Posts from John Zanner

Wednesday, 12/04/2019

A little over a year ago, we discussed the rapidly expanding third-party shipper market for crude oil in West Texas. At the time, crude at Midland was trading at nearly a $15/bbl discount to Gulf Coast markets. Pipeline space out of the Permian was hard to come by and extremely valuable, and everybody and their brother — literally, in some cases — were forming a limited liability corporation and trying to secure space as a walk-up, “lottery” shipper. A lot of people made a lot of money, but now, just over a year later, much of that lottery opportunity has dried up. Nowadays, these same folks are looking for new opportunities, or going back to old strategies, only to find that being a third-party shipper today is more expensive and more burdensome. In today’s blog, we recap how lottery shippers made buckets of money in late 2018 and early 2019, only to see their target of opportunity dry up due to midstream investment.

Thursday, 11/14/2019

They are unsung heroes, the guys and gals who get in early, stay late, and are usually working odd hours on the weekends. They resolve issues before they arise, solve complex problems when they do pop up, and are always working the phones to get the next hot piece of intel. No, we’re not talking about the new cast from Season 2 of “Jack Ryan,” and no, it’s not the kids from “Stranger Things.” The keyboard warriors we’re referring to are crude oil schedulers. They’re at the forefront of the daily logistics taking place at truck injection points, gathering systems, and takeaway pipelines from Western Canada down to the Gulf Coast (and around the rest of the world as well). As more and more new pipelines get built out in places like West Texas, it’s important to revisit the basics of how crude oil moves and the role that crude schedulers play. Today, we bring it back to the roots of crude oil operations and shine some light on an underappreciated group of crude oil operators.

Thursday, 10/31/2019

In our blogs and at our 2019 School of Energy a couple of weeks ago, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the ins and outs and pros and cons of a multitude of proposed crude oil export terminals. What we’ve come to believe is that, with U.S. production growth appearing to slow and market players fearful of overbuilding, many of these multibillion-dollar greenfield projects are unlikely to advance to financing and construction. Odds are that the midstream sector instead will focus on ways to add new capacity to existing terminals, even if that means still relying on reverse lightering in the Gulf of Mexico to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). In today’s blog, we discuss why producers, traders and midstreamers alike may be pulling back from investments in big, expensive export projects, and what it could mean down the road.

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, 10/03/2019

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.

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.

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.

Sunday, 08/25/2019

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.

Thursday, 08/08/2019

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.

Sunday, 07/28/2019

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.

Tuesday, 07/16/2019

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.

Wednesday, 06/19/2019

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.

Wednesday, 06/05/2019

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.

Monday, 05/20/2019

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.

Sunday, 05/05/2019

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.