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 23 March 2020 – Brent: US$27/b; WTI: US$23/b
Headlines of the week
Crude oil prices have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020, largely driven by the economic contraction caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID19) and a sudden increase in crude oil supply following the suspension of agreed production cuts among the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and partner countries. With falling demand and increasing supply, the front-month price of the U.S. benchmark crude oil West Texas Intermediate (WTI) fell from a year-to-date high closing price of $63.27 per barrel (b) on January 6 to a year-to-date low of $20.37/b on March 18 (Figure 1), the lowest nominal crude oil price since February 2002.
WTI crude oil prices have also fallen significantly along the futures curve, which charts monthly price settlements for WTI crude oil delivery over the next several years. For example, the WTI price for December 2020 delivery declined from $56.90/b on January 2, 2020, to $32.21/b as of March 24. In addition to the sharp price decline, the shape of the futures curve has shifted from backwardation—when near-term futures prices are higher than longer-dated ones—to contango, when near-term futures prices are lower than longer-dated ones. The WTI 1st-13th spread (the difference between the WTI price in the nearest month and the price for WTI 13 months away) settled at -$10.34/b on March 18, the lowest since February 2016, exhibiting high contango. The shift from backwardation to contango reflects the significant increase in petroleum inventories. In its March 2020 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), released on March 11, 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast that Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) commercial petroleum inventories will rise to 2.9 billion barrels in March, an increase of 20 million barrels over the previous month and 68 million barrels over March 2019 (Figure 2). Since the release of the March STEO, changes in various oil market and macroeconomic indicators suggest that inventory builds are likely to be even greater than EIA’s March forecast.
Significant price volatility has accompanied both price declines and price increases. Since 1999, 69% of the time, daily WTI crude oil prices increased or decreased by less than 2% relative to the previous trading day. Daily oil price changes during March 2020 have exceeded 2% 13 times (76% of the month’s traded days) as of March 24. For example, the 10.1% decline on March 6 after the OPEC meeting was larger than 99.8% of the daily percentage price decreases since 1999. The 24.6% decline on March 9 and the 24.4% decline on March 18 were the largest and second largest percent declines, respectively, since at least 1999 (Figure 3).
On March 10, a series of government announcements indicated that emergency fiscal and monetary policy were likely to be forthcoming in various countries, which contributed to a 10.4% increase in the WTI price, the 12th-largest daily increase since 1999. During other highly volatile time periods, such as the 2008 financial crisis, both large price increases and decreases occurred in quick succession. During the 2008 financial crisis, the largest single-day increase—a 17.8% rise on September 22, 2008—was followed the next day by the largest single-day decrease, a 12.0% fall on September 23, 2008.
Market price volatility during the first quarter of 2020 has not been limited to oil markets (Figure 4). The recent volatility in oil markets has also coincided with increased volatility in equity markets because the products refined from crude oil are used in many parts of the economy and because the COVID-19-related economic slowdown affects a broad array of economic activities. This can be measured through implied volatility—an estimate of a security’s expected range of near-term price changes—which can be calculated using price movements of financial options and measured by the VIX index for the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 index and the OVX index for WTI prices. Implied volatility for both the S&P 500 index and WTI are higher than the levels seen during the 2008 financial crisis, which peaked on November 20, 2008, at 80.9 and on December 11, 2008, at 100.4, respectively, compared with 61.7 for the VIX and 170.9 for the OVX as of March 24.
Comparing implied volatility for the S&P 500 index with WTI’s suggests that although recent volatility is not limited to oil markets, oil markets are likely more volatile than equity markets at this point. The oil market’s relative volatility is not, however, in and of itself unusual. Oil markets are almost always more volatile than equity markets because crude oil demand is price inelastic—whereby price changes have relatively little effect on the quantity of crude oil demanded—and because of the relative diversity of the companies constituting the S&P 500 index. But recent oil market volatility is still historically high, even in comparison to the volatility of the larger equity market. As denoted by the red line in the bottom of Figure 4, the difference between the OVX and VIX reached an all-time high of 124.1 on March 23, compared with an average difference of 16.8 between May 2007 (the date the OVX was launched) and March 24, 2020.
Markets currently appear to expect continued and increasing market volatility, and, by extension, increasing uncertainty in the pricing of crude oil. Oil’s current level of implied volatility—a forward-looking measure for the next 30 days—is also high relative to its historical, or realized, volatility. Historical volatility can influence the market’s expectations for future price uncertainty, which contributes to higher implied volatility. Some of this difference is a structural part of the market, and implied volatility typically exceeds historical volatility as sellers of options demand a volatility risk premium to compensate them for the risk of holding a volatile security. But as the yellow line in Figure 4 shows, the current implied volatility of WTI prices is still higher than normal. The difference between implied and historical volatility reached an all-time high of 44.7 on March 20, compared with an average difference of 2.3 between 2007 and March 2020. This trend could suggest that options (prices for which increase with volatility) are relatively expensive and, by extension, that demand for financial instruments to limit oil price exposure are relatively elevated.
Increased price correlation among several asset classes also suggests that similar economic factors are driving prices in a variety of markets. For example, both the correlation between changes in the price of WTI and changes in the S&P 500 and the correlation between WTI and other non-energy commodities (as measured by the S&P Commodity Index (GSCI)) increased significantly in March. Typically, when correlations between WTI and other asset classes increase, it suggests that expectations of future economic growth—rather than issues specific to crude oil markets— tend to be the primary drivers of price formation. In this case, price declines for oil, equities, and non-energy commodities all indicate that concerns over global economic growth are likely the primary force driving price formation (Figure 5).
U.S. average regular gasoline and diesel prices fall
The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price fell nearly 13 cents from the previous week to $2.12 per gallon on March 23, 50 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 16 cents to $1.87 per gallon, the West Coast price fell nearly 15 cents to $2.88 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 11 cents to $2.08 per gallon and $1.86 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price declined more than 8 cents to $2.24 per gallon.
The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell more than 7 cents from the previous week to $2.66 per gallon on March 23, 42 cents lower than a year ago. The Midwest price fell more than 9 cents to $2.50 per gallon, the West Coast price fell more than 7 cents to $3.25 per gallon, the East Coast and Gulf Coast prices each fell nearly 7 cents to $2.72 per gallon and $2.44 per gallon, respectively, and the Rocky Mountain price fell more than 6 cents to $2.68 per gallon.
Propane/propylene inventories decline
U.S. propane/propylene stocks decreased by 1.8 million barrels last week to 64.9 million barrels as of March 20, 2020, 15.5 million barrels (31.3%) greater than the five-year (2015-19) average inventory levels for this same time of year. Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 1.3 million barrels, East Coast inventories decreased by 0.3 million barrels, and Rocky Mountain/West Coast inventories decrease by 0.2 million barrels. Midwest inventories increased by 0.1 million barrels. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 8.5% of total propane/propylene inventories.
Residential heating fuel prices decrease
As of March 23, 2020, residential heating oil prices averaged $2.45 per gallon, almost 15 cents per gallon below last week’s price and nearly 77 cents per gallon lower than last year’s price at this time. Wholesale heating oil prices averaged more than $1.11 per gallon, almost 14 cents per gallon below last week’s price and 98 cents per gallon lower than a year ago.
Residential propane prices averaged more than $1.91 per gallon, nearly 2 cents per gallon below last week’s price and almost 49 cents per gallon below last year’s price. Wholesale propane prices averaged more than $0.42 per gallon, more than 7 cents per gallon lower than last week’s price and almost 36 cents per gallon below last year’s price.