Crude Oil

There’s never been any reason to question the drivers for energy infrastructure development — until now.  Historically, the drivers were almost always “supply-push.” The Shale Revolution brought on increasing production volumes that needed to be moved to market, and midstreamers — backed by producer commitments — responded with the infrastructure to make it happen. But now things seem to be different. U.S. energy infrastructure investment is soaring across crude oil, natural gas and NGL markets and, as in previous buildouts, midstreamers are bringing on new processing plants, pipelines, fractionators, storage facilities, export terminals and everything in between. We count nearly 70 projects in the works. But crude production has been flat as a pancake, natural gas is down, and lately NGLs are up — but as you might expect, only in one basin: the Permian. So what is driving all the infrastructure development this time around? In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore why that question will be front-and-center at our upcoming School of Energy: Catch a Wave. Fair warning, this blog includes an unabashed advertorial for our 2024 conference coming up on June 26-27 in Houston. 

Energy Transfer, which is championing its Blue Marlin Offshore Platform (BMOP), may have been the last developer to pursue its critical deepwater export license, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the hunt. Of the four offshore crude oil export projects, BMOP stands out as the sole brownfield initiative, which should hold down costs and expedite its construction timeline. Further, a recent non-binding agreement with TotalEnergies underscores the industry’s interest in this unusual but compelling facility. In today’s RBN blog, we explore Energy Transfer’s unconventional approach. 

For the past decade, producers in the Permian Basin have been the driving force in domestic production growth, but lately there has been a hard-to-miss slowdown in incremental production rates for crude, gas and natural gas liquids (NGLs). While Permian producers are primarily motivated by crude oil economics, those volumes also come with a lot of associated natural gas and NGLs. These commodities are therefore fundamentally interlinked. So if there’s a hangup with one, the effects will be felt across the upstream and then cascade downstream. There is a lot of money riding on these markets and the impacts of an extended slowdown in the Permian could be monumental, not just in the energy industry but also in the broader U.S. and global economies. In today’s RBN blog, we will examine what’s to blame for plateauing production in the U.S.’s most prolific basin and gauge what its big-picture implications might be. 

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. 

Mexico’s efforts to start up the newest addition to its refining system — the Olmeca refinery — are causing headaches for global buyers of its crudes. Few are convinced that the plant near the country’s key Dos Bocas oil port is ready for service. Yet its operator, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), surprised many with cuts to its crude exports in April, which were reportedly made to ensure the complex will have enough feedstock and could continue through 2024. In today’s RBN blog, we will discuss what led to the export cuts, the implications for importers, and potential replacement options. 

The U.S. has become an oil-exporting powerhouse in recent years, propelled by booming shale production, notably from the Permian Basin. U.S. crude oil now flows more freely than ever to help meet global demand, including to Europe, which increasingly turned to the U.S. following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two-plus years ago, but exports have slowed recently. In today’s RBN blog, we examine a half-dozen reasons why the export surge has tapered off and why it may not change much in the weeks ahead. 

U.S. E&Ps’ dramatic strategic shift from prioritizing growth to focusing on cash flow generation and shareholder returns has resulted in more earnings-call talk about dividends and share buybacks and less discussion about efforts to replenish and build their proven oil and gas reserves — a critically important factor in establishing company value. The emphasis on financial results has largely masked a sizable increase in the costs E&Ps are incurring to organically replace their reserves and a significant decrease in the volumes replaced. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll analyze the weakening in reserve replacement metrics over the last two years, a trend that has led many producers to grow their reserves through M&A. 

The new 650-Mb/d Dangote refinery in Nigeria instantly became Africa’s largest and the world’s seventh-largest by capacity when it finally began processing crude into diesel and aviation fuels in January after years of delays and cost overruns. Long touted as Nigeria’s ticket to ending refined fuels imports by supplying its own markets — with plenty to spare for exports — the Dangote facility could substantially impact trade flows and global supply if it lives up to years of homegrown ballyhoo. In today’s RBN blog, we will examine Dangote’s long road to production, and why we see a slow ramp-up to full capacity through 2026. 

The prospect of decreased crude oil supplies from Mexico, the top international supplier to the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC), is creating uncertainty among heavy crude-focused refineries. Mexico’s state-owned energy company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), instructed its trading unit to cancel up to 436 Mb/d of crude exports for April to supposedly focus on processing domestic oil at its new 340-Mb/d Dos Bocas refinery and/or its existing plants. While the refinery’s startup is likely not nearly as imminent as Pemex says, the cancellation of Mexican crude imports could be problematic for U.S. refiners with plants built to run heavy crude, a necessary ingredient to optimize operations and yields. Adding to the complexity of the situation is the upcoming startup of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion (TMX) and the recent reinstatement of U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan crude. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll examine the potential fallout resulting from Pemex’s decision at a time when heavy crudes elsewhere are also becoming less available. 

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. 

In the race to build the next deepwater crude oil export terminal in the Gulf of Mexico, Sentinel Midstream’s proposed Texas GulfLink (TGL) is currently in second place in the regulatory race, behind only Enterprise’s Sea Port Oil Terminal (SPOT) — and seems to be emerging as a serious contender. The plan offers some compelling attributes, including Sentinel’s status as an independent midstream player and plenty of pipeline access to crude oil volumes in the Permian and elsewhere. In today’s RBN blog, we turn our attention to TGL and what it brings to the table. 

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. 

One of the most anticipated and potentially impactful refinery startups in North America in years is the Dos Bocas project (officially the Olmeca Refinery), a 340 Mb/d plant under development by Mexico’s state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) in the southeastern state of Tabasco. The project was seen as the cornerstone of Pemex’s plans to reduce Mexico’s dependence on the U.S. for refined fuels. Construction began in 2019 with startup originally scheduled for 2022, but that timeline was never really feasible, and the Mexican government has issued multiple public statements since mid-2023 proclaiming that construction was complete and startup was imminent. However, almost a year has passed and there is no indication that any meaningful operations have occurred. So how close is Dos Bocas to startup and, more importantly, full (or close to full) production? In today’s RBN blog, we’ll provide our views on those vitally important questions. 

Crude oil output in the Permian Basin is now averaging 6.3 MMb/d, up about 400 Mb/d from year-ago levels and 800 Mb/d from April 2022. The gains — and related increases in associated gas — have spurred a new round of concerns about pipeline exit capacity, complicating drillers’ hopes to boost crude production. In today’s RBN blog, we will discuss the takeaway capacity issue and what it means for producers and pipeline operators, including those planning offshore crude export terminals. 

In the race to build the next deepwater crude oil export terminal along the U.S. Gulf Coast, there’s a lot of competition but one project now has a clear advantage: Enterprise Product Partners’ planned Sea Port Oil Terminal (SPOT), which has made the most progress in moving through the regulatory morass and announced that it had received its deepwater port license on April 9. In today’s RBN blog, we provide an update on SPOT’s progress and look at some of its inherent advantages, including a potentially shorter time to market and extensive pipeline connectivity.