How OPEC Boosts US Oil Exports to Asia

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/28/2018 08:56:00 PM
Us Asians don't need Trump to force us to buy American oil. Fancy that.
As it was in the beginning with cartels, so it shall be until their end. The trouble with these things is that they only work if compliance with production limits are observed by a clear majority of the producers. I must admit that while the recent OPEC/Russia effort has been quite impressive--if you told me oil prices would reach their current levels when they started, I'd have said you're mad--there are limits.

The clear "antagonist" to these would-be petroleum oligopolists are the Yanks. Namely, the shale oil producers who have taken advantage of new production techniques to extract more oil and gas than previously thought possible from the United States. They too have been helped by the lifting of an oil export ban at the end of 2015; exports resumed in January of the next year.

The type of crude oil exported by non-American sourced is called Brent, whereas that coming from the United States is West Texas Intermediate (WTI). OPEC/Russia have succeeded in limiting supplies of Brent which they produce more of, while American WTI has been less affected. So, the price "spread" (difference) between cartelized Brent and WTI has been widening lately. The question is, why would oil customers worldwide buy OPEC/Russia's pricier Brent instead of WTI? The answer has to do mainly with bottlenecks getting US shale out of the ground and delivered to world markets. After all, you don't expect a country forty years dormant in exporting oil, the USA, to develop the necessary infrastructure overnight:
The simple reason for this is that the shale oil boom has left crude sloshing around the U.S., resulting in a local oversupply. While Brent prices have risen some 14 percent over the past three months, WTI is up just 7.5 percent and Midland crude – the version of WTI priced in the booming Permian basin rather than the benchmark delivery point in Cushing, Oklahoma -- is down 4.8 percent.

The last time we saw these sorts of spreads, there were sound legal reasons for it. The U.S. had forbidden almost all exports of crude oil for four decades until the end of 2015, so for many years its soaring shale oil production was trapped by the ban and the capacity limits of U.S. refineries that were able to convert it into exportable products.

The growing spreads now suggest that supply is pushing up against a different sort of bottleneck: A shortage of pipeline capacity between Midland and Cushing, and then a further shortage of pipeline and port capacity to get U.S. crude onto a hungry global market.
What may happen is that if OPEC/Russia keep artificially limiting oil production to boost prices, it may become even more economically viable for American shale producers to develop the infrastructure to get their oil to customers in Asia and elsewhere. Already, shale and similar sources have increased their production to almost counterbalance OPEC supply reductions:
There’s a further factor to consider, though, and it relates to what’s happening on the plains of Texas and Oklahoma. The latest period of supply restraint from Opec and Russia has in essence seen them give up market share to onshore North America. The 1.8 million barrels a day that they’ve taken off the market is almost entirely compensated for by the 1.53 million barrels a day of additional unconventional crude production from the U.S., not to mention 640,000 of additional daily barrels that have come out of Canada.

At the moment, infrastructure bottlenecks are keeping the U.S. shale boom almost as quarantined from global markets as legal restrictions did in the pre-2016 era. But, as my colleague Liam Denning has written, those widening spreads between delivery locations are driving midstream operators to seek profit from new export channels, from pipelines to the nascent capacity to load larger tankers from Louisiana’s Loop terminal.
We are already seeing the Yanks eat the lunch of greedy OPEC/Russia in Asia:
In Asia, China - led by Sinopec, the region’s largest refiner - is the biggest lifter of U.S. crude. The company, after cutting Saudi imports, has bought a record 16 million barrels (533,000 bpd) of U.S. crude, to load in June, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. India and South Korea are the next biggest buyers in Asia, each lifting 6 million to 7 million barrels in June, sources tracking U.S. crude sales to Asia said. Indian Oil Corp bought 3 million barrels earlier this month via a tender, while Reliance Industries purchased up to 8 million barrels, the sources said, although it wasn’t clear if Reliance’s cargoes would all load in June.

South Korea’s purchases are driven by its top refiners SK Energy and GS Caltex. Taiwanese state refiner CPC Corp has also snapped up 7 million barrels to be lifted in June and July. U.S. exports to Thailand will increase to at least 2 million barrels. State oil company PTT PCL is 1 million barrels of WTI Midland, while Thai Oil and Esso Thailand bought at least 500,000 barrels of Bakken crude each, said traders with knowledge of the country’s crude deals.
It's rare to find American good guys in the age of Trump, but I suppose the shale producers' contributions to punishing OPEC/Russia for introducing price distortions hurting oil consumers like you and me counts.