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.
Posts from Sandy Fielden
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.
More than a dozen crude oil pipelines can deliver up to 3.4 million barrels/day (MMb/d) to the greater Houston area, with another 550 Mb/d of capacity planned, and as domestic production starts to grow again, a new round of projects is under way to build-out the region’s distribution pipelines, storage and marine-dock infrastructure. The developers of these Houston-area projects include a range of midstream players: from large, diversified midstreamers that own the long-distance pipelines flowing into the region to smaller players planning their first Houston projects. Today we conclude a two-part blog series on the latest round of projects and on the increasingly intense competition for barrels.
As U.S. crude production ramps back up and larger volumes flow to the Gulf Coast, competition is building among midstream companies for control over the final miles from pipeline to refinery or marine dock. Nowhere is this more evident than the Houston area, where more than a dozen pipelines can deliver as much as 4 million barrels/day to the region’s 10 refineries as well as to export docks. Owners of the long-distance incoming pipelines—seeking to secure terminal, storage and dock fees—are making significant midstream investment in Houston, but smaller players are also developing assets. Today we begin a two-part series describing the build-out and how competitive the market has become.
The five refineries in the U.S. Pacific Northwest (PNW) performed better in 2016 than rivals on the East Coast for two main reasons. First, the changing pattern of North American crude supply has worked to their advantage. Faced with the threat of dwindling mainstay crude supplies from Alaska, refiners in Washington State replaced 22% of their slate with North Dakota Bakken crude moved in by rail. They have also enjoyed advantaged access to discounted crude supplies from Western Canada. Second, PNW refiners face less competition for refined product customers than rivals on the East and Gulf coasts, meaning they have a captive market that often translates to higher margins. Today we review performance and prospects for PNW refineries.
The shale boom breathed new life into East Coast refineries that were under threat of closure by their owners between 2009 and 2012. Now some of those same refineries are under threat again, this time due to poor margins as well as the high cost of compliance with environmental regulations. After enjoying three years of improved margins through access to advantaged domestic crude delivered by rail from North Dakota, five East Coast refineries are now paying international prices for imported crude again in 2016 after differentials between domestic benchmark WTI and international equivalent Brent narrowed to less than $1/bbl in the wake of the crude price crash and an end to the federal ban on most crude exports. Today we discuss PADD 1 refinery prospects.
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.
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.