Leaders of the Pack - Three Gulf Coast Crude Oil Export Terminals Winning Battle for Barrels

Week by week, more than 20 terminals along the U.S. Gulf Coast export crude oil, but nearly half of the total export volumes are being loaded at just three facilities: the Moda Midstream terminal near Corpus Christi, the Enterprise Hydrocarbon Terminal in Houston, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) off the Louisiana coast. What gives these “Big 3” their edge? Location? Pipeline connectivity? Storage capacity? Loading rate? The answer, of course, is “all of the above.” There is more to the story, though, and other terminals are angling to become bigger players, presumably at the expense of the Big 3 themselves. Today, we begin a series on Texas and Louisiana’s largest oil export facilities, what they offer, how they’ve fared, and what they’re planning next.

When you consider what a strange and difficult year last year was — not just for the energy industry, but for the whole planet — it’s kind of amazing that, as far as U.S. crude oil exports are concerned, 2020 was just another year of volume gains and terminal expansions. Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that since the ban on most crude oil exports was lifted in December 2015, export volumes have ratcheted up every year: from about 700 Mb/d in 2016 to 1.2 MMb/d in 2017, 2.0 MMb/d in 2018, 3.0 MMb/d in 2019, and just under 3.2 MMb/d in wild-and-crazy 2020. We covered each of the export terminals in detail last year in our Drill Down report, How Much More Can She Stand. As for the first couple of months of 2021, crude exports have averaged 2.8 MMb/d, according to RBN’s weekly Crude Voyager report  — not much of a drop when you consider the Deep Freeze and power disruptions that put a lot of Texas crude oil production, export terminal activity, and Texas itself on ice in mid-February.

In the past 14 months (all of 2020, plus January and February of this year), about 48% of all U.S. crude exports have been loaded and sent out from only three terminals; the other 52% was scattered among 18 other marine facilities. As we said in our introduction, the biggest export terminals by average volume have been the Moda Ingleside Energy Center (MIEC), the Enterprise Hydrocarbon Terminal (EHT), and, to a lesser extent, LOOP. MIEC is on top by a considerable margin, with exports averaging about 780 Mb/d over the 14-month period (blue bar segments in Figure 1), or about 24% of total crude oil exports. EHT is in the runner-up spot, with volumes averaging more than 420 Mb/d (orange bar segments), or 13% of the total, since January 2020, and LOOP ranks third, averaging about 340 Mb/d (gray bar segments), or 11%.

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