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Sooner or Later - The Crude Oil Pipelines to Corpus Christi Are Filling Up. What Happens Then?

It’s been an awesome run for the Port of Corpus Christi’s crude oil export business, which captured about 60% of total U.S. volumes in 2022, up from only 28% in early 2018. But the rate of increase has slowed way down, even though shipping economics give Corpus a distinct advantage. The problem? Pipeline capacity, or more accurately, a lack thereof. The pipelines from the Permian to Corpus that were the driving force behind the Corpus export success story are filling up. The only questions are, how much time is left before the pipes are truly maxed out and what is likely to be done about it? In today’s RBN blog, we examine the data to see what it reveals about the looming capacity constraints.

We teed up this issue in Calling the Shots, the first episode in this series on crude oil exports, exploring why barrels move where they do and what it means for U.S. producers, midstreamers, refiners, marketers, and exporters. Figure 1 shows how much has changed over the past five years, with the map on the left indicating which terminals we include in our port aggregations, and the graph on the right showing export volumes by port area by month. Back in 2018, only about 28% of crude exports moved out of Corpus, compared with 35% coming out of Houston, 30% from Beaumont and the remainder moving out of Louisiana, including the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). Fast forward to 2022, and Corpus enjoyed the 60% share noted above, while Houston’s piece of the pie was down to 23% and Beaumont and Louisiana together made up only 17%. 

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