Take It to the Limit - More Crude Projects in Corpus, and a Look at Big Ship Access to the Port

By the early 2020s, crude oil flows from the Permian to Corpus Christi are likely to increase by at least several hundred thousand barrels a day and may well rise by more than one million barrels a day. That can only happen, though, if new pipeline capacity is in place to move crude from West Texas to the coast and if enough crude-related infrastructure — storage, distribution pipelines, marine docks, etc. — is developed in Corpus to receive, move and load all that oil. Docks and ship-channel depth are particularly important; the bigger the vessels that Corpus marine terminals can handle, the more competitive Permian crude will be in far-away markets like Asia. Today we continue our series on the build-out of crude infrastructure in South Texas’s largest port and consider Corpus’s ability to load Suezmax-class vessels and maybe even Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs).

The focus of this blog series has been on the ripple effects that burgeoning crude-oil production growth in the Permian’s Midland and Delaware basins in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico are having on Corpus Christi. In Part 1 we discussed the facts that under RBN’s Growth Scenario, Permian production — already at 2.3 million barrels per day (MMb/d) — is forecast to rise by at least another 1.4 MMb/d by 2022, and that most of the new pipeline capacity under development to transport that incremental output is headed straight to Corpus. Why?  Well, for one thing, Corpus is closer than Houston.  And beyond that, many Permian producers believe that their light, sweet crude will likely be more valued in Corpus, where the oil can either feed local refineries or be loaded onto ships destined for export markets.

Currently, there’s only one efficient way to move Permian crude to Corpus: via Plains All American’s 330-Mb/d Cactus Pipeline, which runs from McCamey (in West Texas) to Gardendale, TX (in the heart of the Eagle Ford). There, the Permian crude carried on Cactus is transferred to the Eagle Ford Joint Venture (JV) Pipeline (co-owned by Plains and Enterprise Products Partners), which can move oil to Corpus, or to Three Rivers, TX, (location of a Valero refinery) or to Houston. With Permian production rising, though, Plains is expanding Cactus (by 60 Mb/d in a project expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2017) and no fewer than six greenfield pipelines from West Texas to Corpus are known to be in various stages of pre-construction development — most of them targeted for completion in 2019. In the unlikely event they all get built, together they could add more than 1 MMb/d of incremental Permian-to-Corpus pipeline capacity.

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