A federal judge’s order that the 570-Mb/d Dakota Access Pipeline be taken out of service for a year or more starting August 5 has the potential to wreak more havoc for producers in the Bakken Shale at a time when they are still reeling from drastic, COVID-related production curtailments. While those production cuts have opened up at least some capacity on other takeaway pipelines out of western North Dakota and crude-by-rail terminals may be able to ramp up their operations, that may not be enough to make up for the loss of DAPL — still more well shut-ins may be required. Then there’s the matter of taking the 1,172-mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline offline in only four weeks’ time — it involves much more than flipping a switch and may not even be possible within that time frame. Today, we consider the hurdles and implications of removing DAPL from service.
Posts from Housley Carr
The demand destruction caused by COVID-19 hasn’t only hurt producers and refiners; it’s also slowed the development of a number of planned midstream projects. In fact, the only multibillion-dollar crude-related project to reach a final investment decision (FID) during the pandemic is TC Energy’s Keystone XL, which in late March won financial backing from Alberta’s provincial government. But Keystone XL soon hit another snag, this time in the form of U.S. district and appellate court rulings that vacated the project’s Nationwide Permit 12 for construction in and around hundreds of streams and wetlands along the U.S. portion of the pipeline’s route in the U.S. More important, the courts also put on ice — at least for now — the use of the general water-crossing permit for other new oil and natural gas pipelines as well. As we discuss in today’s blog, that could result in delays and legal challenges to dozens of projects that midstreamers and their counterparties have been counting on.
U.S. exports of motor gasoline and diesel to Mexico increased steadily from 2013 through 2018 as demand for refined products south of the border increased and throughput at Pemex’s six older, investment-starved refineries declined. U.S.-to-Mexico shipments of gasoline and diesel sagged in 2019, though, as Pemex started to implement a major refinery rebuilding program, and fell further in the spring of 2020 as the social and economic effects of COVID kicked in and Mexican demand for motor fuels plummeted. So what’s ahead for U.S. refined product exports as Mexican demand gradually rebounds later this year and in 2021? As we discuss today, that will largely depend on the Mexican government’s determination to have its debt-laden energy company produce gasoline and diesel at a loss and proceed with expensive refinery projects.
Enbridge’s proposal to have crude oil shippers on its now fully uncommitted Mainline sign long-term contracts for as much as 90% of the 2.9-MMb/d pipeline network’s capacity is a big deal — and controversial. Refiners and integrated producer/refiners generally support the plan, which is now up for consideration by the Canada Energy Regulator, while Western Canadian producers with no refining operations of their own — and, for many, no history of shipping on the Mainline — mostly oppose it. What’s driving their contrasting views? It’s complicated, of course, but what it really comes down to is that everyone wants to avoid what they see as a bad outcome. Refiners and “integrateds” fear that if the current month-to-month approach to pipeline space allocation remains in place, cost-of-service-based tariffs on Mainline will soar when new takeaway capacity is built on the Trans Mountain and Keystone systems and fewer barrels flow on Mainline. Producers, in turn, are wary of making multi-year, take-or-pay commitments to Enbridge if they’ll soon have other takeaway options, and are equally concerned that they’d be left in the lurch if they don’t commit to Mainline and the Trans Mountain Expansion and Keystone XL projects don’t get built. Today, we consider both sides of this important debate.
Since last summer, the Corpus Christi area has emerged as the U.S.’s leading crude export venue. In the first five and a half months of 2020, it accounted for an astounding 45% of the barrels being shipped abroad — astounding because in the same period last year, the Corpus area held less than a 20% share. What is sometimes forgotten, though, is that little Ingleside, TX, located across Corpus Christi Bay from Corpus proper, is the area’s crude-export leader, with the Moda Midstream and Flint Hills Resources terminals responsible for just over half of Greater Corpus’s total export volumes. And, with the new South Texas Gateway Terminal nearing completion, Ingleside’s role will only increase in the coming months. Today, we conclude a series on Gulf Coast export terminals with a look at what has been going on in Ingleside.
In the first eight months of last year, the Corpus Christi area ranked third among its Gulf Coast brethren in crude oil export volumes — Houston was consistently #1 then, and Beaumont was the regular runner-up. Since September 2019, though, Corpus has been out front, often by a wide margin, and there’s good reason to believe it will stay ahead of the pack, at least for a while. What’s driving the South Texas port’s export-volume growth? First, there are three big new pipelines now moving crude from the Permian to Corpus: Cactus II, EPIC Crude and Gray Oak. Second, Corpus Christi and nearby Ingleside, TX, have a lot of existing storage and marine-dock capacity, and more is being developed. Today, we continue our review of crude export facilities with a look at three terminals along Corpus’s Inner Harbor.
Mexican demand for motor gasoline and diesel has plummeted this spring due to COVID-19 — so has demand for LPG. So far, Pemex — Mexico’s state-owned energy company and by far the country’s largest supplier of these commodities — has responded by slashing how much gasoline, diesel and LPG it is importing from the U.S. and holding its own production steady, despite the fact that Pemex’s refining margins are now deep in negative territory. What does Pemex’s focus on money-losing refining mean for U.S. exports to Mexico going forward? Today, we begin a short series on the ongoing competition between U.S. refiners and Pemex for market share south of the border.
Up in Canada, there is finally a regulatory timeline for reviewing Enbridge’s long-standing proposal to revamp how it allocates space — and charges for service — on the company’s 2.9-MMb/d Mainline. But the plan to convert the largest crude oil pipeline system out of Western Canada from one whose space is 100% uncommitted and allocated every month to one with 90% of its capacity locked in via long-term contracts remains controversial, especially among producers. Plus, the world has changed in the past few months. Oil sands and other production in Alberta and its provincial neighbors is off sharply in response to pandemic-related demand destruction and low oil prices, and the always-full Mainline has been running at well under 90% of its capacity lately. Further, the Trans Mountain Expansion and Keystone XL projects — competitors to the Mainline in a way — have progressed this year, making shippers wonder whether to lock in capacity on the Mainline if TMX and KXL’s completion may be imminent. Today, we begin a short series on the prospective shift to a contract-carriage approach on the primary conduit for heavy and light crudes from Western Canada to U.S. crude hubs and refineries.
Through the second half of the 2010s, the Permian Basin’s crude oil supply trajectory was clear: up, up and up. From the start of 2015 to the end of last year, crude production in the world’s leading shale play increased by an amazing 3 MMb/d, from 1.7 MMb/d to 4.7 MMb/d. Three new pipelines with a combined capacity of more than 2 MMb/d were built to move a lot of those incremental barrels to Corpus Christi, which — thanks in part to newly developed storage and docks — has become the U.S.’s #1 port for crude exports in recent months. But Permian producers have trimmed their crude output by at least several hundred thousand barrels a day this spring in response to falling demand and low prices. Has the Permian been thrown off course, and if it has, what would that mean for marine terminals in Corpus? Today, we continue our series of Gulf Coast crude export facilities with a look at the three newest terminals along the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.
The Marcellus/Utica production region in the northeastern U.S. is not immune to the upheaval in global energy markets. There, a number of E&Ps are implementing further cutbacks in their natural gas production. That will result in lower NGL production, which may have serious implications for regional supplies of propane for heating this coming winter. LPG exports out of the Marcus Hook terminal near Philadelphia also may be impacted. Today, we look at recent developments in the Marcellus/Utica and the potential effects of lower NGL production in the region.
Very Large Crude Carriers offer economies of scale and are the oil transporters of choice for shippers moving massive volumes of crude from the U.S. Gulf Coast to distant customers in Europe and Asia. VLCCs also can serve as cost-effective floating storage — in the current contango market, a growing number of these 2-MMbbl behemoths are being used to stockpile crude until its value increases in the coming months. VLCCs can be loaded to the gills through reverse lightering at a number of deepwater points off the coast of Texas, but only one facility, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, can fill the supertankers to the brim at the port itself. LOOP also can receive fully loaded VLCCs, of course, and another ace up its sleeve is its 72 MMbbl of cavern and tank storage a few miles inland at Clovelly, LA. Today, we continue our series on Gulf Coast export facilities with a look at LOOP.
Back in late March and early April, U.S. refineries responded to the sudden falloff in demand for jet fuel and motor gasoline by quickly ramping down their operations. Similarly, E&Ps in recent weeks have reacted to sharply lower demand for crude oil by slowing — or even suspending — their drilling activity and shutting in wells. Midstream companies’ actions have generally been more muted, though. While many midstreamers have ratcheted back their planned 2020 capital spending plans, the bulk of their major crude oil, natural gas and NGL projects already under construction are staying on-plan. Most of the rest are only being delayed by a few months, and a handful are either being reworked or deferred indefinitely. Today, we consider the midstream sector’s seemingly modest response to the crashes in crude oil prices and demand.
U.S. refinery demand for crude oil is off sharply due to COVID-related impacts on automobile and jet travel, and crude production is being slashed. Crude storage is filling up fast, both on land and on tankers at sea, and may be maxed out by June. That leaves imports and exports as the market-balancing agents, at least until demand for motor gasoline and jet fuel starts to rebound. And with significant volumes of imported heavy and medium crudes still needed by complex refineries, exports are likely to rise from their current, near-record levels this spring and summer. Longer term, though, we expect export volumes to decline, setting up a battle for barrels among export terminals. Today, we continue our series on Gulf Coast crude export terminals with a look at the three facilities in the Beaumont/Nederland area.
The Bakken Shale is being hit especially hard by production cuts this spring. Crude oil-focused producers large and small have been shutting in wells and putting well completions on hold, slashing daily crude output by more than one-sixth. The rig count is down by half in less than two months — to 26, the play’s lowest level since mid-2016 — and thousands of oilfield workers have been let go. All this is happening despite the facts that the Bakken’s four-county core has some of the best shale assets outside the Permian and that in 2017-19 the play was super-hot, with crude production increasing by 50%. That three-year growth spurt spurred the development of a number of new crude gathering systems, many of which now face a period of significant underutilization. Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down report on oil production and supporting infrastructure in the U.S.’s #2 shale play.
With a dwindling market for their crude, many U.S. producers are confronting an unavoidable choice: shutting in existing production. Just go out and flip a switch and turn a valve, right? Wrong. Like everything else in the COVID era, shutting in production is complicated. It is the alternative of last resort for producers, whose primary directive is the economic extraction of oil and gas. But with demand for their products crushed, production from some wells no longer makes economic sense. Unfortunately, the process of shutting in wells is charged with contractual, economic and operational issues that the industry is scrambling to deal with. The situation is fraught with uncertainty, and many producers’ futures depend on how decisively they manage the shut-in process. Today, we discuss the urgent need to reduce oil production and the judgments producers will be making as they take wells offline.