Oil production is growing so quickly in the Bakken that the region is starting to suffer from painful pipeline constraints.
U.S. shale is not new to pipeline bottlenecks. The Permian basin has suffered from steep discounts this year, with WTI in Midland trading as much as $20 per barrel below WTI in Houston at times. Meanwhile, the midstream bottleneck is especially acute in Canada, where the inability to build a major pipeline out of Alberta has led to price discounts that have reached as high as $50 per barrel. Western Canada Select fell as low as $15 per barrel in recent daysafter a U.S. federal judge blocked construction on the Keystone XL pipeline, dealing yet another blow to Canada’s oil industry.
Now, the pipeline woes could be spreading to the Bakken. Production in the Bakken has jumped this year, rising from 1.188 million barrels per day (mb/d) in January to 1.354 mb/d in November, according to the EIA’s forecast in its Drilling Productivity Report. It is a dramatic turnaround for the Bakken after it had hit a temporary peak in late 2014 at 1.26 mb/d, before falling to 0.956 mb/d two years later. Since bottoming out at the end of 2016, however, production has slowly rebounded, with a record output level expected this month.
Rising output has been good news for Bakken shale drillers, but now they face an uncertain near-term future as pipeline capacity fills up. While the Bakken is producing over 1.3 mb/d in output, the region’s pipeline systems can only handle 1.25 mb/d, according to Reuters and Genscape. With pipelines essentially tapped out, oil producers are starting to turn to rail, just as they did years ago when the Bakken first burst onto the scene.
To make matters worse, cold weather could disrupt rail loadings, an unfortunate bit of timing as takeaway capacity dwindles.
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