RBN Energy

Thursday, 8/06/2020

Over the past five years, the production of natural gas liquids from gas processing plants has soared by almost 2 million barrels per day (2 MMb/d), or about 60%. That has been great news for natural gas producers, processors, and end-use markets. But there is a catch: the rate of production does not match up with demand. While production is a steady, “ratable” volume, demand is anything but ratable. Demand swings with the gasoline blending season, cold weather (or lack thereof) in the propane market, export demand, petchem feedstock economics, the impact of COVID-19 on transportation fuels, and a myriad of other factors. The flywheel that balances supply and demand on any given day is storage. Not just any storage, though. For NGLs, storage of large volumes means salt caverns. Huge caverns thousands of feet below the surface. Today, we update one of RBN’s Greatest Hits blogs and take a deep dive into the history of NGL storage — all the way back to Smoky Billue.

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Daily energy Posts

Thursday, 12/20/2018

While U.S. refineries are again running hot and heavy after the end of this year’s seasonal fall maintenance period, Mexico’s refineries have continued to struggle to operate at more than 30% of their capacity, a decline that is exacerbated by that country’s tumbling oil production. In recent years, Mexico’s dismal refinery utilization rate has been a boon for U.S. refiners on the Gulf Coast who can ship, pipe or truck gasoline to America’s southern neighbor in short order. Now, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), is pushing to solve Mexico’s refinery problems by building a new one. Today, we discuss Mexico’s growing dependence on U.S. gasoline, and whether building a new refinery south of the border will change things.

Tuesday, 12/11/2018

The IMO 2020 rule, which calls for a global shift to low-sulfur marine fuel on January 1, 2020, is likely to require a ramp-up in global refinery runs — that is, refineries not already running flat out will have to step up their game. Why? Because, according to a new analysis, the shipping sector’s need for an incremental 2 MMb/d of 0.5%-sulfur bunker less than 13 months from now cannot be met solely by a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate changes and refinery upgrades. The catch is, most U.S. refineries are already operating at or near 100% of their capacity, so the bulk of the refinery-run increases will need to happen elsewhere. Today, we continue our look into how sharply rising demand for IMO 2020-compliant marine fuel may affect refinery utilization.

Tuesday, 12/04/2018

The planned shift from 3.5%-sulfur marine fuel to fuel with sulfur content of 0.5% or less mandated by IMO 2020 on January 1, 2020, will require a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate changes, refinery upgrades and, potentially, increased refinery runs, not to mention ship-mounted “scrubbers” for those who want to continue burning higher-sulfur bunker. That’s a lot of stars to align, and even then, there’s likely to be at least some degree of non-compliance, at least for a while. So, what’s ahead for global crude oil and bunker-fuel markets — and for refiners in the U.S. and elsewhere — in the coming months? Today, we continue our analysis of how sharply rising demand for low-sulfur marine fuel might affect crude flows, crude slates and a whole lot more.

Sunday, 11/25/2018

The planned implementation date for IMO 2020 is still more than a year away, but this much already seems clear: even assuming some degree of non-compliance, a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate shifts, refinery upgrades and ship-mounted “scrubbers” won’t be enough to achieve full, Day 1 compliance with the international mandate to slash the shipping sector’s sulfur emissions. Increased global refinery runs would help, but there are limits to what that could do. So, what’s ahead for global crude oil and bunker-fuel markets — and for refiners in the U.S. and elsewhere — in the coming months? Today, we discuss Baker & O’Brien’s analysis of how sharply rising demand for low-sulfur marine fuel might affect crude flows, crude slates and a whole lot more.

Tuesday, 09/18/2018

It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain on Houston and its environs, but memories from those fateful days remain remarkably fresh. Harvey is not only unforgettable, it put a spotlight on just how important Texas refineries — and the refined-products pipeline infrastructure connected to them — are to the rest of the U.S. For several days, more than half of the Gulf Coast’s refining capacity was offline. Major pipelines transporting gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to the East Coast and the Midwest shut down too. But how do Harvey’s impacts on refining and refined products markets compare with the effects of other major hurricanes this century? Today, we conclude our series on Gulf Coast refining and pipeline infrastructure, and how a natural disaster along the coast can impact the rest of the country.

Thursday, 09/13/2018

Any joint venture has its pros and cons for each party, and in an ideal world, everyone involved in a JV sees net benefits from pairing up with a partner. A quarter-century ago, state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) purchased a 50% stake in Shell’s Deer Park, TX, refinery. The JV partners also entered into a 30-year processing agreement under which each would purchase half of the refinery’s crude feedstock and own half the output. Separately, Pemex agreed to supply as much as 200 Mb/d of Mexico’s heavy sour Maya crude to Deer Park and Shell agreed to supply Pemex with 35-40 Mb/d of gasoline to help meet Mexico’s refined products deficit. The partners recently agreed to an early extension of the deal by 10 years from 2023 to 2033, while reducing the supply of Maya crude after 2023 to 70 Mb/d, to be sold at a fixed price. Today, we continue an analysis of the JV and the new changes to it.

Thursday, 09/06/2018

Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, the Mexican national oil company — Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex — purchased a 50% stake in Shell’s Deer Park, TX, refinery. The joint-venture partners entered into a 30-year processing agreement under which each would purchase half of the refinery’s crude feedstock and own half the output. Separately, Pemex agreed to supply as much as 200 Mb/d of Mexico’s heavy sour Maya crude to Deer Park and Shell agreed to supply Pemex with 35-40 Mb/d of gasoline to help meet Mexico’s refined products deficit. The partners recently agreed to an early extension of the deal by 10 years from 2023 to 2033, while reducing the supply of Maya crude after 2023 to 70 Mb/d, to be sold at a fixed price. Today, we begin a two-part series on the joint venture with a look at how Pemex has benefitted.

Wednesday, 08/29/2018

It’s been a year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and devastated the Texas Gulf Coast, and the Atlantic Basin is once again entering peak hurricane season. Among the widespread and prolonged effects of Harvey was the disruption of refinery and refined product pipeline capacity along the Gulf Coast, which then reverberated in downstream markets across Texas, and the U.S. East Coast and Midwest regions. As such, a closer look at Harvey’s timeline provides key insights into the importance of Gulf Coast refineries to the broader U.S. market. Today, we continue our series on Gulf Coast refining and pipeline infrastructure, and how a natural disaster along the coast can impact the rest of the country.

Sunday, 08/26/2018

On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near the popular Gulf Coast vacation town of Rockport, TX, just east of Corpus Christi. Harvey was the first major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) to make landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast since the devastating 2005 hurricane season that included hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, and is tied with Hurricane Katrina as the most expensive storm ever to hit the country. Harvey also highlighted just how important the Gulf Coast refining and refined product pipeline infrastructure is to the rest of the U.S. Today, we mark the one-year anniversary of the devastating storm with a three-part series on Gulf Coast refining and pipeline infrastructure, and how a natural disaster along the coast can impact the rest of the country.

Thursday, 08/16/2018

The countdown clock to January 1, 2020 — Implementation Day for the IMO 2020 rule on low-sulfur marine fuel — is ticking, and while that date may still seem far away, it is decidedly not. The impending switch from 3.5%-sulfur fuel oil to marine fuel with sulfur content no higher than 0.5% will affect a broad swath of the energy sector worldwide, not to mention consumers of diesel and other low-sulfur distillates that will be in much higher demand by this time next year as the run-up to IMO 2020 kicks into high gear. Already, complex and simple refineries alike are evaluating changes to their crude slates and planning to add equipment that will enable them to produce more high-value distillate and less “bottom-of-the-barrel” residual fuel oil, the source of high-sulfur marine fuel. U.S. midstream companies are gearing up to export more light, sweet crude from the Permian and other shale and tight-oil plays to simple refineries that will no longer be able to get by refining heavy, sour crudes. Marine-fuel suppliers are testing various blends to see which might produce IMO 2020-compliant fuel at the lowest cost. As for ship owners, they’re preparing for topsy-turvy fuel prices in late 2019 and 2020 as this wrenching change plays out. Today, we consider key market participants’ latest thinking on the likely effects of the new rule for low-sulfur marine fuel.

Thursday, 08/09/2018

The trade war between the U.S. and China continues to intensify — and now the rhetoric is shifting from steel and soybeans to oil and gas. What started as just an exchange of escalating bluster has developed into real tariffs that will be enacted beginning August 23 — which will include petroleum-based products like LPG and refined products. The commodities that would have the biggest impacts on global trade flows, liquefied natural gas and crude oil, were under tariff threat as well. LNG is still on a list of potential commodities to receive tariffs in the future, while crude has since been removed. But, keep in mind that today’s state of affairs could change tomorrow, so tariffs on those two commodities should be considered very much on the table. Today, we examine the potential trade war fallout for growing exports of U.S. LNG and crude oil.

Wednesday, 08/01/2018

While crude oil producers in the prolific Permian Basin are living out a Shale Revolution, the Midcontinent region of the U.S. is having a Refining Renaissance. Crude takeaway constraints, mainly due to insufficient pipeline capacity, are driving the prices of crude in Western Canada and West Texas to attractive lows against the WTI NYMEX benchmark for crude at the Cushing, OK, hub. Cheaper oil can contribute to bigger margins for refiners, who are supplying increasing volumes into a retail market that’s selling gasoline at the highest prices in four years. What will happen if the refiners don’t rein in their runs? Today, we’ll explore the implications of record-high run rates in the U.S. refining industry.

Tuesday, 07/31/2018

The Caribbean is strategically located at the crossroads of international trade routes between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It has traditionally attracted oil trading, blending, and refining activity to meet the needs of local and international markets. Lately, the meltdown of Venezuelan national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) — previously a dominant player in the region — has left refineries and storage terminals underutilized and starved of investment. U.S. Gulf Coast refineries have partially filled the gap by increasing product exports to the region, but an opportunity now exists for private investment to fill the refining and storage void left by PDVSA, and also to meet new demand for low-sulfur bunker fuel arising from stricter International Maritime Organization shipping regulations, which will come into effect in January 2020. Today, we review the impact of the PDVSA meltdown and new investment projects being pursued.

Monday, 07/23/2018

Back on March 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shook up master limited partnerships (MLPs) and their investors by deciding that income taxes would no longer be factored into the cost-of-service-based tariff rates of MLP-owned pipelines. We said then that there was no need to panic. In part, this was based on the view the FERC policy wouldn’t affect as much of the industry as some worried it would. But more importantly, our soothing message was tied to the fact it would take a long time for this to play out. It looks like we were right to have some confidence. Today, we explain why the commission’s July 18 vote on a topic as nerdy as “accumulated deferred income taxes” can warm the hearts of MLP investors.

Tuesday, 07/17/2018

Mexican demand for U.S.-sourced refined products continues to increase, but Mexico lacks the infrastructure required to efficiently import, store and distribute large volumes of gasoline and diesel. That has spurred the rapid build-out of new port and rail terminals, new pipelines and new storage capacity on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. At the same time, Mexico’s state-owned energy companies are gradually opening access to their existing refined-products pipeline and storage networks — which helps a little, but not enough. Today, we discuss the latest round of midstream projects tied to U.S. exports of motor and jet fuels to its southern neighbor.