Corpus Christi

Bluewater Texas, proposed by a 50/50 joint venture (JV) of Phillips 66 (P66) and commodity trading giant Trafigura, is in a unique position in the race to construct a deepwater crude oil export facility along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Of the four marketed deepwater proposals, Bluewater is the only project in the export-centric Corpus Christi market. It is also the only one in the group that does not include an offshore platform in its scope. In today’s RBN blog, we will explore these and other differences that set Bluewater apart. 

For years, the South Texas NGL market was a world of its own — a self-contained liquids ecosystem centered around the refineries and petrochemical plants in the Corpus Christi area. But that all changed about six years ago when EPIC Midstream built a new NGL pipeline from the Permian into Corpus and a new fractionator to process those liquids. Corpus morphed into a vibrant NGL market in its own right. But nothing with South Texas NGLs is easy. Before the EPIC system was even up and running, a consortium calling itself BANGL — short for Belvieu Alternative NGL — announced another pipeline to compete for Permian NGLs that would parallel EPIC’s route out of the Permian, but then make a hard left toward Sweeny and Texas City, setting up a battle of the pipes for Permian NGLs. 

The Corpus Christi crude oil market is pulling as much volume as it can from the Permian Basin via pipelines that are running nearly at capacity. That explains why two midstream companies are responding with plans to boost the capacities of their respective pipelines from the Permian to refineries and export terminals in the Corpus area. But the situation is complicated by the very real possibility that one or more deepwater export facilities capable of fully loading a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) may be built off the Texas coast. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll examine current and proposed pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Permian and the potential for proposed offshore export facilities to impact pipeline flows from West Texas to the coast. 

The largest crude oil pipeline exiting the Permian Basin by volume — Wink to Webster (W2W) — is planned to be offline for maintenance for the first 10 days of June. This is inclusive of Enterprise’s Midland-to-ECHO III (ME III), which reflects the company’s 29% undivided joint interest in W2W. Although the outage has not been publicly confirmed, it’s our understanding that 1.5 MMb/d of capacity will be offline to reroute a small section of pipeline. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll examine how the planned maintenance will impact Permian Basin oil takeaway capacity and what it may mean for Midland WTI pricing. 

Enbridge’s recent $200 million deal to buy two marine docks and land in Ingleside, TX, from Flint Hills Resources (FHR) may not be much of a surprise, as expanding its role in U.S. crude exports has been part of Enbridge’s strategy since it bought Moda Midstream’s big marine terminal next door nearly three years ago. The former Moda terminal, now known as the Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC), can receive and partially load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) — a key reason why the facility is #1 in crude exports in the nation. In today’s RBN blog, we will take a closer look at Enbridge’s deal with FHR and how it might help grow its crude export volumes. 

A year ago, as New Year’s Day approached, we were looking ahead into very uncertain market conditions, having lived through a pandemic, crazy weather events, collapsing and then soaring prices, and Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine. Our job was once again to peer into the RBN crystal ball to see what the upcoming year had in store for energy markets. We’ll do that again in our next blog. But another part of that tradition is to look back to see how we did with our forecasts for the previous year. That’s right! We actually check our work. And that’s exactly what we’ll do today: review our prognostications for 2023. 

Over the past three-plus years, Corpus Christi has dominated the U.S. crude oil export market, largely because of the availability of straight-shot pipeline access from the Permian to two Corpus-area terminals at Ingleside — Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) and South Texas Gateway (STG) — that can partially load the huge 2-MMbbl VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers). But capacity on the pipes to Corpus is now nearly maxed out and, with Permian production rising and exports strong, an increasing share of West Texas crude output is instead being sent to Houston on pipelines with capacity to spare. The catch for Permian shippers with capacity on Permian-to-Houston pipes is that the Midland-to-MEH (Magellan East Houston) price differential for WTI has been depressingly low —$0.22/bbl on average this year, compared to almost $20/bbl for a few months in 2018 and averaging $5.50/bbl as recently as 2019. However, the Midland-to-MEH WTI price spread looks to be on the verge of a rebound of sorts, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog.

The level of activity at crude oil export terminals from Corpus Christi to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is nothing short of extraordinary — a record 4.8 MMb/d was loaded the week ended August 25, according to RBN’s Crude Voyager report, and Houston-area terminals loaded an all-time high of 1.4 MMb/d. But there’s a lot more to the crude exports story. When you live this stuff day-in, day-out, you see subtle changes that often extend into trends and, if you’re lucky, you sometimes get signals that things you’d been predicting are actually happening. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from the latest Crude Voyager and what the weekly report’s data and analysis reveal about the global oil market.

There’s a lot going on in North American crude oil markets these days. Exports are running strong. Midland WTI is now deliverable into Brent (but only if it meets specs). Pipelines from the Permian to Corpus Christi are maxed out, pushing incremental production to Houston. The price differential between WTI at Midland and Houston is nearing zero. And the value of heavy Western Canadian Select (WCS) delivered to the U.S. continues to bounce all over the place. Are these unrelated, random events in the quirky U.S. physical crude market, or are they logical developments linked by the economics of refinery preferences, quality shifts, export demand, and logistics? As you might expect, we think it’s the latter. Believe it or not, crude markets sometimes do behave rationally — and, from time to time, even predictably. That’s what we explore in today’s RBN blog.

Just a couple of years ago, TC Energy finally threw in the towel on its long-planned, long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have substantially increased the flow of Western Canadian heavy crude to Gulf Coast refineries and export docks. It was a bitter loss. Since then, however, two other companies headquartered north of the 49th parallel have assumed leading roles in the U.S. crude oil market or, more specifically, crude exports. First, Enbridge acquired the U.S.’s #1 oil export terminal — now called the Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) — and related assets for US$3 billion and then, on August 1, Gibson Energy announced that it had closed on the US$1.1 billion purchase of the nearby South Texas Gateway (STG), which is #2 in crude export volumes. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the increasing role of Canada-based midstream companies along the South Texas coast.

A long-planned ship-channel deepening and widening project in Corpus Christi Bay is in its last innings and is about to start having a real impact. Later this summer, a 7-foot-deeper channel at Ingleside will enable terminals there to load additional barrels into VLCCs, assuming they’ve dredged their berths to match the deeper channel. Deepening the channel to 54 feet (from the old 47 feet) also will enable terminals that have deepened their berths to fully load 1-MMbbl Suezmaxes, up from the 800-850 Mbbl that can be loaded now. Crude oil export economics in South Texas will get another boost in late 2024 when the fourth and final portion of the $680 million dredging project is completed. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the dredging project, its steady progress, and its impact on the “battle for barrels” among Corpus, the Houston area and a quartet of proposed offshore terminals.

A long-planned ship-channel deepening and widening project in Corpus Christi Bay is in its last innings and is about to start having a real impact. Later this summer, a 7-foot-deeper channel at Ingleside will enable terminals there to load additional barrels into VLCCs, assuming they’ve dredged their berths to match the deeper channel. Deepening the channel to 54 feet (from the old 47 feet) also will enable terminals that have deepened their berths to fully load 1-MMbbl Suezmaxes, up from the 800-850 Mbbl that can be loaded now. Crude oil export economics in South Texas will get another boost in late 2024 when the fourth and final portion of the $680 million dredging project is completed. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the dredging project, its steady progress, and its impact on the “battle for barrels” among Corpus, the Houston area and a quartet of proposed offshore terminals.

Only 20 years after Colonel Edwin Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in Titusville, PA, in 1859, the U.S. was responsible for 85% of global crude oil production and refining. But over the next century, the country became increasingly dependent on oil imports — concerningly so at times. Thanks to the Shale Revolution, the U.S. is now on the verge of a sea change in the supply-and-demand dynamics for crude oil, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products. In the coming years, as U.S. crude production continues to increase, essentially all incremental barrels will flow to export markets, possibly through one or more of the new offshore terminals under development off the U.S. Gulf Coast. Export growth — and the midstream infrastructure needed to facilitate it — was one of many topics covered at our recent xPortCon 2023 and the subject of today’s RBN blog, which also announces the availability of videos from last Thursday’s packed-to-the-gills conference.

In small steps and giant leaps, Enbridge has been building out two “supersystems” for transporting crude oil to refineries and the company’s own export terminals along Texas’s Gulf Coast, one moving heavy crude all the way from Alberta’s oil sands to the Houston area and the other shuttling light oil from the Permian to Enbridge’s massive terminal in Ingleside on the north side of Corpus Christi Bay. There’s nothing quite like it — first, an unbroken series of pipelines from Western Canada to Enbridge’s tank farm in Cushing, OK, (via the Midwest) and from there to Freeport, TX, on the twin Seaway pipelines; and second, the Gray Oak and Cactus II pipes from West Texas to the U.S.’s #1 crude export terminal. And the midstream giant is far from done. New projects and expansions are in the works, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog.

For several years now, almost all the Permian’s incremental crude oil production has moved to export markets along the Gulf Coast. Due to new pipeline capacity and shipping cost advantages, Corpus Christi has enjoyed a disproportionate share of those volumes. But the market is shifting. Pipelines to Corpus are filling up, and that is pushing more oil to Houston for export — and to Beaumont for ExxonMobil’s new 250-Mb/d refinery expansion. Unless the pipes to Corpus expand their capacity, much more oil supply will be targeting Houston, with important implications for pipeline capacity, dock capacity, and regional price differentials. In today’s RBN blog, we explore these issues and what could throw a curveball into the whole Gulf Coast crude oil market.