During the summer of 2018, crude oil inventories at the trading hub in Cushing, OK, dropped to extreme lows. With estimated tank bottoms around 14.6 MMbbl, Cushing stockpiles hit 21.8 MMbbl for the week of August 3. Traders’ alarm bells were ringing, and upstream and downstream observers were wondering if low storage levels were going to cause significant operational issues. But just when it seemed tanks were nearing catastrophic lows, inventories reversed course and started to climb. Since August, crude stocks have increased by 13.6 MMbbl, or nearly 60%, and there is now talk of potentially too much crude en route to Cushing, maxing out capacity there. There are many contributing factors to this most recent inventory swing, with increased domestic production and the tail end of refinery turnaround season being two of the bigger fundamental drivers. But the main catalyst has been the shift from a backwardated forward curve to a contango forward curve in the WTI futures market. Today, we continue our Cushing series with a snapshot of recent contango markets and the impact those prices have had on stockpiles at the central Oklahoma hub.
The race is on and here comes WTI up the backstretch. On November 5, CME Group launched a Houston WTI futures contract, challenging a similar trading vehicle from Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) that started up in mid-October. Ever since crude flows to the Gulf Coast took off five years ago, the crude market has been clamoring for a trading vehicle that would accurately reflect pricing in the region that dominates U.S. demand from refineries, imports and exports. Now there are two. But their features are quite distinct. ICE’s contract reflects barrels delivered to Magellan East Houston, while CME’s contract is based on deliveries into Enterprise’s Houston system. The specs are different, as are the physical attributes of the two delivery points. Will both survive? Probably not. Futures markets tend to concentrate liquidity — trading activity — into a single vehicle that best meets the needs of the market. So, which of these will come out on top? That’s what the crude oil market wants to know. In today’s blog, we delve into the differences between the two new futures contracts for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude delivered to Houston and ponder the market implications of these new hedging and trading tools.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The crude oil storage and distribution hub in the small town of Cushing, OK, is a marvel. With more than 90 MMbbl of tankage, 3.7 MMb/d of incoming pipeline capacity and 3.1 MMb/d of outbound pipes, Cushing’s nickname — “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” — is spot-on, not hyperbole. However, like a lot of other U.S. energy infrastructure in the Shale Era, Cushing’s role has been in flux. Permian oil production has been surging, the ban on U.S. oil exports is a fading memory, and the Gulf Coast — not Cushing — is where most U.S. crude production wants to go, for its concentration of refineries and export docks. That is not to say that Cushing is no longer important. Far from it. Today, we begin a blog series on how Cushing’s role has been morphing and why the Sooner State trading hub still provides critical support to producers, midstream companies and refineries alike.
Crude oil inventories at Cushing have been in a free fall. After last peaking at more than 69 MMbbl in April 2017, stockpiles have decreased to less than 22 MMbbl recently, nearing all-time lows for tank utilization at the Oklahoma crude-trading hub. While we’ve seen volumes drop quickly in the past, inventories have now declined for 12 straight weeks at a staggering pace. Traders, refiners, and other market participants are starting to fret. Is this just another cyclical trend or are market factors exacerbating the impact? Today, we examine the influence of historical pricing trends on Cushing inventories and why it seems that demand factors are speeding up the drop.
Since early this year, the Midland crude differential has continued to widen, trading one day last week at a discount of $15.75/bbl to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing, the widest spread since August 2014 before settling back to $11.25/bbl on Monday. The wide price differential is a result of fast-growing production in the Permian and bottlenecked takeaway pipelines. But the trajectory of this increasing price spread has been anything but smooth. Lately, we have seen a blip in the price differentials right around the 19th or 20th of the month. In each of the last three months, for a short-lived 24 to 48 hours, the Midland-Cushing price differential has narrowed by $2/bbl or more as Permian shippers have gone on feeding frenzies. Today, we look at these brief upticks in pricing and the pipeline and trader mechanics behind them.
Crude oil pipelines out of Cushing are filling up. With U.S. crude production approaching the 11 MMb/d mark, more and more production from the Rockies, Midcontinent and Permian is funneling into the Cushing, OK, trading hub. It’s getting increasingly difficult to get all of that volume to the major demand center at the Gulf Coast. The two major pipelines out of Cushing — Seaway and Marketlink — are near full capacity and differentials are responding as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing is now trading at a $7.60/bbl discount to Magellan East Houston (MEH) at the Gulf. Today, we look at some of the major factors affecting the WTI-MEH spread, space on major pipelines between the two points, and potential implications going forward.