refining

Monday, 01/11/2021

In the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis started hitting the energy sector hard, many refiners made the tough decision to dramatically cut back capital spending plans and operating costs for the year in order to weather the storm. While these cuts were swift and sizeable, they were not absolute — they couldn’t be, given that refining is a capital-intensive industry with complex assets that require seemingly constant maintenance, equipment swap-outs, and upgrades. And then there’s the added pressure that refiners also need to invest in keeping their facilities in compliance with changing environmental rules, and to consider the overall impact of investments in new, “greener” fuels, such as renewable diesel, that may help them improve their profitability going forward. Today, we look at refiner capital spending in the context of recent history and highlights some of the growth projects being pursued in the sector.

Tuesday, 12/22/2020

PADDs 4 and 5 — the Rockies and the West Coast regions, respectively — are each outliers in the U.S. refining sector. Refineries in the Rockies, for example, are generally far smaller than those in other PADDs and, due to pipeline flows, source their crude oil from either Western Canada, the Bakken, or in-region production, including the Niobrara and Utah’s Uinta Basin. West Coast refineries, in turn, have no crude oil pipeline links with U.S. points to the east, and depend on a mix of imported crude from Canada, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as domestic oil from California, Alaska, and rail receipts. Today, we conclude a series on region-by-region crude oil imports and refinery crude slates with a look at PADDs 4 and 5.

Tuesday, 12/15/2020

Back in 2005, marine terminals along the Gulf Coast were importing more than 6 MMb/d of crude oil, mostly to feed refineries within PADD 3 but also to pipe or barge north to PADD 2. By 2019, with U.S. shale production finishing up a decade-long rise, imports to the Gulf Coast had declined to less than 1.7 MMb/d. In COVID-impacted 2020, imports sagged, soared, then sagged again, recently settling in at about 1.2 MMb/d, their lowest level in — wait for it — 35 years! The 80% decline in Gulf Coast oil imports since the mid-2000s was made possible in part by big changes in the crude slates at refineries in Texas, Louisiana, and other PADD 3 states, mostly involving the swapping out of light sweet crude from overseas with favorably priced light sweet crude from the Permian and other U.S. shale plays. Today, we look at imports into PADD 3, the home of more than half of the U.S.’s total refining capacity.

Tuesday, 12/01/2020

Fifteen years ago, just before the dawn of the Shale Era, more than 1.8 MMb/d of Gulf Coast and imported crude oil was being piped and barged north from PADD 3 to refineries in the Midwest. By 2019, those northbound flows had fallen by half, to less than 930 Mb/d, and in the first nine months of  this year they averaged only 550 Mb/d. Refineries in PADD 2, many now equipped with cokers and other hardware that enables them to break down heavy, sour crude into valuable refined products, have replaced those barrels — and more — with piped- and railed-in imports of favorably priced crude from Western Canada, including a lot of dilbit and railbit from Alberta’s oil sands. Today, we discuss the evolution of feedstock supply to the Midwest refinery sector.

Thursday, 11/26/2020

On October 25, a major consolidation of two Canadian oil and gas companies was announced with the planned merger of Cenovus Energy and Husky Energy. The prospective consolidation will offer the opportunity for corporate-level synergies and, over the longer term, for the physical integration of some of the companies’ operations, especially in Alberta’s oil sands. In today’s blog, we discuss some of the more nuanced elements of the consolidation, including potential improvement in crude oil market access and the larger presence of the combined company in PADD 2 refining, a sector that has taken a major hit during the pandemic. This blog also introduces a new weekly report from RBN and Baker & O’Brien: U.S. Refinery Billboard.

Tuesday, 11/10/2020

On October 25, a major consolidation of two Canadian oil and gas companies was announced with the planned merger of Cenovus Energy and Husky Energy. The prospective consolidation will offer the opportunity for corporate-level synergies and, over the longer term, for the physical integration of some of the companies’ operations, especially in Alberta’s oil sands. In today’s blog, we discuss some of the more nuanced elements of the consolidation, including potential improvement in crude oil market access and the larger presence of the combined company in PADD 2 refining, a sector that has taken a major hit during the pandemic. This blog also introduces a new weekly report from RBN and Baker & O’Brien: U.S. Refinery Billboard.

Wednesday, 11/04/2020

Ten years ago, East Coast refineries imported virtually all of the crude oil they needed — 60% from OPEC, 21% from Canada, and 19% from other non-OPEC countries. Only five years later, in 2015, the tables had turned. PADD 1 refinery demand for crude remained unchanged at 1.1 MMb/d, but only 14% of the oil refined there came from OPEC, 23% from Canada, and 21% from other non-OPEC countries — the other 42% was either railed in from the Bakken or shipped in from the Eagle Ford and Permian. But the changes didn’t end there. Imports rebounded sharply in 2016 and 2017, when new pipelines were built out of those basins that pulled barrels away from PADD 1 and into more competitive refining markets. In the fall of 2020, imports are falling back again but for a different reason — with COVID-19 demand destruction and other woes, East Coast refinery demand for oil is down by almost half, with more cuts on the way. Today, we continue a series on U.S. oil imports with a look at the East Coast.

Monday, 10/26/2020

For the past several months, U.S. refineries have been producing more distillate than demand warrants, resulting in a glut of distillate fuels, especially ultra-low-sulfur diesel and jet fuel. The disconnect between supply and demand has been particularly stark in the Gulf Coast region, where just a couple of weeks ago distillate stocks sat 39% above their 10-year average after coming perilously close to tank tops in August. The culprit, of course, is COVID-19, or more specifically the effects of the pandemic on air travel and the broader economy. Demand for motor gasoline rebounded more quickly than demand for ULSD and jet fuel, and refineries churned out more gasoline to keep up, but that results in more distillate too. Now, finally, there are signs that distillate stocks may be easing back down. Today, we discuss the build-up in ULSD and jet fuel stockpiles, the ways they might revert to the norm, and the potential for storing distillate now and selling it at a higher price later.

Sunday, 06/07/2020

Mexican demand for motor gasoline and diesel has plummeted this spring due to COVID-19 — so has demand for LPG. So far, Pemex — Mexico’s state-owned energy company and by far the country’s largest supplier of these commodities — has responded by slashing how much gasoline, diesel and LPG it is importing from the U.S. and holding its own production steady, despite the fact that Pemex’s refining margins are now deep in negative territory. What does Pemex’s focus on money-losing refining mean for U.S. exports to Mexico going forward? Today, we begin a short series on the ongoing competition between U.S. refiners and Pemex for market share south of the border.

Thursday, 01/16/2020

For a few years now, the Shale Revolution has been opening up development opportunities hardly anyone would have thought possible in the Pre-Shale Era. For example, new crude oil, natural gas and NGL pipelines from the Permian to the Gulf Coast, lots of new fractionators and steam crackers, as well as export terminals for crude, LNG, LPG, ethane and, most recently, ethylene. And here’s another. Thanks to the combination of NGL production growth and new ethylene supply — plus increasing demand for alkylate, an octane-boosting gasoline blendstock — the developer of a novel ethylene-to-alkylate project along the Houston Ship Channel has reached a Final Investment Decision (FID). Today, we discuss how the FID is driven by both supply-side and demand-side trends in the NGL and fuels markets.

Monday, 10/14/2019

U.S. crude oil fundamentals have shifted sharply in the past few weeks; some changes were fully anticipated, and others more exaggerated than originally expected. U.S. production has risen again to another record-setting high, while a massive decline in refining activity due to turnaround season — and a number of unanticipated short-term shutdowns — has erased a lot of domestic demand for crude. Meanwhile, export volumes out of a few key Gulf Coast terminals are hitting all-time marks. U.S. crude oil imports, affected by international disruptions and refining demand, have dropped like a stone and are nearing 20-year-plus lows. With School of Energy 2019 now in session, it’s a great time to recap what’s been happening over the past month. Today, we look at the summer-to-fall shift in fundamentals, and how it’s impacted overall inventories.

Monday, 07/01/2019

Independent refiner PBF Energy on June 11 announced its plan to acquire Shell Oil’s Martinez, CA, refinery for about $1 billion; the deal is expected to close by the end of 2019. The purchase will give PBF its sixth U.S. refinery and add 157 Mb/d to the company’s existing 865-Mb/d refining portfolio, pushing its total capacity past 1 MMb/d. Post-acquisition, PBF will retain overall fourth place in the U.S.

Thursday, 05/30/2019

Global demand for propylene is rising, but lighter crude slates at U.S. refineries and the use of more ethane at U.S. (and overseas) steam crackers has reduced propylene production from these plants. That has led to the development of more “on-purpose” propylene production facilities — especially propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plants — in both the U.S. and Canada. More than 2 million metric tons/year of new PDH capacity has come online in North America since 2010, another 1.6 MMtpa is under development, and propane/propylene economics may well support still more capacity being built by the mid-2020s, maintaining the U.S. and Canada’s position as propylene and propylene-derivative exporters. Today, we begin a series looking at “on-purpose” production of propylene by PDH plants and what the development of these facilities will mean for U.S., Canadian and overseas markets.

Tuesday, 01/15/2019

With Petróleos Mexicanos’ (Pemex) refineries struggling to operate at more than 30% of total capacity, gasoline pumps across Mexico are more likely to be filling up tanks with fuel imported from the U.S. than with domestic supply. This arrangement works well for U.S. refiners, who are running close to flat-out and depending on export volumes to clear the market. But now, the Mexican government has shut a number of refined products pipelines to prevent illegal tapping, and that’s had two consequences:  widespread fuel shortages among Mexican consumers and a logjam of American supplies waiting to come into Mexico’s ports. Today, we explain the opportunities and risks posed to U.S. refiners that have ramped up their involvement with — and dependence on — the Mexican market.

Wednesday, 01/02/2019

The implementation date for IMO 2020, the international rule mandating a shift to low-sulfur marine fuel, is less than 12 months away. It’s anyone’s guess what the actual prices of Brent, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and other benchmark crudes will be on January 1, 2020, or how much it will cost to buy IMO 2020-compliant bunker a year from now. What is predictable, though, is that the rapid ramp-up in demand for 0.5%-sulfur marine fuel is likely to affect the price relationships among various grades of crude oil, and among the wide range of refined products and refinery residues — everything from high-sulfur residual fuel oil (HSFO, or resid) to jet fuel. The refinery sector is in for an extended period of wrenching change, and today we conclude our blog series on the new bunker rule with a look at the structural pricing shifts needed to support the availability of low-sulfur marine fuel.