Earlier this decade, East Coast refineries found it cost-effective to ramp down their crude imports and turn to the price-advantaged U.S. shale oil they could rail in from the pipeline-constrained Bakken or send up by tanker from the crude-saturated Gulf Coast. Things changed, though. New southbound crude pipelines out of the Bakken came online, the ban on most crude exports was lifted — providing a new outlet for Texas crude production — and the economic rationale for railing or shipping in domestic crude to PADD 1 refineries withered. Now, things have changed again. Most important perhaps, is that the price spread between WTI and Brent has widened, and once more it can make financial sense for these refineries to revert to crude-by-rail out of the Bakken and to shipping in crude on Jones Act tankers from Corpus Christi and other Gulf Coast ports. Today, we discuss these recent trends, what’s driving them, and how long they might last.
Posts from David St Amand
Shipowners and refiners are struggling with how to prepare for January 1, 2020, when all vessels involved in international trade will be required to meet significantly stricter limits on emissions of sulfur oxides (SOx), either by using fuel with a sulfur content of less than 0.5% or by “scrubbing” the exhaust of ship engines when using the much higher-sulfur bunker fuel that most ships now rely on. The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) new sulfur rule isn’t a minor tweak. It’s a game changer that already is causing widening spreads on the futures market between 3.5%-sulfur heavy fuel oil (HFO) — the traditional global bunker fuel — and rule-compliant low-sulfur distillates. The rule also promises to be a boon to complex Gulf Coast and other refineries that can break down residual-based HFO into higher-value, lower-sulfur distillates. Today, we begin a new series on how shipowners, refiners and the markets for HFO and low-sulfur marine fuel are responding (or not) to the coming change in global bunker requirements.
U.S. exports of crude oil really took off in 2017, and the exporting pace has only accelerated this fall. In the 10 weeks since mid-September, crude exports have averaged nearly 1.6 million barrels/day, with the vast majority of that oil leaving by ship out of ports along the Gulf Coast. The lifting of the ban on most crude exports two years ago this month and the growth in exports since then have put a spotlight not only on coastal storage facilities, pipelines and marine docks, but also on the huge vessels used to transport crude to far-away destinations. Today, we discuss crude-export vessel configurations, tanker chartering practices, ship-loading challenges and transportation costs.
Growth in LNG supply and demand, the ongoing restructuring of the LNG sector and other factors are giving new significance to the nearly 500 specialized, oceangoing vessels that transport the supercooled, liquefied natural gas around the world. It used to be that the vast majority of LNG was delivered in milk run-like fashion under long-term contracts between suppliers and buyers, but that’s no longer the case. Now, the LNG market is much less structured and more fluid, with spot-market sales becoming more common and with the captains of some LNG-laden vessels not sure where they will end up as they head out of port. Today we describe the ins and outs of the shipping sector that moves hundreds of millions of metric tons of LNG annually.
Shipping companies now know that within three years all vessels involved in international trade will be required to use fuel with a sulfur content of 0.5% or less—an aggressive standard, considering that in most of the world today, ships are currently allowed to use heavy fuel oil (HFO) bunker fuel with up to 3.5% sulfur. This is a big deal. Ships now consume about half of the world’s residual-based heavy fuel oil, but starting in January 2020 they can’t—at least in HFO’s current form. How will the global fuels market react to a change that would theoretically eliminate roughly half the demand for residual fuels? How will ship owners comply with the rule? What are their options? Today we discuss the much-lower cap on sulfur in bunker fuels approved by the International Marine Organization, and what it means for shippers and refineries.
Term charter rates for medium-range Jones Act tankers have fallen by two-thirds since they peaked at $120,000/day in mid-2014, to only $38,000/day done in September 2016, which is good news for producers but a punch in the stomach for ship owners. A sharp rise in the number of vessels being added to the Jones Act fleet has surely contributed to the charter-rate collapse. Less obvious are the degrees to which the rate drop may have been influenced by the decline in superlight Eagle Ford crude oil production, or by the lifting of the ban on U.S. crude oil exports. Today, we examine the evidence.
Since 2012, the capacity of the Jones Act fleet of tankers and large articulated tug barges (ATBs) has increased by more than one-third, to 22.5 million barrels, and over the next 18 months, new-build tankers and more large ATBs will add another 4.5 million barrel –– or 20% –– to the capacity total. That’s raised a lot of concern among vessel owners about a capacity glut and the potential for bargain-basement charter rates. What’s important to factor in, though, is that a lot of older Jones Act vessels are getting close to retirement age, and their exit from the shipping “work force” will help to mitigate the effects of any over-build. Today, we continue our series on recent developments in the Jones Act fleet and how they affect crude oil and petroleum products shippers.
A big build-out of Jones Act product tankers and large ocean-going barges is well under way, just as the future demand for these vessels is coming into question. Within the next 18 months, a total of 17 Jones Act product tankers and large ocean-going articulated tug barges (ATBs) with a combined capacity of more than 4.5 million barrels (MMbbl) will be delivered, boosting the total fleet capacity of these types of vessels by 20%. These new-vessel orders were made a few years ago in response to increased shipments of crude oil within the U.S. that, at the time, had resulted in a shortage of Jones Act product tankers and large ATBs. This in turn led to higher charter rates and the resulting increased costs of shipping crude oil and petroleum products in the coastwise trade. Now though, the decline in U.S. crude oil production has upended expectations. Today, we begin a series on the impact of hydrocarbon market changes on the Jones Act fleet.