We all hope that by the time you read this the operators of the ransomware-impacted Colonial Pipeline will have been able to restore service to more of the 5,500-mile refined products delivery system — maybe even to all of it. In any case, the shutdown of the Houston-to-New-Jersey pipeline system on Friday both exposes the vulnerability of the North American pipeline grid to malevolent hackers and reveals how, by its very nature, that same grid offers at least some degree of redundancy and resiliency built into it. A lot of that ability to respond to a crisis, whether it be a pipeline leak or a hack by an Eastern European criminal group called DarkSide, involves what you might call “market-inspired workarounds” — alternative suppliers reacting to an anticipated supply void and potentially higher prices by jumping into action. Today, we look at what the ransomware attack on the U.S.’s largest gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel transportation system can teach us.
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Week by week, more than 20 terminals along the U.S. Gulf Coast export crude oil, but nearly half of the total export volumes are being loaded at just three facilities: the Moda Midstream terminal near Corpus Christi, the Enterprise Hydrocarbon Terminal in Houston, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) off the Louisiana coast. What gives these “Big 3” their edge? Location? Pipeline connectivity? Storage capacity? Loading rate? The answer, of course, is “all of the above.” There is more to the story, though, and other terminals are angling to become bigger players, presumably at the expense of the Big 3 themselves. Today, we begin a series on Texas and Louisiana’s largest oil export facilities, what they offer, how they’ve fared, and what they’re planning next.
When it finally came online in mid-2017, the Dakota Access Pipeline was a lifesaver for Bakken crude oil producers. For years, they had suffered from takeaway-capacity shortfalls that forced many shippers to rely on higher-cost crude-by-rail, sapping producer profits in the process. Then came DAPL, which provides straight-shot pipeline access to a key Midwest oil hub, and its sister pipe — the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline (ETCOP) — which takes crude from there to the Gulf Coast. Problem solved, right? Not exactly. Now, there’s at least an outside chance that a shutdown order is issued as soon as early April in connection with the ongoing federal district court process, with the timeline for a physical closure of the pipe still to be determined. A shutdown may last for only a few months but could potentially last much longer. Where does this uncertainty leave Bakken producers, many of whom have been hoping to benefit from the recent run-up in crude oil prices by ramping up their output this spring? Today, we discuss recent upstream and midstream developments in the U.S.’s second-largest shale/tight-oil play.
It’s never easy in the commodity world, and despite oil prices comfortably above $50/bbl across the Permian, a new worry has come to the fore as we start the second month of 2021. No, it’s not a Reddit movement focused on the oil market, not even an OPEC+ action this time. The latest news that has wildcatters muttering through clenched teeth came from Washington D.C., where the Biden administration recently announced a pause on leasing federal lands for oil and gas development. While it’s far too early to discern what this decree — or future actions — will mean for the Permian, we get the sense that the headlines aren’t capturing the nuances of drilling activity in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. In our view, at its worst, a long-term ban on drilling on federal lands would produce some clear winners and losers, while the near-term impact is potentially just a ripple in the ocean. Today, we examine what the latest drilling data from the Permian tell us about the possible outcomes of the new administration’s recent actions.
Sure, there was at least some hope among Keystone XL’s supporters that President Biden might back away from his promise to kill the much-maligned crude oil pipeline project. After all, KXL developer TC Energy had done all it could to make the 1,210-mile project more palatable to the incoming administration by making Canadian First Nation groups partners in the project, reaching a favorable labor agreement with the four U.S. unions that would build the pipeline, and, most recently, committing to invest in renewable energy to power KXL’s pumps and other equipment. But it wasn’t enough, and now, with Biden’s decision to revoke the project’s Presidential Permit, it appears that the Alberta-to-Nebraska pipeline is all but dead, and that Western Canada will need to get by without its 830 Mb/d of southbound capacity. The looming question now is, what does that mean for Alberta’s producers — particularly those that have signed up for more than 500 Mb/d of space on KXL? Today, we discuss what’s ahead.
U.S. crude oil imported from Western Canada averaged almost 3.6 MMb/d in the first 10 months of 2020 and accounted for 60% of total imports over the period. That’s some growth! Ten years ago, Canada was sending less than 2 MMb/d south and contributing only 21% of total U.S, import volumes. Alberta oil sands producers are planning for more production and export growth through the 2020s, with most of the incremental volumes bound for Midwest and Gulf Coast refineries and export docks. If that happens — and there’s no certainty it will — more north-to-south pipeline capacity through the U.S. heartland will be needed. Today, we continue our series on the efforts to expand or reverse crude oil pipelines between the U.S./Canada border and the Gulf of Mexico.
Western Canada’s crude oil production, like in many other regions of the world during the spring of 2020, had to pull back sharply in response to the price and demand chaos brought about by COVID-19. By the end of 2020, oil production almost everywhere remained much lower or was being carefully managed to avoid creating another supply glut. In contrast, production in Western Canada has almost fully rebounded, and is being primed to increase to what could be all-time highs this year. With Alberta’s oil sands producers renewing their role as the long-standing driver of oil supply growth and the recent suspension of production limits in the province, the stage is set for us to review the most recent oil supply developments and future growth prospects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.