During the summer of 2018, crude oil inventories at the trading hub in Cushing, OK, dropped to extreme lows. With estimated tank bottoms around 14.6 MMbbl, Cushing stockpiles hit 21.8 MMbbl for the week of August 3. Traders’ alarm bells were ringing, and upstream and downstream observers were wondering if low storage levels were going to cause significant operational issues. But just when it seemed tanks were nearing catastrophic lows, inventories reversed course and started to climb. Since August, crude stocks have increased by 13.6 MMbbl, or nearly 60%, and there is now talk of potentially too much crude en route to Cushing, maxing out capacity there. There are many contributing factors to this most recent inventory swing, with increased domestic production and the tail end of refinery turnaround season being two of the bigger fundamental drivers. But the main catalyst has been the shift from a backwardated forward curve to a contango forward curve in the WTI futures market. Today, we continue our Cushing series with a snapshot of recent contango markets and the impact those prices have had on stockpiles at the central Oklahoma hub.
The race is on and here comes WTI up the backstretch. On November 5, CME Group launched a Houston WTI futures contract, challenging a similar trading vehicle from Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) that started up in mid-October. Ever since crude flows to the Gulf Coast took off five years ago, the crude market has been clamoring for a trading vehicle that would accurately reflect pricing in the region that dominates U.S. demand from refineries, imports and exports. Now there are two. But their features are quite distinct. ICE’s contract reflects barrels delivered to Magellan East Houston, while CME’s contract is based on deliveries into Enterprise’s Houston system. The specs are different, as are the physical attributes of the two delivery points. Will both survive? Probably not. Futures markets tend to concentrate liquidity — trading activity — into a single vehicle that best meets the needs of the market. So, which of these will come out on top? That’s what the crude oil market wants to know. In today’s blog, we delve into the differences between the two new futures contracts for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude delivered to Houston and ponder the market implications of these new hedging and trading tools.
It’s been well-reported that crude oil pipeline capacity is getting maxed out in many basins across the U.S. and Canada. From Alberta, through the heart of the Bakken, all the way down to the Permian, pipeline projects are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth in some of North America’s largest oil-producing regions. Crude by rail (CBR) has frequently been the swing capacity provider when production in a basin overwhelms long-haul pipelines. While it is more expensive, more logistically challenging, and more time-intensive, CBR capacity is typically able to step in and provide a release valve for stranded volumes. But recently, CBR capacity has been tougher to come by and has taken longer than expected to ramp up. A key aspect of this issue is a new requirement for up-to-date rail cars. Today, we look at how new rail demands and uncertainty in domestic oil markets are combining to create a major hurdle for new CBR capacity.
Refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC), which account for half of the country’s total refining capacity, are generally among the most sophisticated and complex anywhere, with configurations that enable them to break down heavy, sour crude oil into high-value, low-sulfur refined products. However, over the past eight years, the USGC has been flooded with increasing volumes of light, sweet crudes produced in the Eagle Ford, the Permian and other U.S. shale plays as new pipelines were constructed or reversed to the coast for domestic refining or export. Still more pipelines will be coming online over the next year. Today, we evaluate how much domestic crude oil has been absorbed into the USGC refining system, the implications to the overall crude slate qualities, and options for increasing domestic crude oil processing in the near term.
Pipeline capacity constraints are nothing new to producers in the Bakken. Prior to the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in mid-2017, market participants had been pushing area pipeline takeaway to the max. When DAPL finally came online following a lengthy political and legal battle, producers and traders were able to breathe a sigh of relief. But with Bakken production steadily increasing over the past 18 months — and primed for future growth — new constraints are on the horizon. Over the next year or so, Bakken output could overwhelm takeaway capacity and push producers to find new market outlets. The questions now are, which midstream companies can add incremental capacity, how much crude-by-rail will be necessary, and is there a chance a major new pipeline gets built? Today, we forecast Bakken supply and demand, discuss some upcoming projects and lay out the possible headaches for Bakken producers heading into 2019.
The discount for Bakken crude prices at Clearbrook to WTI at Cushing has been on a rollercoaster in recent weeks, widening from $1.30/bbl at the beginning of September 2018 to over $10/bbl in mid-October and narrowing again most recently. There are several factors at play here. Canadian production has overwhelmed area pipelines and prices are being heavily discounted. These cheap Canadian barrels are creating oversupply issues at markets that Bakken barrels also trade into. On the demand side, Midwestern refiners are in the middle of seasonal turnarounds, reducing the demand for both Bakken and Canadian grades. Meanwhile, Bakken production growth continues to steadily chug along, increasing by over 150 Mb/d since the beginning of the year. And while this recent Bakken price angst is cause for concern, there is a looming bottleneck for pipeline space that could really shake things up sometime next year. Today, we examine the recent price phenomenon, the relationship between Canadian crude differentials and Bakken prices, and why producers should be concerned about future pipeline shortages.
Crude oil inventories at Cushing have been in a free fall. After last peaking at more than 69 MMbbl in April 2017, stockpiles have decreased to less than 22 MMbbl recently, nearing all-time lows for tank utilization at the Oklahoma crude-trading hub. While we’ve seen volumes drop quickly in the past, inventories have now declined for 12 straight weeks at a staggering pace. Traders, refiners, and other market participants are starting to fret. Is this just another cyclical trend or are market factors exacerbating the impact? Today, we examine the influence of historical pricing trends on Cushing inventories and why it seems that demand factors are speeding up the drop.
Rising crude oil production in Western Canada, filled-to-the-brim pipelines out of the region, and yet another blowout in the price spread between Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) are combining to spur a genuine revival in crude-by-rail (CBR) shipments from Canada to the U.S. CBR has helped out Western Canadian producers before, moving increasing volumes south through 2011-14 until new pipeline capacity came online. But this time, the number of barrels being moved out of Western Canada by rail is already moving into record territory, and — with the addition of incremental pipeline capacity still at least a year away, and maybe more — railed volumes are likely to continue rising in the months to come. Today, we discuss recent developments and what producers, shippers and railroads see coming in the months ahead.
While crude oil producers in the prolific Permian Basin are living out a Shale Revolution, the Midcontinent region of the U.S. is having a Refining Renaissance. Crude takeaway constraints, mainly due to insufficient pipeline capacity, are driving the prices of crude in Western Canada and West Texas to attractive lows against the WTI NYMEX benchmark for crude at the Cushing, OK, hub. Cheaper oil can contribute to bigger margins for refiners, who are supplying increasing volumes into a retail market that’s selling gasoline at the highest prices in four years. What will happen if the refiners don’t rein in their runs? Today, we’ll explore the implications of record-high run rates in the U.S. refining industry.
Since early this year, the Midland crude differential has continued to widen, trading one day last week at a discount of $15.75/bbl to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing, the widest spread since August 2014 before settling back to $11.25/bbl on Monday. The wide price differential is a result of fast-growing production in the Permian and bottlenecked takeaway pipelines. But the trajectory of this increasing price spread has been anything but smooth. Lately, we have seen a blip in the price differentials right around the 19th or 20th of the month. In each of the last three months, for a short-lived 24 to 48 hours, the Midland-Cushing price differential has narrowed by $2/bbl or more as Permian shippers have gone on feeding frenzies. Today, we look at these brief upticks in pricing and the pipeline and trader mechanics behind them.
The weeks-long shutdown at Syncrude Canada’s oil sands production facility in northeastern Alberta will alleviate pipeline takeaway constraints that have significantly widened the price spread between Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil. But when Syncrude returns later this summer, there’s every reason to believe that the constraints will too, as will the need for significantly more crude-by-rail shipments. Railed volumes out of Western Canada have been increasing in recent months, but not by enough to avert WCS-WTI differential blowouts to $25 and even $30/bbl. The catch is that most of the rail-terminal capacity built a few years ago is mothballed, and that railroads are reluctant to dedicate more locomotives and personnel unless shippers make one-, two- or even three-year commitments to take-or-pay for that logistical support. Today, we consider the ongoing challenges Western Canadian producers face in moving their crude to market.
Crude oil pipelines out of Cushing are filling up. With U.S. crude production approaching the 11 MMb/d mark, more and more production from the Rockies, Midcontinent and Permian is funneling into the Cushing, OK, trading hub. It’s getting increasingly difficult to get all of that volume to the major demand center at the Gulf Coast. The two major pipelines out of Cushing — Seaway and Marketlink — are near full capacity and differentials are responding as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing is now trading at a $7.60/bbl discount to Magellan East Houston (MEH) at the Gulf. Today, we look at some of the major factors affecting the WTI-MEH spread, space on major pipelines between the two points, and potential implications going forward.
Even with crude oil prices down $1.67/bbl yesterday, the wide differential between Permian prices and those in destination markets held up, with WTI Midland trading at $15.60/bbl below the same quality of oil on the Gulf Coast. This has become a red-hot topic for all Permian-watchers. For example, in first quarter earnings calls, a number of producers not only reported their Permian well productivity and drilling plans, they also reviewed how much firm pipeline space they have signed up for in the Permian and how they plan (or hope) to avoid negative financial consequences from the differential blowout. With so much demand for new pipeline space, shouldn’t it be easy to get a bunch of shippers signed up for long-term commitments to fund a new project? Today, we’ll look at what it takes for commitments to pay off massive pipeline projects, the hurdles midstream companies go through to achieve it, and the possibility of new pipeline projects getting added to the development schedule.
Large-scale and well-funded producers in the Permian have built dedicated gathering systems and signed up for pipeline-takeaway options to keep their barrels moving to markets at the Gulf Coast and Cushing. For the most part, smaller producers don’t have the same options, for a variety of reasons. More and more, barrels from outside the core areas of the Permian are competing for the last bits of pipeline space and producers are being forced to rely more heavily on Permian trucking companies to help keep their crude flowing. Truckers are being asked to make less desirable, less economical and longer hauls, and are passing those costs back to the producer. With pipeline takeaway capacity maxed out, trucking capacity is being pushed to the limit too, with several potential upstream impacts. Today, we look at trucking options for smaller producers in second-tier production areas, the impact of boom-bust cycles on trucking companies and what tight trucking capacity means for the basin as a whole.
If you’ve been watching market prices over the last week, you’ll have noticed that Permian differentials have tightened a bit. With the capacity of the new Midland-to-Sealy pipeline ratcheting up and the 146-Mb/d Borger refinery near Amarillo coming back online, there has been a brief respite for crude oil prices in West Texas. But soon, continued growth in crude production will again max out pipeline capacity out of the Permian until one of the major new pipes starts operating in 2019. In the interim, producers and traders without firm pipeline space will be taking deep price discounts, all the while attempting to maintain their revenue streams by sticking to their development plans or, at the very least, avoiding the specter of well shut-ins. Today, we dive into the current state of affairs regarding Permian pipeline allocations, the impact on producer logistics, and what it all means for price differentials.