For the U.S. oil patch, exports are the lifeblood of today’s market. U.S. refineries are operating at more than 90% of their rated capacity and using as much domestically produced light-sweet shale oil as their sophisticated equipment will allow. That means that virtually all of the incremental U.S. unconventional light-sweet crude oil production will need to be piped to export terminals along the Gulf Coast, loaded onto tankers, and shipped to refineries overseas. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss what this undeniable link between crude oil exports and production growth means for U.S. E&Ps and midstream companies — and the future of the oil and gas industry.
Analyst Insights are unique perspectives provided by RBN analysts about energy markets developments. The Insights may cover a wide range of information, such as industry trends, fundamentals, competitive landscape, or other market rumblings. These Insights are designed to be bite-size but punchy analysis so that readers can stay abreast of the most important market changes.
Memorial Day in the U.S. and the annual spring bank holiday in the U.K. put a wet blanket on Monday’s crude oil markets. Brent was off about $0.68/bbl as of mid-afternoon in thin holiday trading. That follows a rebound on Friday, when Brent moved $0.69/bbl higher to settle at $76.95/bbl and WTI was up $0.84/bbl to settle at $72.67/bbl.
May was a tough month for US oil and gas rig count, with producers ending the month with a fourth consecutive weekly decline (-44 vs April 28). Total US rig count was 711 for the week ending May 26, according to Baker Hughes. Rigs were added in the Permian (+1) and Eagle Ford (+1) this week, while the Anadarko (-5), Haynesville (-3), Gulf of Mexico (-1) and All Other Basins (-1) all posted declines. Total US rig count is down 42 in the last 90 days, and down 16 vs. this same week a year ago.
Daily Energy Blog
The thinking behind Next Wave Energy Partners’ late-2019 decision to build a first-of-its-kind ethylene-to-alkylate plant was that a combination of NGL production growth and new ethylene supply — plus increasing demand for alkylate, an octane-boosting gasoline blendstock — would be a win-win-win for ethylene producers, refiners and Next Wave itself. Now, with construction of the plant along the Houston Ship Channel approaching the homestretch, things are shaking out very much as the company had anticipated — even better, in fact. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the progress being made on Next Wave’s Project Traveler plant and the market forces validating the company’s final investment decision (FID).
Since the century turned, there’s been a big buildup in refining capacity in the U.S. Midwest, primarily to process the increasing volumes of heavy sour crude being piped in from Western Canada. Over the same period, refining capacity in the Mid-Atlantic region has declined by more than half, mostly for economic reasons — including the lack of pipeline access to favorably priced U.S. shale oil — but also due to events, such as the devastating June 2019 fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ 330-Mb/d refinery in Philadelphia, which led the facility’s owner to shut it down. In addition to spurring more refined product imports to the Mid-Atlantic and increased flows to the region on Colonial Pipeline, the changing market dynamics prompted a push to increase pipeline flows of gasoline and diesel east from the Midwest to markets in Pennsylvania and beyond. In today’s RBN blog, we continue a review of the U.S.’s still-morphing refined product pipeline networks with a look at recently added capacity from PADD 2 to PADD 1.
The cost of gasoline has garnered a lot of headlines since the start of 2022, with the blame for elevated prices falling on seemingly everything and everyone, from the Biden administration’s policies on oil exploration to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as decisions by major U.S. producers and OPEC not to swiftly boost oil production. Another can't-be-ignored culprit is the loss of significant U.S. refining capacity over the last few years, which has limited the ability of refiners to respond to the strong, post-COVID demand recovery by ramping up production. By and large, the refineries still operating have been running flat out. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the state of global refining, where new capacity is likely to be built, and the headwinds to future investment.
The energy industry — everything from oil and gas production and transportation to oil refining, gas processing and NGL fractionation — has a myriad of variables influenced by dozens of factors. It’s a value chain so vast you’d think it would be impossible to explain in simple terms. But behind it all is a well-oiled machine for developing the resources that literally fuel our modern economy. And, by understanding what happens at each link in the value chain, you can ultimately gain a clearer picture of what’s happening in energy markets. In today’s RBN blog, we kick off a series aimed at examining and explaining the oil and gas value chain, starting with the upstream world of exploration and production — what happens in production areas, the types of companies that operate in that segment, and the critical role of oil and gas reserves.
Refiners and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have locked horns in a dispute over Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). Now in its 10th year, the dispute stems from contradictory premises about how RINs affect the profits of the refiners and blenders who produce the ground transportation fuels sold in the U.S. To form an opinion of what ought to happen next, you need to understand the fundamentals of how RINs work in light of the RIN being a tax and a subsidy that forces renewables into fuels. In today’s RBN blog, we focus on how RINs force renewables into fuels and address the related question: Do RINs increase the price consumers pay for gasoline?
Europe is trying to wean itself off Russian natural gas, and few things would help it more than an expansion of U.S. LNG export capacity. But LNG projects don't just need long-term commitments for their output, they also need pipelines to transport natural gas from the Marcellus/Utica and other distant production areas to their coastal liquefaction plants. And, in case you hadn't noticed, new interstate gas pipelines face a lot of hurdles during the regulatory review process these days — getting a pipeline approved is tougher than snagging a Saturday morning tee time. Which brings us to, of all things, an important court ruling. In today's RBN blog, we discuss the implications of the DC Circuit's decision in City of Oberlin v. FERC.
Refining margins today — whether in the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC), Rotterdam or Singapore — are at record highs. Given current high crude oil prices, gasoline and diesel prices at the pump everywhere are also at unprecedented levels, making refinery profits a major topic of conversation — and not just for politicians. While some of the explanations of refining margins are just political talking points, several others are well-established and accepted, and still others consider factors that are less frequently cited, even by those familiar with energy markets. One such factor is the price of natural gas and how it’s impacting refinery operations and competitiveness around the world. Today’s RBN blog discusses the crucial role natural gas prices play in refinery operating expenses and refining margins, and examines how favorable natural gas prices in the U.S. are providing a substantial competitive advantage for domestic refiners.
As the world economy tries to dust itself off after COVID, increased demand for transportation fuels coupled with tight supplies has become a pain. The shortage escalated to crisis levels this spring and summer when, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sanctions eliminated Russian exports of crude oil and intermediate feedstocks to the U.S. and severely reduced flows to Europe. While Russia has been able to find some alternate markets, its overall product exports are down significantly. Adding to these product-supply reductions are policy decisions by Putin’s allies in China to reduce their product exports to a trickle. Chinese exports had been an important part of regional supply in recent years, but authorities there have decided to decrease the number and size of export quotas issued, leaving many refineries in China operating at rates well below their capabilities. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at how developments in Russia and China have played a major role in the current global shortage of refined products.
We often tend to focus on the U.S. refining picture, but, just like crude oil, refined products trade globally, and international closures ultimately have the same effect as domestic ones on the worldwide products market. Recent international closures have been distributed throughout the world — concentrated in developed countries, including several in Europe, as well as Japan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, but also in some developing economies like South Africa and Sri Lanka. Most of these capacity reductions were driven by the same forces as in the U.S., namely, poor economics as a result of the pandemic-lockdown-driven demand plunge in 2020 and 2021, as well as expectations that margins would take a long time to recover post-COVID. Of course, worries that the energy transition and policies to that end would suppress demand in the long-term also played a key role, as did some fundamental competitiveness issues at individual facilities. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the more than 2 MMb/d of international capacity closures since 2019.
Gasoline and diesel prices are skyrocketing. Refineries are running near maximum capacity. The Biden administration is asking refiners to bring more capacity online to relieve refining constraints. And as the economy recovers from the COVID meltdown, it looks set to get worse before it gets better. So the timing could not be better to launch our new team focused on refineries and refined products: RBN Refined Fuel Analytics. We readily admit that this is an advertorial but stick with us, it will be worth it. We’re building out a whole new approach to the understanding of refined fuel markets –– both traditional hydrocarbons and renewable fuels –– from feedstocks through refining processes to final products. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll introduce the who, what and how of this important initiative.
Way back in 2019, just about everyone in the refining world was talking about IMO 2020, the International Maritime Organization’s soon-to-be-implemented rule requiring much lower sulfur emissions from most ocean-going ships. A lot of forecasters were anticipating that major market dislocations would result — things like $50/bbl-plus diesel crack spreads, oversupply of high-sulfur fuel oil, and ultra-wide differentials between light and heavy crude oils. They did, but only briefly, in the last few months of 2019. The implementation of IMO 2020 turned out to be pretty much a non-event, and for much of 2020 and 2021, people didn’t think much about the new bunker fuel rule. Lately, things have been changing, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog.
In its landmark West Virginia v. EPA decision, the Supreme Court on Thursday scaled back the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency — and, it would seem, other federal administrative agencies — to implement regulations that extend beyond what Congress specifically directed in its authorizing legislation, in this case the Clean Air Act. The ruling didn’t go as far as throwing out the long-standing deference of courts to federal agencies’ interpretations when it comes to acting under statutory law where there’s any ambiguity — the so-called “Chevron Deference” doctrine. But it does impose a threshold roadblock to the use of the doctrine, based on the “Major Question” doctrine. Yep, we have a duel of the doctrines here. The end result here is to hamstring the EPA and the Biden administration from reinstating emissions-limiting rules similar to the ones the Obama EPA put forth a few years ago in the “Clean Power Plan,” at least not without legislative approval. Most of the oil and gas industry and a lot of the power industry are likely to welcome the check on this particular regulatory authority, and certainly most of the oil and gas industry welcomes some restraint on the EPA in general. However, the broader implications of the ruling could make life more difficult in the near-term for industries like oil and gas that rely on a stable, or at least semi-predictable, regulatory environment for making long-term plans. In today’s RBN blog, we explain what was at stake in this case and what the decision could mean for the oil and gas industry.
Refinery closures. Shifting demand for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Yawning price differentials for refined products in neighboring regions. These and other factors have spurred an ongoing reworking of the extensive U.S. products pipeline network, which transports the fuels needed to power cars, SUVs, trucks, trains and airplanes — not to mention pumps in the oil patch, tractors and lawnmowers. New products pipelines are being built and existing pipelines are being repurposed, expanded or made bidirectional, typically to take advantage of opportunities that midstreamers, refiners and marketers see opening up. In today’s RBN blog, we begin a review of major pipelines that batch gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and look at the subtle and not-so-subtle changes being made to the U.S. refined products distribution network.
As the price of gasoline continues its seemingly never-ending upward path in the U.S. (not withstanding a bit of a pause in the past week), the cause (or blame, if you prefer) continues to shift. Of course, the Biden administration has heavily promoted the phrase “Putin’s price hike,” and the Russian president can certainly claim some of the blame. His invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions on the world’s second-largest exporter of refined products (after the U.S.) have led to the loss of several hundred thousand barrels per day of product supply. However, prices for refined products were already rising before his late February invasion due to a variety of other factors, both on the supply and demand sides of the equation. Perhaps the most important factor has been the loss of significant U.S. refining capacity over the last few years, which is limiting the ability of refiners to respond to the strong demand recovery and loss of supply. In its highly publicized June 15 letter to U.S. oil executives, the administration acknowledged this as it demanded refiners reactivate lost capacity and increase production. In today’s RBN blog, we summarize the shutdowns which have taken place in the U.S. and discuss the reasons behind those closures.
In film and television, the “boxed crook” trope is where a condemned person is sought as a last-ditch effort to pull off some impossible mission or overcome a formidable opponent. In return, the convict is typically offered amnesty or other consideration by the operatives in charge. Millennials will probably think of the recent Suicide Squad movies. For Generation X, The Rock starring Sean Connery was a great example. And for the boomers, it was The Dirty Dozen. Our current situation in the U.S. energy sector may not be quite as thrilling as those movies but the same plot elements exist. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the predicament faced by industry and political leaders and begin to sort out the various proposals to put a lid on prices and restore energy security.