The level of activity at crude oil export terminals from Corpus Christi to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is nothing short of extraordinary — a record 4.8 MMb/d was loaded the week ended August 25, according to RBN’s Crude Voyager report, and Houston-area terminals loaded an all-time high of 1.4 MMb/d. But there’s a lot more to the crude exports story. When you live this stuff day-in, day-out, you see subtle changes that often extend into trends and, if you’re lucky, you sometimes get signals that things you’d been predicting are actually happening. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from the latest Crude Voyager and what the weekly report’s data and analysis reveal about the global oil market.
As its name suggests, the Shale Revolution has changed everything. Perfecting that miraculous combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing didn’t just turn the U.S. energy industry around, it also made the U.S. a leading exporter of crude oil and natural gas and NGLs. The crude oil part of the story is particularly inspirational. Consider this fact: In late August, crude production in the Lower 48 averaged about 12.4 MMb/d and an estimated 4.6 MMb/d (or 37%) of U.S.-sourced crude — plus another 150 to 200 Mb/d of Canadian crude that is typically “re-exported” via Gulf Coast terminals — was loaded onto Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), Suezmaxes, Aframaxes and other tankers for shipment overseas.
Day by day — and largely behind the scenes — we track dozens of large vessels as they arrive in the Gulf of Mexico, pull into docks and are loaded with crude oil (most of it light and sweet) that is then either shipped directly to international terminals near and far or reverse-lightered onto VLCCs for more economic, long-distance shipment to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. As we said in the introduction to today’s blog, the week ended August 25 was a record-breaker, not just regarding the 4.8 MMb/d that was loaded (stacked layers to far right in Figure 1) but also for the record 41 tankers loaded and the record 1.4 MMb/d loaded at terminals in the Houston area (dark blue layer in graph). [Note that statistics reported by the EIA in its Weekly Petroleum Status Report have peaked higher than that — to 5.6 MMb/d in February this year. But while our statistics generally line up with the EIA over time, our observed exports are considerably less “peaky” than the EIA’s.]
The outsized Houston number (93 Mb/d above the previous high mark) may prove to be a bit of an anomaly but was interesting nonetheless. We’ve been saying for many months now (see February’s Houston Bound) that while the Corpus Christi area will still dominate crude exports — mostly because of the capabilities of the Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) and Gibson Energy’s South Texas Gateway (STG) — Houston-area terminals were poised to take an increasing share of total export volumes. In fact, so far this year, 25% of the barrels leaving the Gulf Coast were loaded at Enterprise Houston, Energy Transfer Houston, Seabrook Logistics and other terminals in or near Houston, compared to 59% out of Corpus Christi — in the first 25 days of August, Houston’s share increased to 27% while Corpus’s dipped to 55%. In full-year 2022, Corpus-area terminals accounted for 61% of crude export volumes and Houston accounted for only 22%.
Figure 1. Weekly Gulf Coast Crude Oil Exports by Terminal Area. Source: Crude Voyager
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