Refined Fuels

Around the world, a lot of smart people in the public and private sectors hold similar views on where we’re all headed, energy-wise. An accelerating shift to renewables and electric vehicles, driven by climate concerns. A not-so-far-away peak in global demand for refined products like gasoline and diesel. There are also what you might call consensus opinions on some energy-industry nuances, like how much global refining capacity will be operational in 2025 and what the spread between light and heavy crude oil will be in the years ahead. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from the new Future of Fuels report by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics (RFA) practice, including RFA’s different take on a few matters large and small — and all of critical concern to producers, refiners and marketers alike. 

Fresh on the heels of expanding its Beaumont, TX, refinery into the largest in the country, ExxonMobil announced in January that it had finished yet another project at its century-old Baton Rouge complex in Louisiana. The Baton Rouge Refinery Integrated Competitiveness (BRRIC) project took roughly three years to complete and did not add crude refining capacity, unlike the Beaumont project. Instead, the goal of the $240 million investment was to modernize the crude oil processing plant — the state’s largest — increasing access to competitive crudes and growing markets for its fuels as well as curbing the refinery’s environmental impact. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the BRRIC project and what it means for the Baton Rouge refinery. 

When the price of the Tier 3 sulfur credit hit a new high of $3,600 in October 2023, the tradable sulfur credit for gasoline moved from the background to center stage in refining circles. And while credit prices have retreated slightly to about $3,400, they still represent a nearly 10-fold increase over two years and translate to a Tier 3 compliance cost of almost $3/bbl, raising concerns from refiners in a highly competitive market. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how refiners are adapting and the investments that could reduce the cost of compliance. 

The price of the Tier 3 gasoline sulfur credit hit $3,600 in October, up by a factor of 10 since 2022 and roughly in line with the all-time high reached in 2019. The high price of this important credit is a direct indicator of the true cost of compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standard and has raised some alarm recently in refining and financial circles. In today’s RBN blog, we give some specific examples of how refiners and investment analysts are reacting. 

Renewable diesel (RD) production has been surging this year, far surpassing blending mandates established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But there may be storm clouds on the horizon. The jump in RD production has led to excess generation of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), the tool used to ensure compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), impacting RD economics. With RD production set to move even higher in 2024 amid already-declining margins, it has left some to wonder how the market will come back into balance. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the growth in RD production, the resulting impact on RIN volumes and prices, and how things could shake out next year. 

The price of the Tier 3 gasoline sulfur credit hit $3,600 in October, up by a factor of 10 from two years ago and roughly in line with the all-time highs seen in late 2019. This tradable credit allows refiners to sell gasoline that exceeds the sulfur specification on gasoline sold in the U.S. In today’s RBN blog, we examine what’s behind the credit’s steep and steady rise — and why it matters. 

Florida is entirely dependent on others for the vast amounts of refined products it consumes — every gallon of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel that’s pumped into cars, SUVs, trucks, locomotives and airplanes in the Sunshine State needs to be either shipped or trucked in. Now, a midstream company is planning a project that would enable large volumes of refined products to be railed into Florida by unit trains to three new storage and distribution terminals — and eventually several more. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the plan. 

Many governments around the world are looking for ways to incentivize reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and two approaches have received the most attention: cap-and-trade and a carbon tax. The European Union (EU) has chosen the former, Canada has opted for the latter, and the U.S. — well, that’s still to be determined. It’s logical for oil and gas producers, refiners and others in carbon-intensive industries to wonder, what does it all mean for us? In today’s RBN blog, we look at Canada’s carbon tax (which it refers to as a “carbon price”), explain how it works, and examine its current and future impacts on oil sands producers, bitumen upgraders and refiners. 

Just as homeowners in parts of the Northeast are thinking about turning on the heat again, the market for heating oil, diesel and other middle distillates in PADD 1 is unusually tight. Inventories are hovering near their five-year lows; prices are up sharply; and the near-term prospects for rebuilding stocks are modest at best. For one thing, the import-dependent region can’t rely on them as much as it used to; for another, at least a couple of in-region and nearby Canadian refineries the Northeast counts on are offline for major turnarounds. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the latest developments in PADD 1’s distillates market.

The world consumes about 100 MMb/d of liquid fuels, which are critically important to every segment of the global economy and to nearly every aspect of our daily lives. The size and scope of this market means it’s impacted by all kinds of short-term forces — economic ups and downs, geopolitics, domestic developments and major weather events, just to name a few — some of which are difficult, if not impossible, to foresee. But while these events can sometimes come out of nowhere, there are some long-term forces on the horizon that will shape markets in the decades to come, even if the magnitude of these changes might be up for debate. One is a move to prioritize alternative fuel sources rather than crude oil, but a meaningful shift won’t happen as quickly as many forecasts would indicate — and that has big implications for liquid fuel demand and the outlook for U.S. refiners. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss these issues and other highlights from the recent webcast by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics (RFA) practice on their newly released update to the Future of Fuels report.

A wide range of ever-changing economic and other forces — domestic and international — are constantly impacting the U.S. refinery complex, for good and for bad. Fluctuations in crude oil supply and prices. Ups and downs in demand for refined products. Refinery closures and expansions. And don’t forget this: the pace of the much-discussed transition to lower-carbon energy sources. There’s a lot at play in the world of gasoline, middle distillates and resid — renewable fuels too — and while industry players can’t fully anticipate what’s next in the refined-product roller coaster ahead, it’s critically important to keep up with the latest developments and to have a deep understanding of the many factors influencing crude oil and fuel markets — and the relationships among those drivers. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the key findings in a newly released update to Future of Fuels, an in-depth report by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics (RFA) practice on everything you need to know about U.S. and global supply and demand for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and biofuels over the short, medium and long term.

It seems logical that shifting over time to aviation fuel with a lower carbon footprint would represent the most practical way for the global airline industry to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But for that shift to happen, there needs to be an economic rationale for producing sustainable aviation fuel and, despite a seemingly generous production credit for SAF in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), that rationale is a least a little shaky when compared to renewable diesel (RD) credits available today. In today’s RBN blog, we conclude our two-part series on SAF with an examination of RD and SAF economics (which are remarkably similar), the degree to which existing SAF incentives may fall short of RD, and what it all means for SAF producers and production.

As environmental protection and decarbonization efforts have ramped up in the past few decades, policymakers around the world have come up with a variety of schemes to lower industrial emissions. The Kyoto Protocol in 1997 committed developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a defined amount from 1990 levels by 2012. The treaty was never brought up for ratification in the U.S. Senate, which unanimously opposed it because developing nations — such as China — weren’t included. Across the Atlantic, the Kyoto Protocol was received much more favorably, with all 15 members (at the time) of the European Union (EU) ratifying the treaty in 2002. In 2005, the EU launched the Emissions Trading System (ETS) as a mechanism to help reduce emissions from power plants, industrial facilities and commercial aviation, covering nearly half of total EU emissions. In today’s RBN blog, we explain the European cap-and-trade system, examine how the ETS is affecting the EU’s refining industry as a whole, and drill down to the refinery level to discuss disparities in carbon-cost exposure from one refinery to the next.

The world is full of paradoxes and apparent contradictions, like the phrase “this page intentionally left blank” on an otherwise empty page in a government report, and the energy sector is no different. The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of the “Big 3” petroleum products — gasoline, diesel/gasoil and jet fuel/kerosene — but it still imports significant volumes of those very same products. That paradox, which is not unlike the U.S.’s need to both export and import various grades of crude oil, is tied to a mismatch between where the product is produced and where it is consumed. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the factors that contribute to that mismatch and what it means for U.S. “Big 3” production and exports going forward.

At first glance, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to facilitate increased sales of E15 — an 85/15 blend of gasoline blendstock and ethanol — by putting it on the same summertime regulatory footing as commonly available E10 in eight Midwest/Great Plains states might seem like a boon to corn farmers and ethanol producers. But as we discuss in today’s RBN blog, there are a number of economic, practical and even psychological barriers to broadened public access to — and use of — E15 that go well beyond the specific regulatory issue the EPA proposal addresses. As a result, as we see it, EPA’s plan is unlikely to boost E15 demand in any meaningful way, at least for now.