The collapse in crude oil prices and COVID-19’s very negative effects on global gasoline, jet fuel and diesel demand are putting an unprecedented squeeze on U.S. refiners. Even before the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, started to grab headlines around New Year’s Day, refineries had already been incentivized to shift their refined products output toward diesel, which can be used to help make IMO 2020-compliant low-sulfur bunker. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic spreading to Europe and North America and stifling consumer transportation fuel demand, the price signals are even stronger, pushing refineries to do everything they can to minimize their gasoline and jet fuel production and enter what you might call “max diesel mode.” Today, we discuss how there are challenges and limits to what they can do, and a number of refineries may need to shut down due to lower demand, at least temporarily.
Texas consumes far more diesel fuel than any other state and almost as much gasoline as car-crazy California, which also has 10 million more people. The long-distance distribution of refined products within the Lone Star State is handled largely by tanker trucks, but in the past couple of years, midstream companies have been adding a lot of new refined products pipeline capacity, not just to help deliver diesel and gasoline within Texas — including the diesel-hungry Permian Basin — but also to move motor fuels to the Mexican border for export. And more diesel and gasoline pipe capacity is on the way. Today, we discuss the new and expanded refined products pipelines criss-crossing Texas.
Refined product supply in Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 1, which comprises Atlantic Coast states from New England to Florida, has been in trouble all year. Maintenance issues beset refineries during the first quarter, and then in June, the region's largest refinery, a 355-Mb/d plant owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), was shuttered after a fire. The loss of the PES output would've been manageable if imports had taken up the slack. But although gasoline imports increased, distillate shipments have actually been lower than normal since June. As a result, the PADD 1 distillate market has been drawing an average 163 Mb/d from inventory since mid-August, according to weekly Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports, leaving stocks in the region at a 10-year low. That storage deficit versus previous years will increase when the weather turns colder and heating oil demand kicks into high gear. With stocks at historical lows and market prices not attracting new supplies, the shortage may well foreshadow price spikes this winter. A potential strike by unionized workers at the Phillips 66 Bayway refinery in northern New Jersey could make matters worse. Today, we look at what's behind the PADD 1 distillate shortfall.
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.
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.
For a few years now, Buckeye Partners’ plan to revise the current east-to-west refined products flow on its Laurel Pipeline across Pennsylvania has pitted Midwest refiners against their Philadelphia-area brethren — and gasoline and diesel marketers in western Pennsylvania. Each side has good arguments. Midwest refiners note that westbound volumes on Laurel have been declining through the 2010s, and assert that making the western part of the pipeline bidirectional would result in higher utilization of the line and enhance competition in central Pennsylvania, Maryland and eastern West Virginia. Pittsburgh-area marketers counter with the view that allowing refined products to flow east on a portion of Laurel would hurt competition in Pirates/Steelers/Penguins Country, while Philly refiners — their ranks now thinned by the planned closure of the fire-damaged Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) facility — say Buckeye’s plan would further threaten their economic viability. Amid all this, might there be a “perfect-world” solution? Today, we provide an update on this still-in-limbo project and discuss a few possible paths forward.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) announced last week (on June 26) that it was shutting down its 335-Mb/d refinery in Philadelphia, PA. This announcement came just five days after a major fire destroyed a portion of the refinery, which turned out to be the last straw for the facility that has been struggling financially for many years. Today, we consider the various market impacts that will likely follow the closure of the PES refinery, including its effect on fuel supply, where the closure leaves refinery production capacity in the region and how the refined product supply will need to adjust in response.
For some time, U.S. motor fuel exports to Mexico had been increasing at a healthy pace, reliably filling the void created by a series of production setbacks at Pemex’s refineries south of the border. From 2014 to 2018, U.S. gasoline exports to Mexico soared by more than 160%, from an average of 197 Mb/d five years ago to 517 Mb/d last year. Diesel exports rose by nearly 130%, to 279 Mb/d, over the same period. But that export-growth momentum has since sagged — in fact, export volumes for both gasoline and diesel actually declined in the first few months of 2019, primarily due to logistical challenges within Mexico. Also, Mexico’s new president has proposed ambitious plans to boost state-owned Pemex’s refining capacity, possibly posing a longer-term threat to U.S. exporters. So, is the boom in refined-product exports to Mexico over? Today, we examine what’s behind the downshift, and what the Mexican government’s effort to reinvigorate Pemex’s existing refineries — and build an entirely new one — may mean for U.S. gasoline and diesel exports in the 2020s.
Record runs allowed U.S. refiners to continue a multiyear streak of strong margins in 2018 despite higher crude prices during the first three quarters and a weaker fourth quarter after product prices tanked along with crude in October. While rising crude prices threatened refinery margins, a high Brent premium over domestic benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) kept feedstock prices for U.S. refiners lower than their international rivals. The availability of discounted Canadian crude also helped produce stellar returns for Midwest, Rockies and Gulf Coast refiners that are configured to process heavy crude. Product prices only weakened in the fourth quarter when gasoline inventories began to rise. Today, we highlight major trends in the U.S. refining sector during 2018 and look forward to 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.
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.
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.
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.
Mexican demand for U.S.-sourced refined products continues to increase, but Mexico lacks the infrastructure required to efficiently import, store and distribute large volumes of gasoline and diesel. That has spurred the rapid build-out of new port and rail terminals, new pipelines and new storage capacity on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. At the same time, Mexico’s state-owned energy companies are gradually opening access to their existing refined-products pipeline and storage networks — which helps a little, but not enough. Today, we discuss the latest round of midstream projects tied to U.S. exports of motor and jet fuels to its southern neighbor.
Drilling and completion activity in the Permian Basin doesn’t only produce vast quantities of energy, it consumes a lot of energy too, mostly in the form of diesel fuel to power the trucks, drilling rigs, fracturing pumps, compressors and other equipment needed to keep the oil patch humming. And while refineries within or near the Permian meet a portion of the region’s needs, rising demand for diesel there is spurring the development of new infrastructure — and the repurposing of existing assets — to bring additional fuel into the Permian from refineries along the Gulf Coast. Today, we discuss efforts to move more diesel to the oil fields of West Texas.