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Linefill underway for Gray Oak crude oil pipeline, full service expected in Q1 2020

New York — Linefill is underway on the 900,000 b/d Gray Oak pipeline, with initial start-up in November and full service in Q1 2020, which is poised to increase flows of Eagle Ford and Permian crude to US Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals.

"Gray Oak will connect to multiple terminals in the Corpus Christi area including the South Texas Gateway Terminal," said Phillips 66 Partners COO Rosy Zuklic on Friday's third-quarter earnings call. "The marine export terminal will have two deepwater docks, with storage capacity of over 7 million barrels and up to 800,000 b/d of throughput capacity."

The South Texas Gateway terminal is being built by Buckeye Partners and is due to start-up in mid-2020. Phillips 66 Partners has a 25% stake in the Corpus Christi terminal.

Corpus Christi crude exports have increased rapidly in the past few months from about 600,000 b/d to 1.2 million b/d with the start-up of the Cactus II and EPIC pipelines, said Jeff Dietert, head of investor relations of Phillips 66, parent company of Phillips 66 Partners.

Plains All American's 670,000 b/d Cactus II began flowing in early August, carrying crude to Corpus Christi, followed shortly by the interim 400,000 b/d EPIC crude pipeline.

The permanent EPIC crude oil pipeline will have an initial capacity of 600,000 b/d, with throughput anticipated to begin ramping up during Q1 2020, "and that's actually the maximum throughput that we've seen so far from the facilities in Corpus Christi," Dietert added, speaking on the Phillips 66 earnings call earlier Friday.

Dietert said he expects to see flows of Permian crude into Corpus Christi increase further and "take market share from other export facilities across the Gulf, especially for Permian barrels."

Theoretically, there is about 1.7 million b/d of potential export capacity from Corpus Christi, but it is not clear how high utilization can ramp up, he said.

Crude export capacity may be "tight here until the back half of 2020, when there's more export capacity available at Corpus," Dietert added.

GRAY OAK START-UP PHASED IN

The start-up of Gray Oak will narrow differentials further between WTI Midland and the US Gulf Coast benchmark priced out of Magellan East Houston (MEH).

Quarter to date, WTI Midland is holding a $2.11/b discount to WTI MEH, in sharply from the $8.08/b discount averaged in the second quarter of 2019, Platts assessments show. And differentials are likely to narrow further once Gray Oak comes begins full operations.

Initial service on the Gray Oak will be limited. In the beginning, shippers will need to utilize other pipelines to move crude to the Coast.

Phillips 66 CEO Greg Garland said early service is going to Corpus, "but producers will be able to hop on the Kinder System and get to Houston if they choose to do that."

Besides the Kinder Morgan system, service from a central junction will allow shippers to contract with other third-party carriers to get to various locations on the US Gulf Coast, said Tim Roberts, head of Phillips 66 Partners logistics.

"The complex state of the project itself, especially as we get closer to the market, [phases will] be coming on in bits and pieces and to the extent we can commercialize pieces of those," he added. "We'll get a tariff out there to support that and then subsequently start booking those revenues."

Roberts said Buckeye has gotten its core engineer permits for the South Texas Gateway, which will allow the company to start dredging for the two VLCC-capable docks on site.

-- Janet McGurty, janet.mcgurty@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jim Levesque, newsdesk@spglobal.com