We all hope that by the time you read this the operators of the ransomware-impacted Colonial Pipeline will have been able to restore service to more of the 5,500-mile refined products delivery system — maybe even to all of it. In any case, the shutdown of the Houston-to-New-Jersey pipeline system on Friday both exposes the vulnerability of the North American pipeline grid to malevolent hackers and reveals how, by its very nature, that same grid offers at least some degree of redundancy and resiliency built into it. A lot of that ability to respond to a crisis, whether it be a pipeline leak or a hack by an Eastern European criminal group called DarkSide, involves what you might call “market-inspired workarounds” — alternative suppliers reacting to an anticipated supply void and potentially higher prices by jumping into action. Today, we look at what the ransomware attack on the U.S.’s largest gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel transportation system can teach us.
Posts from Housley Carr
Plains All American has an extraordinary collection of crude oil gathering systems and shuttle pipelines in the Permian Basin, as well as full or partial ownership interest in a number of long-haul takeaway pipelines to the Gulf Coast and the Cushing hub. As important as many of these individual systems and pipelines may be, it’s the interconnectivity among these assets — and especially Plains’ crude oil terminals in Midland and other West Texas locales — that gives the midstream giant’s Permian infrastructure a value far greater than the sum of its parts. Today, we’ll discuss the important role that Plains’ two terminals in Crane, TX, play in balancing the midstream company’s Permian crude oil delivery network and providing destination optionality.
Every day, another 4.5 million barrels of Permian crude oil begin the journey from wells in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico to refineries in the U.S. and abroad. For most of that oil, it’s no simple trek. Not only does it wend its way through gathering systems and shuttle pipelines to nearby hubs, it often needs to be directed between terminals within those hubs to reach the specific outbound, long-haul pipe that will take it to where it needs to go. We get it — you probably don’t need to know about every nook and cranny in the multi-terminal hubs at Midland, Crane, Wink, and elsewhere in the Permian, but it sure would help to understand generally how the flow of oil to market works, and why a terminal’s ability to provide destination flexibility is so crucial. Today, we continue our series on Permian hubs and terminals with a real-world example of how a barrel of Delaware Basin crude oil moves to Corpus Christi, Houston, or Cushing.
Since the long-standing ban on most exports of U.S. crude oil was lifted more than five years ago, major ports and marine terminals along the Gulf Coast have been competing fiercely for the business of crude shippers. The primary weapons in this battle for barrels have been the abilities to provide easy pipeline access to the Permian and other key production basins, ample storage near the water for blending and staging, and top-notch dock facilities for quickly, efficiently loading crude onto tankers, the bigger the better. On that last point, for many shippers the vessel of choice is a 2-MMbbl VLCC, which typically offers the lowest per-barrel cost for long-distance oil delivery. Crude-laden VLCCs are “low riders” that need deep water, though, and so far only the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port can fully load one. Within a year, though, thanks to a long-awaited Corpus Christi Ship Channel dredging project now under way, marine terminals in Ingleside, TX, will be able to do the next-best thing: loading up to 1.6 MMbbl onto VLCCs, and thereby reducing the need for offshore reverse lightering. Today, we discuss the project to deepen the channel to 54 feet and its impact on crude exports.
Crude oil production in U.S. shale and tight-oil plays still hasn’t recovered fully from the demand destruction wrought by COVID-19 in the last year or so. It could be argued, though, that producers in the offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) have faced even tougher times as they had to deal with not only pandemic-related staffing issues and project setbacks but the most active hurricane season on record. Offshore GOM production averaged only 1.65 MMb/d in 2020, a 13% decline from the previous year and the lowest since 2016. By August, production fell to less than 1.2 MMb/d, the lowest for that month in seven years. Many new projects were delayed as well, but things may finally be looking up, with first oil from a number of projects coming later this year or in early 2022 and final investment decisions (FIDs) on two major projects expected soon. Today, we discuss the wild ride that GOM producers experienced in 2020 and whether better days can be expected in the future.
Well, it’s been 365 days since the unthinkable happened: the price of WTI at Cushing went negative last April 20, and by a solid $37.63 a barrel at that. The insanity didn’t end there, though. The pandemic that many thought would be behind us in a season or two at most had a second wave, then a third and, some say, a fourth. U.S. refinery demand for crude oil, which plummeted by more than 3 MMb/d last spring, still has only recouped only half that loss. E&Ps, who shut in thousands of wells when oil demand and prices tanked, still are only producing 11 MMb/d — 2 MMb/d less than they were pre-COVID. LNG exports took a big hit too, another victim of demand destruction. As if all that weren’t enough, a couple of months ago, just as new vaccines were providing hope that everything would soon be returning to normal, the Deep Freeze put the Texas economy on ice and slowed production and refining once again. Strange times indeed. But we’re learning from it all, right? Today is the one-year anniversary of oil price Armageddon, so we take a look back at 12 months of market madness that no one could have predicted.
Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the second-most-abundant greenhouse gas tied to human activity after carbon dioxide, and pound-for-pound has 25 times the heat-trapping potential of CO2. We also know that a considerable portion of methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, not just from leaks but from intentional releases such as “blowdowns,” when operators vent natural gas into the atmosphere to relieve pressure in the pipe and allow maintenance, testing, and other work to take place. Sure, it would be better for the environment and most everybody involved if there was a way to capture natural gas instead of releasing it. (Spoiler alert: there is.) But what are the incentives for producers, pipeline owners, or local distribution companies invest in a solution? Today, we consider what midstreamers, transmission operators, and LDCs can do to minimize blowdowns.
The U.S. and Canada make quite a team. Friends for most of the past century and a half — and best buddies since World War II — the two countries have highly integrated economies, especially on the energy front. Large volumes of crude oil, natural gas, NGLs, and refined products flow across the U.S.-Canadian border, and a long list of producers, midstreamers, and refiners are active in both nations. One more thing: since the mid-2000s, the development of U.S. shale and the Canadian oil sands in particular has enabled refiners in both countries to significantly reduce their dependence on overseas oil — a big victory for North American energy independence. However, due to its smaller population and economy, Canada typically gets far less attention than its southern neighbor, so in today’s blog we try to right that wrong by discussing highlights from a new, freshly updated Drill Down Report on Canada’s refining sector.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of the crude oil hub in Patoka, IL, to refineries in the Midwest. The seven-terminal hub, whose 80-plus above-ground tanks can hold more than 17 million barrels of crude oil, serves as the primary storage, blending, and staging site for a dozen refineries in five states with a combined capacity of more than 2.6 MMb/d. In other words, if the folks that keep Patoka running decide to take a couple of days off, Midwest refining would pretty much grind to a halt. And that’s not all: the southern Illinois hub also plays a critical role in sending crude oil south to the Gulf Coast. Today, we conclude our series on the Patoka hub with a look at the infrastructure within the facility’s boundaries and the pipes that transport oil out of it.
Each sector of the oil and gas industry — upstream, midstream, and downstream — faces its own unique set of challenges in dealing with the ongoing transition to a lower-carbon global economy and in addressing the increasing ESG-related demands of investors and lenders. Refiners are no exception. Their highly complex facilities may be capable of converting crude oil into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, but the fact remains these refined products generate greenhouse gases when they are produced and consumed. What can refiners do to prepare for an era of low- or no-carbon fuels and improve their enviro-cred at the same time? Many have been investing heavily in renewable fuels production, such as renewable diesel and ethanol, and in sourcing at least some of their electricity needs from wind and solar. Today, we continue our series on the environmental-social-governance movement in the oil and gas industry with a look at what refiners are doing on the ESG front.
Wow, what a ride! That’s what came to mind yesterday as the 2020-21 propane season drew to its official end. But the excitement and uncertainty aren’t over, folks. Not by a long shot. Propane exports are still running sky-high; end-of-season inventories are at the low end, with a whopping 2-MMbbl withdrawal number in EIA’s stats yesterday; and a backwardated forward curve is not doing anything to encourage U.S. marketers and midstreamers to rebuild stocks. We get it — no one wants to think about next winter yet, just as spring is really springing. But still, you’ve got to wonder, could the dynamics that have been roiling the propane market be setting us up for skinny inventories and price spikes in the 2021-22 propane season? Today, we examine the challenges facing the propane market over the next few months.
Midland may be the king of crude oil hubs in the Permian, with its immense storage capacity and robust trading activity, but the hub in Crane, TX, is at least a prince — and a particularly interesting one at that. In addition to its 7 MMbbl of tankage for storing, staging, and blending crude (and another 1 MMbbl on the way), Crane offers a slew of inbound pipelines from both the Delaware and Midland basin, plus links to and from the Midland hub and a number of outbound pipelines to both the Corpus Christi and Houston markets. Just as important to know about, are the various intra-hub connections among Crane’s 10 terminals, because they reveal how you can get crude to pretty much wherever you need it to be. Today, we continue a series on crude storage in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
The steady growth in Permian crude oil production that everyone was banking on just a couple of years ago didn’t happen as planned. When COVID intervened, Permian oil output sagged and then stabilized at just over 4 MMb/d until last month’s Deep Freeze, when production plummeted and then quickly rebounded. Still, in anticipation of increasing output from the Permian, new takeaway-pipeline capacity from West Texas to the Gulf Coast was built out over 2016-20, as was new crude storage capacity at hubs in the Delaware and Midland basins to support the operation of the new lines. So, with all that construction, the Permian must be sittin’ pretty from a midstream infrastructure perspective, right? Don’t be too sure. From a big-picture perspective, the region has more than enough takeaway capacity, but there are strong indicators — and recent evidence — that in-region storage capacity hasn’t kept pace to be able to handle any hiccups (and worse) that can occasionally rattle the oil patch. Or maybe it’s just that folks don’t fully understand where the Permian’s storage capacity is, how it’s interconnected, and how it’s used. Today, we begin a blog series on crude storage in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
The Moda Ingleside Energy Center (MIEC) in Corpus Christi, the Enterprise Hydrocarbons Terminal (EHT) in Houston, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) have been loading more crude oil than any of their Gulf Coast competitors over the last year. In fact, they accounted for nearly half of the total oil exported. As many of the crude exporters have learned the hard way, leading the pack today is no guarantee you’ll still be out front six, 12, or 24 months from now. Despite the global pandemic and the market disruptions it has caused, a number of new export terminals and expansions to existing terminals are still under development, and all of them hope to draw barrels from their rivals. Today, we conclude our series with a look at planned capacity additions to Gulf Coast export facilities.
The crude oil hub in Patoka, IL, is in many ways a smaller version of the hub in Cushing, OK. Like its larger sibling, Patoka receives a broad variety of crudes from Western Canada, the Bakken, and other production areas, stores and blends oil, and sends it out to refineries and Gulf Coast terminals tied to export docks. In Patoka’s case, there are only five major incoming pipelines that directly connect to the hub, but many of them receive crude from a number of upstream systems, some as far away as the Alberta oil sands. Important for Patoka’s future, a few of the pipelines feeding the hub are being expanded. Today, we continue our series on the second-largest oil hub in PADD 2 with a look at the pipelines that flow into Patoka and the sourcing of their crude.