Close analysis of Houston area crude storage indicates it is only 52% utilized today even as regional crude inventories have reached record levels. Meeting refinery operational needs appears to be the main use of area storage – rather than speculative gains from buying today’s cheap oil to store and sell later. Today we continue our analysis of Houston area refinery infrastructure.
Posts from Sandy Fielden
Pipelines delivering crude to Houston from the South Texas Eagle Ford are estimated to be half empty. Yet over 200Mb/d of crude is shipped from that basin to refineries in Houston and further east along the Gulf Coast by barge. One of the key reasons appears to be that local traffic congestion and a lack of adequate throughway pipeline capacity past Houston pushes barrels not needed locally onto the water to reach refineries in Louisiana. Today we explain the Houston crude traffic problem.
Last Friday (August 14, 2015) the Department of Commerce (DOC) revealed to the press that they would approve a handful of applications to export U.S. domestic light crude to Mexico under a Licensed “swap” arrangement that involves importing the same volume of heavy crude to the U.S. from Mexico. The Licenses are likely to be awarded to Mexican national oil company PEMEX or its affiliates and will last for a year starting at the end of this month (August 2015). Today we update our earlier analysis of Mexican crude swap exports.
During the first 7 months of 2015 the U.S. experienced record setting refinery crude processing and utilization rates. By the end of July crude inputs topped 17 MMb/d for the first time and nationwide refineries ran at over 96% of operable capacity - reaping the rewards of robust margins. But the party has been marred by a number of unexpected outages – the latest of which brought down a 250 Mb/d unit at BP’s Whiting, IN refinery last weekend – causing a spike in Chicago gasoline prices. Today we ponder why outages may be occurring and the upcoming impact of overdue fall maintenance.
Crude oil distribution to Houston area refineries is still being re-plumbed to reflect the ongoing transition to domestic supply. Although plenty of new pipelines provide access for new crude flows into Houston, logistic challenges arise from a crude quality mismatch with refinery configurations. The handling of condensate – whether lightly processed for export or refined in a splitter is also increasing infrastructure overhead. Today we look at new crude infrastructure challenges in the Houston area.
Crude by rail (CBR) shipments from North Dakota to West Coast destinations peaked in January 2015 at 170 Mb/d – falling since then to average 140 Mb/d in 2015, January through May. The vast majority of these shipments have moved to four refineries in Washington State – providing a cheaper alternative to the Alaska North Slope (ANS) crude staple these refineries have run for decades. There is big potential to expand CBR shipments to West Coast Ports and to California but building the infrastructure has proven painstakingly slow. Today we discuss the long term fate of West Coast CBR.
Crude oil distribution to Houston area refineries is still being re-plumbed to reflect the ongoing transition to domestic supply. Estimates of current crude pipeline flows indicate as little as 43% of inbound pipeline capacity is being used - but new projects could add over 1 MMb/d to inbound supplies by early next year. Today we start a new series reviewing how well crude infrastructure is meeting Houston area logistic challenges.
Yesterday (August 3, 2015) Brent crude closed under $50/Bbl for the first time since January 2015. At that price expensive crude-by-rail (CBR) freight costs to the East Coast leave Bakken producers with netbacks not much over $30/Bbl. Yet CBR shipments to the East Coast were still over 400 Mb/d in May 2015 according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). By 2017 there should be adequate capacity to get all Bakken crude to market by pipeline. But direct pipeline competition against rail to the East Coast is not expected until at least 2020. Today we look at the future of East Coast CBR.
A proposed BASF plant in Freeport, TX - that would make propylene from natural gas – is expected to be the subject of a final investment decision in 2016. If the plant is built it will have a similar purpose to another 6 Gulf Coast plants being built or planned in the next few years to make propylene from propane. All these plants are designed to make up for lower propylene output from U.S. petrochemical steam crackers using ethane, which yields less propylene from the cracking process. Today we discuss why using natural gas as a feedstock instead of propane might make sense.
Bakken crude-by-rail (CBR) volumes are down this year and pipeline shipments are increasing as production levels off in the wake of last year’s price crash. The trend is encouraged by lower price differentials between domestic and international crude as well as new pipelines coming online. Since 2012 a combination of rail and pipeline has given Bakken producers ample crude takeaway capacity but pipelines alone have not had sufficient capacity on their own. However, with production slowing down, pipeline capacity is catching up and by 2017 there should be enough pipelines to carry all North Dakota’s crude to market. Today we start a two part series asking whether pipelines can replace CBR from North Dakota.
Western Canadian Select (WCS) – the benchmark for Canadian crude sold at Hardisty in Alberta fetched just $32.29/Bbl on Friday (July 24, 2015) down 60% from $81.34/Bbl a year ago in July 2014. That year has seen big changes in the U.S. oil market with drilling rig cutbacks and declining new production rates. The challenges for Canadian producers have not changed much in the short term – with transport capacity to market still top of the list. Trouble is that every time transport congestion occurs it pushes price discounts higher and lowers producer returns. Today we discuss the relationship between Western Canadian crude production and prices.
Waterborne crude shipments out of the Port of Corpus Christi are still growing this year – averaging 700 Mb/d as of May 2015. A veritable armada of barges and tankers has converged on South Texas to help move all that crude. A large part of the shipments are on small inland tank barges plying the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) - a 65 years old canal system that forms a vital backbone for Gulf Coast refiners. Today we describe the changing profile of barge shipments along the Gulf of Mexico.
Only a few short years ago the double punch of fuel efficiency and ethanol mandates had put U.S. gasoline demand on the ropes. But in the past year demand has jumped by 0.5 MMb/d (per data from the Energy Information Administration - EIA). This surge in demand – presumably driven by cheaper prices – has kept refineries running full pelt this summer. Today we discuss the fall and rise of gasoline demand.
Massive infrastructure investments in petrochemical steam crackers and export terminals for propane, butane and ethane are in the works. But the market has changed since the investment decisions for many of these facilities were made. Instead of the low ethane prices the petrochemical market is enjoying today (about 19 cents/Gal), prices could ramp up to 50 cents/Gal by 2020 as new steam crackers and ethane export facilities come online. If ethane prices increase and crude oil prices remain below $65/bbl, the feedstock cost advantage of ethane versus naphtha that the new petrochemical facilities expected likely would not materialize. Lower crude oil prices would also cap production growth of all NGLs, limiting the volumes to be exported through the new terminals. Today we review Part 2 of our Drill Down Report on NGL Infrastructure.
While Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates of crude-by-barge traffic between the Midwest and the Gulf Coast have fallen sharply in the past 18 months, shipments down the Ohio River to Texas and Louisiana refineries have increased threefold – peaking at just under 70 Mb/d in May 2015. Growing barge shipments have been accompanied by midstream investment in barge dock facilities – especially in Ohio. Today we discuss increased shipments of ultra light crude condensate to Gulf Coast refineries on the Ohio River.