Refinery closures. Shifting demand for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Yawning price differentials for refined products in neighboring regions. These and other factors have spurred an ongoing reworking of the extensive U.S. products pipeline network, which transports the fuels needed to power cars, SUVs, trucks, trains and airplanes — not to mention pumps in the oil patch, tractors and lawnmowers. New products pipelines are being built and existing pipelines are being repurposed, expanded or made bidirectional, typically to take advantage of opportunities that midstreamers, refiners and marketers see opening up. In today’s RBN blog, we begin a review of major pipelines that batch gasoline, diesel and jet fuel and look at the subtle and not-so-subtle changes being made to the U.S. refined products distribution network.
In the next few days, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will hold an emergency meeting with leading energy executives to discuss steps E&Ps and refiners could take to increase crude oil production, refinery capacity and the production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, all with the aim of reducing prices. The prelude to the get-together was less than ideal, though. In a June 14 letter to the top brass of four integrated oil and gas giants and three large refiners, President Biden criticized them for “historically high refinery profit margins” and for shutting down refining capacity before and then during the pandemic. In addition to rejoinders from the companies, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) defended their actions, discussed the complexity of refined products markets, and asserted that the Biden administration’s statements and policies have actually discouraged investment in refining and oil and gas production. Is there a middle ground here? In today’s RBN blog, we look at the high-level correspondence and discuss how at least some compromises might be possible.
It took a while, but domestic air travel is finally returning to pre-pandemic levels and international travel to and from the U.S. is showing signs of recovering too. As a result, U.S. production of jet fuel has been rising steadily in recent months and, since most jet fuel needs to be transported long distances from refineries to airports, so have flows of jet fuel on U.S. refined products pipelines. All of that is good news, but as pipeline flows rise, so may the stresses on some elements of the U.S. refined products/jet fuel distribution network, including pipelines, storage facilities and “last mile” jet fuel delivery trucks. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at jet fuel, this time with a look at the extensive web of U.S. refined products pipelines.
Just over two years ago, the jet fuel market experienced an almost existential shock. In the space of only six or seven weeks, demand for the refined product plummeted by more than 70% as COVID-related lockdowns and air-travel restrictions were implemented. Fortunately, life in the U.S. has been returning to normal — albeit with some bumps along the way — and demand for jet fuel (a.k.a. “jet”) has been rebounding to near pre-pandemic levels. That re-emphasizes a nagging challenge, though, namely transporting large volumes of jet from refineries and import docks to hundreds of major and minor airports. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at jet fuel, this time with an examination of where it's produced and consumed, and how it gets from refineries to airports.
The jet fuel market has been on a wild ride the past two-plus years. First, demand for the refined product took an unprecedented, COVID-induced nosedive in February and March 2020. By May 2020, Gulf Coast prices for jet fuel had plummeted to less than 50 cents/gal (from just under $2 at the start of that year) and refiners had slashed production to 505 Mb/d (from just under 1.9 MMb/d). It was a tough few months — the recovery from the market’s bottom was neither quick nor consistent. Domestic air travel is finally back, but with international travel slower to rebound, total jet fuel supply and demand are still off of their pre-pandemic levels. Jet fuel prices are taking off, though, last week hitting their highest mark since July 2008. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the jet fuel market: how it’s rebounding, how it works and how it’s changing.
The high-tech space programs of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sir Richard Branson may seem far removed from the down-to-earth business of producing and processing hydrocarbons. In fact, however, the multibillion-dollar efforts by SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic to normalize space travel — and maybe even put the first men and women on Mars! — depend at least in part on some pretty basic oil and gas products, including regular jet fuel, highly refined kerosene, and LNG. Oh, and hydrogen too — or, more specifically, the liquid form of the fuel that has recently caught the attention of a number of old-school energy companies. In today’s blog, we look at what’s propelling the latest generation of space vehicles.
Traveled by air in the U.S. lately? Airports and airplanes are packed to the gills. Unruly passengers are making the nightly news and becoming YouTube sensations. Jet fuel shortages are popping up. But there are other developments in air travel too, including a push by the global airline industry to rein in its greenhouse gas emissions. And the heart of that movement is sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. While the blending of SAF with conventional jet fuel is not mandated in the U.S., the alternative fuel is gaining altitude, in part because it can generate layers of credits that can be utilized in various renewable fuel trading programs. In today’s blog, we look at the current status of renewable fuel in the U.S. aviation sector.
We all hope that by the time you read this the operators of the ransomware-impacted Colonial Pipeline will have been able to restore service to more of the 5,500-mile refined products delivery system — maybe even to all of it. In any case, the shutdown of the Houston-to-New-Jersey pipeline system on Friday both exposes the vulnerability of the North American pipeline grid to malevolent hackers and reveals how, by its very nature, that same grid offers at least some degree of redundancy and resiliency built into it. A lot of that ability to respond to a crisis, whether it be a pipeline leak or a hack by an Eastern European criminal group called DarkSide, involves what you might call “market-inspired workarounds” — alternative suppliers reacting to an anticipated supply void and potentially higher prices by jumping into action. Today, we look at what the ransomware attack on the U.S.’s largest gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel transportation system can teach us.
Canada, like the U.S., is in the enviable position of having vast crude oil reserves as well as a robust domestic refining sector capable of satisfying national needs for gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum products. Refiners in both countries have also benefited in recent years from increasing oil production within their borders. Growth in the Alberta oil sands in particular has given refineries in both Western and Eastern Canada increased access to domestically sourced bitumen and upgraded synthetic crude oil. Today, we continue our series on Canada’s refining sector with a look at the refineries in the eastern half of the nation, and their increasing use of Canadian oil.
Long established as an oil-producing region, Western Canada has also become a major producer of refined products. With enough oil available to serve the nine refineries in the region, there is no need to import crude oil, making Western Canada one of the few parts of the world where the refineries are completely self-sufficient regarding oil supply. The region is also noteworthy in that, like the U.S. Gulf Coast, its refining capacity and gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel output is vastly greater than its own demand, resulting in a large surplus of refined fuels that can be sent across Canada and exported to the U.S. Today, we look westward, focusing on the nine refineries located in the Canadian West.
Canada may be the land of backyard hockey, lacrosse, and loonies, but Canadians have many similarities to folks in the U.S. The same holds true for Canada’s refining sector, which like its American counterpart has been adjusting to big changes in domestic crude oil production, a declining need for imported oil, and, most recently, a period of severe refined-product demand destruction caused by the pandemic. What Canadian refiners lack, though, is the attention they deserve. After all, nearly 2 MMb/d of crude oil flows through their 17 refineries. And, by the way, they now turn to U.S. producers for virtually all their oil imports — a far cry from where things stood before the Shale Era. Today, we kick off a three-part series that examines Canada’s refining sector in greater detail.
It has been nearly a year since the novel coronavirus was first detected in China — that’s right, a year. In that time, we have seen significant parts of the world come to a near standstill, become all too familiar with video conferencing, and canceled family vacations and business travel. The fact that many of us have been stuck at home has wreaked havoc on the U.S. refining industry, with plummeting utilizations and some facilities shutting down, either temporarily or permanently. And, depending on how the U.S. transportation sector rebounds from the pandemic in 2021 and beyond, more refinery closures may be on the horizon. Today, we look at the U.S. facilities that are shutting down and tally up the capacity lost so far.
For the past several months, U.S. refineries have been producing more distillate than demand warrants, resulting in a glut of distillate fuels, especially ultra-low-sulfur diesel and jet fuel. The disconnect between supply and demand has been particularly stark in the Gulf Coast region, where just a couple of weeks ago distillate stocks sat 39% above their 10-year average after coming perilously close to tank tops in August. The culprit, of course, is COVID-19, or more specifically the effects of the pandemic on air travel and the broader economy. Demand for motor gasoline rebounded more quickly than demand for ULSD and jet fuel, and refineries churned out more gasoline to keep up, but that results in more distillate too. Now, finally, there are signs that distillate stocks may be easing back down. Today, we discuss the build-up in ULSD and jet fuel stockpiles, the ways they might revert to the norm, and the potential for storing distillate now and selling it at a higher price later.
For U.S. refineries, the severe demand destruction that occurred this spring led to the worst financial performance in recent history. Not only did refiners produce less diesel, motor gasoline, and jet fuel in the second quarter than any quarter in recent memory, their refining margins were sharply lower than the historical range — a one-two punch that hit their bottom lines hard. The situation has improved somewhat this summer, but it’s still tough out there. So tough, in fact, that it’s reasonable to ask, does the coronavirus and its impacts to the energy sector signal the end of an era for refiners across the U.S.? Today, we review the decline in fuel demand and profitability in the second quarter and discuss the uncertainties refiners face in the second half of 2020 and beyond.
The global effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 brought the commercial aviation sector to its knees, and slashed demand for jet fuel to its lowest level in 50 years. That, combined with lower demand for motor gasoline and — to a lesser extent — diesel, forced refineries in the U.S. and elsewhere to substantially reduce their crude oil input and to make major changes in their operations, all with the aim of bringing refined product supply and demand into closer balance. After a horrific spring, U.S. jet fuel production and demand have been rebounding somewhat in recent weeks, but getting back to pre-coronavirus levels may take a long time. Today, we review the flight from hell that the jet fuel market has suffered through so far this year, and how it is affecting refineries.