Glut of US Oil 'Disconnected' From Global Market
Oil prices have been jumping because of concerns about supply disruptions in the Mideast, but it turns out there is a glut of oil supply in the Midwest.
In Cushing, Okla., a town of around 9,000 people surrounded by tank farms and crude oil pipelines, they are working round the clock to manage the tens of millions of oil flowing through the facilities each day.
Cushing, which proudly proclaims itself "pipeline crossroads of the world," is the designated delivery point for Light Sweet Crude Oil , the U.S. benchmark.
The crude oil futures price quoted each day by the New York Mercantile Exchange refers to a barrel of oil delivered to Cushing at a specific date in the future. And a lot of oil is being delivered here.
Cushing's tanks are filled nearly to capacity, according to the Energy Department, holding 37.4 million barrels with a capacity of just 45.9 million barrels.
Enbridge's Cushing facility makes up about a third of that capacity in 85 giant tanks, and the company is working hard to build more.
"Right now we're looking at building 3 million more barrels of storage here in our facility," said Enbridge's Brian Johnson. And he notes Enbridge is not alone. "There's a lot of building going around Cushing so the markets are telling us they want more storage here in Cushing."
"It's a source of pride when you see a quoted barrel of crude oil as a barrel for delivery point here in Cushing."
The oil is arriving here from Canada, where production from oil sands is increasing, and from places like North Dakota, where drilling has been steadily increasing to meet demand.
So with all the oil sloshing around in Cushing, why have NYMEX crude prices been flirting with $100 a barrel?
Jim Burkhard, Managing Director of the Global Oil Group at IHS/CERA says Cushing is no longer representative of the broader oil market.
"Cushing is not only disconnected from the global crude oil market, it is really disconnected from the U.S. crude oil market as well," Burkhard said. "Cushing reflects demand and supply fundamentals in a relatively small part of the U.S."
The problem is that while it is relatively easy to get oil to Cushing, it is not as easy to get it out. There are no pipelines from Cushing to the large refineries on the Gulf coast, though there are several proposals, including one by Enbridge, to build one. In the meantime, Cushing is something of a bottleneck.
"What needs to happen is new pipeline capacity that delivers oil from the Cushing area to the U.S. gulf coast," Burkhard said.
Even so, oil from Cushing trades at a significant discount to oil from other areas, such as the North Sea, where Brent Crude trades at a significant premium to its U.S. counterpart.
Still, many say Cushing's oil is a significant barometer of U.S. supply and demand, and the glut here could quickly come into play in the world market.
"There is a lot of supply of crude and gasoline around the world," said CNBC contributor John Kilduff of Again Capital. The supply, he said, "is creating a trap door. What has these prices up so high is the threat to Middle East oil production."
In Cushing, they are confident of their place in the world energy market.
Brett Anderson, a manager at Becca Oil Company in Cushing, says the business is a central focus here.
"It's a source of pride when you see a quoted barrel of crude oil, or the price of crude oil, the NYMEX barrel of crude is quoted as a barrel for delivery point right here in Cushing, Oklahoma."