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.
Posts from Housley Carr
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.
The competition for barrels and the top-spot ranking among the Gulf Coast’s crude oil export terminals is like any good PGA tournament or NASCAR race, with lots of changes in who’s out in front and the ever-present possibility of a surprise — the export-market equivalent of an eagle at the last hole at the Masters or a spin-out and multicar crash on the last lap at the Daytona 500. A couple of years ago, in the first quarter of 2019, the Enterprise Hydrocarbons Terminal in Houston was at the top of the crude-exports leaderboard, followed by Energy Transfer’s Nederland Terminal and Moda Midstream’s facility in Ingleside, TX. Since then, Enterprise has ceded the #1 spot to Moda, volumes out of Nederland have slowed to a trickle, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, with its unique ability to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers, has rocketed to #3. Today, we continue our series on Texas and Louisiana’s oil export facilities with a look at the Gulf Coast’s second- and third-largest terminals by export volume.
The crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, is larger and grabs the headlines, but don’t you forget about the Patoka hub in south-central Illinois. It plays critically important roles in receiving Western Canadian, Bakken, and other crude, distributing it to a slew of Midwestern refineries, and directing oil south to the Gulf Coast on the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline to Nederland, TX — and soon on Capline to St. James, LA, when reversed flows on that large-bore pipe begin in early 2022. Better still, there are great stories behind the development of the Patoka storage and distribution hub and how it works. Today, we begin a series on the second-largest crude oil hub in PADD 2 and why, with the upcoming Capline reversal and other changes, the hub is more relevant than ever.
Week by week, more than 20 terminals along the U.S. Gulf Coast export crude oil, but nearly half of the total export volumes are being loaded at just three facilities: the Moda Midstream terminal near Corpus Christi, the Enterprise Hydrocarbon Terminal in Houston, and the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) off the Louisiana coast. What gives these “Big 3” their edge? Location? Pipeline connectivity? Storage capacity? Loading rate? The answer, of course, is “all of the above.” There is more to the story, though, and other terminals are angling to become bigger players, presumably at the expense of the Big 3 themselves. Today, we begin a series on Texas and Louisiana’s largest oil export facilities, what they offer, how they’ve fared, and what they’re planning next.
Many leading energy companies have come to accept the reality that environmental, social, and governmental (ESG) matters are now front-and-center concerns to an increasing number of investors and lenders. Their challenge, of course, is that the hydrocarbon-based commodities they produce, process, transport, and refine are by their very nature prospective generators of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that the ESG movement is targeting. What’s an energy company to do? For many midstream companies, the answer — for now at least — is to focus on minimizing the release of methane, carbon dioxide (CO2), and other GHGs from their gas processing plants, pipelines, storage facilities, and fractionators, and on switching to renewables to power their operations. Today, we continues our series with a look at how midstream companies are addressing investors’ and lenders’ concerns about the sector’s GHG releases.
When it finally came online in mid-2017, the Dakota Access Pipeline was a lifesaver for Bakken crude oil producers. For years, they had suffered from takeaway-capacity shortfalls that forced many shippers to rely on higher-cost crude-by-rail, sapping producer profits in the process. Then came DAPL, which provides straight-shot pipeline access to a key Midwest oil hub, and its sister pipe — the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline (ETCOP) — which takes crude from there to the Gulf Coast. Problem solved, right? Not exactly. Now, there’s at least an outside chance that a shutdown order is issued as soon as early April in connection with the ongoing federal district court process, with the timeline for a physical closure of the pipe still to be determined. A shutdown may last for only a few months but could potentially last much longer. Where does this uncertainty leave Bakken producers, many of whom have been hoping to benefit from the recent run-up in crude oil prices by ramping up their output this spring? Today, we discuss recent upstream and midstream developments in the U.S.’s second-largest shale/tight-oil play.