The feeling is almost palpable among midstreamers: In a fast-changing energy industry, the companies that gather, transport, store and export hydrocarbons need to consolidate and augment — and be smart about how they get bigger. Scale, that’s the key. That — plus complementary assets that provide synergies, lower costs and increase free cash flow, a sizable portion of which can be returned to shareholders as dividends and buybacks — is what investors are looking for. Oh, and don’t forget this important M&A goal: gaining a larger footprint and a more prominent role in the Permian, the dominant U.S. production area. ONEOK, a midstream company heretofore primarily focused on moving NGLs and natural gas, earlier this week announced an $18.8 billion agreement to acquire Magellan Midstream Partners, which is best known for pipelines that transport refined products and crude oil. In today’s RBN blog, we and our friends at East Daley Analytics kick the tires, look under the hood, and give our thoughts on the deal’s pros and potential cons.

The Houston Ship Channel (HSC) is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the U.S. Each year, thousands of vessels utilize the waterway, importing and exporting goods ranging from pharmaceutical products to what the Census Bureau classifies as “Leather Art; Saddlery Etc.; Handbags Etc.; Gut Art”. More to the point of today’s blog: over 10 million tons of energy products move through the channel each month. But as ships grow ever larger, the ports and canals that service them must also adapt to be able to handle their increased dimensions. The Houston Ship Channel now finds itself in a situation where it must adapt to meet increasing market demands. Today, we continue our series on the issues facing some Texas ports and the measures being taken to help alleviate them.

In terms of raw tonnage, the Port of Houston is by far the busiest in the United States. The 52-mile-long Houston Ship Channel (HSC) — running from just outside downtown Houston out to an area between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula — is the artery that enables the heavy ship traffic, much of it tied to crude oil, LPG, petroleum products and other hydrocarbons. But in the same way that Houston’s Interstate 45 traffic backs up during the morning commute, the ship channel traffic, which normally runs at about 60% of peak levels, can be (and has been) subject to delays when there’s an accident, visibility problems, or a slow-moving double-wide taking up two lanes. With energy-related export activity on the rise, efforts are underway to address those issues. Today, we begin a series on the issues facing some Texas ports and the measures being taken to help alleviate them.

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.

A new light sweet crude oil trading market is developing in Houston at the Magellan Midstream Partners East Houston terminal – delivery point for that company’s Longhorn and BridgeTex (50/50 owned with Plains All American) pipelines delivering crude from the Permian Basin. Light sweet crude from the Permian is also known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) the domestic U.S. benchmark crude - widely traded at Cushing, OK where it underpins the CME NYMEX futures contract.  Today we review the developing market and the price relationships that underpin it.

Last Wednesday (October 1, 2014) pipeline and NGL giant Enterprise Products Partners LP (Enterprise) announced step one of a two step multi-billion dollar deal to merge their assets with competing major liquids storage and terminal partnership Oiltanking Partners (Oiltanking). If the deal goes according to plan (timing to be determined) Enterprise will absorb all of Oiltanking. Both companies have significant midstream assets in the Houston and surrounding Gulf Coast region that is currently front row center of efforts to process and handle an incoming flood of new crude and natural gas liquids arriving from U.S. shale plays. Today we review the deal.

The current capacity of incoming crude pipelines into the Houston refining region is about 1.4 MMb/d. By the end of 2015 that will have more than doubled to 2.9 MMb/d. Add to these flows crude railed into new and developing unloading terminals as well as barges of Eagle Ford crude from Corpus Christi in south Texas and the prospects for congestion build up. Foreign waterborne imports into Houston are falling as pipelines supply more refineries but in the process a lot of floating storage flexibility is being lost. Today we describe the Houston crude distribution system that could be overwhelmed by the new flows.

Houston area refineries are the first to experience the full impact of the flood of domestic and Canadian production headed to the Gulf Coast in 2013 and 2014. These refineries have traditionally relied on floating storage in the form of import cargoes in transit to buffer them against supply shocks. Now the region is adapting to new crude supplies mostly delivered by pipeline. As imports decline, the floating storage option disappears, leaving the potential for congestion caused by inadequate onshore working storage. Today we calculate the storage impact of these changes.

Gulf Coast crude storage is at record levels and looks set to continue growing as new pipeline capacity opens up later this year from Cushing and the Permian Basin. At Magellan’s Analyst Day presentation last week (April 9, 2014) the company said that demand for crude storage at all locations remains strong with average utilization of 97 percent plus. OilTanking say their Houston crude storage is 99.1 percent contracted. Today we ponder where Gulf Coast crude stocks are located.

Total crude oil shipped out from the South Texas Port of Corpus Christi increased 19 fold between November 2011 and November 2012 from 2.1 MMBbl to 36 MMBbl. All of that crude is coming from the Eagle Ford shale oil basin 70 miles north of Corpus in the form of light crude or condensate via pipeline. Six marine terminals have been built or expanded at Corpus but can they handle the traffic jam? Today we review how the Port is coping.