Over the past few years — and with a big boost from Permian production growth — the South Texas coast has transformed itself into a top-tier hub for hydrocarbons. Crude oil exports stand out, of course, with marine terminals in Corpus Christi/Ingleside accounting for 60% of U.S. export volumes in 2022. But Corpus also is home to the nation’s second-largest LNG export terminal (which is now being expanded), as well as a half-dozen refineries, and the broader region has the Agua Dulce natural gas hub, nine NGL fractionation plants, and four massive, NGL-consuming ethylene plants, including ExxonMobil/SABIC’s giant new steam cracker in San Patricio County. All of these assets are interconnected by a maze of crude oil, natural gas, NGL, “purity product,” and ethylene pipelines. And the region is well-positioned for additional growth as crude, gas, and NGL production in Texas continues to increase. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss our latest product: a digital, interactive map that helps makes sense of a spaghetti bowl of pipelines, plants and related assets in South Texas.
When discussing Corpus Christi and the rest of South Texas, it’s important to begin with two undeniable facts: (1) the region was already a noteworthy energy center before the Shale Revolution, with extensive upstream, midstream and downstream infrastructure already in place “pre-Shale”; and (2) South Texas didn’t become an energy “superhub” overnight or without a lot of planning and hard work — instead, producers, midstream companies, economic-development folks and others saw the opportunities and challenges presented by the Shale Era and made it all happen. It hasn’t hurt that Texas is perhaps the friendliest state when it comes to developing energy-related projects, and that South Texas and Corpus officials have been aggressive in competing for new business, including energy, petrochemicals, and now clean hydrogen.
An infrastructure build-out to accommodate extraordinary production growth in the Eagle Ford was already in high gear when we posted our first comprehensive look at South Texas midstream and refinery assets in December 2015, the very month the federal government lifted what had been a 40-year-long ban on most U.S. crude oil exports. There, we reported that — thanks to a combination of pipeline reversals, expansions and greenfield projects (including the then-new, 250-Mb/d Cactus Pipeline from West Texas to Gardendale) — as much as 1.5 MMb/d of Permian and Eagle Ford crude could be piped to the Corpus Christi area for use by local refineries or loaded onto tankers and barges. Before the export ban was lifted, the oil that wasn’t consumed locally was either shipped to Canada (which was excluded from the export ban) or transported by Jones Act vessels to marine terminals and refineries along the Gulf and East coasts. (Thanks to a 2014 change in federal policy some “processed” lease condensate was exported to Europe, Asia and other overseas markets.) The volumes shipped out of marine terminals in Corpus Christi, Ingleside and Port Lavaca/Point Comfort were substantial — an average of 680 Mb/d of crude and condensate in 2015 — but only a hint of what was to come.
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