Phillips 66, Partner Taking Bids on New Crude Oil Pipeline

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Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) and privately owned Bridger Pipeline on Friday announced an open season for the proposed Liberty Pipeline to transport crude oil from production areas in the Rockies, including North Dakota’s Bakken, to Corpus Christi, Texas. The proposed pipeline’s initial capacity would be 350,000 barrels a day with further expansion possible depending on the response to the open season.

The open season, a period during which potential shippers on a new pipeline bid for capacity, begins at noon CT Monday for both the Liberty Pipeline and a proposed Red Oak Pipeline, a Phillips 66 project with an initial capacity of 400,000 barrels a day of crude coming from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Corpus Christi, Houston, and Port Arthur, Texas.

It may seem a bit odd that Phillips 66 is not constructing this pipeline through Phillips 66 Partners L.P. (NYSE: PSXP), the pipeline firm it controls, but the logic is straightforward. The cost of capital to build the pipeline is lower for Phillips 66 than for the pipeline company. Once the pipelines begin operations the assets will be transferred in a so-called drop-down sale reimbursing the construction and start-up costs.

The timing of the Liberty Pipeline announcement may have been related to last week’s federal court ruling that the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project being pursued by TransCanada Corp. (NYSE: TRP) must be further delayed until completion of further environment review.

A proposed route for either pipeline was not provided. The Red Oak Pipeline may help Permian Basin producers reduce the discount they are currently being paid for their oil. The growing market in Corpus Christi and Houston for exportable crude has constrained pipeline delivery from west Texas to those cities and forced Permian producers to use train or truck transportation to get their crude to the coast. That costs more and has shaved as much as $15 a barrel off the price producers receive.

The Liberty Pipeline would also carry crude to the export terminals in and near Corpus Christi. Currently, a majority of Bakken crude is gobbled up by mid-continent refineries who are getting the oil at a discount to the Cushing price. Creating a path for Bakken crude oil to Corpus Christi should help boost prices paid to Bakken producers.

There is no guarantee that either or both of these pipelines will be constructed. That really depends on how much demand there is from shippers. And without a route map for the Liberty Pipeline, it’s difficult to guess what if any problems Phillips 66 and Bridger will face from regulators and environmentalists.

Bridger Pipeline’s Poplar Pipeline spilled between 300 and 1,200 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana, in January of 2015.