The fractionation and NGL storage complex in Mont Belvieu, TX, would surely qualify as one of the Seven Wonders of the Energy World, if there were such a list. With more than 250 million barrels of NGL storage carved — by water! — out of an enormous subterranean salt dome formation, and nearly two dozen fractionation plants with a combined capacity of more than 2 MMb/d, Mont Belvieu not only serves as the largest receipt point for mixed NGL streams on the planet, it is also the key hub of distribution for the ethane, propane, normal butane and other NGL purity products that are either consumed by Gulf Coast steam crackers and refineries or exported to foreign end-users. But unlike wonders of the ancient world like the Great Pyramids at Giza, Mont Belvieu is still very much a work in progress, with new storage caverns and new fractionators now under development to try to keep up with the breakneck pace of U.S. NGL production growth. Today, we begin a company-by-company review of fractionation capacity and other key infrastructure there.
Daily energy Posts
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.
Falling production of motor gasoline, diesel and other refined products at Mexico’s aging refineries has created a south-of-the-border supply void that U.S. refiners and refined-products marketers and shippers are all too eager to fill. At the same time, the ongoing liberalization of Mexican energy markets is finally allowing players other than state-owned Petróleos Mexicános (Pemex) to become involved in motor-fuel distribution and retailing. The results of all this? U.S. exports of gasoline and diesel to Mexico are up 60% from two years ago, and U.S. companies are scrambling to develop or acquire the infrastructure needed to deliver refined products to Mexican consumers. Today, we begin a new series on the increasing role of U.S. companies in supplying, distributing and retailing motor fuels in Mexico, and on the new transportation and terminalling infrastructure being built to support that growth.
Last Wednesday, November 22, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission acted on a Petition for Declaratory Order (PDO) by Magellan Midstream Partners in which the midstreamer asked for FERC’s blessing to establish a marketing affiliate to “buy, sell and ship” crude oil on pipelines owned by Magellan as well as pipes owned by other companies. Today Magellan does not have such an affiliate, although many of its competitors do. Most of those competitors use their affiliates to generate incremental throughput on their pipelines, sometimes by doing transactions that result in losses for the marketing affiliate, but that are still profitable for the overall company because the marketing arm pays its affiliated pipeline the published tariff transportation rate. FERC denied Magellan’s request, coming down hard on such transactions as “rebates” specifically prohibited by the law governing interstate oil pipelines. In today’s blog, we take a preliminary look at FERC’s Magellan order and what it could mean for U.S. crude oil markets.
U.S. inventories of distillate — especially ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) and heating oil — are at their lowest pre-winter level in three years after falling during the summer months for the first time since inventory records started being measured in 1982. Rising diesel exports are one culprit; another is the shutdown of a number of Gulf Coast refineries during and immediately after Hurricane Harvey. The good news is that distillate prices have been increasing, as have the margins for refining crude oil into distillate — both encouraging refineries to ramp up their diesel/heating oil production. Today, we look at recent developments in the distillate market and what they may mean for diesel and heating oil prices this winter.
Over the past few years, rising production in the Canadian oil sands and U.S. shale plays such as the Bakken, Permian and Eagle Ford has given refiners new options for sourcing their crude, causing changes in oil pipeline utilization and prompting the development of new pipelines — or the reversal of existing pipes. A prime example of all this is playing out in Memphis, TN, where a Valero Energy refinery will be shifting from mostly U.S. Gulf Coast-sourced light crude to light crude that will flow in on the new Diamond Pipeline from the Cushing, OK, crude storage hub. Valero’s change in crude sourcing will be yet another blow to the 1.2-MMb/d Capline Pipeline, which for decades has moved crude north from the Gulf Coast to Patoka, IL, and other points along the way, including western Tennessee. Today, we look at the thinking and economics behind Valero’s plan and at the latest news on Capline.
For the past three years, the price for U.S. WTI crude oil at Cushing has remained close to $50/bbl while natural gas at the Henry Hub has gravitated in a range around $3.00/MMbtu. It has been one of the most stable periods of energy prices in decades. But below the surface of stability at the major hubs, prices at the regional level have been wildly volatile, driving dramatic swings in geographic basis. Alternating cycles of basis blowouts followed by basis collapses have become standard fare for U.S. oil, gas and NGLs as producers ramp up production, local prices get hammered due to capacity constraints, midstream companies respond by (over) building infrastructure, and regional price differentials implode due to overcapacity. With more production growth and infrastructure on the way, these basis cycles will keep on coming. In today’s blog, we’ll consider a few of the market sectors particularly susceptible to basis volatility, and provide a subliminal advertorial for our upcoming School of Energy, where we explore both the underlying causes and the outlook for future basis cycles.
California’s 12 remaining refineries don’t feel much love from their native state. The refinery fleet is particularly sophisticated — capable of refining mostly heavy and sour crude oil into the ultra-clean transportation fuels that state rules require. But state regulators seem to treat refiners like unwanted guests, to the point that rules have been put in place to actively encourage the shift from petroleum-based fuels to lower-carbon alternatives. The reward for refiners’ pain comes in the form of higher refining margins — particularly during unplanned outages. Today we weigh the rewards of higher gasoline and diesel prices today against a questionable future for refining in the Golden State tomorrow.
California refiners are under siege. State regulators seem to view crude oil refining as a nasty habit that needs to be broken. There’s an important catch, though: car-happy California is not only the nation’s largest consumer of gasoline — and second to Texas in diesel use — it allows only special, superclean blends to be sold within its boundaries. And California’s 12 remaining refineries need to meet tougher emission standards, too, making it difficult for them to expand their business or even modernize their plants. Today we discuss the irony that sophisticated refineries producing the cleanest fuels in the U.S. are faced with a shrinking market and no real hope of expansion.
Today’s energy markets are being rocked by new technologies, massive flow shifts to exports, and a myriad of new midstream infrastructure projects — to say nothing of the continuing onslaught of Mother Nature. It is more important than ever to understand how the markets for crude oil, natural gas and NGLs are tied together, and that is why it is time again for RBN’s School of Energy. But … this is not the best time for our Houston conference venue. So we’ve made the decision to GO VIRTUAL! We will webcast the entire School in real-time, with the same content, the same faculty and the same models. And since an understanding of the new realities of today’s energy markets is so essential, we have renewed, restructured and rebuilt our curriculum to CONNECT THE DOTS across our content, data and models. That’s the theme for our upcoming School of Energy 2017 – Virtual Edition, which we summarize in today’s advertorial blog.
Over the past five years, the price differential between regular and premium gasoline has been widening steadily. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), as of July 2017 the premium -vs.-regular differential reached $0.53/gallon — more than double the differential in 2012. This has produced cringe-worthy experiences at the pump for consumers requiring the premium grade and an incentive for refiners to optimize the gasoline pool. Consequently, refiners have been making operational adjustments and capital investments to squeeze additional high-octane components out of their feedstocks. Today we examine the premium-regular gasoline differential, provide a primer on gasoline blendstocks and octane levels, and discuss some contributing factors to the widening divide between the pump prices of 87- and 93-octane gasoline.
Worldwide, refiners expect to add significant capacity over the next five years, mostly in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region. While only a small amount of crude processing capacity additions are expected in the U.S. and Canada, the capacity additions elsewhere could have major product-trade and utilization effects on U.S. refiners — especially in PADD 1 (East Coast). Today we analyze expected near-term refinery capacity additions, global demand projections, and potential effects in the U.S.
Refiners in the Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic states have each experienced good times and bad, both before the Shale Era and more recently. Lately, though, fortune has been smiling on the owners of midwestern refineries, a number of which have been expanded and reconfigured to run cheaper heavy crude from western Canada — changes that have put them at a competitive advantage to East Coast refineries running more expensive light crudes. Now, a proposed refined products pipeline reversal in Pennsylvania would allow more motor fuels to flow east from Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 2 into markets traditionally dominated by PADD 1 refineries. Today we look at recent developments in Midwest and Mid-Atlantic refining, and at the consequential battle for turf that’s just starting to flare.
If you missed the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Championship win last week, or an unbelievable putt at the U.S. Open this weekend you can always see it on ESPN’s SportsCenter. But what if you missed the most recent RBN School of Energy? Well, you’re in luck — we’re now offering 11 hours of video from SOE, which unlike other natural gas, crude oil or NGL conferences covers all three markets with hands-on course work. In each of the seven streaming-video modules, we drill down on an important aspect of the markets, explain how it works and provide spreadsheet models accompanied with instructional videos. Fair warning: Today’s blog is an unabashed advertorial.
Faced with uncertain growth in demand for refined products in the U.S., at least five refiners with major U.S. operations — including majors Shell, BP and Chevron — joined the bidding at a recent auction offering access to Mexico's downstream distribution system. Energy market reforms now unraveling national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos’ domestic supply monopoly are providing this opportunity. Initial auction winner Tesoro gained storage and pipeline capacity in two states in northwestern Mexico it expects to supply from a Washington state refinery. The market reforms also extend to retail gasoline stations, and majors BP and ExxonMobil as well as Valero and international trader Glencore have recently announced plans to launch retail networks in Mexico. Today we review the access Tesoro won in the first logistics auction as well as the wider Mexican market opportunity for refiners with operations north of the border.