As we see it, 2023 will be another strong year for U.S. crude oil exports, driven in large part by rising domestic production. Upstream companies in the Permian and other U.S. shale plays are gradually ramping up their output and, with domestic refineries largely maxed out on how much light-sweet oil they can use, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of the incremental oil produced will end up at export terminals along the Gulf Coast. And if production continues growing (as we expect), there’s likely to be room — and a strong economic rationale — for one or more new offshore terminals to be built in the deep waters of the Gulf itself. Each of these proposed facilities would offer shippers what they want most: easy access to large volumes of oil and the ability to fully load 2-MMbbl VLCCs without any reverse lightering, which brings cheaper and cleaner export options to the market. In today’s RBN blog, we provide updates on two offshore projects still in the running: Sentinel Midstream’s Texas GulfLink and Phillips 66 and Trafigura’s Bluewater Texas.
Week after week, VLCCs dock at the Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) and South Texas Gateway (STG) — two state-of-the-art marine terminals in Ingleside, TX, just across the bay from Corpus Christi — where they are loaded with up to 1.25 MMbbl of crude oil and then head out to the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico for reverse lightering to fill their 2 MMbbl of cargo-tank capacity to the brim. Soon, when a project to deepen the ship channel to Ingleside is completed, EIEC and STG will each be able to load up to 1.6 MMbbl onto a VLCC, further reducing the need for topping off in deeper water. Because of their straight-shot pipeline connections to un-blended WTI from the Permian and favorable ship-loading economics, the two Ingleside terminals have been accounting for disproportionate shares of total U.S. export volumes. But at least four midstream developers — one of them a joint venture (JV) — are neck-deep in planning new offshore terminals that would be capable of fully loading VLCCs. Their thinking is that the ability to load a few VLCCs a week without reverse lightering will give their prospective deepwater facilities an undeniable edge.
A few weeks ago, in Shake It Up, we discussed Enterprise Products Partners’ plan to build the Sea Port Oil Terminal (SPOT) in 115-feet-deep waters about 30 nautical miles off the coast of Freeport, TX. As we said then, SPOT would have two single-point moorings (SPMs) and the ability to simultaneously moor two VLCCs and load one per day. Crude would flow to SPOT on a pair of 36-inch-diameter pipelines from two Enterprise storage-and-distribution terminals: the existing ECHO Terminal southeast of Houston (8.4 MMbbl of tank storage) and the proposed Oyster Creek Terminal north of Freeport (4.8 MMbbl of planned storage capacity) in south-central Brazoria County. Enterprise has indicated that SPOT could be up and running as soon as the first half of 2026.
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