Two new 50-Mb/d, Kinder Morgan-owned and -operated condensate splitters came online during the first seven months of 2015, backed by a 10-year BP commitment to process a total of 84 Mb/d through the units. Located in the Houston Ship Channel’s refinery row, the splitters were expected to provide a profitable outlet to process growing volumes of the ultra-light crude oil known as condensate. Instead, average plant throughput through July 2016 has been only 71% of capacity, well below the 90% average operating level of neighboring refineries. The relatively low level at which these units have been operating reflects sagging condensate processing margins. Today, we detail how Kinder Morgan’s new splitters have been run during their first year or so of operation.
Posts from Sandy Fielden
With crude storage tanks along the U.S Gulf Coast nearly full, the nine storage terminals currently operational in the Caribbean offer an advantageous close-by alternative. Right now these terminals are heavily used by Venezuela for oil blending and distribution, but there has been growing interest and investment from outside the region. China is now neck and neck with the U.S. as the world’s largest crude importer and is making a significant strategic investment in Caribbean storage to cement crude supply deals with Latin American producers. Private equity fund ArcLight Capital and trader Freepoint Commodities together purchased a huge terminal and shuttered refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands in January of this year (2016) and have leased most of the working storage to Chinese-owned Sinopec. Today, we examine the growing role of Caribbean crude terminals. (This blog is based on Morningstar’s recently published Caribbean Crude Storage Outlook , which provides a comprehensive analysis of this evolving market.)
The story of crude-by-rail (CBR) in North America is that of a victory of good old U.S. ingenuity over the lack of pipeline capacity that stranded booming shale oil production in 2012. The lower cost to market of “on-ramp” rail terminals allowed surging crude production a route to (mainly) coastal refineries - igniting a building boom over 4 short years that has left 82 load terminals and 44 destination terminals operating today - many of them now underutilized. Along the way monthly lease rates for rail tank cars that reached $2,750/month at the height of the boom are down to $325/month after the bust – with many lease holders paying daily rent to park their empty cars. Today we conclude our series reviewing the state of CBR today.
A year ago (April 2015) the price spread between Light Louisiana Sweet (LLS) the St. James, LA benchmark light crude and Permian West Texas Intermediate (WTI) delivered to Houston was roughly $2.50/Bbl. In the first quarter of 2016 – following the end of the crude export ban and the crash of crude prices below $40.bbl – that spread narrowed to 30 cents/Bbl. This price differential change has thrown a wrench into traditional Gulf Coast price relationships that encouraged the flow of crude east from Houston to Louisiana. Further changes are expected as pipeline projects due to be completed in the next two years will deliver Bakken and Permian crude direct to St. James. Today we wrap up our series on St. James with a look at changing crude prices and flows.
Our analysis shows that about 1.7 MMb/d of crude-by-rail (CBR) unload capacity has been built out and is operating in the Gulf Coast region today. According to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data for January 2016 an average of only 142 Mb/d was shipped into the region by rail in January 2016 down from a peak of just under 450 Mb/d in 2013 and an average of 235 Mb/d in 2015. In other words, the current unload capacity represents a whopping 12 times January 2016 shipments – a massive overbuild that is continuing today as new terminals are still planned. Today we look at the fate of Gulf Coast CBR terminal unload capacity.
Two midstream operators have added at least 13 MMBbl of crude storage to the St. James hub during the past 8 years (NuStar and Plains All American). These companies have invested in the hub because of its proximity to the Gulf Coast and pipeline connectivity to refineries throughout the Eastern U.S. and as far northwest as Edmonton, Alberta. St. James has also been an active recipient of crude flowing east across the Gulf by barge and tanker from the Eagle Ford via Corpus Christi. These crude movements require terminal, storage and blending facilities. Today we describe crude storage facilities at St. James.
According to our friends at Genscape at the end of March (week ending April 1, 2016) Bakken shippers could sell their crude at the railhead in North Dakota for $32.05/Bbl. Prices for Light Louisiana Sweet (LLS) crude at the Gulf Coast were about $5.40/Bbl higher than at the railhead but the rail freight to the Gulf was a few cents less than $12/Bbl. That means a Bakken producer would lose nearly $6.50/Bbl by shipping crude by rail to St. James, LA versus selling in North Dakota. Yet despite Crude-by-Rail (CBR) economics being so underwater - the volumes delivered to two St. James terminals averaged 66 Mb/d in 2016 through March. Today we continue our series on the fate of CBR with a look at inbound Gulf Coast CBR shipments.
The St. James, LA crude trading hub provides feedstock to 2.6 MMb/d of regional refining capacity as well as refineries in the Midwest. St. James is also an important distribution hub for crude from North Dakota, South Texas, the Gulf of Mexico and onshore Louisiana as well as imports arriving at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). Crude storage and midstream infrastructure at St. James has been expanding in recent years as the trading hub handles larger volumes of domestic production. Today we begin a new series looking at infrastructure and crude pricing at St. James.
Although California refineries initially met the criteria that spurred development of crude-by-rail (CBR) shipments to other coastal regions (lack of pipeline infrastructure and wide crude price differentials between stranded inland supplies and coastal alternatives) neither rail shipments or terminal build outs have made much of a dent in the Golden States’ crude supply. At their height in December 2013 CBR shipments into California reached 36 Mb/d – just 2% of the State’s 1.9 MMb/d refining capacity and they have since dwindled to a trickle. Today we examine the low pace of shipments.
Most of the crude by rail (CBR) shipments to 4 refineries in Washington State are ex-North Dakota from where rail freight costs are over $10/Bbl. Bakken crude from North Dakota competes at Washington refineries with Alaska North Slope (ANS) shipped down from Valdez, AK. Back in 2012 ANS prices were more than $20/Bbl higher than Bakken crude – easily covering the rail cost. In 2016 so far the ANS premium to Bakken has averaged well below the $10/Bbl freight cost making CBR shipments uneconomic. But as we discuss today - Northwest refiners are still shipping significant volumes of crude from North Dakota.
In January 2016 the ICE futures Exchange changed the expiration calendar for its flagship Brent crude contract. The March 2016 contract expired on January 29, 2016 under new calendar rules that stipulate expiration one month and one day prior to delivery. This was done belatedly to reflect a change in the assessment of the physical Brent market that was implemented back in January 2012. On paper the change is just an overdue action by ICE to properly align the timing calendar for their popular futures contract with the underlying physical market. But in practice - as we suggest in today’s blog, the change has significant impacts on the calculation and analysis of the commonly utilized spread between ICE Brent (the international benchmark crude) and the U.S. equivalent West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures contract traded on the CME/NYMEX.
If East Coast refiners bought their crude at the wellhead in North Dakota during February 2016 they would have paid average prices of about $4.90/Bbl below U.S. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing, OK – which works out at about $26.25/Bbl (price estimates from Genscape). If they shipped that crude by rail to refineries in Philadelphia, PA on the East Coast they would have paid about $14/Bbl rail freight - meaning the delivered cost of crude would be $26.25 + $14 or $40.25/Bbl. Alternatively they could have simply imported Bakken equivalent light sweet crude priced close to international benchmark Brent for an average $34/Bbl – saving a minimum of $6.25/Bbl. Today we describe how these economics have had a detrimental impact on crude-by-rail (CBR) shipments to the East Coast.
For the past, year many shale oil producers have defied the expectations of many and kept output at or near to record levels in the face of falling oil prices and much tougher economics. Improvements in productivity, cost cutting and a concentration on “sweet spot” wells that generate high initial production (IP) rates have all helped cash strapped producers survive. But with oil prices so far in 2016 stuck in the $35/Bbl and lower range and with the worldwide crude storage glut still weighing on the market – producers are finally pulling back. Today we look at how increased pressure on North Dakota producers is putting the brakes on Bakken crude production.
The U.S. refining industry appears to be transitioning from an era of high margins and record throughputs. Falling crude prices at first increased refining margins – especially as demand for cheap refined products like gasoline expanded. Now product inventories are brimming and margins are squeezed. As we explain today the industry can look forward to an extended period of low crude prices while regulatory requirements and the pace of economic growth largely drive refined product trends.
RBN estimates that midstream companies have built out about 950 Mb/d of crude-by-rail (CBR) loading terminal capacity in Western Canada. Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows actual CBR shipments from Canada to the U.S. topped out at 195 Mb/d in January 2015 and have fallen by 40% since then. Hard-pressed Canadian producers have been squeezed by lower prices and high transport costs with only limited relief as new pipelines came online. Today we review the fate of Canadian CBR transport capacity.