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.
Mexico continues to open up its refined-products sector to competition, and refinery troubles at government-owned Pemex are providing U.S. refiners and motor-fuel marketers with a golden opportunity to export increasing volumes of gasoline and diesel south of the border. But transporting all those refined products to Mexican population centers and distributing them to thousands of service stations requires port and rail terminals, pipelines and storage, and Pemex has been slow in relinquishing control of its infrastructure. Today, we continue our series on efforts to facilitate the transportation of motor fuels from U.S. refineries to — and within — Mexico, this time looking at more port and rail-related projects and at existing and planned pipelines.
Falling production of motor gasoline, diesel and other refined products at Mexico’s aging refineries has created a south-of-the-border supply void that U.S. refiners and refined-products marketers and shippers are all too eager to fill. At the same time, the ongoing liberalization of Mexican energy markets is finally allowing players other than state-owned Petróleos Mexicános (Pemex) to become involved in motor-fuel distribution and retailing. The results of all this? U.S. exports of gasoline and diesel to Mexico are up 60% from two years ago, and U.S. companies are scrambling to develop or acquire the infrastructure needed to deliver refined products to Mexican consumers. Today, we begin a new series on the increasing role of U.S. companies in supplying, distributing and retailing motor fuels in Mexico, and on the new transportation and terminalling infrastructure being built to support that growth.
California’s 12 remaining refineries don’t feel much love from their native state. The refinery fleet is particularly sophisticated — capable of refining mostly heavy and sour crude oil into the ultra-clean transportation fuels that state rules require. But state regulators seem to treat refiners like unwanted guests, to the point that rules have been put in place to actively encourage the shift from petroleum-based fuels to lower-carbon alternatives. The reward for refiners’ pain comes in the form of higher refining margins — particularly during unplanned outages. Today we weigh the rewards of higher gasoline and diesel prices today against a questionable future for refining in the Golden State tomorrow.
California refiners are under siege. State regulators seem to view crude oil refining as a nasty habit that needs to be broken. There’s an important catch, though: car-happy California is not only the nation’s largest consumer of gasoline — and second to Texas in diesel use — it allows only special, superclean blends to be sold within its boundaries. And California’s 12 remaining refineries need to meet tougher emission standards, too, making it difficult for them to expand their business or even modernize their plants. Today we discuss the irony that sophisticated refineries producing the cleanest fuels in the U.S. are faced with a shrinking market and no real hope of expansion.
Refiners in the Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic states have each experienced good times and bad, both before the Shale Era and more recently. Lately, though, fortune has been smiling on the owners of midwestern refineries, a number of which have been expanded and reconfigured to run cheaper heavy crude from western Canada — changes that have put them at a competitive advantage to East Coast refineries running more expensive light crudes. Now, a proposed refined products pipeline reversal in Pennsylvania would allow more motor fuels to flow east from Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 2 into markets traditionally dominated by PADD 1 refineries. Today we look at recent developments in Midwest and Mid-Atlantic refining, and at the consequential battle for turf that’s just starting to flare.