Petroleum Products

Sunday, 12/27/2020

Motor gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel need to be delivered in large volumes to every major metropolis in the U.S. While most big cities are well-served, some by multiple pipelines or a combination of pipelines and barges, others are more isolated and susceptible to supply interruption. Nashville, the home of country music, is one such place; so are Chattanooga and Knoxville to its east. All three Tennessee cities depend heavily on stub lines off the Colonial and Plantation refined-products pipeline systems as they work their way from the Gulf Coast to the Mid-Atlantic states. When supplies on these pipes are interrupted — and they have been from time to time — these cities can experience shortages and price spikes, and be forced to turn to trucked-in volumes from Memphis and elsewhere. Today, we discuss a supply alternative now under development that will pipe motor fuels south from BP’s Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana to a proposed Buckeye Partners storage and distribution terminal just west of Nashville.

Sunday, 11/22/2020

For a few years now, refineries in the eastern part of PADD 2 — feedstock-advantaged and capable of producing far more refined products than their regional market can consume — have been eyeing the wholesale and retail markets to their east in PADD 1. Their thinking has been, if they could just pipe more of their gasoline and diesel into Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and adjoining areas, they could sell the transportation fuels at a premium and take market share. Well, things are looking up for PADD 2 refineries pursuing this strategy. Not only has new pipeline access to the east been opening up, but PADD 1’s refining capacity has been shrinking fast, leaving East Coast refineries less able than ever to meet in-region demand. Today, we discuss recent developments in the battle for refined-product market share in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Wednesday, 11/18/2020

It has been nearly a year since the novel coronavirus was first detected in China — that’s right, a year. In that time, we have seen significant parts of the world come to a near standstill, become all too familiar with video conferencing, and canceled family vacations and business travel. The fact that many of us have been stuck at home has wreaked havoc on the U.S. refining industry, with plummeting utilizations and some facilities shutting down, either temporarily or permanently. And, depending on how the U.S. transportation sector rebounds from the pandemic in 2021 and beyond, more refinery closures may be on the horizon. Today, we look at the U.S. facilities that are shutting down and tally up the capacity lost so far.

Monday, 10/26/2020

For the past several months, U.S. refineries have been producing more distillate than demand warrants, resulting in a glut of distillate fuels, especially ultra-low-sulfur diesel and jet fuel. The disconnect between supply and demand has been particularly stark in the Gulf Coast region, where just a couple of weeks ago distillate stocks sat 39% above their 10-year average after coming perilously close to tank tops in August. The culprit, of course, is COVID-19, or more specifically the effects of the pandemic on air travel and the broader economy. Demand for motor gasoline rebounded more quickly than demand for ULSD and jet fuel, and refineries churned out more gasoline to keep up, but that results in more distillate too. Now, finally, there are signs that distillate stocks may be easing back down. Today, we discuss the build-up in ULSD and jet fuel stockpiles, the ways they might revert to the norm, and the potential for storing distillate now and selling it at a higher price later.

Thursday, 10/01/2020

If you’ve filled up the tank in your car, SUV, or pickup in the past few days, you probably bought your first batch of winter-blend gasoline since the spring. It’s unlikely that you noticed a difference — only a refining geek with a nose for this sort of thing would — but winter gasoline has a higher Reid Vapor Pressure than summer gasoline, and therefore evaporates more quickly and emits more fumes. There’s a logic to EPA’s mandated switchover from lower-RVP gasoline to higher-RVP gasoline each September, and their switch back to lower-RVP each April/May. For one thing, using different gasoline blends during the colder and warmer months helps ensure that your engine runs well year-round; for another, reducing gasoline vapor pressure in the summer reduces emissions that contribute to smog. Today, we discuss gasoline RVP, why it matters, and how refineries ramp it up and down. (A hint is in the blog’s title.)

Wednesday, 08/12/2020

For U.S. refineries, the severe demand destruction that occurred this spring led to the worst financial performance in recent history. Not only did refiners produce less diesel, motor gasoline, and jet fuel in the second quarter than any quarter in recent memory, their refining margins were sharply lower than the historical range — a one-two punch that hit their bottom lines hard. The situation has improved somewhat this summer, but it’s still tough out there. So tough, in fact, that it’s reasonable to ask, does the coronavirus and its impacts to the energy sector signal the end of an era for refiners across the U.S.? Today, we review the decline in fuel demand and profitability in the second quarter and discuss the uncertainties refiners face in the second half of 2020 and beyond.

Tuesday, 08/04/2020

The global effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 brought the commercial aviation sector to its knees, and slashed demand for jet fuel to its lowest level in 50 years. That, combined with lower demand for motor gasoline and — to a lesser extent — diesel, forced refineries in the U.S. and elsewhere to substantially reduce their crude oil input and to make major changes in their operations, all with the aim of bringing refined product supply and demand into closer balance. After a horrific spring, U.S. jet fuel production and demand have been rebounding somewhat in recent weeks, but getting back to pre-coronavirus levels may take a long time. Today, we review the flight from hell that the jet fuel market has suffered through so far this year, and how it is affecting refineries.

Tuesday, 07/21/2020

Earlier this month, Shell announced that it was exploring the sale of yet another refinery — this time, it is the company’s Convent facility in Louisiana, which is one of the two refineries in the state that remain with Shell from the unwinding of its former joint venture with Saudi Aramco. Convent, with a capacity of 240 Mb/d, is near the middle of the pack in terms of refinery size and possesses some unique characteristics that could make it an attractive option for the right buyer and market conditions. But Shell’s announcement also raises a question, namely, how does the prospective sale compare with the company’s stated intent to focus on a smaller set of refineries integrated with Shell’s key trading hubs and petrochemicals operations? Today, we review the refinery’s characteristics and how it stacks up against its nearby rivals.

Monday, 06/29/2020

U.S. exports of motor gasoline and diesel to Mexico increased steadily from 2013 through 2018 as demand for refined products south of the border increased and throughput at Pemex’s six older, investment-starved refineries declined. U.S.-to-Mexico shipments of gasoline and diesel sagged in 2019, though, as Pemex started to implement a major refinery rebuilding program, and fell further in the spring of 2020 as the social and economic effects of COVID kicked in and Mexican demand for motor fuels plummeted. So what’s ahead for U.S. refined product exports as Mexican demand gradually rebounds later this year and in 2021? As we discuss today, that will largely depend on the Mexican government’s determination to have its debt-laden energy company produce gasoline and diesel at a loss and proceed with expensive refinery projects.

Sunday, 06/07/2020

Mexican demand for motor gasoline and diesel has plummeted this spring due to COVID-19 — so has demand for LPG. So far, Pemex — Mexico’s state-owned energy company and by far the country’s largest supplier of these commodities — has responded by slashing how much gasoline, diesel and LPG it is importing from the U.S. and holding its own production steady, despite the fact that Pemex’s refining margins are now deep in negative territory. What does Pemex’s focus on money-losing refining mean for U.S. exports to Mexico going forward? Today, we begin a short series on the ongoing competition between U.S. refiners and Pemex for market share south of the border.

Thursday, 05/21/2020

COVID-19 has created a number of challenges across the energy value chain, including lower demand for motor gasoline and jet fuel and, subsequently, surplus crude oil. However, even with diminished demand, the facilities that produce and process these fuels have to keep operating at some level, as do petrochemical plants. Workers in the energy industry are considered essential due to the importance of having fuel available to power vehicles and manufacturing facilities, natural gas to enable continued operation of power industries, and logistical infrastructure to ensure that feedstock supply can make it to processing facilities and eventually consumers. Given the need for round-the-clock operations, COVID-related social distancing measures have presented a unique challenge for refinery and petrochemical facilities. To maintain adequate staffing while protecting personnel from the coronavirus, these facilities have been making major adjustments. If, as we all hope, things begin moving back toward “normal” in the coming months and refinery and petchem utilization ramps up, these efforts to keep workers safe will only gain in significance. Today, we discuss staffing issues in these key industry sectors during the pandemic.

Wednesday, 05/06/2020

The COVID-19-induced social isolation and subsequent economic slowdown have caused major drops in U.S. refined products consumption, especially gasoline and jet fuel, which have experienced declines of as much as 44% and 70%, respectively, relative to similar periods in 2019. Diesel fuel consumption has been off as much as 20% on the same basis, and given that COVID is a global crisis, product exports have also fallen. As a result, U.S. refinery utilization has dropped to less than 70% for the last few weeks, the lowest levels since September 2008 during Hurricane Ike. All this presents refiners with two challenges: (1) reduced total demand; and (2) the disproportionate decline in gasoline and jet fuel. Each refinery is configured differently and has a varying degree of flexibility to react to these challenges. Today, we discuss what refiners can do to adjust operations and product yields, and examine the point at which some refineries might be forced to shut down completely.

Wednesday, 04/22/2020

Sharply declining refinery demand for crude oil was a key driver in the historic collapse in near-term futures prices for WTI at Cushing earlier this week. With stay-at-home directives in place in most of the industrialized world, U.S. — and global — demand for motor gasoline and jet fuel has plummeted to levels not seen in decades. These changes in refined-products demand, which may continue for months, already are having significant impacts on U.S. refineries — not just in how much crude oil they need but in operators’ decisions on whether to adjust their crude slates and ramp down or alter their operations. Their urgent challenge is to revise their yields to something close to the appropriate volumes of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Today, we begin a blog series on the U.S. refining sector and what refiners can — and can’t — do to adapt to these extraordinary times.

Monday, 03/23/2020

The collapse in crude oil prices and COVID-19’s very negative effects on global gasoline, jet fuel and diesel demand are putting an unprecedented squeeze on U.S. refiners. Even before the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, started to grab headlines around New Year’s Day, refineries had already been incentivized to shift their refined products output toward diesel, which can be used to help make IMO 2020-compliant low-sulfur bunker. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading to Europe and North America and stifling consumer transportation fuel demand, the price signals are even stronger, pushing refineries to do everything they can to minimize their gasoline and jet fuel production and enter what you might call “max diesel mode.” Today, we discuss how there are challenges and limits to what they can do, and a number of refineries may need to shut down due to lower demand, at least temporarily.

Monday, 02/03/2020

Over the weekend, PBF Energy closed on its acquisition of Shell’s Martinez, CA, refinery, marking the first completed U.S. refinery transaction of 2020. The closure of that deal may seem unremarkable, but it’s rare for more than two to three transactions involving individual refineries to take place in the U.S. in a given year, and there are as many as eight other refineries on the market. These include two each in the Philadelphia area, the Midcontinent and the Rockies, and one each in Washington state and Alaska. Why are so many refineries on the block? Today, we continue our series with a look at the facilities said to be on the market in PADDs 4 and 5.