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.
The crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, is a big numbers kind of place: 94 million barrels of storage capacity, 3.8 MMb/d of inbound pipelines and 3.1 MMb/d of outbound pipes, not to mention a spaghetti bowl of connections between the many tank farms within greater Cushing. To truly understand the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” — what it does and how it works — you need to know the hub’s assets and how they fit together. Today, we continue our series with a look at the pipes that transport crude from Cushing to Gulf Coast refineries and export docks, and to inland refineries in the Midcontinent, the Midwest and what you might call the Mid-South — places like Memphis, TN; El Dorado, AR; and Shreveport, LA.
Cushing doesn’t call itself the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” for nothing. Pipelines with the capacity to handle one-third of total U.S. crude oil production flow into the central Oklahoma hub from a number of production areas, including the Alberta oil sands, the Bakken, the Rockies, the Permian and the nearby SCOOP/STACK. There’s almost as much pipeline capacity out of Cushing, with more than half of it bound for Texas’s Gulf Coast refineries and export docks and most of the rest headed for refineries in the Midcontinent and Midwest. Cushing’s inbound and outbound pipes connect to a staggering 94 million barrels of crude oil storage in about 350 aboveground tanks — each company’s set of tanks with its own unique degree of interconnectedness. Today, we continue our series on Cushing with a look at the large, medium and small pipelines that flow into the hub, and what they transport.
The crude oil hub at Cushing, OK, has more than 90 MMbbl of tankage, 3.7 MMb/d of incoming pipeline capacity and 3.1 MMb/d of outbound pipes. That’s an impressive amount of infrastructure by any standard. The real marvel of the place, though, is the variety of important roles it plays and services it provides for a wide range of market participants — producers, midstream companies, refiners and marketers, as well as producer/marketer and refiner/marketer hybrids. To truly understand Cushing — what it does and how it works — you need to know the hub’s assets and how they fit together. Today, we continue a series on the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a look at the companies that own Cushing storage capacity and how that storage is put to use.
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.
Faced with uncertain growth in demand for refined products in the U.S., at least five refiners with major U.S. operations — including majors Shell, BP and Chevron — joined the bidding at a recent auction offering access to Mexico's downstream distribution system. Energy market reforms now unraveling national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos’ domestic supply monopoly are providing this opportunity. Initial auction winner Tesoro gained storage and pipeline capacity in two states in northwestern Mexico it expects to supply from a Washington state refinery. The market reforms also extend to retail gasoline stations, and majors BP and ExxonMobil as well as Valero and international trader Glencore have recently announced plans to launch retail networks in Mexico. Today we review the access Tesoro won in the first logistics auction as well as the wider Mexican market opportunity for refiners with operations north of the border.
New “Tier 3” requirements to limit sulfur content in gasoline are set to take effect in just over two months — on January 2017. In March 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to limit the sulfur content of gasoline produced or imported into the U.S. to no more than 10 parts per million (ppm) from the current “Tier 2” 30 ppm standard by January 1, 2017. With these upcoming “Tier 3” requirements, refiners have been developing their strategies to meet the regulations and in some cases have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their facilities. Today, we look at the various approaches refiners can take for compliance and their impacts on the industry.
Looking out over the next year and a half to 2016, Houston crude storage capacity looks to be lower than necessary to meet operational needs. With continuing increases in pipeline crude streams headed into the area in the next six months, we could see supply disruptions with consequences for price volatility. Probable victims of these disruptions would be producers looking to find a home at Houston refineries for their production. The solution is to build more storage but the market is not yet sending alarm signals to that effect. Today we conclude our series on Houston storage capacity.
Last June (2012) the largest refinery on the East Coast was on the brink of closing - in part due to higher international crude prices (versus US inland grades). Since then the 330 Mb/d Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery has reopened and along with several of its competitors the new owners have developed means to get access to lower priced crude from North Dakota and Western Canada using rail. Today’s episode of our continuing crude by rail series is a survey of East Coast rail offloading facilities.
When we described the quirky workings of the US renewable fuels mandates back in July and August of 2012 the topic was merely brain food for commodity market theorists and sleep deprived gasoline analysts. This month the market for big brother sounding “Renewable Identification Numbers” (RINS) - credited to refiners when they add ethanol to gasoline blends - is suddenly the hottest thing since sliced bread. The price of 2013 RINS shot from a few cnts/gal in January 2013 to an astronomical $1/gal on March 8, 2013. Earlier this week they were trading in the stratosphere, at about $0.70/gal. Today we look at what lies behind the current RIN furor.
Apart from local refinery demand, the majority of Permian Basin crude production is currently shipped to Midwest refiners on existing pipelines. New takeaway capacity projects look to change that balance towards the Gulf Coast where prices are higher now. Today we review projects to add almost 1 million barrels per day of new Permian takeaway capacity by the end of 2014.
The Permian Basin has been producing oil in West Texas since the 1920’s. The principal route to market for Permian crude has been via Cushing, OK to Midwest refineries. After declining in the 1980’s Permian production is increasing again – reaching an estimated 1.3 MMB/d (September 2012 Bentek). The existing pipeline infrastructure means the majority of that crude still finds its way to Cushing and the Midwest. There Permian producers face the same congestion and price discounts that Canadian and Bakken producers have suffered. Today we review current Permian Basin routes to market.
Ethanol from corn as a motor gasoline blend stock seems like a good idea. As an oxygenate it is supposed to clean up the air, and as a U.S grown renewable it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. The catch is that ethanol is being mandated under a morass of mind-numbingly complex government regulations, some of which conflict with each other, or worse yet are out of step with the realities of the market. For example, the mandatory volumes of ethanol required may soon exceed the quantity that the market can use. At the same time, high corn prices have driven margins on ethanol manufacture into the red forcing many ethanol producers to shutter their operation, reducing ethanol supplies. And if that were not enough, a government program created something called the renewable identification number – RIN – a 38-digit serial number that ‘tags’ batches of renewable fuels and has resulted in all sorts of complications. Today we’ll begin an examination of the ethanol market to understand how we got in this predicament and where we go from here. In Part I we tackle one of the most intractable problems – the Blend Wall.