Crude Oil

Thursday, 11/15/2018

Between new sanctions on Iran and the potential for more escalation in the trade war with China, oil exports from the U.S. have been changing their flows dramatically in the past few months. China from October 2017 through July 2018 rivaled Canada as the largest buyer of U.S. crude; in June, when total U.S. exports hit a record 2.2 MMb/d, nearly one-quarter of those volumes flowed to China. But since trade tensions between the two nations intensified, not a single barrel of U.S. crude has arrived in China since July. Thankfully, the U.S. has found ways to fill the Chinese void by increasing the volumes sold to South Korea and India, two historically prominent buyers of Iranian oil. Today, we lay out the reasons why U.S. sanctions on Iran are helping the U.S. continue to sell crude to Asia, even as relations with China have chilled.

Wednesday, 11/14/2018

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.

Wednesday, 11/07/2018

Crude oil production has been increasing in virtually all of the shale and tight oil plays that send their output to the storage and distribution hub in Cushing, OK. A number of pipeline projects are being built and planned to accommodate that growth, and — despite the fact that two-thirds of Cushing’s existing storage capacity is currently unused — several million barrels of new tankage is being installed at the hub, again in anticipation of incremental needs in 2019, 2020 and beyond. So it should come as no surprise that midstream companies also are planning a good bit of new pipeline capacity out of Cushing, some to refinery customers in the Midwest and Midcontinent areas but some to refineries and export docks along the Gulf Coast. Today, we continue our series on the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a review of rock-solid and potential plans to enable more crude to flow out of the central Oklahoma hub.

Monday, 11/05/2018

There’s been a lot of talk lately that the crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, is losing its luster — that it may not be as important as it once was. Folks point to the precipitous, months-long decline in crude inventories that started last fall, or to the fact that just about all of the planned oil pipelines out of the red-hot Permian are pointed toward Gulf Coast refineries and export docks, not central Oklahoma. Then you’ve got ICE and CME’s new WTI futures contracts, both deliverable in Houston — another challenge to Cushing. While Cushing’s role as the epicenter of crude storage and trading may be in flux, rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, as evidenced by the long list of midstream projects under development to transport more crude to — and out of — the Oklahoma hub, and to add storage tanks there. Just yesterday (November 5), in fact, Magellan Midstream Partners and Navigator Energy Services announced plans for what would be the first new Cushing-to-Houston pipeline since 2014. Today, we continue our comprehensive review of the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a look at the many capacity-expansion efforts now under way.

Sunday, 11/04/2018

Right now, pipeline capacity out of the Permian is constrained, and consequently some producers have cut back on well completions, more gas is getting flared, and ethane recovery is being driven more by bottlenecks than by gas plant economics.  But even with these issues, there are still 487 rigs drilling for oil in the basin (according to Baker Hughes), and all will come along with sizable quantities of natural gas.    Not only does this production need to be moved out of the Permian, the volumes need to find a home — either in the domestic market or overseas. These were all issues that were considered by our speakers, panelists and RBN analysts last month at PermiCon, our industry conference designed to bridge the gap between fundamentals analysis and boots-on-the-ground market intelligence.  In today’s blog, we continue our review of some of the key points discussed during the conference proceedings.

Thursday, 11/01/2018

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.

Wednesday, 10/31/2018

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.

Monday, 10/29/2018

Phillips 66 loaded its first Panamax tanker for export to Mexico over the weekend. Late on Sunday night, the SCF Prime signaled that it was headed for Pajaritos, Mexico, after loading at Phillips' terminal in Beaumont, TX.  Mexico is making history with this pivotal first purchase of Bakken crude from Phillips 66 at the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC). Up until now, the crude oil trade between the U.S. and Mexico had been a one-way street, with oil moving from Mexico to the U.S. and not the other way around. But now, as Mexico’s state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) faces dwindling oil production and refinery outputs, importing light, sweet crude from the U.S. is a new avenue to revive Mexico’s refinery utilization. Today, we examine the new shift in the traditional flows of crude oil across the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, 10/28/2018

Crude oil production in the Niobrara region in northeastern Colorado and eastern Wyoming has quadrupled since the start of the 2010s, and now tops 600 Mb/d. Fortunately for producers in the Niobrara’s Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin and Powder River Basin (PRB), midstream companies not only developed enough new pipeline takeaway capacity to transport all those incremental barrels, they overbuilt. As a result, the region — unlike the Permian and Western Canada — currently has no crude-oil pipeline constraints, something that makes the Niobrara even more attractive to producers. But part of a pipeline system now moving crude out of the D-J is being repurposed to carry NGLs instead, and with D-J and PRB crude production still rising, you’ve got to wonder, is a takeaway shortfall on the horizon? Today, we continue our series on the Rockies’ premier hydrocarbon production area and the infrastructure needed to serve it, this time focusing on crude oil.

Tuesday, 10/23/2018

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.

Monday, 10/22/2018

For 65 years, Enbridge’s Line 5 has been a critically important conduit for moving Western Canadian and Bakken crude oil and NGLs east across Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and into Ontario, where the now-540-Mb/d pipeline feeds Sarnia refineries and petrochemical plants. Some crude from Line 5 also can flow east from Sarnia to Montreal refineries on Line 9. But Enbridge has been under increasing pressure to shut down Line 5 over concern that a rupture under the Straits of Mackinac might cause major environmental damage. At long last, the state of Michigan and Enbridge have reached an agreement to replace the section of Line 5 under the straits by the mid-2020s, and to take steps in the interim to enhance the existing pipeline’s safety. In today’s blog, we consider the significance of the Enbridge pipeline and of the newly reached accord.

Sunday, 10/21/2018

Time and again, the repurposing of existing assets like pipelines and marine terminals to meet changing market needs has proven to be a winning approach. After all, if a lot of what you need is “already there” — as we said in today’s song title — why build something entirely new? That use-what-you’ve-got tack is a key driver behind MPLX and Crimson Midstream’s recently unveiled Swordfish Pipeline project, which by early 2020 would enable large volumes of crude oil to flow south from the St. James, LA, market hub to the Clovelly storage hub — a key crude distributor to area refineries and the jumping-off point for crude exports on fully loaded Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) via the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). The companies also envision using other existing pipelines — including a possibly reversed Capline — as well as the soon-to-be-finished Bayou Bridge Pipeline to feed crude into Swordfish. Today, we review the MPLX/Crimson plan and assess how it might boost the export cred of LOOP, which is currently the only Gulf Coast port that can fill a 2-MMbbl VLCC to the brim without reverse lightering.

Wednesday, 10/17/2018

Permian oil and gas production may have slammed up against capacity constraints, but that does not mean production growth has ground to a halt. Far from it. In the past 10 weeks, Permian gas production is up another 8% — a gain of almost 700 MMcf/d. Crude production now tops 3.5 MMb/d, with incremental barrels finding their way to market via truck, rail and new pipeline capacity — soon including Plains All American’s new Sunrise project, which will move more Permian crude toward the hub in Cushing, OK. Record-setting volumes of NGLs are streaming their way out of the Permian to Mont Belvieu. This market is moving so fast that if you blink, you’ll miss something important. So to get caught up with all things Permian, last week RBN hosted PermiCon, an industry conference designed to bridge the gap between fundamentals analysis and boots-on-the-ground market intelligence. We think PermiCon accomplished that goal, and in today’s blog, we summarize a few of the key points discussed during the conference proceedings.

Tuesday, 10/16/2018

Crude oil production in the Rockies’ Niobrara region is up by more than 50% since the beginning of last year, spurred on by higher oil prices, ample oil pipeline takeaway capacity, and other positive factors. Natural gas and NGL production in the Niobrara — which includes both the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin and the Powder River Basin (PRB) — has been rising too, to the point that there’s a scramble on to develop new gathering systems, gas processing plants as well as gas and NGL pipeline capacity. A number of exploration and production companies are upbeat about the region’s prospects; so are some midstreamers. But there’s a dark cloud on the horizon — at least in Colorado, where voters will decide in a few weeks whether to significantly restrict where new wells can be drilled. Is the Niobrara poised for continued growth or not? Today, we kick off a new series on Rockies production, infrastructure and prospects.

Sunday, 10/14/2018

With a staggering 3.8 MMb/d of inbound pipelines, 3.1 MMb/d of outbound pipes and 94 MMbbl of storage capacity in between, the crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, surely has earned its nickname, “Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” But Cushing is more than a mere collection of pipelines and tankage, and crude doesn’t simply flow through the hub like cars and trucks flowing through a Los Angeles freeway interchange. Instead, much of the crude coming into Cushing from Western Canada, the Bakken, the Rockies, the Permian and other plays is mixed and blended within the hub, primarily to meet the specific needs of U.S. refineries and the export market regarding API gravity, sulfur content and the like. In other words, what goes in can be materially different than what goes out. Today, we continue our look at the central Oklahoma hub with an examination of the characteristics of the crude flowing in and out, and how they differ.