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American Petroleum Institute urges White House to end China trade war, steel tariffs

Washington DC — US steel tariffs, the trade war with China and a prolonged federal government shutdown could each threaten to slow the growth of the US oil and natural gas industry, the president of the American Petroleum Institute said Tuesday.

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API President and CEO Mike Sommers said "there's no question" the 25% tariff imposed on steel imports in 2018 has prolonged the Permian Basin's pipeline constraints.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects the Permian's inventory of drilled-but-uncompleted wells to slowly build through 2019, but higher prices and new pipelines in the second half of the year may lead to a surge in completion and production activity.

The Permian bottleneck has caused Midland wellhead prices to retain a discount to WTI at Cushing since February 2018.

S&P Global Platts assessed WTI in Midland at a $5.85/b discount Tuesday, a differential that has widened from $5.25/b at the start of the year, but has narrowed since late August, when it hit $17.75/b.

Sommers said API was working closely with the Trump administration, including US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and the Department of Commerce, on the trade and tariff issues and would engage the new Congress if "those conversations don't prove fruitful."

"It's not good for business, and we're going to continue to talk to everyone," Sommers told reporters on a press call before API's State of American Energy event in Washington.

Sommers said the steel tariff was preventing at least one Permian pipeline from being completed, without naming the developer.

Plains All American estimated the tariff increased the cost to build the 585,000 b/d Cactus II crude pipeline by $40 million. The Permian-to-Corpus Christi line is expected to start up late this year.

'BIG HINDRANCE' FOR SHELL

Shell Oil also has been raising the issue of trade and tariffs in Washington, President Gretchen Watkins said at the API event.

"When we have a problem importing some of our equipment that is actually already in need, that really can be a big hindrance for us," she said. "We have been very active and will continue to be very active to show that projects that are in construction ... right here in this country need free trade to continue to be successful."

Optimism surrounding trade talks in Beijing between US and China pushed oil futures higher Tuesday, with front-month NYMEX crude closing at $49.78/b, up $1.26/b from Monday.

Sommers said API "wants this dispute to end quickly."

He emphasized the threat to the US LNG industry.

"We need to make sure that the retaliatory tariffs that have been put into effect in China do not continue and certainly do not expand," he said. "We know that if the United States is not providing LNG to China, someone else will."

China hit US LNG with a 10% tariff in September and threatened to increase it to 25% in retaliation for Trump administration tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

US LNG shipments to China stopped in September, according to US Energy Information Administration data, but returned in October at lower levels than earlier in the year. The US sent 7.3 Bcf to China in October, compared with a 2018 monthly peak of 17.5 Bcf in April and 2017 monthly peak of 24.6 Bcf in October 2017.

A 25% tariff on US LNG would likely halt flows to China, said Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for LNG trade group.

US crude exports to China disappeared in August, with none reported through October, according to the latest EIA data.

Before exports dried up, the US sent an average of 377,600 b/d of crude to China in the first seven months of 2018, according to EIA data. The all-time highest monthly average was June's 510,000 b/d.

When it comes to the partial US government shutdown, Sommers said a "longer shutdown certainly isn't good for this industry."

Federal drilling permits are still being processed, but several key pending regulations have been stalled and could miss targets for being issued if the shutdown persists.

--Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com