With ever-increasing volumes of Permian crude oil being exported and the recent inclusion of WTI Midland in the assessment of Dated Brent prices, the issue of iron content — especially in some Permian-sourced crude — is coming to the fore. This has become such a point of emphasis for exported light sweet crude because many less complex foreign refineries do not have the ability to manage high iron content adequately. Iron content that exceeds desirable levels could have far-reaching repercussions, from sellers facing financial penalties for not meeting the quality specifications to marine terminals being excluded from the Brent assessment if they miss the mark. It’s a complicated issue, with split views on what causes the iron content in a relatively small subset of Permian oil to be concerningly high — and how best to address the matter. In today’s RBN blog, we look at iron content in crude oil, why it matters to refiners, how it affects prices, and what steps the industry is taking to deal with it.
When Iron Man was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008, the character was a revelation to casual superhero fans who may have known of him but relatively little about the character’s potential. Yet, the first Iron Man movie helped jump-start what was arguably the most successful movie franchise in history and Marvel Studios followed up the movie’s success by fleshing out even more previously little-known comics. Similarly, albeit in a totally different ballpark, contaminants in the oil and gas production stream like mercaptans, iron, and sulfur are familiar to those in the industry though perhaps not well-understood. And unlike the heroes of movies, these contaminants have more in common with Ozzy’s Iron Man, filling “victims full of dread.”
In the first blog in this series, O Captain, Mercaptans, we discussed some of the sources of mercaptans (naturally occurring contaminants in crude oil and natural gas), the methods used to treat crude oil containing high levels of it, and various approaches midstream companies use to manage or prevent the receipt of the contaminated crude oil. Today, we turn our attention to iron. While other metals such as vanadium and nickel are concerns for heavier crude oil, iron content seems to be a primary challenge for the light crudes produced in the Permian Basin.
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