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Last Updated: September 9, 2017
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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.

Figure 1. Gulf Coast (PADD 3) gross refinery inputs

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).

Figure 2. Gasoline spot and futures prices

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).

Figure 3. Regular gasoline retail prices - all formulations

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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The New Wave of Renewable Fuels

In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.

Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.

Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.

This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.

But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.

But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.

Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.

Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$71-73/b, WTI – US$68-70/b
  • Global crude benchmarks have stayed steady, even as OPEC+ sticks to its plans to ease supply quotas against the uncertainty of rising Covid-19 cases worldwide
  • However, the success of vaccination drives has kindled hope that the effect of lockdowns – if any – will be mild, with pockets of demand resurgence in Europe; in China, where there has been a zero-tolerance drive to stamp out Covid outbreaks, fuel consumption is strengthening again, possibly tightening fuel balances in Q4
  • Meanwhile, much of the US Gulf of Mexico crude production remains hampered by the effects of Hurricane Ida, providing a counter-balance on the supply side

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