Exports Giving U.S. Crude a Place to Go

Mon, November 06, 2017

That's great timing for the nation's crude oil export market, which hit a record of more than 2.1 million barrels a day last week.

The Enterprise pipeline - one of several major pipelines from West Texas to Houston or Corpus Christi that are in the works - is slated for completion by the end of November, and to become fully operational by spring, said CEO Jim Teague.

Enterprise caught the exports bug years ago and has capitalized by shipping out natural gas liquids, chemicals and crude oil - especially after Congress lifted the nation's decades-old crude export ban at the end of 2015.

"The world wants U.S. oil and gas, U.S. refined products and U.S. petrochemicals, and, frankly, we have too many," Teague said Thursday.

Crude exports in 2017 have jumped to nearly 1 million barrels a day on average, essentially double last year's volumes. This fall, they're frequently hitting 2 million barrels a day.

But it's not just the lighter, sweeter grades of crude from Texas shale shipping out. There's also a growing international appetite for thicker, sour grades produced in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a recent report authored by Sandy Fielden, Morningstar's director of oil and products research.

Overall crude exports are surging because U.S. oil is cheaper than most foreign competitors. And the production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has created a dearth of sour grade crude that most Asian refineries are built to process.

Offshore Gulf of Mexico drilling activity is slow, but platforms already in operation continue to churn out oil, bringing Gulf production to a record amount of nearly 1.8 million barrels a day in July.

"While smaller U.S. independent producers have made shale their forte, major oil companies and larger independents have deep experience offshore," Fielden added. "Now that exports are on the table, the majors could easily leverage their home plate advantage to grab a larger international market share - provided they are willing to roll the dice and invest."


Still Knee Deep

When it comes to U.S. refining, arguably the most vocal CEO is Jack Lipinski of Sugar Land-based CVR Energy. Lipinski announced last week the he's retiring at the end of December.

He'll be replaced by David Lamp, who was the operating officer at Western Refining, which was recently acquired by San Antonio-based Andeavor, the refining company previously known as Tesoro.

But Lipinski isn't going out quietly. Last week, he continued to rail against the federal Renewable Fuel Standard as he pushes for an overhaul of the federal biofuel program. CVR is controlled by famed corporate raider Carl Icahn, who resigned as President Donald Trump's special adviser on regulations.

Lipinski and Icahn had urged Trump to loosen up the expensive program that requires refiners to blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into gasoline. Trump has instead backed off on such ideas, essentially siding with the ethanol industry.

"The Trump administration," Lipinski said, "caved and failed to drain the swamp as promised."