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Massive crude oil production growth from the Permian Basin isn’t likely to let up before the end of 2019, and pipeline constraints could emerge even with a plethora of projects underway.
Analysts Justin Jenkins and Darren Horowitz of Raymond James & Associates Inc. on Monday broke down the surge from the basin, where production continues to increase at a fierce pace.
Consensus estimates for how much output is expected are difficult to pin down, but Wall Street forecasts appear to agree on one thing: there are no signs that producers are backing off, said the Raymond James duo.
“Consequently, midstream project announcements in the Permian were all the rage later on in 2017, leading to a healthy slate of new takeaway projects out of the basin...Even if all these projects are completed on schedule (a massive ‘if’ in our view), we are still worried that temporary Permian oil pipeline bottlenecks may develop before the end of 2018 and into the first half of 2019.”
If there are any big delays in project completions, or even faster-than-expected production growth, “this bottleneck could extend and have a significantly more meaningful impact on crude differentials.”
The Raymond James team is not forecasting major sustained bottlenecks slowing the Permian crude train, but analysts "see a temporary period of somewhat wider Permian differentials to 'clear the market'" and further incentivize more commitments to pipeline projects.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices have been above $60/bbl for most of this year to date, and a consensus Permian production outlook for the Permian has ratcheted higher.
Even when crude prices cratered in late 2014 the Permian remained resilient, and with prices showing some strength into year’s end, the outlook is seeing “meaningful (and needed) growth,” said analysts.
The Raymond James exploration and production model suggests oil production in the Permian increased by more than 600,000 b/d to end 2017 at an estimated 2.7 million b/d. It now is forecast to end 2018 at 3.5 million b/d.
The Permian growth rate is forecast to accelerate again in 2019, boosted by a higher oil price forecast, exiting next year at 4.4 million b/d.
Assuming the Raymond James forecast is correct, the question centers on whether production growth is going to line up with takeaway capacity.
“We estimate that the Permian currently has a bit over 3 million b/d of combined existing takeaway capacity and local refining demand, which is tight (nearly 80-85% utilization) but still sufficient to absorb current production rate of 2.8-2.9 million b/d,” said Jenkins and Horowitz.
“This total takeaway consists of 2.9 million b/d of existing pipeline takeaway capacity and 475,000 b/d of ‘local’ refining demand that mainly sources Permian barrels.” The takeaway estimate excludes several feeder pipelines that directly service local refineries.
A few takeaway expansion projects set to begin service this year, likely arriving in time to avoid major curtailments, “but timing versus volumes does look tight at points,” said analysts.
Late this year and early 2019 “are likely to be very interesting periods to watch. Indeed, if production grows slightly faster than we expect or if takeaway additions come online at a slower rate than we forecast, we think the Permian could see major blowouts in terms of price realizations versus major benchmarks.”
For now, however, the analyst team expects differentials to widen only “modestly” versus broader benchmarks for WTI-Cushing or Brent.
Things could get tricky, though, said Jenkins and Horowitz.
“Permian differentials can, in large part, be thought of the balance between regional production and takeaway capacity (plus in basin demand), but when you consider that takeaway pipelines have two destinations -- Cushing and the Gulf Coast -- and those two destinations are interconnected with their own set of unique dynamics, the ‘problem’ becomes way more convoluted to solve.”