This Week in Petroleum

Release date: April 26, 2017  |  Next release date: May 3, 2017

Inflows of gasoline and diesel into the Midwest fall as demand flattens and production grows

Over the past 10 years, increased refining activity and flat demand in the Midwest (Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 2) have allowed PADD 2 refiners to meet a larger share of the regional gasoline and diesel fuel needs. As a result, shipments of gasoline and diesel into the region have declined, while shipments to other regions have increased. Favorable product price spreads, infrastructure changes, and abundant cost-advantaged crude oil have facilitated the shift in net shipment patterns. Despite these changes, the Midwest is still typically a net receiver of gasoline and diesel fuels from other U.S. regions, especially during the summer driving season and refinery maintenance.

Midwest net receipts of gasoline and distillate (ultra low sulfur diesel accounts for approximately 98% of the distillate) fell from 1.0 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2006 to 500,000 b/d in 2016. The decline in net receipts is driven primarily by a fall in gross receipts from the Gulf Coast (PADD 3), rather than an increase in shipments to other regions. Midwest gross receipts fell 444,000 b/d from 2006 to 2016 compared with a relatively small increase of 79,000 b/d shipped from PADD 2 over the same period. The increase in shipments from the Midwest is largely drive by shipments to the East Coast (PADD 1) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. WTI-Midland price versus WTI-Cushing price

On a monthly basis, net receipts are characterized by a high degree of seasonality, which is reflected in regional differences in spot market prices. High price spreads in neighboring regions encourage the movement of petroleum products. In the winter months (December through February), Chicago prices have been discounted compared with the Gulf Coast and NYMEX prices, encouraging product movement from the lower-priced Midwestern markets to the higher-priced Gulf Coast and the East Coast markets.

Over the past 10 winters, Chicago spot gasoline prices have traded at a discount of less than 5 cents per gallon (gal) below Gulf Coast prices, while it has traded at a nearly 11 cents/gal discount to NYMEX prices (Figure 2). These price differentials help explain the stronger growth in shipments from the Midwest to the East Coast and the smaller growth of shipments from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast.

Figure 2. Permain crude oil production and rig count

In the summer months (June through August), however, the price spreads narrow and the Chicago price is often greater than prices in New York or the Gulf Coast. During the 2016 summer, Chicago prices averaged 2.2 cents/gal above NYMEX prices and 5.2 cents/gal above Gulf Coast prices. Chicago prices have been consistently higher than Gulf Coast prices over the summer for the past decade. However, 2015 and 2016 were the first summers since 2012 during which Chicago prices were higher than NYMEX prices.

The Chicago-NYMEX spread is less consistent compared with the Chicago-Gulf Coast spread and may not be indicative of all transportation opportunities from PADD 2 to PADD 1. The Pittsburgh area, which is in PADD 1, acts as a balancing point for product supply between PADDs 2 and 1. The availability of low-priced crude in the Midwest may encourage product movement between these areas, and shipments from PADD 2 to Pittsburgh may still be economically viable even if transportation to New York is not.

The development of the Canadian oil sands and light, tight crude oil in the United States have provided refiners in the Midwest with abundant, cost-advantaged crude oil, providing opportunities to optimize crude slates, expand refinery capacity, and sell to a wider geographic market, thus shifting movement patterns between the three regions. From 2006 to 2016, operable crude oil distillation refining capacity increased by 356,000 b/d and gross inputs to refineries increased by 310,000 b/d. At the same time, Midwest demand for gasoline and diesel fuels remained flat. As a result, the region needs far less supplemental supply from other areas.

Significant barge movements of transportation fuels take place on major inland waterways in the Midwest, namely the Ohio River and Mississippi River systems. In 2016, PADD 2 received an average of 34,000 b/d of gasoline and distillate by tanker and barge from PADDs 1 and 3, while shipping 41,000 b/d back to these regions by tanker and barge. Significant volumes of transportation fuels also move into and out of the region via pipeline.

The primary pipelines connecting the Midwest and Gulf Coast are the Explorer, Magellan, and TEPPCO systems. Over the past 10 years, increasing movements from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast and decreasing movements in the opposite direction reflect increased Midwest self-sufficiency. From 2006 to 2016, movement by pipeline of gasoline and distillate fuels from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast increased by nearly 22,000 b/d (46%). Over the same period, movements by pipeline from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest fell by over 339,000 b/d (48%).

The primary pipelines connecting the Midwest and the East Coast are the Colonial, Plantation, Buckeye, Sunoco, and Marathon systems. From 2006 to 2016, movements of gasoline and distillate by pipeline from the Midwest to the East Coast increased by 41,000 b/d (up from the small base of 3,000 b/d), while movement in the opposite direction fell by 18,000 b/d (6%). The shifting patterns in gasoline and distillate movement has led to an excess of product pipeline capacity, prompting the idling or repurposing of several pipelines in recent years.

In 2013, TEPPCO reversed and repurposed one mainline transportation fuel pipeline to carry ethane to PADD 3 and no longer delivers fuels on its remaining south-to-north mainline beyond eastern Indiana. In addition, both TEPPCO and Explorer Pipelines are using excess capacity to ship condensate to Western Canada for use as a diluent in oil sands production. The Centennial Pipeline has essentially been idle since mid-2011, and its operators are considering reversing and repurposing the pipeline. The recently added Sunoco Allegheny Access pipeline has helped facilitate movement from the Midwest to the East Coast, and the proposed reversal of the Laurel pipeline, part of the Buckeye system, could allow further increases in the flow of products into PADD 1.

U.S. average regular gasoline climbs while diesel prices fall slightly

The U.S. average regular gasoline retail price increased one cent from the previous week to $2.45 per gallon on April 24, up 29 cents from the same time last year. The Rocky Mountain price increased nearly four cents to $2.41 per gallon, the East Coast and Midwest prices each increased two cents to $2.42 per gallon and $2.36 per gallon, respectively, and the West Coast price increased one cent to $2.89 per gallon. The Gulf Coast price fell nearly two cents to $2.23 per gallon.

The U.S. average diesel fuel price fell less than one cent, remaining virtually unchanged at $2.60 per gallon on April 24, 40 cents higher than a year ago. The Midwest price fell nearly one cent to $2.53 per gallon and the West Coast price fell less than one cent, remaining at $2.88 per gallon. The Rocky Mountain price increased one cent to $2.66 per gallon and the East Coast price increased less than one cent, remaining at $2.63 per gallon. The Gulf Coast price was unchanged at $2.46 per gallon.

Propane inventories increase slightly, but remain virtually unchanged

U.S. propane stocks increased slightly but remained virtually unchanged at 39.7 million barrels as of April 21, 2017, 31.5 million barrels (44.3%) lower than a year ago. Gulf Coast inventories decreased by 1.0 million barrels, while Midwest, Rocky Mountain/West Coast, and East Coast inventories increased by 0.7 million barrels, 0.2 million barrels, and 0.1 million barrels, respectively. Propylene non-fuel-use inventories represented 6.8% of total propane inventories.

For questions about This Week in Petroleum, contact the Petroleum Markets Team at 202-586-4522.


Retail prices (dollars per gallon)

Conventional Regular Gasoline Prices Graph. On-Highway Diesel Fuel Prices Graph.
  Retail prices Change from last
  04/24/17 Week Year
Gasoline 2.449 0.013 0.287
Diesel 2.595 -0.002 0.397

Futures prices (dollars per gallon*)

Crude Oil Futures Price Graph. RBOB Regular Gasoline Futures Price Graph. Heating Oil Futures Price Graph.
  Futures prices Change from last
  04/21/17 Week Year
Crude oil 49.62 NA 5.89
Gasoline 1.645 NA 0.114
Heating oil 1.553 NA 0.244
*Note: Crude oil price in dollars per barrel.
Market were closed on 4/14/2017.

Stocks (million barrels)

U.S. Crude Oil Stocks Graph. U.S. Distillate Stocks Graph. U.S. Gasoline Stocks Graph. U.S. Propane Stocks Graph.
  Stocks Change from last
  04/21/17 Week Year
Crude oil 528.7 -3.6 19.4
Gasoline 241.0 3.4 -0.2
Distillate 150.9 2.7 -7.3
Propane 39.651 0.008 -31.548