IMO 2020

Thursday, 02/13/2020

On January 1, 2020 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implemented new fuel standards for oil-powered vessels, except those equipped with exhaust scrubbers to remove pollutants. In the absence of a scrubber, the IMO 2020 rule stipulates that ships' bunkers contain less than 0.5% sulfur. Using a scrubber allows the vessel to burn cheaper high-sulfur fuel. Last March, a shipowner’s estimated $2.5 million scrubber investment for a 2-MMbbl Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) would take just over three years to recover, based on average fuel prices during the first quarter of 2019. This year, barely a month after the new regulation came into force, the payback period has shortened dramatically, to less than a year, though the coronavirus’s effect on shipping demand and fuel prices, among other factors, could again put payout timing at risk. Today, we look at changing price spreads between high-sulfur and low-sulfur bunker and the scrubber payback economics that suggest a rosier outlook for vessel owners who invested in scrubber installations, at least for now.

Wednesday, 01/01/2020

Negative Permian gas prices. Wall Street sours on all things energy. E&Ps and midstreamers forced by capital markets to tighten their belts. Infrastructure coming online just as production growth is slowing. Oil, gas and NGLs totally dependent on export markets to balance. The list goes on. Just as producers and midstreamers came to terms with a new normal for oil and gas prices, this new round of challenges hit the market in 2019. And it is going to get a lot more complicated as we enter the new decade. There is just no way to predict what is going to happen next, right? Nah. All we need to do is stick our collective RBN necks out one more time, peer into our crystal ball, and see what 2020 has in store for us.

Wednesday, 12/25/2019

It’s been more than three years since the International Maritime Organization (IMO) fully committed to the January 1, 2020, implementation of IMO 2020, a rule that slashes the allowable sulfur content in bunker fuel used in the open seas around most of the world from 3.5% to only 0.5%. There’s been a lot of angst in the interim, most of it regarding the changes in crude slates, refinery operations and fuel blending needed to meet a flip-of-a-switch spike in global demand for low-sulfur bunker. Also, shippers worried that prices for rule-compliant fuel would go through the roof. Well, it turns out that the transition period in the months leading up to the IMO 2020 era has been largely drama-free. Supplies of very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) and marine gasoil (MGO) — the bunker most ships will now use — have been building in most places, prices are up but moderating, and while there may be a few hiccups as ships shift to new, cleaner fuels, life will go on. Heck, life will likely be even better for most complex U.S. refineries, which can churn out large volumes of low-sulfur refined products and which will have access to price-discounted high-sulfur “resid” as an intermediate feedstock. Today, we take a big-picture look at the global bunker market as IMO 2020’s implementation day approaches.

Thursday, 09/26/2019

Limetree Bay Refining’s plans to restart the former Hovensa plant in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, at the end of 2019 will add significant refining capacity to the North American stack, helping to offset the loss this year of the 335-Mb/d Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant in Pennsylvania. Limetree Bay is also poised to fill a void in Caribbean refining that’s been left by Venezuela’s economic collapse as well as the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 changes to the bunker fuel market. But the facility is not without its challenges, from high fuel costs and stiff competition from Gulf Coast refineries to tropical storms. Today, we conclude an analysis of the operation and potential markets for the refinery.

Wednesday, 09/11/2019

Limetree Bay Refining plans to restart a former Hovensa plant in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, at the end of 2019. The refinery’s initial processing capacity of 200 Mb/d represents a significant addition to the North American stack, helping to replace the loss this year of the 335-Mb/d Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant in Pennsylvania. If it opens on time before the year’s end, Limetree will be well-positioned to fill a void in Caribbean refining that’s been left by Venezuela’s collapse as well as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2020 changes to the bunker fuel market. The plant’s location in the middle of world trade routes conveys some advantage, but it must compete with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries to supply regional markets. While higher input costs compared to U.S. rivals will dampen margins, a tolling agreement with BP could insulate Limetree from market exposure. Today, in the first of a two-part blog series, we review the operations and potential product market for the refinery.

Sunday, 03/31/2019

Some shipowners plan to comply with the IMO 2020 deadlines for limiting sulfur in ship emissions by installing scrubber devices to clean the exhaust generated by burning less expensive high-sulfur bunker fuel. For many, this may work out to be more economical, at least in the interim, than using more costly IMO 2020-compliant fuel with sulfur content of no more than 0.5% or converting the vessel to run on an altogether different fuel such as liquefied natural gas. However, narrowing “sulfur spreads” this year have put that compliance strategy at risk by tripling the time it would take for shipowners to recoup their scrubber investments. Today, we continue an analysis of the changing economics of scrubber installation in the run-up to IMO 2020.

Sunday, 03/17/2019

Last year, the impending implementation of International Maritime Organization’s rule mandating the use of lower-sulfur marine fuels starting January 1, 2020, widened the price spread between rule-compliant 0.5%-sulfur bunker and the 3.5%-sulfur marine fuel that has been a shipping industry mainstay. Traders’ thinking was that demand for high-sulfur bunker would evaporate in the run-up to IMO 2020, as the new rule is known. But since early January, the spread between low- and high-sulfur fuel at the Gulf Coast has narrowed from nearly $11/bbl to less than $2/bbl. The culprit is a shortage of heavy-sour crude caused by a number of factors. Today, we begin a two-part series on low-sulfur vs. high-sulfur fuel and crude values as IMO 2020 approaches.

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.

Tuesday, 12/11/2018

The IMO 2020 rule, which calls for a global shift to low-sulfur marine fuel on January 1, 2020, is likely to require a ramp-up in global refinery runs — that is, refineries not already running flat out will have to step up their game. Why? Because, according to a new analysis, the shipping sector’s need for an incremental 2 MMb/d of 0.5%-sulfur bunker less than 13 months from now cannot be met solely by a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate changes and refinery upgrades. The catch is, most U.S. refineries are already operating at or near 100% of their capacity, so the bulk of the refinery-run increases will need to happen elsewhere. Today, we continue our look into how sharply rising demand for IMO 2020-compliant marine fuel may affect refinery utilization.

Tuesday, 12/04/2018

The planned shift from 3.5%-sulfur marine fuel to fuel with sulfur content of 0.5% or less mandated by IMO 2020 on January 1, 2020, will require a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate changes, refinery upgrades and, potentially, increased refinery runs, not to mention ship-mounted “scrubbers” for those who want to continue burning higher-sulfur bunker. That’s a lot of stars to align, and even then, there’s likely to be at least some degree of non-compliance, at least for a while. So, what’s ahead for global crude oil and bunker-fuel markets — and for refiners in the U.S. and elsewhere — in the coming months? Today, we continue our analysis of how sharply rising demand for low-sulfur marine fuel might affect crude flows, crude slates and a whole lot more.

Sunday, 11/25/2018

The planned implementation date for IMO 2020 is still more than a year away, but this much already seems clear: even assuming some degree of non-compliance, a combination of fuel-oil blending, crude-slate shifts, refinery upgrades and ship-mounted “scrubbers” won’t be enough to achieve full, Day 1 compliance with the international mandate to slash the shipping sector’s sulfur emissions. Increased global refinery runs would help, but there are limits to what that could do. So, what’s ahead for global crude oil and bunker-fuel markets — and for refiners in the U.S. and elsewhere — in the coming months? Today, we discuss Baker & O’Brien’s analysis of how sharply rising demand for low-sulfur marine fuel might affect crude flows, crude slates and a whole lot more.

Thursday, 08/16/2018

The countdown clock to January 1, 2020 — Implementation Day for the IMO 2020 rule on low-sulfur marine fuel — is ticking, and while that date may still seem far away, it is decidedly not. The impending switch from 3.5%-sulfur fuel oil to marine fuel with sulfur content no higher than 0.5% will affect a broad swath of the energy sector worldwide, not to mention consumers of diesel and other low-sulfur distillates that will be in much higher demand by this time next year as the run-up to IMO 2020 kicks into high gear. Already, complex and simple refineries alike are evaluating changes to their crude slates and planning to add equipment that will enable them to produce more high-value distillate and less “bottom-of-the-barrel” residual fuel oil, the source of high-sulfur marine fuel. U.S. midstream companies are gearing up to export more light, sweet crude from the Permian and other shale and tight-oil plays to simple refineries that will no longer be able to get by refining heavy, sour crudes. Marine-fuel suppliers are testing various blends to see which might produce IMO 2020-compliant fuel at the lowest cost. As for ship owners, they’re preparing for topsy-turvy fuel prices in late 2019 and 2020 as this wrenching change plays out. Today, we consider key market participants’ latest thinking on the likely effects of the new rule for low-sulfur marine fuel.

Tuesday, 07/31/2018

The Caribbean is strategically located at the crossroads of international trade routes between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It has traditionally attracted oil trading, blending, and refining activity to meet the needs of local and international markets. Lately, the meltdown of Venezuelan national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) — previously a dominant player in the region — has left refineries and storage terminals underutilized and starved of investment. U.S. Gulf Coast refineries have partially filled the gap by increasing product exports to the region, but an opportunity now exists for private investment to fill the refining and storage void left by PDVSA, and also to meet new demand for low-sulfur bunker fuel arising from stricter International Maritime Organization shipping regulations, which will come into effect in January 2020. Today, we review the impact of the PDVSA meltdown and new investment projects being pursued.

Tuesday, 07/10/2018

The planned implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s rule slashing allowable sulfur-dioxide emissions from ocean-going ships on January 1, 2020, would create significant demand for 0.5%-sulfur marine fuel — a refined product that few refiners produce today. That could present a big challenge to the global refining sector, which will be called upon to produce marine fuel that complies with “IMO 2020,” as the rule is commonly known. But refiners have stepped up before, and if the IMO 2020 mandate proves to be unachievable and would put global commerce at risk, there could be ways to deal with it — including exemptions or implementation delays. In any case, the move toward much cleaner bunker fuel will be a boon to complex refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast and elsewhere that can break down bottom-of-the-barrel “residual” fuel oil into feedstocks for gasoline, diesel and other high-value products. Today, we continue our analysis of IMO 2020 and its effects.