Record runs allowed U.S. refiners to continue a multiyear streak of strong margins in 2018 despite higher crude prices during the first three quarters and a weaker fourth quarter after product prices tanked along with crude in October. While rising crude prices threatened refinery margins, a high Brent premium over domestic benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) kept feedstock prices for U.S. refiners lower than their international rivals. The availability of discounted Canadian crude also helped produce stellar returns for Midwest, Rockies and Gulf Coast refiners that are configured to process heavy crude. Product prices only weakened in the fourth quarter when gasoline inventories began to rise. Today, we highlight major trends in the U.S. refining sector during 2018 and look forward to 2019.
Posts from Sandy Fielden
Any joint venture has its pros and cons for each party, and in an ideal world, everyone involved in a JV sees net benefits from pairing up with a partner. A quarter-century ago, state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) purchased a 50% stake in Shell’s Deer Park, TX, refinery. The JV partners also entered into a 30-year processing agreement under which each would purchase half of the refinery’s crude feedstock and own half the output. Separately, Pemex agreed to supply as much as 200 Mb/d of Mexico’s heavy sour Maya crude to Deer Park and Shell agreed to supply Pemex with 35-40 Mb/d of gasoline to help meet Mexico’s refined products deficit. The partners recently agreed to an early extension of the deal by 10 years from 2023 to 2033, while reducing the supply of Maya crude after 2023 to 70 Mb/d, to be sold at a fixed price. Today, we continue an analysis of the JV and the new changes to it.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, the Mexican national oil company — Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex — purchased a 50% stake in Shell’s Deer Park, TX, refinery. The joint-venture partners entered into a 30-year processing agreement under which each would purchase half of the refinery’s crude feedstock and own half the output. Separately, Pemex agreed to supply as much as 200 Mb/d of Mexico’s heavy sour Maya crude to Deer Park and Shell agreed to supply Pemex with 35-40 Mb/d of gasoline to help meet Mexico’s refined products deficit. The partners recently agreed to an early extension of the deal by 10 years from 2023 to 2033, while reducing the supply of Maya crude after 2023 to 70 Mb/d, to be sold at a fixed price. Today, we begin a two-part series on the joint venture with a look at how Pemex has benefitted.
The Caribbean is strategically located at the crossroads of international trade routes between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It has traditionally attracted oil trading, blending, and refining activity to meet the needs of local and international markets. Lately, the meltdown of Venezuelan national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) — previously a dominant player in the region — has left refineries and storage terminals underutilized and starved of investment. U.S. Gulf Coast refineries have partially filled the gap by increasing product exports to the region, but an opportunity now exists for private investment to fill the refining and storage void left by PDVSA, and also to meet new demand for low-sulfur bunker fuel arising from stricter International Maritime Organization shipping regulations, which will come into effect in January 2020. Today, we review the impact of the PDVSA meltdown and new investment projects being pursued.
The sharp increase in U.S. crude oil exports over the past couple of years is tied primarily to Texas ports — mostly Corpus Christi and the Houston Ship Channel. Louisiana, a distant second in the crude-exports race, has a long list of positive attributes, including the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) — the only U.S. port currently capable of fully loading the Very Large Crude Carriers that many international shippers favor. It also has mammoth crude storage, blending and distribution hubs at Clovelly (near the coast, connected to LOOP) and St. James (up the Mississippi). In addition, St. James is the trading center for benchmark Light Louisiana Sweet, a desirable blend for refiners. The catch is that almost all of the existing pipelines at Clovelly flow inland — away from LOOP — many of them north to St. James. That means infrastructure development is needed to reverse these flows southbound from St. James before LOOP can really take off as an export center. Today, we continue a blog series on Louisiana's changing focus toward the crude export market and the future of regional benchmark LLS.
U.S. crude oil exports have averaged a staggering 1.6 MMb/d so far in 2018, up from 1.1 MMb/d in 2017, and the vast majority of these export volumes — 85% in 2017 — have been shipped out of Texas ports, with Louisiana a distant runner-up. The Pelican State has a number of positive attributes for crude exporting, though, including the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the only port in the Lower 48 that can fully load the 2-MMbbl Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) that many international shippers favor. It also has mammoth crude storage, blending and distribution hubs at Clovelly (near the coast and connected to LOOP) and St. James (up the Mississippi). In addition, St. James is the trading center for benchmark Light Louisiana Sweet (LLS), a desirable blend for refiners. The catch is that almost all of the existing pipelines at Clovelly flow inland — away from LOOP — many of them north to St. James. That means infrastructure development is needed to reverse these flows southbound from St. James before LOOP can really take off as an export center. Today, we consider Louisiana's changing focus toward the crude export market and the future of regional benchmark LLS.
ExxonMobil earlier this month told analysts in New York that the company expects to add a total of 400 Mb/d of capacity to its three giant Gulf Coast refineries by 2025. Exxon plans to upgrade existing refineries in Houston (Baytown) and Baton Rouge, LA, to increase production of higher-value products and to add a new crude distillation unit to its 362-Mb/d Beaumont, TX, plant after 2020. A final investment decision on the Beaumont expansion — which reportedly would double the refinery’s throughput capacity and make it the largest refinery in the U.S. — is expected later this year and follows a $6 billion investment by Exxon to triple crude output from its Permian Basin production assets in West Texas. Today, we discuss the existing Beaumont operation, its feedstock sources, and the refined-product demand that supports the plant’s expansion.
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.
Refiners in the five Rocky Mountain states that make up the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Petroleum Administration for Defense District 4 — or PADD 4 — enjoy higher margins than their counterparts in every other part of the country except California. Quarterly crack spreads for domestic crude in PADD 4 averaged $25/bbl between 2014 and 2017, while those for Canadian crude averaged $31/bbl. Today, we explain that these lofty cracks reflect an abundance of crude — both from indigenous Rockies production and Canadian and North Dakota supplies passing through the region — as well as higher-than-average diesel and gasoline prices.
U.S. crude exports continue to takeoff — increasing during the week ended September 29, to a new record just under 2 MMb/d, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), with 1.3 MMb/d in the first week of October followed by 1.8 MMb/d in EIA’s Wednesday report. The crude exodus is primarily occurring from port terminals along the Gulf Coast and is expected to continue as expanding Permian basin shale production is shipped directly to marine docks by pipeline. Recent and planned expansions to crude storage are largely linked to demand for new capacity at marine docks staging cargoes for export. In today’s blog, Morningstar’s Sandy Fielden details the rapid growth of commercial crude storage capacity at Gulf Coast terminals since 2011.
California’s 12 remaining refineries don’t feel much love from their native state. The refinery fleet is particularly sophisticated — capable of refining mostly heavy and sour crude oil into the ultra-clean transportation fuels that state rules require. But state regulators seem to treat refiners like unwanted guests, to the point that rules have been put in place to actively encourage the shift from petroleum-based fuels to lower-carbon alternatives. The reward for refiners’ pain comes in the form of higher refining margins — particularly during unplanned outages. Today we weigh the rewards of higher gasoline and diesel prices today against a questionable future for refining in the Golden State tomorrow.
California refiners are under siege. State regulators seem to view crude oil refining as a nasty habit that needs to be broken. There’s an important catch, though: car-happy California is not only the nation’s largest consumer of gasoline — and second to Texas in diesel use — it allows only special, superclean blends to be sold within its boundaries. And California’s 12 remaining refineries need to meet tougher emission standards, too, making it difficult for them to expand their business or even modernize their plants. Today we discuss the irony that sophisticated refineries producing the cleanest fuels in the U.S. are faced with a shrinking market and no real hope of expansion.
New production expected online in December 2017 from the Suncor Fort Hills project in the oil sands region of northern Alberta could increase pipeline congestion from western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast market where the oil is in demand. That’s because existing capacity across the Canadian border is running close to full and the only possible capacity addition across before 2019 is Enbridge’s 300-Mb/d Alberta Clipper expansion at the border — assuming it gets a long-sought U.S. Presidential Permit later this year. As a result of this continuing near-term pipeline squeeze, producers are again turning to rail transport to bypass pipeline congestion and ensure their crude gets to market. On June 2 (2017), USD Group announced a new route option for Canadian producers following its purchase of a rail terminal in Stroud, OK, that is connected by pipeline to the Midwest crude trading and storage hub at Cushing, OK; USD will offer direct rail service from its Hardisty, AB, terminal to Cushing. Today we review the economics of this rail transport route for oil sands producers. (This blog is based on a recent note published by Morningstar Commodities and Energy Research.)
Faced with uncertain growth in demand for refined products in the U.S., at least five refiners with major U.S. operations — including majors Shell, BP and Chevron — joined the bidding at a recent auction offering access to Mexico's downstream distribution system. Energy market reforms now unraveling national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos’ domestic supply monopoly are providing this opportunity. Initial auction winner Tesoro gained storage and pipeline capacity in two states in northwestern Mexico it expects to supply from a Washington state refinery. The market reforms also extend to retail gasoline stations, and majors BP and ExxonMobil as well as Valero and international trader Glencore have recently announced plans to launch retail networks in Mexico. Today we review the access Tesoro won in the first logistics auction as well as the wider Mexican market opportunity for refiners with operations north of the border.
According to Energy Information Administration data, the 26 refineries in the Midwest/PADD 2 region processed an average 3.6 MMb/d of crude oil in 2016—up 300 Mb/d from the 3.3 MMb/d refined in 2010. Over the same six-year period, production of light oil production in the region shot up by over 1 MMb/d, mostly from the prolific Bakken formation in North Dakota. Yet Midwest refiners did little to take advantage of the sudden abundance of “local” production, increasing instead their appetite for imported heavy crude from Western Canada by nearly 1 MMb/d—from 800 Mb/d in 2010 to 1.8 MMb/d in 2016. Today we explore the trend for PADD 2 refineries to run more heavy crude even as shale output surged in their backyard.