When it comes to getting crude oil to market, bottlenecks have always existed. Back in 2013-15, producers and shippers in the Rockies faced a serious lack of takeaway options. Midstreamers saw the problem and the money to be made, and quickly built more crude-by-rail capacity — and, over time, pipeline capacity — to fix things. Recently, major takeaway constraints emerged in the Permian, much to the detriment of netbacks at the wellhead. There was real concern for a few months that some producers might need to shut in production as there wasn’t any way to get incremental barrels out of the basin. Again, traders and midstream operators got savvy, restarted some dormant crude-by-rail options, initiated long-haul trucking out of Midland, and added more pipe capacity. But what if the next big bottleneck isn’t between two land-based trading hubs? What if there’s not enough export capacity at terminals along the Gulf Coast, the gateway to international markets? In today’s blog, we examine recent export and production trends, and discuss what those could mean for export infrastructure and logistics over the next five years.
This blog is based on research from Morningstar Commodities. A copy of the original report is available here.
U.S. crude exports out of the Gulf Coast averaged more than 2.4 MMb/d in the first four months of 2019 — using infrastructure that is increasingly constrained by a lack of deepwater ports. U.S. crude is reaching destinations worldwide, with large volumes traveling long distances to Asia on gargantuan 2-MMbbl vessels — Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) — loaded offshore by ship-to-ship transfer. Shipments to Europe are primarily on smaller Suezmax and Aframax vessels. Overall, the increased marine activity is testing the limits of existing infrastructure. Today, we analyze the past 16 months of crude export vessel movements and their impacts on Gulf Coast ports. (We’ll also be discussing this and other critical trends related to U.S. export markets live and in person tomorrow at xPortcon in Houston.)
Crude oil gathering systems do just that — they gather crude from multiple well sites — but the drivers behind their initial development can vary widely. Some gathering systems are developed by oil producers to reduce their use of trucks and more efficiently transport increasing volumes of crude from the lease to takeaway pipelines. Others are the brainchildren of savvy midstream companies that see an opportunity to serve multiple producers in a fast-growing production area. And then there are systems like the one refiner Delek US is now expanding in the Permian’s Midland Basin near the company’s Big Spring, TX, refinery. It’s designed to feed locally produced crude directly to that refinery — and possibly other Delek refineries too — and may potentially be used to help fill a long-haul takeaway pipeline that Delek still hopes to co-develop with partners. Today, we continue our series on Permian gathering systems with a look at Delek’s 200-mile Big Spring project, part of which is already up and running.
The Houston Ship Channel (HSC) is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the U.S. Each year, thousands of vessels utilize the waterway, importing and exporting goods ranging from pharmaceutical products to what the Census Bureau classifies as “Leather Art; Saddlery Etc.; Handbags Etc.; Gut Art”. More to the point of today’s blog: over 10 million tons of energy products move through the channel each month. But as ships grow ever larger, the ports and canals that service them must also adapt to be able to handle their increased dimensions. The Houston Ship Channel now finds itself in a situation where it must adapt to meet increasing market demands. Today, we continue our series on the issues facing some Texas ports and the measures being taken to help alleviate them.
Crude oil gathering systems are, by their very nature, growing and evolving things, especially in super-hot shale plays like the Permian. These systems typically sprout when economics and the expectation of growing production support the development of small-diameter pipeline networks to transport crude from the lease to takeaway pipes — reducing the need for truck deliveries in the process. They then are organically extended as drilling-and-completion activity expands into nearby areas. Over time, some crude gathering systems grow so large — and are so well interconnected with takeaway pipelines — that they become intra-basin header systems that allow shippers to move crude to many interconnection points, thereby providing the highest level of destination optionality. Today, we look at one such highly evolved gathering system — Medallion Midstream’s gathering/header network in the Midland Basin — and at other Medallion pipes that gather Delaware Basin crude oil.
It may be easy to forget in these days of Permian this and Permian that, but crude oil production in the offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) set a number of new, all-time records in the past couple of years. Better yet, with a handful of key producers in the Gulf planning low-cost, subsea tiebacks to existing platforms — and still discovering more oil — it’s a good bet that offshore production will continue its upward trajectory into the early 2020s. And, unlike U.S. shale wells, whose production peaks early then trails off, wells in the GOM typically maintain high levels of production for years and years. Where do offshore production and drilling activity stand in the Shale Era, and where are they headed? Today, we review recent production gains in the Gulf and examine why the GOM remains the oil sector’s Energizer Bunny.
Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance. So the saying goes, and it often holds true for midstream projects as well as people. Many times we’ve written that existing pipe in the ground beats new pipeline projects; it’s frequently easier and faster to expand the capacity of an older pipe than it is to build an entirely new pipeline. But eventually, contracts on these old pipelines expire, and as they do, shippers may have new, more attractive options — maybe proposed new pipes offer better connections to gathering systems, the ability to segregate batches of crude oil, and/or access to more desirable markets. Most importantly, they probably are willing to charge a lower tariff. In the Permian, we’ve seen a slew of new pipelines advance to construction by promising lower and lower shipping costs to move crude from West Texas to the Gulf Coast. Today, we look at how older pipelines’ re-contracting efforts will be affected by their competitors’ lower tariffs and operational advantages.
In terms of raw tonnage, the Port of Houston is by far the busiest in the United States. The 52-mile-long Houston Ship Channel (HSC) — running from just outside downtown Houston out to an area between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula — is the artery that enables the heavy ship traffic, much of it tied to crude oil, LPG, petroleum products and other hydrocarbons. But in the same way that Houston’s Interstate 45 traffic backs up during the morning commute, the ship channel traffic, which normally runs at about 60% of peak levels, can be (and has been) subject to delays when there’s an accident, visibility problems, or a slow-moving double-wide taking up two lanes. With energy-related export activity on the rise, efforts are underway to address those issues. Today, we begin a series on the issues facing some Texas ports and the measures being taken to help alleviate them.
The run-up in Permian crude oil production over the past few years — and the expectation of continued gains — has been spurring the development of a number of crude gathering systems in the play’s Midland and Delaware basins. These small-diameter pipeline networks are critically important to producers and shippers in that they enable them to transport crude more quickly and cost-effectively than by truck, and (ideally) they connect to takeaway pipelines that flow to multiple destinations. But there is more than one approach to developing a gathering system. For example, a midstream company could plan a system that appeals to several producers in an area and then try to sign them up. Or, it might work closely with a single producer — sometimes an affiliated company — and design a gathering system to meet its specific needs, then work to add other producers and shippers later. Today, we look at the West Texas and southeastern New Mexico systems developed by a joint-venture company of Matador Resources and Five Point Energy to serve Matador and others.
The competition among midstream companies to transport light, sweet U.S. crude to Louisiana refineries and to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is heating up. On April 1, Energy Transfer and Phillips 66 Partners finally started up the Lake Charles-to-St. James portion of their Bayou Bridge pipeline, which is designed to move light oil to the heart of Louisiana’s refining country. Two weeks later, Shell initiated an open season for newly available space on its Zydeco Pipeline from Houston to the St. James and Clovelly hubs, the latter of which can send crude to either local refineries or LOOP — the only Gulf Coast port currently able to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). Then, earlier this week, Bayou Bridge’s co-owners launched an open season of their own, this one to gauge shipper interest in joint-tariff transportation service on certain connecting pipes that haul light crude from the Bakken, the Niobrara, the Cushing crude hub and the Permian. The fight for barrels doesn’t end there — don’t forget plans for the Capline reversal and the Seahorse, ACE and Swordfish pipelines, all of which also are targeting Louisiana refineries and/or the export market. Game on! Today, we update midstreamers’ efforts to transport more high-API-gravity oil to Louisiana refineries and LOOP.
Crude oil production in the Permian Basin is now approaching 4 MMb/d, and with more than 2 MMb/d of new pipeline takeaway capacity out of the resource-rich play set to come online over the next 12 months, there soon will be plenty of room for more production growth. To efficiently transport crude to takeaway pipes, however, producers and shippers need ever-growing networks of gathering systems in the Permian’s sweet spots where much of the drilling and completion activity is occurring. Ideally, these systems offer their users a high degree of optionality — that is, interconnections with multiple takeaway pipelines to different markets — so they can capture the best prices for their oil. Today, we continue our review of major gathering networks in the Permian with a look at Reliance Gathering’s nearly 250-mile system in the Midland, TX, area.
Only a few months after major crude oil takeaway constraints out of the Permian Basin caused price spreads to widen, the pipeline network serving the U.S.’s most prolific shale play may be on the brink of becoming overbuilt. We’ve already seen a number of new expansions and pipeline conversions completed in the past six months, and construction is underway on another 2 MMb/d of new pipeline capacity scheduled to come online between now and the first quarter of 2020. Beyond that, a few remaining projects have been proposed but have not yet reached final investment decisions. No midstream group wants to build a pipeline that will be half full, and no producer wants to make a 10-year commitment to a pipeline if there are going to be plenty of other options available. So who blinks first? In today’s blog, we review the Permian pipeline projects that are still on the fence and examine what factors will determine whether they end up being a “go” or a “no.”
Nowadays, the hydraulic fracturing of a typical Permian well with a 10,000-foot lateral requires about 12,500 tons of frac sand — enough sand to fill more than 500 large sand trucks. That sand needs to be at the ready — delivered, offloaded, stored, and set for blending and use. If it’s not, the well completion and the start of production would be delayed or the hydraulic fracturing process would be shut down after starting — a mortal sin in the shale world. With reliable, seamless access to frac sand at the well site being so critical, E&Ps and their pressure pumpers are understandably doing all they can to optimize their “last-mile” sand logistics. This involves everything from minimizing truck-delivery congestion to maximizing the speed at which sand is transferred from truck to storage, as well as the type of storage used. It’s all much more high-tech than you might think. Today, we conclude our series with a look at the latest in last-mile logistics, which can account for as much as one-third of the total delivered cost of sand.
The rapid development of the Permian’s vast hydrocarbon resources that we expect will continue through the 2020s and beyond can’t happen if there’s insufficient gathering-pipeline infrastructure in place to transport crude from well sites to takeaway pipelines. Similarly, the favorable pricing that Permian producers hope to receive for their crude oil is possible only if their gathering systems are interconnected to two or more long-haul, big-bore pipelines that offer them some serious destination optionality. The need for new gathering pipes with multiple links to Gulf Coast- and Cushing-bound takeaway pipes is the driving force behind the Beta Crude Connector, a planned 100-mile-plus pipeline network in the heart of the Permian’s Midland Basin that was unveiled on Monday (April 15) by a joint venture of Concho Resources and gathering specialist Frontier Energy Services. Today, we kick off a new blog series on crude-gathering projects in the Permian with a look at the Concho/Frontier plan.
Crude differentials in the Permian are getting squeezed. The spread between Midland and WTI at Cushing widened out to near $18/bbl at one point in 2018, when pipeline capacity was scarce. But that same spread averaged a discount of only $0.25/bbl in March 2019. Differentials between Midland and the more desired sales destination at the Gulf Coast are also in a vise. What gives? Production in the Permian continues to climb, but the rapid pace of growth we saw in 2018 has slowed down a bit lately, with fewer rigs in service and fewer new wells being brought on each month. More importantly, we’ve seen several new pipeline expansions and pipeline conversions come online in bits and bursts — in some cases, ahead of schedule — and this new chunk of pipeline space has compressed Midland pricing. In today’s blog, we begin a series on Permian crude takeaway capacity and differentials, with a look at the handful of new projects that have come online in the past few months and what has happened to Permian prices as a result.