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Bakken producers seek market options

Permian Express-4 planned

Houston — Energy Transfer is planning an expansion of its two key oil pipelines in the Bakken and Permian as crude output continues to grow substantially in both basins and producers seek more access to markets, senior executives said Thursday.

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The 100,000 b/d expansion of Dakota Access Pipeline, commonly known as DAPL, is on the cards, Chief Operating Officer Marshall McCrea said on an earnings webcast, without indicating a timeline.

"We recently maintained [a throughput] over 500,000 b/d on DAPL and producers are still seeking options to move those barrels to multiple markets," McCrea said.

DAPL provides an outlet for producers in the land-locked Bakken and Three Forks areas of the Williston Basin to ship their barrels south under two options.

The first is to deliver crude to a storage hub in Pakota, Illinois, from where they will be able to access refineries in the US Midwest and also take the barrels on rail cars to the US East Coast.

The other option is taking the barrels farther south to Nederland, Texas, through the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline, where it can be run by local refineries or exported from the US Gulf Coast.

The 700-mile ETCO pipeline of capacity some 550,000 b/d is operated by Energy Transfer and runs from Patoka to Nederland, where it also owns a 26 million-barrel oil storage terminal.

DAPL's expansion will not "necessarily" require an expansion of ETCO, as "some volumes will be going to Patoka while others to the USGC," McCrea said.

Production in the Bakken and Three Forks reached a record 1.244 million b/d in May, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources has said. The state's record production daily production was 1.23 million b/d in December 2014.

Roughly 72% of North Dakota's total output, or 885,600 b/d in May was shipped on pipelines, with the remaining 17% on railroads, the North Dakota Pipeline Authority said in its latest report.

Besides DAPL, the Bakken Basin is also served by other pipelines including Hess Midstream's 100,000 b/d Johnson Corner Header system and Enbridge's 145,000 b/d Bakken Pipeline.

"We don't see any pipeline shortage now out of Bakken," Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, said separately. But such a scenario will likely emerge in late 2019 when output could increase, Kringstad said without further details.

PERMIAN EXPRESS-4

Energy Transfer also plans to expand its Permian Express pipeline system, which ships barrels from that basin to Nederland, CFO Thomas Long said on the same earnings webcast. In the second quarter, the company successfully completed an open season to add up to 50,000 b/d on the Permian Express-3 line, with that new capacity to be made available to shippers by later this year, Long said. Energy Transfer is also planning an 80,000-100,000 b/d expansion to be dubbed Permian Express-4, Long said without indicating a time line.

Separately, Energy Transfer and its joint-venture partner Magellan are continuing talks with shippers for another long-haul pipeline from the Permian to the USGC, McCrea said.

"We are very optimistic in our talks, and that pipeline could have up to 1 million b/d of capacity," he said.

McCrea did not indicate a timeline for announcing a final investment decision on the 30-inch line, which would provide much-needed space Permian producers are seeking for their discounted barrels.

Energy Transfer said in May the Permian-to-Nederland pipeline will have a capacity of 600,000 b/d and a targeted startup of 2020.

The pipeline will be the fifth major long-haul line planned for the Permian and the Eagle Ford basins in West Texas by 2020/21. The others are the 800,000 b/d Gray Oak, 825,000 b/d Eagle Ford-Permian-Corpus Christi-Ingleside, the 700,000 b/d Cactus II and the ExxonMobil/Plains-backed 1 million b/d pipeline.

Current pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Permian is roughly 3.1 million b/d. Combined with local refinery demand for Permian crude at just under 300,000 b/d, this falls short of current production of 3.5 million b/d, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.

--Ashok Dutta, ashok.dutta@spglobal.com

--Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com