Part of the Plan - Crude Oil Industry Prepares as Capline Pipeline Closes in on 'Flip Day'

Over the next few months, a variety of market players — crude oil producers, midstreamers, refiners, and exporters — will be making preparations for one of the most anticipated infrastructure additions in recent years. Actually, it’s not technically new; it’s the long-planned reversal of the 632-mile, 40-inch-diameter Capline, which for a half-century transported crude north from St. James, LA, to Patoka, IL. Line-filling will begin this fall and Capline will start flowing south from Patoka in January 2022, providing Western Canadian and other producers with new pipeline access to Gulf Coast markets. Upstream of Patoka, the impending reversal has been spurring the development of new pipeline capacity to supply the soon-to-be-southbound Capline, and in Louisiana, refiners and exporters have been making plans for the crude that will be flowing their way into St. James. Today, we discuss the broad impacts of the “new” Patoka-to-St.-James pipeline.

Big enough for a full-grown Great Dane to walk through without scraping his ears, Capline is the biggest-bore crude oil pipeline ever built in the Lower 48. Originally called the Cajun Pipeline (and subsequently shortened to Capline), the project was a genuine gamechanger in that it enabled large volumes of imported oil and offshore Gulf of Mexico production to be transported north to a slew of refineries in the Midwest, with the Patoka hub serving as a key distribution point at Capline’s northern terminus. Construction of the large-bore pipeline started in July 1967; initial filling of the mainline began one year later, and by August 1968 the pipeline was flowing in earnest, with an initial capacity of 417 Mb/d. As shown by the time-faded 1988 map in Figure 1, a number of new pumping stations were added along the pipeline’s route through the 1970s and early ‘80s, gradually increasing Capline’s throughput to a staggering 1.2 MMb/d.

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