Hurricane Harvey disrupts U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, infrastructure, and supply chainsWith its landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas as a Category 4 storm two weeks ago on August 25, 2017 and subsequent path along the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Harvey caused substantial disruptions to crude oil and petroleum product supply chains and prices because of the high concentration of petroleum infrastructure in the Gulf Coast, Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 3. Just over half of all U.S. refinery capacity is located in PADD 3; Texas alone represented 31% of all U.S. refinery capacity as of January 2017. These refineries supply petroleum products to local markets, domestic markets on the East Coast (PADD 1) and in the Midwest (PADD 2), and international markets. As of March 2017, PADD 3 accounted for 49% of total U.S. working crude oil storage capacity and over 40% of working storage capacity for both motor gasoline and diesel fuel. Furthermore, PADD 3 represented 62% of total U.S. crude oil production in 2016, with an additional 18% coming from the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricane Harvey’s most significant effect on petroleum markets was to curtail refinery operations in Texas. Refinery operations are largely dependent on a supply of crude oil and feedstocks, electricity, workforce availability and safe working conditions, and outlets for production. As a result of Hurricane Harvey, many refineries in the region either reduced runs or shut down in its aftermath. For the week ending September 1, 2017, gross inputs to refineries in PADD 3 fell 3.2 million barrels per day (b/d) (-34%) from the previous week and were down 2.8 million b/d (-31%) from the same time last year. Four-week average PADD 3 gross refinery inputs fell to just above that measure’s five-year average of 8.5 million b/d (Figure 1). Outages and reduced runs resulted in PADD 3 refinery utilization falling from 96% to 63%, while other areas of the country remained virtually unchanged.
In addition to refineries, many crude oil and petroleum product pipelines reduced operations or shut down. The most prominent of these was the Colonial Pipeline system, a 2.5 million b/d petroleum product pipeline consisting of approximately 5,500 miles of pipeline that consistently operates at or near full capacity. Colonial connects 29 refineries and 267 distribution terminals, carrying gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from Houston, Texas to New York Harbor. Decreased supplies of petroleum products available for the pipeline in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, forced Colonial Pipeline to curtail operations and ship intermittently for a brief period of time before continuous operations at reduced rates were restored on September 6.
Disruption to Colonial Pipeline supplies reduced PADD 1 total motor gasoline inventories by 2.2 million barrels to 60.5 million barrels for the week ending September 1. Of this drawdown, 2.1 million barrels occurred in the Lower Atlantic (PADD 1C) states. This draw is less than a previous outage of the Colonial Pipeline in September 2016, when PADD 1C inventories fell nearly 6 million barrels.
Another logistical complication was created when the ports of Corpus Christi and Houston-Galveston were closed to ship traffic as a result of the storm. Large volumes of crude oil and refined products are both imported and exported through these ports.
In PADD 3, the net result of all these events led to Gulf Coast crude oil inventories to build by 1.7 million barrels for the week ending September 1, 2017. With refinery operations on the Gulf Coast disrupted, crude oil inventories in Cushing, Oklahoma also increased by 800,000 barrels.
The net effect on PADD 3 motor gasoline inventories because of impaired refinery runs and transportation options was a draw of 60,000 barrels to 82.4 million barrels for the week ending September 1, 2017, but inventories remain 9.2 million barrels (13%) higher than the five-year average.
Both crude oil and gasoline prices were influenced by the effects of Hurricane Harvey. Because of lower refinery runs and limited reductions in crude oil production, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) decreased from $48 per barrel (b) on August 25 when Hurricane Harvey made landfall, to $46/b on August 30. WTI crude oil futures prices have since increased, reaching $49/b on September 6.
By contrast, gasoline futures as well as wholesale and retail prices for gasoline increased because of the impacts on refineries and pipeline infrastructure. On the Gulf Coast, the wholesale price of gasoline increased from $1.66 per gallon (gal) on August 25, 2017 to $2.05/gal on August 31. The benchmark Reformulated Blendstock for Oxygenate Blending (RBOB) gasoline NYMEX futures price increased from $1.67/gal to $2.14/gal over the same period (Figure 2).
As a result of the changes in wholesale and futures prices, retail prices for gasoline also increased. The U.S. average regular retail gasoline price increased $0.28/gal to $2.68/gal between August 28 and September 4, 2017. The PADD 3 and Houston, Texas prices both increased $0.35/gal to $2.51 per gallon and $2.43/gal, respectively. The statewide Texas average regular retail gasoline price increased $0.40/gal to $2.56/gal (Figure 3).
Unlike previous significant Gulf Coast hurricanes, such as Katrina (2005), Gustav (2008), and Ike (2008), Hurricane Harvey had a more westward path, with the strongest effects of the storm mostly missing the largest concentration of offshore oil and gas production facilities. The Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement estimates that approximately 2.0% of Gulf of Mexico platforms were evacuated as of September 4, representing shut-in oil production of 121,484 b/d. According to the Texas Railroad Commission and other public sources, EIA estimates the highest on-shore crude oil production outages of approximately 500,000 b/d occurred around August 25 and 26.
The outcomes from Hurricane Irma are likely to be very different. While Hurricane Harvey impacted a major source of U.S. transportation fuels supply, demand in unaffected areas remained intact. Irma, which is projected to impact Florida and potentially the Eastern Seaboard, will likely disrupt demand centers.
Because of the displacement, evacuations, and other safety measures initiated as a result of the Hurricane Harvey, some respondents to EIA’s surveys may not have been able to submit data within the reporting window. EIA has and will continue to work diligently with respondents to ensure robust and accurate statistics.
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel retail prices increase
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price increased 28 cents from the previous week to $2.68 per gallon on September 4, up 46 cents from the same time last year. The East Coast price rose nearly 39 cents to $2.72 per gallon, the Gulf Coast price rose 35 cents to $2.51 per gallon, the Midwest price rose 23 cents to $2.54 per gallon, the Rocky Mountain price rose 14 cents to $2.61 per gallon, and the West Coast price rose over 11 cents to $3.02 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 15 cents to $2.76 per gallon on September 4, 35 cents higher than a year ago. The Gulf Coast price rose 19 cents to $2.62 per gallon, the East Coast price rose over 16 cents to $2.79 per gallon, the Midwest price rose 14 cents to $2.71 per gallon, the West Coast price rose 13 cents to $3.04 per gallon, and the Rocky Mountain price rose 8 cents to $2.80 per gallon.
Propane inventories gain
U.S. propane stocks increased by 6.3 million barrels last week to 79.9 million barrels as of September 1, 2017, 19.2 million barrels (19.4%) lower than a year ago. Gulf Coast, Midwest, East Coast, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories increased by 4.5 million barrels, 1.4 million barrels, 0.3 million barrels, and 0.2 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 4.3% of total propane inventories.
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 7 January 2019 – Brent: US$57/b; WTI: US$49/b
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At some point in 2019, crude production in Venezuela will dip below the 1 mmb/d level. It might already have occurred; estimated output was 1.15 mmb/d in November and the country’s downward trajectory for 2018 would put December numbers at about 1.06 mmb/d. Financial sanctions imposed on the country by the US, coupled with years of fiscal mismanagement have triggered an economic and humanitarian meltdown, where inflation has at times hit 1,400,000% and forced an abandonment of the ‘old’ bolivar for a ‘new bolivar’. PDVSA – once an oil industry crown jewel – has been hammered, from its cargoes being seized by ConocoPhillips for debts owed to the loss of the Curacao refinery and its prized Citgo refineries in the US.
The year 2019 will not see a repair of this chronic issue. Crude production in Venezuela will continue to slide. Once Latin America’s largest oil exporter – with peak production of 3.3 mmb/d and exports of 2.3 mmb/d in 1999 – it has now been eclipsed by Brazil and eventually tiny Guyana, where ExxonMobil has made massive discoveries. Even more pain is on the way, as the Trump administration prepares new sanctions as Nicolas Maduro begins his second term after a widely-derided election. But what is pain for Venezuela is gain for OPEC; the slack that its declining volumes provides makes it easier to maintain aggregate supply levels aimed at shoring up global oil prices.
It isn’t that Venezuela doesn’t want to increase – or at least maintain its production levels. It is that PDVSA isn’t capable of doing so alone, and has lost many deep-pocketed international ‘friends’ that were once instrumental to its success. The nationalisation of the oil industry in 2007 alienated supermajors like Chevron, Total and BP, and led to ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil suing the Venezuelan government. Arbitration in 2014 saw that amount reduced, but even that has not been paid; ConocoPhillips took the extraordinary step of seizing PDVSA cargoes at sea and its Caribbean assets in lieu of the US$2 billion arbitration award. Burnt by the legacies of Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro, these majors won’t be coming back – forcing Venezuela to turn to second-tier companies and foreign aid to extract more volumes. Last week, Venezuela signed an agreement with the newly-formed US-based Erepla Services to boost production at the Tia Juana, Rosa Mediano and Ayacucho 5 fields. In return, Erepla will receive half the oil produced – generous terms that still weren’t enough to entice service giants like Schlumberger and Halliburton.
Venezuela is also tapping into Russian, Chinese and Indian aid to boost output, essentially selling off key assets for necessary cash and expertise. This could be a temporary band-aid, but nothing more. Most of Venezuela’s oil reserves come from the extra-heavy reserves in the Orinoco Belt, where an estimated 1.2 trillion barrels lies. Extracting this will be extremely expensive and possibly commercially uneconomical – given the refining industry’s move away from heavy grades to middle distillates. There are also very few refineries in the world that can process such heavy crude, and Venezuela is in no position to make additional demands from them. In a world where PDVSA has fewer and fewer friends, recovery will be extremely tough and extremely far-off.
Infographic: Venezuelan crude production:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 31 December 2018 – Brent: US$54/b; WTI: US$46/b
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