Conoco’s Brent Control
Jenga! ConocoPhillips just knocked a big hole in the delicate logistical edifice on which the biggest anomaly in the oil world has been balancing.
In oil markets, 2011 has been the year of the great Brent spread. The North Sea crude oil benchmark has been trading at an unusually high premium to U.S. West Texas Intermediate oil for much of the year after many years of rough parity or trading at a slight discount.
On one side, the Libyan conflict pulled up demand for Brent. On the other — as discussed in this “Heard on the Street” column from February — logistical constraints have kept an increasing amount of oil bottled up in the Midwest. As Cushing, OK is where the WTI contract is settled physically, this glut has kept WTI prices depressed, widening the spread. Having started the year trading at a premium of $3.37 a barrel to WTI, Brent’s lead hit a peak of almost $27 on September 6th.
Now one of those bottlenecks on WTI is likely to be eased. Conoco is selling its 50% stake in the Seaway pipeline to Canada’s Enbridge Inc. Conoco kept the pipeline running northwards, i.e. bringing oil from the Gulf coast to Cushing. This kept oil bottled up in the Midwest, meaning Conoco’s refineries there had access to cheaper raw material, allowing them to generate big profits. Now that Conoco is splitting itself, it has no need for Seaway. And Enbridge, as a pipeline operator, has no incentive to keep the pipeline flowing north. By the second quarter of 2012, it expects Seaway to be transporting 150,000 barrels per day from Cushing to the Gulf coast, alleviating the WTI glut.
As of now, Brent’s premium to WTI has collapsed another $2.37 this morning, and is now down under $11 a barrel. As more pipelines get built over the next several years — including, perhaps, a rerouted Keystone XL — the great 2011 spread will be but a fond memory in oil refiners’ minds.
– Liam Denning
- Enbridge, Enterprise Products To Reverse Seaway Crude Oil Pipeline (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Oil rises above $100 on planned Seaway pipeline reversal (business.financialpost.com)
- Enbridge, Caisse snap up Conoco pipelines for US$2B (business.financialpost.com)
- Brent WTI crude spread collapses on Seaway pipeline reversal (tradingfloor.com)
- Crude Passes $100 (zerohedge.com)
Posted on November 16, 2011, in Energy, GEOPOLITICS, Oil, Political economy and tagged bottlenecks, Conoco, ConocoPhillips, Cushing, Cushing Oklahoma, Enbridge, Enbridge Holdings (Seaway) L.L.C., Gulf Coast of the United States, Political economy, Seaway, West Texas Intermediate. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Conoco’s Brent Control.