Refined Fuels

Thursday, 11/24/2022

The U.S. market for distillates has been crazy the past few months — especially in PADD 1 —  and given all that’s going on, it’s likely to stay that way for months to come. Inventories of ultra-low-sulfur diesel, heating oil and other distillates are at their lowest levels for this time of year since before the EIA started tracking them 40 years ago and diesel prices are in the stratosphere, all despite diesel crack spreads being in record-high territory — a strong incentive for refineries to churn out more distillate. In the encore edition of today’s RBN blog, we discuss the many factors affecting distillate supply, demand, inventories and prices and take a look ahead at where the market may be headed next.

Thursday, 11/17/2022

While we’ve seen up-and-down spikes in stock market indices, cryptocurrency values and the prices of crude oil and motor fuel in recent years, the price of one important commodity has been quietly but relentlessly rocketing higher — octane, the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price. The steady rise in octane prices is tied in part to the fundamental change in how octane is valued, with the retail market now being impacted more by demand than production costs. In today’s RBN blog, we look at why octane prices have climbed over the past decade and what market factors are limiting its supply.

Wednesday, 11/09/2022

The dramatic increase in the price of the D6 Renewable Identification Number a decade ago was one of the more spectacular moves in the history of major commodity trading. The spike in the price of RINs — the credits used to certify compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — was brought on by a sudden uptick in demand and stakeholders who lacked sufficiently deep awareness and understanding of the complex RIN credit system. In today’s RBN blog, we use the story of 2013’s “Big Bang” in D6 RIN prices to explain the fundamental mechanism that determines RIN prices, consider whether such a price shock could occur again, and discuss what stakeholders can do to prepare.

Monday, 10/31/2022

The U.S. market for distillates has been crazy the past few months — especially in PADD 1 —  and given all that’s going on, it’s likely to stay that way for months to come. Inventories of ultra-low-sulfur diesel, heating oil and other distillates are at their lowest levels for this time of year since before the EIA started tracking them 40 years ago and diesel prices are in the stratosphere, all despite diesel crack spreads being in record-high territory — a strong incentive for refineries to churn out more distillate. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the many factors affecting distillate supply, demand, inventories and prices and take a look ahead at where the market may be headed next.

Thursday, 10/20/2022

Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) are credits used to certify compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires certain minimum volumes of biofuels to be blended into fuels sold in the U.S. There are many types of fuels covered by the RFS and so RIN credits come in different categories. One category, the D6 RIN, applies to the blending of corn-based ethanol into refined gasoline to make the gasoline-ethanol blends we pump into our cars, SUVs and pickups. In 2013, the D6 RIN price skyrocketed 100-fold in one of the most extreme cases of panic buying in any major commodity market in history. In today’s RBN blog, we examine that event and address three key questions: How did it happen, what was the solution, and why does it matter today?

Tuesday, 10/11/2022

In these uncertain times, with the energy transition in flux and a recession looming, it takes moxie for a company to make a major capital investment in an energy-related project, especially one that could arguably be called the first of its kind. But that’s what’s happening at a site along the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) in Pasadena, TX, where Next Wave Energy Partners, which is now completing an ethylene-to-alkylate plant, is planning an adjoining ethanol-to-ethylene facility that will enable the company to produce bioethylene, renewable alkylate and/or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), depending on market demand, production economics and other factors. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the ins and outs of Next Wave’s Project Lightning.

Monday, 09/19/2022

The high cost of gasoline and diesel and their impact on inflation and the global economy has been a major market development this year, with the blame typically being cast on politicians, oil producers and policies intended to limit development of traditional energy resources and encourage decarbonization — and sometimes all of the above. Prices have retreated in recent weeks amid lower consumer demand and worries about the state of the global economy, but long-term concerns about global refining capacity and the possibility of another price spike remain. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on the state of global refining.

Thursday, 09/15/2022

What has been the most controversial topic in the U.S. refining industry over the last 10 years? Well, it’s a matter of opinion but, judging from time spent in earnings conference calls, law offices, courtrooms, congressional committees, the White House, and other forums of business and political debate, Renewable Identification Numbers — or RINs — would have to be a top contender for that prize. In today’s RBN blog and the final episode of this series, we consider two differing viewpoints on the effects of the RIN system and specific disagreements — or are they misunderstandings? — about the financial consequences of RINs that have dominated the debates and legal cases.

Tuesday, 09/13/2022

Refined product markets in the U.S. are constantly morphing. Over time, demand for gasoline and diesel rises or falls, refineries are shut down, and the price spread between products sold in neighboring regions widens or narrows. These changes can incentivize refiners and marketers to push into new areas — and encourage midstream companies to develop pipeline capacity to ease the flow of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel into newly attractive markets. Midstreamers have advanced a number of pipeline projects in the past few months to help move increasing volumes of products west across Texas to the Permian, the Great Plains and into the Rockies. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss these projects and what’s been driving their development.

Wednesday, 09/07/2022

The thinking behind Next Wave Energy Partners’ late-2019 decision to build a first-of-its-kind ethylene-to-alkylate plant was that a combination of NGL production growth and new ethylene supply — plus increasing demand for alkylate, an octane-boosting gasoline blendstock — would be a win-win-win for ethylene producers, refiners and Next Wave itself. Now, with construction of the plant along the Houston Ship Channel approaching the homestretch, things are shaking out very much as the company had anticipated — even better, in fact. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the progress being made on Next Wave’s Project Traveler plant and the market forces validating the company’s final investment decision (FID).

Monday, 09/05/2022

Since the century turned, there’s been a big buildup in refining capacity in the U.S. Midwest, primarily to process the increasing volumes of heavy sour crude being piped in from Western Canada. Over the same period, refining capacity in the Mid-Atlantic region has declined by more than half, mostly for economic reasons — including the lack of pipeline access to favorably priced U.S. shale oil — but also due to events, such as the devastating June 2019 fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ 330-Mb/d refinery in Philadelphia, which led the facility’s owner to shut it down. In addition to spurring more refined product imports to the Mid-Atlantic and increased flows to the region on Colonial Pipeline, the changing market dynamics prompted a push to increase pipeline flows of gasoline and diesel east from the Midwest to markets in Pennsylvania and beyond. In today’s RBN blog, we continue a review of the U.S.’s still-morphing refined product pipeline networks with a look at recently added capacity from PADD 2 to PADD 1.

Sunday, 08/14/2022

The cost of gasoline has garnered a lot of headlines since the start of 2022, with the blame for elevated prices falling on seemingly everything and everyone, from the Biden administration’s policies on oil exploration to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as decisions by major U.S. producers and OPEC not to swiftly boost oil production. Another can't-be-ignored culprit is the loss of significant U.S. refining capacity over the last few years, which has limited the ability of refiners to respond to the strong, post-COVID demand recovery by ramping up production. By and large, the refineries still operating have been running flat out. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the state of global refining, where new capacity is likely to be built, and the headwinds to future investment.

Thursday, 07/28/2022

Refiners and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have locked horns in a dispute over Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). Now in its 10th year, the dispute stems from contradictory premises about how RINs affect the profits of the refiners and blenders who produce the ground transportation fuels sold in the U.S. To form an opinion of what ought to happen next, you need to understand the fundamentals of how RINs work in light of the RIN being a tax and a subsidy that forces renewables into fuels. In today’s RBN blog, we focus on how RINs force renewables into fuels and address the related question: Do RINs increase the price consumers pay for gasoline?

Tuesday, 07/19/2022

Refining margins today — whether in the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC), Rotterdam or Singapore — are at record highs. Given current high crude oil prices, gasoline and diesel prices at the pump everywhere are also at unprecedented levels, making refinery profits a major topic of conversation — and not just for politicians. While some of the explanations of refining margins are just political talking points, several others are well-established and accepted, and still others consider factors that are less frequently cited, even by those familiar with energy markets. One such factor is the price of natural gas and how it’s impacting refinery operations and competitiveness around the world. Today’s RBN blog discusses the crucial role natural gas prices play in refinery operating expenses and refining margins, and examines how favorable natural gas prices in the U.S. are providing a substantial competitive advantage for domestic refiners.

Monday, 07/18/2022

As the world economy tries to dust itself off after COVID, increased demand for transportation fuels coupled with tight supplies has become a pain. The shortage escalated to crisis levels this spring and summer when, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sanctions eliminated Russian exports of crude oil and intermediate feedstocks to the U.S. and severely reduced flows to Europe. While Russia has been able to find some alternate markets, its overall product exports are down significantly. Adding to these product-supply reductions are policy decisions by Putin’s allies in China to reduce their product exports to a trickle. Chinese exports had been an important part of regional supply in recent years, but authorities there have decided to decrease the number and size of export quotas issued, leaving many refineries in China operating at rates well below their capabilities. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at how developments in Russia and China have played a major role in the current global shortage of refined products.