Posts from George Hoekstra

If you buy premium gasoline, you’ve probably noticed its price differential versus regular has been increasing in recent years. That is a sign of the rising value of octane, the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price. In this blog series we’ve examined a new gasoline sulfur specification called Tier 3, which is causing complications for U.S. refiners looking to balance octane and gasoline production while still meeting the regulatory limits on sulfur. In today’s RBN blog, the fourth and final on this topic, we provide an analysis of the obscure Sulfur Credit Averaging, Banking and Trading (ABT) system, which allows refiners to buy credits to stay in compliance with the Tier 3 specs. The price of these credits quintupled in 2022, another sign of a tight octane market that will be attracting increased attention in the months and years ahead.

Senior refining executives were called to Washington, DC, in June, around the time U.S. gas prices hit their high-water mark for the year, as the government sought recommendations about how to increase the supply of gasoline. One suggestion made to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm was to relax sulfur specifications on fuels, including the Tier 3 gasoline sulfur specifications. But what is the connection between those rules and the U.S. refining system’s ability to produce gasoline? In today’s RBN blog, we explain how the Tier 3 rules constrain gasoline supply capacity in the U.S. and discuss ways to break free from those chains.

A potentially important factor affecting the supply of octane — the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price — has been lurking in the background over the last few years. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standard applies to all refiners and importers who deliver gasoline to the U.S. market, and while delayed compliance requirements and the onset of the pandemic have blunted its full impact to refiners and consumers so far, the implications of meeting the new standard are beginning to take shape. In today’s RBN blog, we explain how the Tier 3 specs are linked to octane supply, where octane destruction comes into play, and how refiners are adapting to the octane-sulfur squeeze.

While we’ve seen up-and-down spikes in stock market indices, cryptocurrency values and the prices of crude oil and motor fuel in recent years, the price of one important commodity has been quietly but relentlessly rocketing higher — octane, the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price. The steady rise in octane prices is tied in part to the fundamental change in how octane is valued, with the retail market now being impacted more by demand than production costs. In today’s RBN blog, we look at why octane prices have climbed over the past decade and what market factors are limiting its supply.

The dramatic increase in the price of the D6 Renewable Identification Number a decade ago was one of the more spectacular moves in the history of major commodity trading. The spike in the price of RINs — the credits used to certify compliance with the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — was brought on by a sudden uptick in demand and stakeholders who lacked sufficiently deep awareness and understanding of the complex RIN credit system. In today’s RBN blog, we use the story of 2013’s “Big Bang” in D6 RIN prices to explain the fundamental mechanism that determines RIN prices, consider whether such a price shock could occur again, and discuss what stakeholders can do to prepare.

Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) are credits used to certify compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires certain minimum volumes of biofuels to be blended into fuels sold in the U.S. There are many types of fuels covered by the RFS and so RIN credits come in different categories. One category, the D6 RIN, applies to the blending of corn-based ethanol into refined gasoline to make the gasoline-ethanol blends we pump into our cars, SUVs and pickups. In 2013, the D6 RIN price skyrocketed 100-fold in one of the most extreme cases of panic buying in any major commodity market in history. In today’s RBN blog, we examine that event and address three key questions: How did it happen, what was the solution, and why does it matter today?

What has been the most controversial topic in the U.S. refining industry over the last 10 years? Well, it’s a matter of opinion but, judging from time spent in earnings conference calls, law offices, courtrooms, congressional committees, the White House, and other forums of business and political debate, Renewable Identification Numbers — or RINs — would have to be a top contender for that prize. In today’s RBN blog and the final episode of this series, we consider two differing viewpoints on the effects of the RIN system and specific disagreements — or are they misunderstandings? — about the financial consequences of RINs that have dominated the debates and legal cases.

Refiners and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have locked horns in a dispute over Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). Now in its 10th year, the dispute stems from contradictory premises about how RINs affect the profits of the refiners and blenders who produce the ground transportation fuels sold in the U.S. To form an opinion of what ought to happen next, you need to understand the fundamentals of how RINs work in light of the RIN being a tax and a subsidy that forces renewables into fuels. In today’s RBN blog, we focus on how RINs force renewables into fuels and address the related question: Do RINs increase the price consumers pay for gasoline?

For several years now, no single topic has caused more angst in refiners’ quarterly earnings calls than the seemingly arcane topic of renewable identification numbers, or RINs, which can have a big impact on a refiner’s financial performance. RINs are a feature of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires renewable fuels like ethanol and bio-based diesel to be blended into fuels sold in the U.S. And depending on your point of view — farmer, refiner, blender, consumer, politician — you may have a very different perspective regarding RINs’ role as a tax and a subsidy. In today’s RBN blog, we dig into the fundamental aspects of RINs at the root of this long-running controversy and examine the role of RINs as a mechanism for forcing renewables into fuels.

Last month, in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest ruling in a long-running dispute with refiners over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), EPA denied 36 petitions from refiners seeking exemptions to their obligation to blend renewables like ethanol into gasoline for the 2018 compliance year. At the core of this dispute are two contradictory premises about Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs. One premise says the RINs system adds cost that hurts refiners’ profitability, while the other says refiners’ profitability is not affected. Can two seemingly contradictory premises be true? In today’s RBN blog, we begin an examination of the issues surrounding RINs and the degree to which the cost affects refiners’ and blenders’ bottom lines.