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.
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.
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.
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.
A combination of pipelines and ships delivers some 4 MMb/d of transportation and heating fuels to the U.S. East Coast, most of it from Gulf Coast refineries. But there’s always room for improvement in refined products delivery infrastructure, whether it’s pipeline or port capacity expansions, new pipeline spurs, or new storage capability. The aim of these projects is almost always the same: to make distribution more efficient and to hold down the per-barrel cost of delivery. Today, we conclude our series with a look at possible infrastructure improvements and a note about the challenges these projects face.
Most of the gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel consumed in the U.S. East Coast region is piped in via long-distance pipelines from Gulf Coast refineries, but substantial amounts are moved in by ship—either from the Gulf Coast by Jones Act vessels or from overseas. These shipped-in volumes then need to make their way from port to consumer. Today we continue our examination of how transportation fuels and heating oil are delivered to East Coast users with a look at the ports and connecting pipelines that help move these critically important fuels.
The East Coast consumes more than 200 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel a day, but produces only one-fifth of that total, most of it at New Jersey and Pennsylvania refineries. To keep the region’s cars, trucks, trains and airplanes moving (and many of its homes and businesses heated) huge volumes of fuels need to be delivered from elsewhere, mostly via two pipelines from the Gulf Coast and the rest by ship—some from Gulf and other U.S. ports and some from overseas. Today, we continue our examination of the infrastructure that moves gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel to the nation’s largest fuel-consuming region with a look at four major pipelines.
Every day, refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast produce far more gasoline, diesel and jet fuel than the region could possibly use, and demand for these fuels along the East Coast for transportation and heating is far higher than local refinery production. To help bring the two regions into balance, a complicated network of pipelines, ports, Jones Act vessels and storage facilities has been developed over the past 70 years—and continues to be updated and expanded. Today, we begin a new series on how millions of barrels of these fuels are moved between and within the nation’s largest refining region and the region where more is used than any other part of the U.S.
The U.S. refining industry appears to be transitioning from an era of high margins and record throughputs. Falling crude prices at first increased refining margins – especially as demand for cheap refined products like gasoline expanded. Now product inventories are brimming and margins are squeezed. As we explain today the industry can look forward to an extended period of low crude prices while regulatory requirements and the pace of economic growth largely drive refined product trends.
Mexican production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel continues to fall and Mexico’s imports of these refined petroleum products from the U.S. are rising fast to keep pace with increasing demand. Longer term upgrade projects to increase Mexican refinery transport fuel are finally underway. But before refinery upgrades make a dent in imports, two ambitious refined-products pipeline/terminals projects will make it easier and more efficient to move large volumes of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas refineries into Mexico. Today, we update our coverage of fast-moving developments in Mexico-U.S. hydrocarbon trading.
Crude oil prices staged a recovery of sorts yesterday (January 21, 2016) after a crushing first two weeks of the year. But even if this proves to be the turning point, a lot of damage has been done to crude and refined product prices along the way. Jet fuel is a case in point. The U.S. Gulf Coast spot price for kerosene-type jet fuel closed on Wednesday (January 20, 2016) at $0.78/Gal - the lowest it’s been since September 2003, and barring a dramatic recovery in crude oil prices, the refined petroleum product, that is mostly used for aviation and by the military, will remain cheap this year. That’s good news for the airlines and, one would hope, for air travelers too. But it’s bad news for refiners because of narrowing jet margins over crude oil. Today, we examine the global market for jet fuel, and how it’s affecting U.S. refiners.
The Colonial System is the largest refined products pipeline in the U.S. and delivers as much as 2.7 MMb/d from Gulf Coast refineries to destinations up the East Coast as far as New York. The southern section of the pipeline has been running full for over three years – leading Colonial to apportion space to shippers. A desire to gain shipper support to expand the pipeline led Colonial to propose new tariff clauses limiting trading practices that have developed around apportionment such as the sale of shipper history. Earlier this month (December 3, 2015) the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) postponed the latest Colonial tariff proposal pending a user conference to resolve differences between the pipeline and shippers on these issues. Today we explain the oddities of line space and shipper history trading.
While recent analysis has raised concerns crude oil pipelines are running half empty the opposite is true for many of the nations’ refined product distribution pipes. Take the huge Colonial Pipeline system that delivers as much as 2.7 MMb/d of refined products from Gulf Coast refineries to destinations up the East Coast as far as New York. The southern stretch of the pipeline from Pasadena near Houston to Greensboro, NC has been running full since 2012 - meaning that shipper volumes are subject to rationing or apportionment. Today we start a two-part series explaining why the Colonial pipeline is so congested and how it operates.
The New York market for residential and commercial heating oil is traditionally tight in the winter months when demand exceeds local production and supplies are supplemented from storage and inflows/imports from outside the region. Coming into winter this year inventory levels were above normal for the time of year and market prices are in contango (a condition where future prices are higher than today) – encouraging further storage. Today we explain how the result is an extension of traditional seasonal storage trade opportunities and a shortage of available inventory capacity.
Only a few short years ago the double punch of fuel efficiency and ethanol mandates had put U.S. gasoline demand on the ropes. But in the past year demand has jumped by 0.5 MMb/d (per data from the Energy Information Administration - EIA). This surge in demand – presumably driven by cheaper prices – has kept refineries running full pelt this summer. Today we discuss the fall and rise of gasoline demand.