The competition among midstream companies to transport light, sweet U.S. crude to Louisiana refineries and to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is heating up. On April 1, Energy Transfer and Phillips 66 Partners finally started up the Lake Charles-to-St. James portion of their Bayou Bridge pipeline, which is designed to move light oil to the heart of Louisiana’s refining country. Two weeks later, Shell initiated an open season for newly available space on its Zydeco Pipeline from Houston to the St. James and Clovelly hubs, the latter of which can send crude to either local refineries or LOOP — the only Gulf Coast port currently able to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). Then, earlier this week, Bayou Bridge’s co-owners launched an open season of their own, this one to gauge shipper interest in joint-tariff transportation service on certain connecting pipes that haul light crude from the Bakken, the Niobrara, the Cushing crude hub and the Permian. The fight for barrels doesn’t end there — don’t forget plans for the Capline reversal and the Seahorse, ACE and Swordfish pipelines, all of which also are targeting Louisiana refineries and/or the export market. Game on! Today, we update midstreamers’ efforts to transport more high-API-gravity oil to Louisiana refineries and LOOP.
Back in the Pre-Shale Era, U.S. crude oil production was on a decades-long decline, increasing volumes of foreign oil were being imported to fill the supply gap, and the general direction of flows on U.S. crude pipelines was northbound from the Gulf Coast to inland refineries. In the past 10 years or so, these trends and flows have been reversed: U.S. production is up sharply; crude imports to the U.S. are down (but leveling out); and crude is being pulled toward the Gulf Coast and its array of refineries and export terminals, not away from it. We’ve discussed this tectonic shift in oil-pipeline flows in a number of recent blogs, including ones focused on the Cushing and St. James crude hubs, on Permian takeaway capacity, and on new export capacity being developed along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.
An interesting sub-theme in all this is that while many Texas refineries and export terminals (e.g. Corpus Christi, Houston, and Beaumont/Port Arthur) now benefit from direct pipeline access to light, sweet crudes from a variety of U.S. shale plays, the availability of shale crude by pipeline to refineries and export docks in neighboring Louisiana has lagged. But that’s about to change as producers in the Bakken, the Niobrara’s Powder River and Denver-Julesburg (D-J) basins, the Permian and the Eagle Ford seek new outlets for their crude and midstream companies compete to provide the best pipeline access to a wide range of Bayou State destinations.