Crude Oil

Tuesday, 10/22/2019

To hear proponents of Uinta Basin waxy crude oil tell it, all that’s keeping the hydrocarbon-packed region in northeastern Utah from significantly increasing production in the 2020s is a better way to transport their shoe-polish-like crude to Gulf Coast refineries than trucking to existing transloading facilities. And now, they think they’ve finally found it. If all goes to plan, by early 2023 a new, 85-mile short-line railroad will be in place to move at least two 110-car unit trains of waxy crude a day from the epicenter of Uinta Basin production to interconnections with two long-haul rail lines. That would give producers significantly enhanced access to markets far beyond the five Salt Lake City-area refineries to which they now truck some 90% of their output. Today, we conclude our series on the Uinta Basin with a look at the proposed Uinta Basin Railway crude-by-rail project and what it would mean for the play’s producers, as well as for Gulf Coast refiners.

Sunday, 10/20/2019

Every so often, there’s talk that the crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, isn’t as important as it used to be. Don’t believe it. Want proof that Cushing is alive and well? Consider the growing list of pipeline projects into and out of the hub that have been coming online or advancing to final investment decisions, as well as the efforts to push Cushing’s storage capacity toward the 100-MMbbl mark. Midstream companies have committed to building more than 800 Mb/d of new pipeline capacity from Cushing to other hubs and to refineries, and another 1.6 MMb/d of capacity is in the pre-FID development stage. Today, we conclude a mini-series on recent developments at the Oklahoma oil hub with a look at storage expansions, new Cushing players, and outbound pipeline projects.

Thursday, 10/17/2019

Each and every production region in the U.S. has its own unique geology, geography and hydrocarbon assets, but few, if any, are more unusual than the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah. Physically isolated from all refining centers except Salt Lake City, the region boasts enormous reserves of waxy crude oil that’s been made accessible at a very low cost per barrel via horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. While Uinta Basin crude looks, smells and feels like shoe polish, it has many characteristics that refiners want, including medium-to-high API gravity and very low sulfur, acid and metal content. There are two snags to expanding production, though: waxy crude poses major transport challenges, and Salt Lake City refineries can only use so much of the stuff. So if Uinta Basin producers want to increase production by much, they’ll need to develop cost-effective ways to move large volumes of their waxy crude to faraway markets like the Gulf and West coasts. Today, we continue a series on the prospects for expanding waxy-oil output with a review of Uinta Basin producers and their customers in the close-by “City of the Saints.”

Monday, 10/14/2019

U.S. crude oil fundamentals have shifted sharply in the past few weeks; some changes were fully anticipated, and others more exaggerated than originally expected. U.S. production has risen again to another record-setting high, while a massive decline in refining activity due to turnaround season — and a number of unanticipated short-term shutdowns — has erased a lot of domestic demand for crude. Meanwhile, export volumes out of a few key Gulf Coast terminals are hitting all-time marks. U.S. crude oil imports, affected by international disruptions and refining demand, have dropped like a stone and are nearing 20-year-plus lows. With School of Energy 2019 now in session, it’s a great time to recap what’s been happening over the past month. Today, we look at the summer-to-fall shift in fundamentals, and how it’s impacted overall inventories.

Thursday, 10/10/2019

Crude oil inventory levels aren’t the only thing in a constant state of flux at the crude storage hub in Cushing, OK. A year ago, we blogged extensively about Cushing’s major players, storage assets and incoming and outgoing pipelines, as well as plans for new pipes that highlight the hub’s continued significance, even in an increasingly Permian- and Gulf Coast-focused energy sector. A lot has changed since then, though. Some pipeline projects into and out of Cushing have advanced to final investment decisions (FIDs), while others have floundered or foundered. Also, brand-new pipeline projects have been announced, as was a big acquisition that will make Energy Transfer a major player in Cushing storage. Today, we begin a short series on recent developments at the Oklahoma oil hub and how they reflect changes in the ever-evolving U.S. energy markets.

Thursday, 10/03/2019

The Permian Basin’s crude oil market over the last 18 months has exhibited so many dynamic changes that dedicated observers may be suffering from a bit of neck strain, if not outright whiplash. We’ve seen production rise at an unprecedented rate, followed by a period of slower growth. We’ve also watched the Permian very quickly transform from a region desperate for new long-haul pipeline capacity to a hotbed for midstream investment and infrastructure growth. While we’ve closely tracked these big-picture changes, a lot of other, smaller-scale knock-on effects have been occurring too, with potentially significant implications for the basin’s supply pricing and transportation economics. Today, we explain why the changing fortunes of Permian crude haulers may benefit producers in the basin.

Thursday, 09/26/2019

Limetree Bay Refining’s plans to restart the former Hovensa plant in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, at the end of 2019 will add significant refining capacity to the North American stack, helping to offset the loss this year of the 335-Mb/d Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant in Pennsylvania. Limetree Bay is also poised to fill a void in Caribbean refining that’s been left by Venezuela’s economic collapse as well as the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 changes to the bunker fuel market. But the facility is not without its challenges, from high fuel costs and stiff competition from Gulf Coast refineries to tropical storms. Today, we conclude an analysis of the operation and potential markets for the refinery.

Wednesday, 09/25/2019

There already are indications that newly available takeaway-pipeline capacity out of the Permian Basin is goosing crude oil production growth there. Flows on those new pipes — Plains All American’s Cactus II and the EPIC system — are ramping up, crude exports are setting new records, and the end of big price discounts for oil at Midland versus Cushing and the Gulf Coast are giving Permian producers an economic incentive to produce more. And more takeaway capacity is on the way, including the 900-Mb/d Gray Oak Pipeline, which is slated to come online in the fourth quarter. Fast-rising production is putting new pressure on producers and their midstream partners to build and expand crude gathering systems and shuttle pipelines — especially in the Permian’s Delaware Basin, which has a lot less gathering pipe in the ground than the Midland Basin and which is poised for phenomenal production growth the next few months and years. Today, we discuss highlights from our second Drill Down Report on Permian gathering systems, this one focusing on developments in the fast-growing Delaware Basin in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.

Sunday, 09/22/2019

Every week, traders far and wide watch inventories at the storage hub of Cushing, OK, for insight into the U.S. crude oil market. Cushing has long been the epicenter for crude trading in the U.S., and while that role has shifted as the Gulf Coast gains more prominence, inventories at the Oklahoma hub are still a valuable indicator for traders looking for supply and demand trends. Recently, we’ve seen Cushing stocks drop significantly, declining for 11 straight weeks since the beginning of July to their lowest levels since last Thanksgiving. Today, we review the recent drop at Cushing, and discuss how a few changes in supply and demand fundamentals, plus strong pricing motives, helped drag down stockpiles this summer.

Wednesday, 09/18/2019

The Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah boasts enormous reserves of unusual, waxy crude oil with many characteristics that refiners desire: medium-to-high API gravity and very low sulfur, acid and metal content among them. Moreover, the combination of long horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing now give producers access to the basin’s waxy crude at a remarkably low cost per barrel. The catch is that the crude’s most notable feature — its shoe-polish-like consistency at room temperature — poses a major economic and logistical challenge: how to cost-effectively transport the stuff to distant markets. Refineries in nearby Salt Lake City have been making good use of the waxy oil for decades, but there are limits to how much they can process, so Uinta Basin producers, midstreamers and investors have been working on ways to move large volumes to faraway places like the Gulf and West coasts. They may finally be making real progress. Today, we begin a series on the prospects for taking waxy-oil production from the often-overlooked Uinta Basin to the next level.

Tuesday, 09/17/2019

U.S. energy markets are coming to the end of their latest infrastructure cycle just as the reality of tight capital markets is sinking in. Permian crude oil and natural gas takeaway constraints are being relieved by new pipeline capacity. Long-delayed LNG terminals and NGL-consuming petrochemical plants are coming online. Essentially all growth in crude, gas and NGL production volumes is being exported to global markets that — so far, at least — have been absorbing the incremental supply. But there is a chill in the air. Besides the recent bump-up in crude prices tied to last weekend’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, commodity prices have remained stubbornly low. Easy access to capital is a thing of the past. No longer can private equity count on the build-it-and-flip asset investment model. Yup, it’s another inflection point in the Shale Revolution that we’ll start exploring today. All this has huge implications for energy flows, infrastructure utilization and price relationships across all of the energy commodities.

Wednesday, 09/11/2019

Limetree Bay Refining plans to restart a former Hovensa plant in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, at the end of 2019. The refinery’s initial processing capacity of 200 Mb/d represents a significant addition to the North American stack, helping to replace the loss this year of the 335-Mb/d Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant in Pennsylvania. If it opens on time before the year’s end, Limetree will be well-positioned to fill a void in Caribbean refining that’s been left by Venezuela’s collapse as well as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2020 changes to the bunker fuel market. The plant’s location in the middle of world trade routes conveys some advantage, but it must compete with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries to supply regional markets. While higher input costs compared to U.S. rivals will dampen margins, a tolling agreement with BP could insulate Limetree from market exposure. Today, in the first of a two-part blog series, we review the operations and potential product market for the refinery.

Sunday, 09/08/2019

It’s a challenging time to be active in the crude oil market in Western Canada. Barrels are selling at a huge discount to domestic U.S. benchmarks, there is major uncertainty surrounding most new pipeline projects and crude-by-rail opportunities, and Alberta officials are unsure how long to maintain caps on production. As a result, the Canadian market is wildly volatile. It seems like a piece of the fundamentals equation changes on a weekly basis, which makes it next to impossible for producers, shippers, refiners or anyone else really to make long-term decisions and plan for the future. And now, the Enbridge Mainline pipeline system is asking folks to do just that: sign up for multi-year take-or-pay contracts on Western Canada’s biggest takeaway system, or risk leaving barrels stranded for who knows how long. Some market players aren’t buying in. In today’s blog, we recap the recent protests of Enbridge’s plan and examine what might be driving the decisions of Canada’s biggest oil companies.

Thursday, 09/05/2019

Here at RBN, we frequently receive questions about our thoughts on the value of storage. Whether it be crude, natural gas, or NGLs, we answer like any good consultant, “It depends.” What operational need does this storage serve? Where is it located? Does it have optionality for receipts and deliveries? These factors and many more can affect both the strategic and tactical value of a storage asset. Those assets that are integrated into midstream systems and facilitate movements from the upstream to the downstream are generally better poised for success. Those attempting to carve out a niche in isolation or relying on uplift purely from commodity price fluctuations … well, good luck to them. Today, we begin a series examining the value of — and changing markets for — crude oil storage.

Wednesday, 09/04/2019

The Permian Basin has attracted more than its share of midstream start-up companies over the past few years, and for good reason. The region has experienced big gains in crude oil, natural gas and NGL production, and that’s put stress on the Permian’s already significant pipeline infrastructure and spurred the development of many new projects. One new midstreamer that’s made a big splash is Lotus Midstream, which, since it was formed in early 2018, has partnered with some of the Permian’s biggest players — including ExxonMobil and Plains All American — to advance the now-sanctioned 1.5-MMb/d Wink-to-Webster crude pipeline. It’s also acquired Occidental Petroleum’s (Oxy) Centurion pipeline system, which includes a lot of crude gathering pipe and is one of the two main takeaway links between the Permian and the Cushing, OK, hub. What’s Lotus up to, and how is it shaping Permian crude transportation? Today, we examine what has quickly become one of the largest midstreamers in the U.S.’s hottest shale play.