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Marathon Petroleum Accelerating Capex, Dropdowns

With optimism generated by global production restraints and the new political order in Washington, DC, Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC) and master limited partnership (MLP) MPLX LP are planning to spend up to $3.4 billion in capital expenditures (capex) this year while accelerating up to $1.4 billion in dropdowns to the pipeline partnership.

MPC also is launching a board-level review of retail unit Speedway, CEO Gary Heminger said during a 4Q2016 earnings conference call Wednesday.

The proposed dropdowns at the MLP are moving  forward "on a significantly accelerated basis as soon as practicable in 2017,” said Heminger. Earlier this year, John Fox, co-founder and former CEO of MarkWest Energy Partners LP, which is now merged with MPLX, sent a letter to MPC opposing plans for the accelerated dropdown.

Heminger said an initial dropdown is under review by an MPLX board committee and is expected to close by the end of the first quarter. "Work related to the remaining planned dropdowns is on schedule.”

MPLX reported processing volumes during 4Q2016 of 4.4 Bcf/d, or 81% of its combined capacity, in the Marcellus and the Utica shales, with 1.2 Bcf/d in Oklahoma/Texas. The MLP is looking at growth of 10-15% range in 2017 and net income of $500-650 million.

MPLX is looking at capex spending of $1.4-1.7 billion in 2017, with 75% aimed at developing natural gas and natural gas liquids infrastructure development to support increased demand from producers in the Marcellus Shale. The rest of the capex would be directed to the Utica Shale and Oklahoma/Texas operations.

MPC’s 2017 capex budget is set at $1.7 billion, with $1.2 billion targeted for refining/marketing operations.

From a macro perspective, Heminger said he is encouraged by current global commodity and oil prices, liking the prospects for "a more balanced supply/demand environment supported by stronger prices throughout the year."

Heminger also is encouraged by the Trump administration, "although the ultimate changes remain to be seen." The prospects for regulatory rollbacks and acceleration of pipeline permits are both encouraging to him and Marathon/MPLX, he said.

In response to an analyst's question on possible adverse impacts from the proposed Trump border adjustment tax, Heminger noted that the political chances of such a tax passing Congress are slim because it would likely increase domestic food prices for consumers. But if it passes, refiners would be able to pass the added costs to consumers, so it wouldn't adversely affect MPC's bottom line.

Heminger doesn't think that a border tax would hurt incremental exports of refined products either. "The refiners on the Gulf Coast have the infrastructure and the logistics to be able to export.” MPC had slightly more than 300,000 b/d of exports in 4Q2016 with the capability to move to 400,000 b/d and eventually 500,000 b/d.

"We're in a very, very good position, and even if we had to adjust, I think Marathon is in one of the best positions. I think we'd we in good shape if a tax were going to happen."

For 4Q2016, MPC reported profits of $227 million (43 cents/share), compared with $187 million (35 cents) for the same period in 2015. For 206, earnings were $1.17 billion ($2.21/share), from $2.85 billion ($5.26) in 2015.

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