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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Earlier this month, Shell announced that it was exploring the sale of yet another refinery — this time, it is the company’s Convent facility in Louisiana, which is one of the two refineries in the state that remain with Shell from the unwinding of its former joint venture with Saudi Aramco. Convent, with a capacity of 240 Mb/d, is near the middle of the pack in terms of refinery size and possesses some unique characteristics that could make it an attractive option for the right buyer and market conditions. But Shell’s announcement also raises a question, namely, how does the prospective sale compare with the company’s stated intent to focus on a smaller set of refineries integrated with Shell’s key trading hubs and petrochemicals operations? Today, we review the refinery’s characteristics and how it stacks up against its nearby rivals.
The demand destruction caused by COVID-19 hasn’t only hurt producers and refiners; it’s also slowed the development of a number of planned midstream projects. In fact, the only multibillion-dollar crude-related project to reach a final investment decision (FID) during the pandemic is TC Energy’s Keystone XL, which in late March won financial backing from Alberta’s provincial government. But Keystone XL soon hit another snag, this time in the form of U.S. district and appellate court rulings that vacated the project’s Nationwide Permit 12 for construction in and around hundreds of streams and wetlands along the U.S. portion of the pipeline’s route in the U.S. More important, the courts also put on ice — at least for now — the use of the general water-crossing permit for other new oil and natural gas pipelines as well. As we discuss in today’s blog, that could result in delays and legal challenges to dozens of projects that midstreamers and their counterparties have been counting on.
U.S. exports of motor gasoline and diesel to Mexico increased steadily from 2013 through 2018 as demand for refined products south of the border increased and throughput at Pemex’s six older, investment-starved refineries declined. U.S.-to-Mexico shipments of gasoline and diesel sagged in 2019, though, as Pemex started to implement a major refinery rebuilding program, and fell further in the spring of 2020 as the social and economic effects of COVID kicked in and Mexican demand for motor fuels plummeted. So what’s ahead for U.S. refined product exports as Mexican demand gradually rebounds later this year and in 2021? As we discuss today, that will largely depend on the Mexican government’s determination to have its debt-laden energy company produce gasoline and diesel at a loss and proceed with expensive refinery projects.
On Thursday, June 18, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to reset the index that’s used to make annual changes to the rate ceilings for interstate pipelines that transport crude oil, refined products, and other hydrocarbon liquids. Every year, the highest rate an indexed oil pipeline can charge goes up or down — almost always up — using the FERC index. The commission’s new proposal, which would become effective in July 2021, follows an already-approved index adjustment that will take effect a week from Wednesday, on July 1. Taken together, the two changes would reduce the maximum annual increase in the rate ceiling from more than 4% now to less than 1%, which could have a major impact on liquids pipeline owners. Today, we discuss the NOI, the meaning of the pipeline index, where it came from, and where it might be headed.
Mexican demand for motor gasoline and diesel has plummeted this spring due to COVID-19 — so has demand for LPG. So far, Pemex — Mexico’s state-owned energy company and by far the country’s largest supplier of these commodities — has responded by slashing how much gasoline, diesel and LPG it is importing from the U.S. and holding its own production steady, despite the fact that Pemex’s refining margins are now deep in negative territory. What does Pemex’s focus on money-losing refining mean for U.S. exports to Mexico going forward? Today, we begin a short series on the ongoing competition between U.S. refiners and Pemex for market share south of the border.
COVID-19 has created a number of challenges across the energy value chain, including lower demand for motor gasoline and jet fuel and, subsequently, surplus crude oil. However, even with diminished demand, the facilities that produce and process these fuels have to keep operating at some level, as do petrochemical plants. Workers in the energy industry are considered essential due to the importance of having fuel available to power vehicles and manufacturing facilities, natural gas to enable continued operation of power industries, and logistical infrastructure to ensure that feedstock supply can make it to processing facilities and eventually consumers. Given the need for round-the-clock operations, COVID-related social distancing measures have presented a unique challenge for refinery and petrochemical facilities. To maintain adequate staffing while protecting personnel from the coronavirus, these facilities have been making major adjustments. If, as we all hope, things begin moving back toward “normal” in the coming months and refinery and petchem utilization ramps up, these efforts to keep workers safe will only gain in significance. Today, we discuss staffing issues in these key industry sectors during the pandemic.
The COVID-19-induced social isolation and subsequent economic slowdown have caused major drops in U.S. refined products consumption, especially gasoline and jet fuel, which have experienced declines of as much as 44% and 70%, respectively, relative to similar periods in 2019. Diesel fuel consumption has been off as much as 20% on the same basis, and given that COVID is a global crisis, product exports have also fallen. As a result, U.S. refinery utilization has dropped to less than 70% for the last few weeks, the lowest levels since September 2008 during Hurricane Ike. All this presents refiners with two challenges: (1) reduced total demand; and (2) the disproportionate decline in gasoline and jet fuel. Each refinery is configured differently and has a varying degree of flexibility to react to these challenges. Today, we discuss what refiners can do to adjust operations and product yields, and examine the point at which some refineries might be forced to shut down completely.
Sharply declining refinery demand for crude oil was a key driver in the historic collapse in near-term futures prices for WTI at Cushing earlier this week. With stay-at-home directives in place in most of the industrialized world, U.S. — and global — demand for motor gasoline and jet fuel has plummeted to levels not seen in decades. These changes in refined-products demand, which may continue for months, already are having significant impacts on U.S. refineries — not just in how much crude oil they need but in operators’ decisions on whether to adjust their crude slates and ramp down or alter their operations. Their urgent challenge is to revise their yields to something close to the appropriate volumes of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Today, we begin a blog series on the U.S. refining sector and what refiners can — and can’t — do to adapt to these extraordinary times.
The collapse in crude oil prices and COVID-19’s very negative effects on global gasoline, jet fuel and diesel demand are putting an unprecedented squeeze on U.S. refiners. Even before the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, started to grab headlines around New Year’s Day, refineries had already been incentivized to shift their refined products output toward diesel, which can be used to help make IMO 2020-compliant low-sulfur bunker. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading to Europe and North America and stifling consumer transportation fuel demand, the price signals are even stronger, pushing refineries to do everything they can to minimize their gasoline and jet fuel production and enter what you might call “max diesel mode.” Today, we discuss how there are challenges and limits to what they can do, and a number of refineries may need to shut down due to lower demand, at least temporarily.
Over the weekend, PBF Energy closed on its acquisition of Shell’s Martinez, CA, refinery, marking the first completed U.S. refinery transaction of 2020. The closure of that deal may seem unremarkable, but it’s rare for more than two to three transactions involving individual refineries to take place in the U.S. in a given year, and there are as many as eight other refineries on the market. These include two each in the Philadelphia area, the Midcontinent and the Rockies, and one each in Washington state and Alaska. Why are so many refineries on the block? Today, we continue our series with a look at the facilities said to be on the market in PADDs 4 and 5.
It was reported earlier this month that Shell is seeking a buyer for its Washington state refinery, which is located just outside Seattle in Anacortes. That brings to eight the number of U.S. refineries said to be up for sale by a variety of sellers, from integrated major oil companies to independent merchant refiners — plus another refinery that is already under contract. That’s an unusually high number — refineries rarely change hands in the U.S. and when they do, it’s typically for large sums of money to sophisticated and vertically integrated buyers. Today, we discuss the facilities on the block in the East Coast and Mid-Continent regions and the market drivers that could be impacting the decisions of potential buyers and sellers.
Texas consumes far more diesel fuel than any other state and almost as much gasoline as car-crazy California, which also has 10 million more people. The long-distance distribution of refined products within the Lone Star State is handled largely by tanker trucks, but in the past couple of years, midstream companies have been adding a lot of new refined products pipeline capacity, not just to help deliver diesel and gasoline within Texas — including the diesel-hungry Permian Basin — but also to move motor fuels to the Mexican border for export. And more diesel and gasoline pipe capacity is on the way. Today, we discuss the new and expanded refined products pipelines criss-crossing Texas.
It’s been more than three years since the International Maritime Organization (IMO) fully committed to the January 1, 2020, implementation of IMO 2020, a rule that slashes the allowable sulfur content in bunker fuel used in the open seas around most of the world from 3.5% to only 0.5%. There’s been a lot of angst in the interim, most of it regarding the changes in crude slates, refinery operations and fuel blending needed to meet a flip-of-a-switch spike in global demand for low-sulfur bunker. Also, shippers worried that prices for rule-compliant fuel would go through the roof. Well, it turns out that the transition period in the months leading up to the IMO 2020 era has been largely drama-free. Supplies of very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) and marine gasoil (MGO) — the bunker most ships will now use — have been building in most places, prices are up but moderating, and while there may be a few hiccups as ships shift to new, cleaner fuels, life will go on. Heck, life will likely be even better for most complex U.S. refineries, which can churn out large volumes of low-sulfur refined products and which will have access to price-discounted high-sulfur “resid” as an intermediate feedstock. Today, we take a big-picture look at the global bunker market as IMO 2020’s implementation day approaches.
In 2019, there has been a significant shift in crude oil and natural gas markets. Prices have remained stubbornly low, even when faced with the risk of significant turmoil like the Saudi drone attacks. Investors are far less forgiving, and energy-related equity values continue to lag most other sectors, despite most companies returning more of their earnings to shareholders. Oil and gas producers are focused on their sweetest of sweet spots, wringing every crumb of financial return from their investments. The risk-return equation has changed. All this makes now a good time to examine the strategies and tactics necessary for survival in this challenging phase of the Shale Era. That is especially true for the players who seem to be doing everything right, because some of the worst management mistakes can occur when performance is good.
In February 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), the national oil company of Venezuela, which halted imports of Venezuelan crude oil into the U.S. Since then, refineries that relied on Venezuelan crude have had to backfill their import requirement with alternative sources of oil. This adjustment has had ramifications not only on the refiners that processed Venezuelan crude, but also on the entire U.S. Gulf Coast crude oil market. Today, we discuss the quality adjustments made to the U.S. crude oil diet.