Posts from Laura Blewitt

Tuesday, 02/05/2019

U.S. crude oil exports from Gulf Coast ports are soaring — in January they averaged well over 2 MMb/d — and when you’re moving large volumes long distances by water, there’s no vessel as efficient as a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC). A number of midstream companies are planning costly offshore terminals that could fully load 2-MMbbl VLCCs, but jobs like that take years, and Moda Midstream is in no mood to wait. Since it acquired Occidental Petroleum’s (Oxy) Ingleside marine terminal near Corpus Christi last September, Moda has been adding new tankage and loading equipment to enable it to load up to 1.25 MMbbl onto a VLCC within 24 hours from arrival to departure, then send the supertanker out to the deep waters of the Gulf for a quick top-off via reverse lightering. Upon completion of further expansion programs, the terminal’s loading capabilities will reach a combined 160 thousand barrels per hour (Mb/hour) among its three berths. Today, we discuss recent and near-term enhancements at Texas’s newest VLCC loading facility.

Tuesday, 01/15/2019

With Petróleos Mexicanos’ (Pemex) refineries struggling to operate at more than 30% of total capacity, gasoline pumps across Mexico are more likely to be filling up tanks with fuel imported from the U.S. than with domestic supply. This arrangement works well for U.S. refiners, who are running close to flat-out and depending on export volumes to clear the market. But now, the Mexican government has shut a number of refined products pipelines to prevent illegal tapping, and that’s had two consequences:  widespread fuel shortages among Mexican consumers and a logjam of American supplies waiting to come into Mexico’s ports. Today, we explain the opportunities and risks posed to U.S. refiners that have ramped up their involvement with — and dependence on — the Mexican market.

Tuesday, 01/08/2019

In 2018, a handful of midstream companies started racing to develop deepwater export terminals along the Gulf Coast that can fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) with 2 MMbbl of crude oil from the Permian and other plays. While some of those companies are moving toward final investment decisions (FIDs) that would bring their plans to fruition in the early 2020s, terminal operators with existing VLCC-capable assets — both onshore and offshore — turned up the volume in a major way in December. Today, we outline the strides made in recent days by the export programs of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), Seaway Texas City and Moda Midstream.

Thursday, 12/20/2018

While U.S. refineries are again running hot and heavy after the end of this year’s seasonal fall maintenance period, Mexico’s refineries have continued to struggle to operate at more than 30% of their capacity, a decline that is exacerbated by that country’s tumbling oil production. In recent years, Mexico’s dismal refinery utilization rate has been a boon for U.S. refiners on the Gulf Coast who can ship, pipe or truck gasoline to America’s southern neighbor in short order. Now, Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), is pushing to solve Mexico’s refinery problems by building a new one. Today, we discuss Mexico’s growing dependence on U.S. gasoline, and whether building a new refinery south of the border will change things.

Monday, 12/10/2018

There’s a reason why more than half a dozen midstream companies and joint ventures are clamoring to build deepwater loading terminals on the Gulf of Mexico: because it’s a major pain to load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) any other way. These days, the standard operating procedure for loading the vast majority of VLCCs along the Gulf Coast involves a complex, time-consuming and costly process of ship-to-ship transfers called reverse-lightering, in which smaller tankers ferry out and transfer crude to VLCCs in specified lightering areas off the coast. Today, we ponder the current dynamics for U.S. crude exports via VLCC. 

Sunday, 11/18/2018

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.

Thursday, 11/15/2018

Between new sanctions on Iran and the potential for more escalation in the trade war with China, oil exports from the U.S. have been changing their flows dramatically in the past few months. China from October 2017 through July 2018 rivaled Canada as the largest buyer of U.S. crude; in June, when total U.S. exports hit a record 2.2 MMb/d, nearly one-quarter of those volumes flowed to China. But since trade tensions between the two nations intensified, not a single barrel of U.S. crude has arrived in China since July. Thankfully, the U.S. has found ways to fill the Chinese void by increasing the volumes sold to South Korea and India, two historically prominent buyers of Iranian oil. Today, we lay out the reasons why U.S. sanctions on Iran are helping the U.S. continue to sell crude to Asia, even as relations with China have chilled.

Monday, 10/29/2018

Phillips 66 loaded its first Panamax tanker for export to Mexico over the weekend. Late on Sunday night, the SCF Prime signaled that it was headed for Pajaritos, Mexico, after loading at Phillips' terminal in Beaumont, TX.  Mexico is making history with this pivotal first purchase of Bakken crude from Phillips 66 at the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC). Up until now, the crude oil trade between the U.S. and Mexico had been a one-way street, with oil moving from Mexico to the U.S. and not the other way around. But now, as Mexico’s state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) faces dwindling oil production and refinery outputs, importing light, sweet crude from the U.S. is a new avenue to revive Mexico’s refinery utilization. Today, we examine the new shift in the traditional flows of crude oil across the Gulf of Mexico.

Tuesday, 10/09/2018

The price of northeastern Alberta’s key crude oil benchmark, Western Canadian Select (WCS), has been dropping like a rock. Last week, the heavy, sour blend of crude fell to a $45/bbl discount against U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) — the biggest differential in at least 10 years. With an unplanned summertime outage at a Syncrude upgrader now over, Alberta production rising and pipeline takeaway capacity static — at least for now — the value of Canada’s crude may have even bleaker days ahead, despite a recent global rally in oil prices. Today, we explain why Western Canada’s oil producers are facing the prospect of mile-wide spreads for months to come.

Monday, 10/01/2018

China exceeded Canada as the largest buyer of U.S. crude exports for the first time in February 2017 and in year-to-date 2018 has averaged 378 Mb/d versus Canada’s 347 Mb/d. Ramping up purchases from virtually nothing in 2015 to more than 500 Mb/d in June 2018 was no small feat — the logistics in getting that much oil across the world include multiple ship-to-ship transfers, several weeks at sea and a whole lot of negotiating between U.S. crude marketers and the major Chinese buyers: Unipec and PetroChina. That already complicated process has recently been made just a little more complicated by the escalating trade war rhetoric between the U.S. and China. In today’s blog, which launches our new Crude Voyager service, we explain how crude flows to China are evolving.

Sunday, 09/30/2018

Thanks to the shale revolution, U.S. refiners have spent the better part of the last two years achieving milestones in export volumes and run rates. The U.S. exported record volumes of gasoline and diesel last year. Much of that newfound international market share came at the expense of ailing refining complexes in Latin America, particularly in Mexico. That worked out great for U.S. refiners on the Gulf Coast, who could load up a tanker of fuel and have it delivered within a matter of days. Now the market on both sides of the border is shifting; the political landscape has changed in Mexico and gasoline demand growth in the U.S. is threatened by higher oil prices. Today, we lay out factors impacting exports and demand in the U.S. gasoline market.

Thursday, 08/09/2018

The trade war between the U.S. and China continues to intensify — and now the rhetoric is shifting from steel and soybeans to oil and gas. What started as just an exchange of escalating bluster has developed into real tariffs that will be enacted beginning August 23 — which will include petroleum-based products like LPG and refined products. The commodities that would have the biggest impacts on global trade flows, liquefied natural gas and crude oil, were under tariff threat as well. LNG is still on a list of potential commodities to receive tariffs in the future, while crude has since been removed. But, keep in mind that today’s state of affairs could change tomorrow, so tariffs on those two commodities should be considered very much on the table. Today, we examine the potential trade war fallout for growing exports of U.S. LNG and crude oil.

Wednesday, 08/01/2018

While crude oil producers in the prolific Permian Basin are living out a Shale Revolution, the Midcontinent region of the U.S. is having a Refining Renaissance. Crude takeaway constraints, mainly due to insufficient pipeline capacity, are driving the prices of crude in Western Canada and West Texas to attractive lows against the WTI NYMEX benchmark for crude at the Cushing, OK, hub. Cheaper oil can contribute to bigger margins for refiners, who are supplying increasing volumes into a retail market that’s selling gasoline at the highest prices in four years. What will happen if the refiners don’t rein in their runs? Today, we’ll explore the implications of record-high run rates in the U.S. refining industry.

Thursday, 06/07/2018

The Permian Basin is awash in light, sweet crude oil that’s cheap to produce and easy to process. It’s so awash, in fact, that supplies are overwhelming takeaway pipeline capacity. The resulting bottleneck in West Texas has cratered prices in Midland, where West Texas Intermediate (WTI) — the region’s light, sweet benchmark — has blown out price-wise against the same grade in other locations, including Houston, with its crude-export docks. Less well known, but influential beyond its geography, is Midland West Texas Sour, or WTS. WTS is suffering from the same wide differentials as WTI at Midland, and those yawning spreads are dragging down the price of Maya, Pemex’s flagship heavy, sour crude. Today, we discuss some surprising ripple effects of takeaway constraints out of the Permian.