U.S. market is so oversupplied with oil that traders are experimenting with a new place for storing excess crude
By NICOLE FRIEDMAN and BOB TITA WSJ
Updated Feb. 28, 2016 9:09 p.m. ET
The U.S. is so awash in crude oil that traders are experimenting with new places to store it: empty railcars.
Thousands of railcars ordered up to transport oil are now sitting idle because current ultralow crude prices have made shipping by train unprofitable. Meanwhile, traditional storage tanks are running out of room as U.S. oil inventories swell to their highest level since the 1930s.
Some industry participants are calling the new practice “rolling storage”—a landlocked spin on the “floating storage” producers use to hold crude on giant oil tankers when inventories run high.
The combination of cheap oil and surplus railcars has created a budding new side business for traders. J.P. Fjeld-Hansen, a managing director for trading company Musket Corp., tested using railcars for storage last year and found he could profit by putting the oil aside while locking in a higher price to deliver it in a later month.
The company built a rail terminal in Windsor, Colo., in 2012 to load oil shipments during a boom in U.S. oil production. Now, Mr. Fjeld-Hansen says, “The focus has shifted from a loading terminal to an oil-storage and railcar-storage business.”
Energy Midstream, a trading company based in The Woodlands, Texas, stored an ultralight oil known as condensate on Ohio railcars last month for about 15 days before shipping it to a buyer in Canada.
Dennis Hoskins, a managing partner at Energy Midstream, says there are so many unused tank cars that he is constantly hearing from railcar owners hoping to put them to use. “We get offers everyday for railcars,” he said.
The use of railcars for storage could be limited by the cost of track space and safety and liability concerns that have followed a string of high-profile transport accidents. Issues range from leaky cars to the risk of collisions and fires.
Federal regulations require railroads that store cars loaded with hazardous materials like oil to comply with strict storage and security measures to keep the cars away from daily rail traffic. Railroads and users face responsibility for leaks, collisions or other mishaps.
“I don’t want the liability,” said Judy Petry, president of Oklahoma rail operator Farmrail System Inc. “We prefer not to hold a loaded car.”
Still, the oil has to go somewhere. The surge in shale-oil production has created a massive glut that the industry is struggling to absorb.BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley joked in a speech this month that by midyear, “every storage tank and swimming pool in the world will be filled with oil.”
Khory Ramage, president of Ironhorse Permian Basin LLC, which operates a rail terminal in Artesia, N.M., said he hears regularly from traders looking to store crude in his railcars.
Crude-storage costs “have been accelerating, just due to the demand for it and less room,” he said. “You’ll probably start seeing this kick up more and more.”
U.S. crude inventories rose above 500 million barrels in late January for the first time since 1930, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The cheapest form of storage—underground salt caverns—can cost 25 cents a barrel each month, while storing crude on railcars costs about 50 cents a barrel and floating storage can cost 75 cents or more. The cost estimates don’t include loading and transportation.
Railcars hold between 500 and 700 barrels of oil, less than a cavern, tank or ship can store.
The use of U.S. railcars to transport large volumes of oil picked up steam a few years ago as a byproduct of the fracking boom. Fields sprung up faster than pipelines could be laid, so producers improvised and shipped their output to market by rail. Companies soon realized railroads offered greater flexibility to transfer oil to whomever offered the best price. Some pipeline companies even joined the rail business, building terminals to load and unload oil. U.S. oil settled Friday at $32.78 a barrel, down nearly 70% from mid-2014.
The plunge in oil prices brought that activity to a halt. Analysts estimate there are now as many as 20,000 tank cars—about one-third of the North American fleet for hauling oil—parked out of the way in storage yards or along unused stretches of tracks in rural areas.
Producers and shippers who signed long-term leases for the cars during the boom are stuck paying monthly rates that typically run $1,500 to $1,700 per car. Traders can pay those prices and still profit. Oil bought at the April price and sold through the futures market for delivery a year later could net a trader $8.07 a barrel, not including storage or transportation costs.
As central storage hubs fill up, oil companies are more willing to pay for expensive and remote types of storage, said Ernie Barsamian,principal of the Tank Tiger, which keeps a database of companies looking to buy and sell oil storage space.
The Tank Tiger posted an inquiry Wednesday on behalf of a client seeking 75,000 barrels of crude-oil storage or space to park 100 to 120 railcars loaded with crude.
Mr. Barsamian likened the disappearance of available storage to a coloring book where nearly all the white space has been filled in.
“You’re getting closer to the edges,” he said.
HOUSTON—Beleaguered oil and gas executives gathered here for a global energy conference sounded a common message: Blood may be in the water, but it isn’t ours.
Forced to reckon with a prolonged period of low energy prices, oil chiefs at the annual IHS IHS -0.27 % CERAWeek energy gathering sought to portray themselves as steely survivors in an industry grappling with spending cuts and asset sales
Many executives counted how many previous crashes they had weathered. Some took solace in the musings of “Persian wise men” and philosophers from the 19th century.
Industry leaders nonetheless were emphatic on two points: Their companies will pull through, and whenever the price rebound comes, they will be ready to take advantage of it.
The words at times seemed at odds with immediate financial realities, although many were taking a long view. BP, for example, reported a $5.2 billion loss in 2015 and earlier this month announced an additional 3,000 job cuts.
Hess Corp. HES -0.52 % chief executive John Hess touted his company’s survival prospects, saying among other things he sees lower costs than peers in North Dakota. Yet, the company saw a loss of more than $3 billion in 2015, its first in more than a decade.
“Our company has some of the best acreage,” Mr. Hess said. “We can be more resilient as prices recover.”
The mood reflects the realization that no cavalry is coming. Energy companies are likely to stay mired—for months if not years—in a global oil glut that has sent crude prices to $30 a barrel.
That became clearer Tuesday when Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi told a packed ballroom here that the kingdom had no plans to cut its output to boost prices. Instead, the world’s largest oil exporter is banking on market forces to drive out companies saddled with higher production costs. That, in turn, would reduce global supplies.
Mr. Naimi said his country was prepared to withstand $20 crude if needed to thin the herd.
Oil prices, which had rallied last week on news of a tentative agreement by Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela and Qatar to freeze oil output before falling on Mr. Naimi’s comments Tuesday, edged 0.9% higher on Wednesday to $32.15 a barrel.
Energy companies have cut more than 300,000 jobs world-wide since mid-2014, when crude-oil prices began their tumble from $100 a barrel, according to Houston consulting firm Graves & Co. Globally, nearly $1.5 trillion of spending will be canceled from 2015 to 2019, according to IHS, a consulting and analytics firm. The spending cuts will push U.S. shale output down by 600,000 barrels a day this year and by 200,000 barrels a day in 2017, according to a forecast unveiled here on Monday by the International Energy Agency.
Troubled energy companies also can’t count on well-financed white knights to save them by writing fat checks for oil and gas acreage—at least not until oil prices show signs of stabilizing, said Bobby Tudor, CEO of energy-focused investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. “There’s just no money coming into the system,” Mr. Tudor said.
At least 48 North American oil and gas producers have filed for bankruptcy protection since the beginning of 2015, imperiling more than $17 billion in debt, according to law firm Haynes and Boone.
More are soon to follow, shale pioneer Mark Papa, the former CEO of EOG Resources Inc. and now a partner at energy-focused private-equity firm Riverstone Holdings LLC, told attendees. There will be “a lot of bodies, a lot of bankruptcies,” said Mr. Papa.
Saudi Arabia’s refusal to cut output could bankrupt as many as half of all shale producers, Scott Sheffield, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources Co. PXD -0.20 % Not his company, though, he said Wednesday in an interview. Pioneer lost $623 million in the fourth quarter and has cut its 2016 budget to $2 billion. But, he also voiced his concern that the industry may not be in a position to take advantage of a rebound.
“When it’s time for us to respond in 2019 and 2020, we are not going to be able to respond quick enough,” he said.
The prevailing sentiment this week was certainly a departure from the swagger of previous years, when executives emboldened by high prices and the heady promise of shale oil touted multibillion-dollar expansion plans or “moonshot” drilling programs. Still, some CEOs sought to convey confidence that, while the industry may suffer, their companies were well positioned to ride out the storm.
While many speakers acknowledged the current hardship, they also took comfort in the idea of an eventual rebound, asserting that the era of low prices has chastened them.
Night is darkest before dawn, said Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens AG SIEGY -1.84 % . His remarks captured the Darwinian mood. To survive a bear attack, one needn’t outrun the bear, just out-sprint another person running for his life, Mr. Kaeser joked.
Former BP CEO John Browne, now executive chairman of L1 Energy, quoted German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in expressing hope that the industry will be better prepared compared with past crashes once prices rebound.
“Hegel says if there’s one thing history teaches you, it’s that history doesn’t teach you anything,” Mr. Browne said. He added: “I hope that we will actually do the things that we can do properly and just don’t get carried away as we did during the high prices.”
—Erin Ailworth, Alison Sider and Chester Dawson contributed to this article.
Write to Bradley Olson at Bradley.Olson@wsj.com
http://bloom.bg/1OubYHH (See Video)
Superior electric cars are on their way, and they could begin to wreck oil markets within a decade.
It’s time for oil investors to start taking electric cars seriously.
In the next two years, Tesla and Chevy plan to start selling electric cars with a range of more than 200 miles priced in the $30,000 range. Ford is investing billions, Volkswagen is investing billions, and Nissan and BMW are investing billions. Nearly every major carmaker—as well as Apple and Google—is working on the next generation of plug-in cars.
This is a problem for oil markets. OPEC still contends that electric vehicles will make up just 1 percent of global car sales in 2040.Exxon’s forecast is similarly dismissive.
The oil price crash that started in 2014 was caused by a glut of unwanted oil, as producers started cranking out about 2 million barrels a day more than the market supported. Nobody saw it coming, despite the massively expanding oil fields across North America. The question is: How soon could electric vehicles trigger a similar oil glut by reducing demand by the same 2 million barrels?
That’s the subject of the first installment of Bloomberg’s new animated web series Sooner Than You Think, which examines some of the biggest transformations in human history that haven’t happened quite yet. Tomorrow, analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance will weigh in with a comprehensive analysis of where the electric car industry is headed.
Even amid low gasoline prices last year, electric car sales jumped 60 percent worldwide. If that level of growth continues, the crash-triggering benchmark of 2 million barrels of reduced demand could come as early as 2023. That’s a crisis. The timing of new technologies is difficult to predict, but it may not be long before it becomes impossible to ignore.
JANUARY 18, 2016 AT 11:30 AMNewsweek
Iran has ordered the production of 500,000 more barrels of oil per day after sanctions were lifted on the country’s economy, deputy oil minister Roknoddin Javadi said on Monday.
Roknoddin Javadi, in comments posted on the oil ministry’s website, said that Iran is looking to secure the same oil market share that it had the sanctions regime was imposed on Tehran in 2012 because of its nuclear programme. Iran signed a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in July 2015.
“Iran is able to increase its oil production by 500,000 barrels a day after the lifting of sanctions, and the order to increase production was issued today,” he said, as quoted by Iranian energy news site Shana.
The move came on the same day that oil prices hit their lowest level since 2003 as the markets prepare for the extra Iranian oil to enter the oil economy. Brent crude was trading at $29.50 at midday GMT, according to Reuters.
On Saturday, the U.N. nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that Iran had met all of its requirements as part of the nuclear deal that was agreed last July. These included removing a number of centrifuges and dismantling the nuclear reactor near the Iranian town of Arak.
The lifting of the sanctions will see billions of dollars in Iranian assets unfrozen, providing a vital lifeline to the Iranian economy that had been ailing under the crippling sanctions. John Kerry ordered the release of U.S.-related sanctions on Iran on Saturday after the IAEA announcement.
U.S. Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the development but Kerry said that Iran had “undertaken significant steps” to ensure that it met the international community’s requirements and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini said that “Iran has fulfilled its commitment.”
In reaction to the lifting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed the move, tweeting: “I thank God for this blessing and bow to the greatness of the patient nation of Iran.”
Congressional Leaders Agree to Lift 40-Year Ban on Oil Exports
Dec 16, 2015 By Amy Harder And Lynn Cook
Accord is a key component to deal on tax, spending legislation
WASHINGTON—In a move considered unthinkable even a few months ago, congressional leaders have agreed to lift the nation’s 40-year-old ban on oil exports, a historic action that reflects political and economic shifts driven by a boom in U.S. oil drilling.
The measure allowing oil exports is at the center of a deal that Republican leaders announced late Tuesday on spending and tax legislation. However, Democrats haven’t confirmed the agreement. Both the House and Senate still must pass it and President Barack Obama must sign it into law.
The deal would lift the ban, a priority for Republicans and the oil industry, and at the same time adopt environmental and renewable measures that Democrats sought. These include extending wind and solar tax credits; reauthorizing for three years a conservation fund; and excluding any measures that block major Obama administration environmental regulations, according to a GOP aide.
By design or not, the agreement hands the oil industry a long-sought victory within days of a major international climate deal that is aimed at sharply reducing emissions from oil and other fuels, a deal opposed by the industry and one that will arguably require its cooperation.
More than a dozen independent oil companies, including Continental Resources CLR 2.29 % and ConocoPhillips , COP 2.08 % have been lobbying Congress to lift the ban on oil exports for nearly two years, arguing that unfettered oil exports would eliminate market distortions, stimulate the U.S. economy and boost national security.
A handful of Washington lawmakers representing oil-producing states, including Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) and Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), have been working to convince once-wary politicians to back oil exports and allay worries that they will be blamed if gasoline prices were to rise.
Some U.S. refineries oppose oil exports, saying their business would be hit if crude oil is shipped overseas to be refined and warning that higher costs might be passed along to consumers. The U.S. government doesn’t limit exports of refined petroleum products, and those exports have more than doubled since 2007.
To address the refiners’ concerns, expressed most vocally by Democrats from the Northeast where several refineries are located, the spending bill changes an existing tax deduction for domestic manufacturing to benefit independent refineries in particular.
President Barack Obama had threatened to veto separate legislation lifting the export ban, but the White House isn’t expected to oppose the overall spending bill simply because it includes the measure, according to congressional aides.
Congress moved to ban oil exports under most circumstances following a 1973 Arab oil embargo that sent domestic gasoline prices skyrocketing.
With the increased use of fracking and other drilling technologies in recent years, U.S. oil production has shot up nearly 90% since August 2008, helping lower gasoline prices to levels not seen since 2009. Gas prices are less than $2 a gallon in many regions of the country, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts the price will average $2.04 this month and $2.36 next year.
It took this dramatic drop in oil prices, hovering below $40 a barrel, to catapult the policy change to the top of the Republican agenda. It helped prompt lawmakers of both parties to consider pairing renewable energy support with oil exports, a type of grand Washington deal-making that hasn’t been seen for years on the highly divisive issues of energy and environment.
The same low prices that generated momentum for lifting the ban could reduce its short-term economic impact, however, because the global market is saturated and U.S. oil companies have already slowed drilling in response.
John Hess, chief executive of Hess Corp., said low oil prices have increased the urgency for Congress to lift the ban, but he declined to say whether his company would immediately begin exporting oil if given the opportunity.
“It would be a function of market conditions,” Mr. Hess said in a recent interview. “But I think over time, definitely; If the market signals were there, we would have that option.”
The U.S. is already exporting nearly 400,000 barrels of crude a day to Canada, the biggest exemption under the ban. That is more than nine times as much as in 2008 but still just 3.8% of the U.S. oil produced every day.
A certain type of light oil is also already starting to flow overseas thanks to permission granted in 2014 by the Commerce Department, which allows producers to reclassify a certain type of oil as a refined fuel, similar to gasoline, which is legal to ship abroad.
The logistics of a new surge of oil exports would be relatively manageable, especially compared to exporting natural gas, which takes years of federal permitting and billions of dollars in technology to liquefy the gas.
Extensive networks of oil pipelines and storage tanks already stretch along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi, Texas, to St. James Parish, La. Those oil ports, where nearly a third of U.S. refineries are located, are for now geared toward unloading crude from tankers, not loading them. So initially there would be some constrained capacity that caps energy companies’ ability to ship crude out to foreign buyers.
But retrofitting those facilities—adding more deep-water dock space and equipment to load oil tankers—could happen quickly in a place like Texas, where permitting is easy and such projects face little community opposition. The ports of Corpus Christi and Houston are already undergoing dramatic expansions.
Several companies, including Enterprise Products Partners EPD 1.17 % LP, have already been ramping up their ability to export oil from Texas, and Enbridge Energy Partners EEP -0.55 % LP, based in Canada, plans to spend $5 billion to construct three new oil terminals between Houston and New Orleans.
—Kristina Peterson contributed to this article.