100-MMbbl mark. Midstream companies have committed to building more than 800 Mb/d of new pipeline capacity from Cushing to other hubs and to refineries, and another 1.6 MMb/d of capacity is in the pre-FID development stage. Today, we conclude a mini-series on recent developments at the Oklahoma oil hub with a look at storage expansions, new Cushing players, and outbound pipeline projects.
Each and every production region in the U.S. has its own unique geology, geography and hydrocarbon assets, but few, if any, are more unusual than the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah. Physically isolated from all refining centers except Salt Lake City, the region boasts enormous reserves of waxy crude oil that’s been made accessible at a very low cost per barrel via horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. While Uinta Basin crude looks, smells and feels like shoe polish, it has many characteristics that refiners want, including medium-to-high API gravity and very low sulfur, acid and metal content. There are two snags to expanding production, though: waxy crude poses major transport challenges, and Salt Lake City refineries can only use so much of the stuff. So if Uinta Basin producers want to increase production by much, they’ll need to develop cost-effective ways to move large volumes of their waxy crude to faraway markets like the Gulf and West coasts. Today, we continue a series on the prospects for expanding waxy-oil output with a review of Uinta Basin producers and their customers in the close-by “City of the Saints.”
U.S. crude oil fundamentals have shifted sharply in the past few weeks; some changes were fully anticipated, and others more exaggerated than originally expected. U.S. production has risen again to another record-setting high, while a massive decline in refining activity due to turnaround season — and a number of unanticipated short-term shutdowns — has erased a lot of domestic demand for crude. Meanwhile, export volumes out of a few key Gulf Coast terminals are hitting all-time marks. U.S. crude oil imports, affected by international disruptions and refining demand, have dropped like a stone and are nearing 20-year-plus lows. With School of Energy 2019 now in session, it’s a great time to recap what’s been happening over the past month. Today, we look at the summer-to-fall shift in fundamentals, and how it’s impacted overall inventories.
Crude oil inventory levels aren’t the only thing in a constant state of flux at the crude storage hub in Cushing, OK. A year ago, we blogged extensively about Cushing’s major players, storage assets and incoming and outgoing pipelines, as well as plans for new pipes that highlight the hub’s continued significance, even in an increasingly Permian- and Gulf Coast-focused energy sector. A lot has changed since then, though. Some pipeline projects into and out of Cushing have advanced to final investment decisions (FIDs), while others have floundered or foundered. Also, brand-new pipeline projects have been announced, as was a big acquisition that will make Energy Transfer a major player in Cushing storage. Today, we begin a short series on recent developments at the Oklahoma oil hub and how they reflect changes in the ever-evolving U.S. energy markets.
The Permian Basin’s crude oil market over the last 18 months has exhibited so many dynamic changes that dedicated observers may be suffering from a bit of neck strain, if not outright whiplash. We’ve seen production rise at an unprecedented rate, followed by a period of slower growth. We’ve also watched the Permian very quickly transform from a region desperate for new long-haul pipeline capacity to a hotbed for midstream investment and infrastructure growth. While we’ve closely tracked these big-picture changes, a lot of other, smaller-scale knock-on effects have been occurring too, with potentially significant implications for the basin’s supply pricing and transportation economics. Today, we explain why the changing fortunes of Permian crude haulers may benefit producers in the basin.
Limetree Bay Refining’s plans to restart the former Hovensa plant in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, at the end of 2019 will add significant refining capacity to the North American stack, helping to offset the loss this year of the 335-Mb/d Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant in Pennsylvania. Limetree Bay is also poised to fill a void in Caribbean refining that’s been left by Venezuela’s economic collapse as well as the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 changes to the bunker fuel market. But the facility is not without its challenges, from high fuel costs and stiff competition from Gulf Coast refineries to tropical storms. Today, we conclude an analysis of the operation and potential markets for the refinery.
There already are indications that newly available takeaway-pipeline capacity out of the Permian Basin is goosing crude oil production growth there. Flows on those new pipes — Plains All American’s Cactus II and the EPIC system — are ramping up, crude exports are setting new records, and the end of big price discounts for oil at Midland versus Cushing and the Gulf Coast are giving Permian producers an economic incentive to produce more. And more takeaway capacity is on the way, including the 900-Mb/d Gray Oak Pipeline, which is slated to come online in the fourth quarter. Fast-rising production is putting new pressure on producers and their midstream partners to build and expand crude gathering systems and shuttle pipelines — especially in the Permian’s Delaware Basin, which has a lot less gathering pipe in the ground than the Midland Basin and which is poised for phenomenal production growth the next few months and years. Today, we discuss highlights from our second Drill Down Report on Permian gathering systems, this one focusing on developments in the fast-growing Delaware Basin in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
Every week, traders far and wide watch inventories at the storage hub of Cushing, OK, for insight into the U.S. crude oil market. Cushing has long been the epicenter for crude trading in the U.S., and while that role has shifted as the Gulf Coast gains more prominence, inventories at the Oklahoma hub are still a valuable indicator for traders looking for supply and demand trends. Recently, we’ve seen Cushing stocks drop significantly, declining for 11 straight weeks since the beginning of July to their lowest levels since last Thanksgiving. Today, we review the recent drop at Cushing, and discuss how a few changes in supply and demand fundamentals, plus strong pricing motives, helped drag down stockpiles this summer.
The Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah boasts enormous reserves of unusual, waxy crude oil with many characteristics that refiners desire: medium-to-high API gravity and very low sulfur, acid and metal content among them. Moreover, the combination of long horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing now give producers access to the basin’s waxy crude at a remarkably low cost per barrel. The catch is that the crude’s most notable feature — its shoe-polish-like consistency at room temperature — poses a major economic and logistical challenge: how to cost-effectively transport the stuff to distant markets. Refineries in nearby Salt Lake City have been making good use of the waxy oil for decades, but there are limits to how much they can process, so Uinta Basin producers, midstreamers and investors have been working on ways to move large volumes to faraway places like the Gulf and West coasts. They may finally be making real progress. Today, we begin a series on the prospects for taking waxy-oil production from the often-overlooked Uinta Basin to the next level.