The Next Permian Bottleneck: Crude Oil Exports

Today’s Energy Update
(Because Energy Fuels Our Lives)

There are many ways to tell the story of any oil boom, one of which is to view them through the spectrum of the various bottlenecks they create. By any measure, the ongoing boom in the Permian Basin has created more than its share of such traffic jams already, and at least one more is likely on the way.

The reasons for this are many: The unprecedented magnitude of this particular oil boom in modern times has much to do with it. The fact that the play area is in a sparsely-populated, mainly-rural part of the world also plays a role. The nature of the oil being produced – the light, sweet variety – and the play area’s immense geographic sprawl also have also been major factors in the creation of a variety of bottlenecks.

Some of the bottlenecks the Permian has experienced come about in any significant oil or gas boom: The ongoing challenges of training and hiring qualified workers is a classic. The shortage of natural-gas-gathering infrastructure that resulted in a high volume of flaring is another that was also a feature of booms in places like the Eagle Ford and Bakken and Marcellus shale plays. Roads and other limitations in preexisting regional infrastructure inevitably resulted in bottlenecks in traffic as the counties and states struggle with  funding major new improvement projects.

Over the last two years, the big bottleneck talk related to the Permian has centered on the need for a major expansion of pipeline takeaway capacity to move oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGLs) out of the basin to major market and refining centers along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. But that particular bottleneck is about to start resolving itself during course of this year. Midstream projects will add up to 6 million barrels of oil equivalent of new takeaway capacity out of the Permian by the end of 2021 , and that just from the projects currently underway.

This new capacity is desperately needed, as the U.S. Energy Information Agency projects that Permian crude production will double over the next four years, from the current 4 million bopd to as much as 8 million bopd. Given that virtually all Permian Basin natural gas is associated production from wells classified as oil wells, we can expect similar increases in natural gas and NGL production during that time frame.

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