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.
Posts from John Zanner
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.
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.
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.
Crude oil pipeline shippers across the U.S., and especially in the Permian, are about to experience something they haven’t seen in a few years: a bunch of new crude takeaway capacity with lower-cost tariffs coming online, and the sudden need among committed shippers to fill their pipe space. This also affects some folks committed to space on older pipelines, whose higher-cost tariffs could leave them out of the money. The start-up of pipelines like Plains All American’s Cactus II, with a super-low $1.05/bbl tariff — and several pipelines in other basins lowering tariffs — has traders with pipeline commitments old and new re-running their economics and trying to determine their best strategy moving forward. Some may be forced to move volume at a loss. Today, we analyze the recent trend in tariff compression and how traders deal with uneconomical take-or-pay contracts.
The Niobrara production area in the Rockies is a complicated place to determine crude oil supply and demand balances. It’s at the crossroads of a number of supply areas, with volumes coming in from Canada and the Bakken, as well as locally from the Powder River and Denver-Julesburg basins. And in terms of destinations, there are well-established local markets, or you can send the molecules to Salt Lake City, or southeast to the Cushing, OK, hub and beyond. The Niobrara is one of the few growth areas we look at where there is substantial pipeline capacity for inflows and outflows, with the option to service multiple markets. Now, there are a couple of new pipeline projects ramping up in the Rockies, and given the region’s interconnectivity, it’s a good bet that the status quo in the Niobrara is in for some big changes. Today, we recap the new pipeline projects and then dive into what it could mean for the midstream balance in the Powder River and D-J.
Bakken crude oil production surpassed 1.4 MMb/d this spring and has maintained a level near that since, even posting a new high just shy of 1.5 MMb/d in April 2019. The rising production volumes have filled any remaining space on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and prompted midstream companies to step up expansion efforts to alleviate the pressure, even as questions linger about the possibility of a pipeline overbuild if all of the announced capacity gets built. Specifically, the market is weighing the need for the recently announced Liberty Pipeline and a DAPL expansion. Today, we look at these two new projects and what their development means for the supply/demand balance in one of the U.S.’s biggest shale basins.
The next wave of Permian crude oil pipeline infrastructure is getting completed as we speak. In West Texas, several new pipeline projects are either finalizing their commercial terms and agreements, wrapping up the permitting process, or actually putting steel in the ground. In the Permian alone, there is a potential for 4.3 MMb/d of new pipeline takeaway capacity to get built in the next two and a half years. Along with those major long-haul pipelines, there are also crude gathering systems being developed to help move production from the wellhead to an intermediary point along one of the big new takeaway pipes. While we often like to give pipeline projects concrete timelines with hard-and-fast online dates, the actual logistics of how producers, traders and midstream companies all bring a pipeline from linefill to full commercial service are never clean and simple. There can be a lot of headaches, learning curves, and expensive — not to mention time-consuming — problem-solving exercises that come with the start-up process. In today’s blog, we discuss why new pipelines often experience growing pains, and how market participants navigate the early days of new systems.
Crude oil exports out of the U.S. are the topic du jour these days. At the heart of the discussion are the who, what, where and when of how the export capacity will be developed. Who is going to build the next crude oil export terminal, what type will it be (offshore or onshore), where are they going to put it (Corpus, Houston, Louisiana — the list goes on), and when will that new capacity be available? Everyone seems to have a different answer, and for good reason. Crude oil export terminals aren’t easy to develop, any way you look at them. Today, we examine the financial and logistical hurdles that export terminals must clear in order to reach a final investment decision, and what those obstacles mean for what kind of terminal gets built, where it gets built, who builds it and how soon.
Crude oil production in the U.S. continues to rise — it currently stands at 12.4 MMb/d, up more than 1.6 MMb/d from 12 months ago, according to the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). New pipeline projects from Cushing and West Texas to the Gulf Coast are being developed to ensure there is enough flow capacity to move all those barrels from the wellhead to refineries and export docks. Which leads to two critical questions — namely, how much actual crude oil export capacity is already in place at the Gulf Coast, and how much more needs to be developed? Today, we begin a series presenting our latest analysis of crude oil export capacity in the U.S., our forecast for total export demand, and our view of what it all means for the large slate of potential projects.
When it comes to getting crude oil to market, bottlenecks have always existed. Back in 2013-15, producers and shippers in the Rockies faced a serious lack of takeaway options. Midstreamers saw the problem and the money to be made, and quickly built more crude-by-rail capacity — and, over time, pipeline capacity — to fix things. Recently, major takeaway constraints emerged in the Permian, much to the detriment of netbacks at the wellhead. There was real concern for a few months that some producers might need to shut in production as there wasn’t any way to get incremental barrels out of the basin. Again, traders and midstream operators got savvy, restarted some dormant crude-by-rail options, initiated long-haul trucking out of Midland, and added more pipe capacity. But what if the next big bottleneck isn’t between two land-based trading hubs? What if there’s not enough export capacity at terminals along the Gulf Coast, the gateway to international markets? In today’s blog, we examine recent export and production trends, and discuss what those could mean for export infrastructure and logistics over the next five years.
Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance. So the saying goes, and it often holds true for midstream projects as well as people. Many times we’ve written that existing pipe in the ground beats new pipeline projects; it’s frequently easier and faster to expand the capacity of an older pipe than it is to build an entirely new pipeline. But eventually, contracts on these old pipelines expire, and as they do, shippers may have new, more attractive options — maybe proposed new pipes offer better connections to gathering systems, the ability to segregate batches of crude oil, and/or access to more desirable markets. Most importantly, they probably are willing to charge a lower tariff. In the Permian, we’ve seen a slew of new pipelines advance to construction by promising lower and lower shipping costs to move crude from West Texas to the Gulf Coast. Today, we look at how older pipelines’ re-contracting efforts will be affected by their competitors’ lower tariffs and operational advantages.
Only a few months after major crude oil takeaway constraints out of the Permian Basin caused price spreads to widen, the pipeline network serving the U.S.’s most prolific shale play may be on the brink of becoming overbuilt. We’ve already seen a number of new expansions and pipeline conversions completed in the past six months, and construction is underway on another 2 MMb/d of new pipeline capacity scheduled to come online between now and the first quarter of 2020. Beyond that, a few remaining projects have been proposed but have not yet reached final investment decisions. No midstream group wants to build a pipeline that will be half full, and no producer wants to make a 10-year commitment to a pipeline if there are going to be plenty of other options available. So who blinks first? In today’s blog, we review the Permian pipeline projects that are still on the fence and examine what factors will determine whether they end up being a “go” or a “no.”
Crude differentials in the Permian are getting squeezed. The spread between Midland and WTI at Cushing widened out to near $18/bbl at one point in 2018, when pipeline capacity was scarce. But that same spread averaged a discount of only $0.25/bbl in March 2019. Differentials between Midland and the more desired sales destination at the Gulf Coast are also in a vise. What gives? Production in the Permian continues to climb, but the rapid pace of growth we saw in 2018 has slowed down a bit lately, with fewer rigs in service and fewer new wells being brought on each month. More importantly, we’ve seen several new pipeline expansions and pipeline conversions come online in bits and bursts — in some cases, ahead of schedule — and this new chunk of pipeline space has compressed Midland pricing. In today’s blog, we begin a series on Permian crude takeaway capacity and differentials, with a look at the handful of new projects that have come online in the past few months and what has happened to Permian prices as a result.
Crude production is at all-time highs in the Bakken and the Niobrara, and the latest pipeline-capacity expansions out of both regions have been filling up fast. At the same time, producers in Western Canada are dealing with major takeaway constraints and are on the hunt for still more pipeline space. Midstream companies are trying to oblige, proposing solutions like a major Pony Express expansion or a new Bakken-to-Rockies-to-Gulf Coast fix — the Liberty and Red Oak pipelines — that could help address all of the above. The catch is that, with multiple producing areas funneling crude along the same general eastern-Rockies corridor and the outlook for continued production growth uncertain, how’s a shipper to know whether to sign a long-term deal for some of the incremental pipe capacity now being offered? Today, we consider the need for new takeaway capacity, the potential for an overbuild scenario, and what it all means for producers and shippers.