Petroleum Products

Monday, 01/16/2017

The five refineries in the U.S. Pacific Northwest (PNW) performed better in 2016 than rivals on the East Coast for two main reasons. First, the changing pattern of North American crude supply has worked to their advantage. Faced with the threat of dwindling mainstay crude supplies from Alaska, refiners in Washington State replaced 22% of their slate with North Dakota Bakken crude moved in by rail. They have also enjoyed advantaged access to discounted crude supplies from Western Canada. Second, PNW refiners face less competition for refined product customers than rivals on the East and Gulf coasts, meaning they have a captive market that often translates to higher margins. Today we review performance and prospects for PNW refineries.

Thursday, 01/12/2017

Shipping companies now know that within three years all vessels involved in international trade will be required to use fuel with a sulfur content of 0.5% or less—an aggressive standard, considering that in most of the world today, ships are currently allowed to use heavy fuel oil (HFO) bunker fuel with up to 3.5% sulfur. This is a big deal. Ships now consume about half of the world’s residual-based heavy fuel oil, but starting in January 2020 they can’t—at least in HFO’s current form. How will the global fuels market react to a change that would theoretically eliminate roughly half the demand for residual fuels? How will ship owners comply with the rule? What are their options? Today we discuss the much-lower cap on sulfur in bunker fuels approved by the International Marine Organization, and what it means for shippers and refineries.

Thursday, 12/15/2016

Each winter, New York spot prices for gasoline and diesel spike higher than spot prices in Chicago, opening a seasonal arbitrage opportunity for Midwest refineries and motor fuel marketers—if only they could move more product east from Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 2 to the East Coast’s PADD 1. Midstream companies have taken note, and have been adding eastbound refined product pipeline capacity in Ohio and Pennsylvania. So far the aim has been to move gasoline and diesel as far east as central Pennsylvania, but the longer-term goal seems to Philadelphia, which ironically is the center of East Coast refining. Today we look at the ongoing shift in market territories claimed and sought by gasoline and diesel refineries and marketers in PADDs 1 and 2.

Sunday, 12/11/2016

Mexico’s consumption of motor fuels is rising, its production of gasoline and diesel continues to fall, and U.S. refineries and midstream companies are racing to fill the widening gap. The export volumes are impressive: deliveries of finished motor gasoline from the U.S. to Mexico averaged 328 Mb/d in the third quarter of 2016, up 41% from the same period last year, and exports of low-sulfur diesel were up 29% to 194 Mb/d. And there’s good reason to believe that U.S.-to-Mexico volumes will keep growing. Today we look at recent trends in gasoline and diesel production and consumption south of the border, and at ongoing efforts to enable more U.S.-sourced gasoline and diesel to reach key Mexican markets by rail and pipeline.

Monday, 12/05/2016

OPEC’s agreement at its November 30 meeting to cut crude oil output has sent prices soaring. Many U.S. producers already are anticipating brighter days, but before anyone pops the champagne it’s important to consider the deal’s potential vulnerabilities, and to factor in other market developments that reduce the agreement’s effect. Today we look at pre-deal maneuvering, the impact of those maneuvers on the level of supply, and the things that could still derail the move to market equilibrium.

Sunday, 12/04/2016

On November 17, 2016, Tesoro Corp., the second-largest independent refiner in the Western U.S., announced an agreement to acquire Western Refining for an estimated $6.4 billion. This is the second acquisition that Tesoro has made this year, following the purchase of the MDU Resources/Calumet Specialty Products Partners’ joint venture refinery in North Dakota. And—ironically, considering the name of the company Tesoro is buying—the Western Refining deal will expand Tesoro’s footprint further east than ever. Today we evaluate the legacy assets of Tesoro and Western Refining and discuss how the two companies will likely fit together.

Sunday, 11/20/2016

On the last day of October 2016, the first-ever shipment of Chinese motor gasoline to the U.S. was delivered to Buckeye’s Reading terminal in New York Harbor. The vessel took a circuitous route to New York, taking on cargo in the Hong Kong lightering zone, stopping in South Korea to take on another parcel of clean product, dropping off some benzene in Houston, and then finally heading to New York. That complicated journey suggests that the economics of a regular China-to-East Coast gasoline trade route are not there (at least for now), but the shipment highlights a trend: China is becoming more assertive as an exporter of petroleum products and the implications are global. In an international market defined by oversupply, inroads by China necessarily result in other producers losing market share. In today’s blog, we examine the impact of rising clean petroleum product exports—particularly from China, but also from India—and the corresponding ripple effects both on the world market and on U.S. refiners.

Thursday, 11/17/2016

Over the past few weeks, publicly traded independent refining companies reported their latest quarterly results, and nearly all lamented on a common theme: the cost of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) is out of control. However, the financial burden is not felt equally across the industry, as companies with integrated marketing operations (refining, blending and retailing) don’t face the same RINs-cost albatross as merchant refiners who don’t have retail operations. Today we review the escalating RIN costs that obligated parties have endured this year and explain how the degree of financial pain depends on the level of refiners’ downstream integration.

Monday, 10/31/2016

Global demand for motor gasoline is on the rise, and U.S. refineries—as a group, still the most sophisticated in the world—are poised to play a critical role in providing much of the needed incremental gasoline supply to Asia, Latin America and other growing markets. This important topic was the focus of a recent talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) by our good friend, Dr. Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of international energy consultant FGE, who also discussed the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) new (and controversial) decision to limit sulfur in bunker fuel to 0.5% by January 2020—a move that will test the capabilities of refineries worldwide. Today’s blog provides highlights from this presentation.

Thursday, 10/27/2016

The shale boom breathed new life into East Coast refineries that were under threat of closure by their owners between 2009 and 2012. Now some of those same refineries are under threat again, this time due to poor margins as well as the high cost of compliance with environmental regulations. After enjoying three years of improved margins through access to advantaged domestic crude delivered by rail from North Dakota, five East Coast refineries are now paying international prices for imported crude again in 2016 after differentials between domestic benchmark WTI and international equivalent Brent narrowed to less than $1/bbl in the wake of the crude price crash and an end to the federal ban on most crude exports. Today we discuss PADD 1 refinery prospects.

Wednesday, 10/26/2016

New “Tier 3” requirements to limit sulfur content in gasoline are set to take effect in just over two months — on January 2017. In March 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to limit the sulfur content of gasoline produced or imported into the U.S. to no more than 10 parts per million (ppm) from the current “Tier 2” 30 ppm standard by January 1, 2017.   With these upcoming “Tier 3” requirements, refiners have been developing their strategies to meet the regulations and in some cases have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their facilities. Today, we look at the various approaches refiners can take for compliance and their impacts on the industry.

Monday, 10/03/2016

The increase in waterborne flows to the East Coast in response to the recent Colonial Pipeline outage illustrated the flexibility of supply in the U.S. motor gasoline market. At the same time, the lack of a lasting impact from the loss of 8.3 million barrels of gasoline to a key U.S. demand region highlighted the degree of oversupply in the market. Today we look at how waterborne flows helped to mitigate the effects of the Colonial Pipeline outage, and how flexibility in the East Coast motor gasoline market enabled it to handle unexpected supply constraints with minimal disruption.

Tuesday, 08/23/2016

Higher gasoline imports to the U.S. East Coast and weaker demand in the region have combined to bloat gasoline inventories, raising the question, what would it take to bring the market into balance? East Coast refinery output is down from this time last summer in response to somewhat lower crack spreads, but not enough to make a dent. Part of the problem is that while gasoline demand turned anemic in the Maine-to-Florida region, it is even weaker in many overseas markets. Also, the skill of East Coast blenders in dealing with a wide variety of supplies has always made the region an attractive destination for international product flows. Today, we continue our look at petroleum product cargo flows, and what they are telling us about the health of the market.

Thursday, 08/11/2016

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil at Cushing is languishing back in the low $40s/bbl after a brief period of exuberance in the late spring. The blame for this latest oil-price retreat has shifted from high inventories of crude oil –– both on land and on tankers floating offshore –– to bloated petroleum-product inventories. There is some debate about how concerned the market should be about the increase in product stocks. In the opening episode of this blog series, we take a look at petroleum product cargo flows, and what they are telling us about the health of the market. We start today with middle distillates –– diesel and jet fuel.

Monday, 07/04/2016

We are getting into the peak summer driving season and gasoline demand has been hitting all-time highs. You might think that inventories would be drawing down and that the U.S. would need to import more gasoline and gasoline blending components. But not so. U.S. refineries are cranking out the products. Gasoline stocks are up 10% from a year ago—15 million barrels (MMbbl) higher than the top of the five-year range—and last week gasoline inventories made a contra-seasonal move upward, increasing by 1.4 MMbbl.  Net exports for the first quarter were up almost five times the same period in 2015. But what does all this mean for refined product markets in general, and gasoline balances in particular? Today, we examine the state of U.S. petroleum product markets.