Over the past four years, changes to U.S. crude oil transportation infrastructure and the fluctuations in the Brent-WTI spread have resulted in refiners in the East Coast receiving the highest crude volumes by tanker and barge from the Gulf Coast since 2014, while crude by rail shipments from the Midwest have slumped 77 percent from the late-2014 peak, the EIA said in an analysis on Thursday.
Over the past year, refiners in the East Coast have been receiving as much U.S. crude oil from the Gulf Coast by tanker or barge as they have received from the Midwest by rail.
Since 2015, the completion of several pipelines to transport crude oil from the Midwest has resulted in the Midwest shipping out much less crude by rail. The pipeline capacity expansion—with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline (ETCO)—lifted the share of crude pipeline transportation of the Midwest’s total domestic crude oil shipments to 87 percent in June 2018 from 64 percent in June 2015, the EIA said.
On the other hand, increased availability of shipping of domestic crude out of the Gulf Coast with additional fleets of tankers and barges has made shipping crude from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast by water cheaper than it was in 2015.
East Coast refiners, however, primarily look at the Brent-WTI spread to determine if the additional cost of acquiring and transporting domestic crude oil to the East Coast would be economical compared to importing crude oil from international sources—the wider the spread, the more East Coast refiners increase the intake of domestic crude oil.
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As the Brent-WTI spread started widening to average $5 a barrel in the first half of 2018, East Coast refineries again increased their purchases of domestic crude oil, but this time in far lower quantities than in 2015, the EIA noted. U.S. crude oil accounted for 19 percent of total East Coast crude inputs for the first half of 2018, compared with 48 percent in the same period of 2015, when the Brent-WTI price spread also averaged $5 per barrel.
Going forward, the EIA expects the Brent-WTI spread to continue to be the primary factor in the East Coast’s domestic crude oil purchases. The EIA’s latest forecast has Brent prices averaging around $6 a barrel more than WTI this year and next.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.