Shipowners and refiners are struggling with how to prepare for January 1, 2020, when all vessels involved in international trade will be required to meet significantly stricter limits on emissions of sulfur oxides (SOx), either by using fuel with a sulfur content of less than 0.5% or by “scrubbing” the exhaust of ship engines when using the much higher-sulfur bunker fuel that most ships now rely on. The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) new sulfur rule isn’t a minor tweak. It’s a game changer that already is causing widening spreads on the futures market between 3.5%-sulfur heavy fuel oil (HFO) — the traditional global bunker fuel — and rule-compliant low-sulfur distillates. The rule also promises to be a boon to complex Gulf Coast and other refineries that can break down residual-based HFO into higher-value, lower-sulfur distillates. Today, we begin a new series on how shipowners, refiners and the markets for HFO and low-sulfur marine fuel are responding (or not) to the coming change in global bunker requirements.
For a couple of years now, Buckeye Partners has been working to advance a controversial plan to reverse the western half of its Laurel refined-products pipeline in Pennsylvania to allow motor gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to flow east from Midwest refineries into the central part of the Keystone State. Some East Coast refineries that have relied on Laurel for 60 years to pipe their refined products as far west as Pittsburgh have been fighting Buckeye’s plan tooth and nail, arguing that it would hurt their businesses and hurt competition in western Pennsylvania gas and diesel markets — and refined-product retailers in the Pittsburgh area agree. Now, after a state administrative law judge’s recommendation that Pennsylvania regulators reject Buckeye’s plan, Buckeye has proposed an alternative: making the western half of the Laurel Pipeline bi-directional, which would allow both eastbound and westbound flows. Today, we consider the latest plan for an important refined-products pipe and how it may affect Mid-Atlantic and Midwest refineries.
ExxonMobil earlier this month told analysts in New York that the company expects to add a total of 400 Mb/d of capacity to its three giant Gulf Coast refineries by 2025. Exxon plans to upgrade existing refineries in Houston (Baytown) and Baton Rouge, LA, to increase production of higher-value products and to add a new crude distillation unit to its 362-Mb/d Beaumont, TX, plant after 2020. A final investment decision on the Beaumont expansion — which reportedly would double the refinery’s throughput capacity and make it the largest refinery in the U.S. — is expected later this year and follows a $6 billion investment by Exxon to triple crude output from its Permian Basin production assets in West Texas. Today, we discuss the existing Beaumont operation, its feedstock sources, and the refined-product demand that supports the plant’s expansion.
The aftershocks are still being felt from last Thursday’s decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that interstate gas and liquids pipelines’ cost-based tariff rates can’t include anything for income taxes if the pipelines are owned by master limited partnerships (MLPs) — and most are. Many investors did freak out — no other phrase sums it up better — when they heard that news. Share prices for midstream companies plummeted in midday trading, and we imagine that many angry calls were made by investors to their financial advisers. “Why didn’t we know about this?!” In fact, although this proceeding had been simmering for a while, FERC’s action was harsher than expected by most experts. But the impact of the change is likely to be less far-reaching than the Wall Street frenzy would have you believe, at least for most MLPs. And, by the way, the issue at hand — whether and how to factor in taxes in calculating MLPs’ cost-of-service-based rates for interstate pipelines –– has been around for decades. Today, we discuss FERC’s new policy statement on the treatment of income taxes and what it means for natural gas, crude oil, natural gas liquid (NGL) and refined product pipeline rates; and for investors in MLPs that own and operate the systems.
When Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), owner of the East Coast’s largest refinery, recently announced it was seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it begged a question: What happened? The answer requires a look back at the company’s original vision — namely, to capture the upside of the Shale Revolution by processing price-advantaged light, sweet crude oil produced in the U.S. — as well as a review of market developments that undermined its plan. Today, we look at the factors that drove PES’s hopes and why, in the end, they weren’t realized.
All this talk of trade wars is one more thing for U.S. oil and gas producers to worry about. That’s because overseas exports are the only thing balancing natural gas and NGL markets, and increasingly crude oil also relies on exports to clear light-sweet volumes from U.S. shale plays. More than half of propane produced in the U.S. already moves out of the country via ship, with China, Japan and South Korea among the highest-volume destination markets. Only about 3 Bcf/d of natural gas has been exported as LNG over the past few months, but there was only one lower-48 LNG export terminal operating until last week. In a year there will be six terminals pumping out LNG to overseas markets. And so far this year, an average of 1.4 MMb/d of crude oil — one-seventh of U.S. production — has reached the waterborne export market, not including all the gasoline and distillate exports. As exports assume an ever-larger role in U.S. hydrocarbon markets, it is important to consider ramifications of possible constraints on exports, including the potential for trade retaliation in response to President Trump’s recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum. Exports, one of the key topics we’ll consider at our upcoming School of Energy — Spring 2018, is the subject of today’s blog.
Mexico continues to open up its refined-products sector to competition, and refinery troubles at government-owned Pemex are providing U.S. refiners and motor-fuel marketers with a golden opportunity to export increasing volumes of gasoline and diesel south of the border. But transporting all those refined products to Mexican population centers and distributing them to thousands of service stations requires port and rail terminals, pipelines and storage, and Pemex has been slow in relinquishing control of its infrastructure. Today, we continue our series on efforts to facilitate the transportation of motor fuels from U.S. refineries to — and within — Mexico, this time looking at more port and rail-related projects and at existing and planned pipelines.
Crude oil production over 10 million barrels per day, just a fraction of a percent away from the November 1970 all-time record. Natural gas and NGLs already well above their respective record production levels. And for all three commodities, the U.S. market has only one way to balance: exports. One-third of all NGL production is getting exported, 15% of crude production now regularly moves overseas, and the completion of several new LNG export facilities will soon have more than 10% of U.S. gas hitting the water. The implications are enormous. Prices of U.S. hydrocarbons are now inextricably linked to global energy markets. It works both ways — U.S. prices move in lock step with international markets, and international markets are buffeted by increasing supplies from the U.S. It’s a whole new energy market out there, and that’s the theme for our upcoming School of Energy — Spring 2018 — that we summarize in today’s blog. Warning — this is a subliminal advertorial for our upcoming conference in Houston.
Rockies refineries have enjoyed higher margins than their counterparts anywhere else in the U.S. except California over the past four years, despite being typically smaller and less sophisticated plants. Attractive margins resulted in new investment by their owners — concentrating on the flexibility to process different crude types rather than just boosting capacity — because regional product demand is relatively stagnant. Today, we describe how some of those investments have paid off handsomely so far while others aren’t looking so savvy.
The opening of Mexico’s refined-products sector to competition after 80 years of Pemex monopoly is spurring the development of new motor fuel-related distribution infrastructure on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. A number of these pipelines, rail loading/unloading facilities, storage and other projects aren’t advancing as quickly as their developers may have hoped — replacing the old order with the new is taking time. But the need for new infrastructure is evident. Today, we continue our series on efforts to facilitate the transportation of motor fuels from U.S. refineries to — and within — Mexico, this time focusing on rail-related projects.
Refiners in the five Rocky Mountain states that make up the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Petroleum Administration for Defense District 4 — or PADD 4 — enjoy higher margins than their counterparts in every other part of the country except California. Quarterly crack spreads for domestic crude in PADD 4 averaged $25/bbl between 2014 and 2017, while those for Canadian crude averaged $31/bbl. Today, we explain that these lofty cracks reflect an abundance of crude — both from indigenous Rockies production and Canadian and North Dakota supplies passing through the region — as well as higher-than-average diesel and gasoline prices.
U.S. exports of motor gasoline and diesel to Mexico are up 60% from two years ago, and the ongoing liberalization of Mexican energy markets is allowing players other than state-owned Pemex to become involved in motor fuel distribution and retailing there. But there’s a catch. The port, pipeline, rail and storage infrastructure currently in place to receive U.S.-sourced gasoline and diesel and transport it within Mexico is inefficient and stressed. Further, Pemex owns or controls most of these fuel logistics assets and has been slow to make them available to others. Today, we continue our series on efforts to facilitate the transportation of motor fuels to and within the U.S.’s southern neighbor.
Record high production with prices still rangebound! As of year-end 2017, Lower-48 natural gas production was at an all-time high — 77 Bcf/d and rising. NGL production from gas processing was at 3.7 MMb/d, the highest since EIA started recording the numbers. And U.S. crude oil output stood at 9.8 MMb/d, within spitting distance of the 10 MMb/d record set back in October/November 1970. All this with the price of WTI crude oil no more than 9% higher than it was this time last year, and natural gas prices 20% below year-end 2016. Yup, the dogs are out. Productivity is the culprit: longer laterals, super-intense completions, manufacturing-process pad drilling — the list goes on. Clearly the U.S. can’t absorb all this production growth, so the export market must be the answer. Or is it? Are we really that confident that world markets will make room for still more U.S. hydrocarbons? If not, what does it mean for prices? And ultimately, how will these prices impact U.S. producers? These are big questions, and with this much turmoil in the market it is impossible to know what will happen. Impossible? Nah. No mere market turmoil will dissuade RBN from sticking our collective necks out to peer into our crystal ball one more time to see what 2018 holds.
So here we are. Last workday of 2017. Which means it’s almost time again to post our annual Top 10 RBN Prognostications for the upcoming year. According to our long-standing tradition, we’ll do that on the first workday of the New Year — Tuesday, January 2, 2018. But today, it’s time to look back, too see how those 10 Prognostications we posted way back at the start of 2017 — The Year of the Rooster in the Chinese calendar — held up. Yes, we actually check our work! In today’s blog, we grade ourselves on our year-ago views of how 2017 would turn out for energy markets.
The new normal. Or at least the market’s perception of a new normal. That’s how we will remember 2017. Producers have come to terms with the possibility of crude prices in the $50-60/bbl range for a long time to come, and natural gas stuck around $3/MMBtu. But even in the face of this sober market outlook, crude oil production is near its all-time record. And Lower-48 natural gas blew past its historic maximum a few weeks back. Increasingly the biggest challenges facing the market are related to infrastructure –– where will all these hydrocarbons find a home. As we have over the past six years, RBN tracked these trends in 2017 as they played out, and now at the end of the year, it’s time to look back to see what topics generated the most interest from you, our readers. We monitor the hit rate for each of our blogs that go out to about 23,000 of our members each day, and the number of hits tells you a lot about what is going on in energy markets. So once again, we look into the rearview mirror to check out the top blogs of 2017, based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits.