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No 'one-trick pony' as Enterprise considers switching up US pipeline infrastructure


Commodity service, flow direction under review

Kinder also looking at options as sector limits spending

Houston — Enterprise Products Partners may be willing to repurpose multiple US pipelines to handle different commodities or flow in different directions as it curbs investment in new infrastructure until it sees greater market certainty.

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The potential move disclosed March 4 by executives during a wide-ranging presentation to analysts follows similar comments that Kinder Morgan made during an investor presentation in January.

While neither company specified which of their pipelines might be switched up, they made clear their desire to find ways to boost revenue while limiting new spending. For US midstream operators, the dynamic reflects caution over the pace and trajectory of a still-developing demand recovery after the pandemic-driven downturn in 2020.

"I'm not sure if this network of pipelines start and end in the right place, or if the assets are in the right service," Tug Hanley, Enterprise's senior vice president of pipelines and terminals, said as he displayed a broad map of the company's NGL, refined products and crude infrastructure. "And I have no idea where they're going to start or end when we talk next year. It may be different, and that's the great thing about how flexible these assets can be. So, stay tuned."

The operator of pipelines, processing plants and export and storage facilities recorded a year-on-year decline in natural gas and NGL, crude oil, refined products and petrochemical transportation volumes for the final quarter of 2020. NGL fractionation and propylene plant production volumes rose.

The company will cut spending over the next two years, though it will bring online several additions during that timeframe. They include the expansion of an ethane pipeline serving the petrochemical industry on the Gulf Coast, a gas pipeline that will deliver Haynesville production to LNG markets in Louisiana and a hydrotreater in Texas that will remove sulfur in natural gasoline.

The prolific Permian Basin in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico remains a key market for Enterprise, supplying significant volumes of oil and gas to its pipeline system. That may be an area to watch as Enterprise considers changes to pipeline service. The integrated nature of its footprint provides a lot of options.

"None of our assets are a one-trick pony that go from A to B," Hanley said.

Sector outlook

In Kinder Morgan's case, the company, which moves more than a third of the gas consumed in the US, said Jan. 27 that it would look at whether any of its existing crude pipelines are underutilized and could be converted to handle gas instead.

"It's going to get harder and harder to build new pipeline," Tom Martin, president of Kinder Morgan 's natural gas pipelines segment, said at the time.

Kinder Morgan plans to invest $800 million in expansion projects and contributions to joint ventures this year. That compares with about $1.7 billion budgeted for 2020, which was reduced by $680 million from what was projected in late 2019.

As for Enterprise, it believes that time is on its side to force a rationalization of pipeline assets, Chief Commercial Officer Brent Secrest said during the company's March 4 analyst presentation.

"These are Enterprise's assets and they'll be used for the purpose that makes the most sense for Enterprise," Secrest said.