Rockies refineries have enjoyed higher margins than their counterparts anywhere else in the U.S. except California over the past four years, despite being typically smaller and less sophisticated plants. Attractive margins resulted in new investment by their owners — concentrating on the flexibility to process different crude types rather than just boosting capacity — because regional product demand is relatively stagnant. Today, we describe how some of those investments have paid off handsomely so far while others aren’t looking so savvy.
Crude oil distribution to Houston area refineries is still being re-plumbed to reflect the ongoing transition to domestic supply. Although plenty of new pipelines provide access for new crude flows into Houston, logistic challenges arise from a crude quality mismatch with refinery configurations. The handling of condensate – whether lightly processed for export or refined in a splitter is also increasing infrastructure overhead. Today we look at new crude infrastructure challenges in the Houston area.
Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that inland barge movements between the U.S. Midwest and the Gulf Coast increased 10 fold between January 2011 and October 2013 to nearly 160 Mb/d in response to soaring crude production and pipeline congestion. Since then barge traffic on the Mississippi River (the main waterway between the two regions) plunged 80% to 27 Mb/d in April 2015 – the latest month reported. Today we explain why.
Last week (February 19, 2015) Enterprise Product Partners announced the start of line fill on their 780 Mb/d ECHO to Beaumont/Port Arthur pipeline. The new route will open access for Canadian heavy crude shippers on the recently completed Seaway Twin pipeline from Cushing to Houston to 1.5 MMb/d of refining capacity in Beaumont/Port Arthur including 0.3 MMb/d of heavy crude coker processing. These refineries were a key target of the Keystone-XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast that still awaits approval. Today we look at demand and competition for Canadian heavy crude on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The price discount for Canadian heavy crude benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) sold in Hardisty, Alberta versus Gulf Coast equivalent heavy grade Maya has narrowed from $35/Bbl last November to less than $12/Bbl today. The discounts to Maya this year have been less than the cost of rail transportation between Western Canada and the Gulf Coast – reflecting improving crude takeaway capacity. Next month the 600 Mb/d Flanagan South pipeline from Chicago to Cushing and the 450 Mb/d Seaway Twin from Cushing to Houston will open more new capacity for Canadian crude to compete against Maya at the Gulf Coast. The result is likely to be even lower differentials. Today we discuss the likely impact.
There has been a lot of market interest and investment in moving Canadian heavy crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast by rail in the face of competing pipeline routes that will come online in the next two years. Our analysis indicates that rail can beat the pipelines but that the infrastructure to achieve the necessary economies of scale are not yet in place. Today we provide a worked example of the cost alternatives.
RBN Energy estimates that by 2015 rail terminal capacity to load heavy bitumen “dilbit” crude in Western Canada will be about 800 Mb/d. Unload terminals hoping to receive that crude on the Gulf Coast will have about 1 MMb/d capacity by 2015. Moving that crude by rail will compete directly with planned pipelines expected to be in service by 2015. Yet the details show only about 25 percent of Canadian rail terminals will be able to load railbit crude, which has less diluent. And the terminals that do handle railbit will not be handle larger unit trains. Today we continue our analysis of Canadian crude transport options.
Seems like every other week a new loading or unloading terminal project is being announced to move Western Canadian heavy crude by rail to somewhere on the Gulf Coast. If they all get built there will be at least seven unit train load terminals operating in Alberta by 2016 with over 550 Mb/d capacity. Six unit train terminals are planned or being built to unload Canadian heavy crude to deliver to Mississippi Gulf Coast refineries (~400 Mb/d unload capacity) and three unit train terminals (~350 Mb/d) are operating or being built to deliver to Texas Gulf Coast refineries that will handle Canadian crude. Today we survey unloading terminals on the Gulf outside the CN direct network.
In the short term midstream companies with crude-by-rail unloading terminals at the Gulf Coast can deliver cheaper light sweet crudes from the Midwest and West Texas. Once new pipelines come online to deliver that crude direct to Houston that price advantage will disappear. At that point rail terminal operators need to diversify their business to survive. Today we look at the fate of Texas Gulf Coast rail terminal operators.
Western Canadian heavy crude production from tar sands (bitumen) is expected to increase from about 1.7 MMbd/ in 2011 to 2.9 MMbd/d in 2017. Forty percent of that production is mixed with diluent (mostly natural gasoline or condensate) and shipped to the US market by pipeline. As tar sands production increases so does Canadian demand for diluent. That demand already outstrips local production - meaning Canada needs to import increasing volumes of diluent. Today we look at the potential sources of Canadian diluent supplies.