A string of refinery outages on the US West Coast, also known as PADD 5, have pushed gasoline inventories for this time of year to the lowest level since 2013. As prices have spiked, a surge of gasoline and blending components imports has arrived to satiate the region’s demand. Customs data analyzed by DrillingInfo show that imports of gasoline and blending components to PADD 5 have averaged more than 160,000 barrels per day so far in May, surpassing April’s mark of nearly 145,000.
PADD 5 gasoline and components imports exhibit seasonality. Data from the EIA shows that over the past 10 years, imports increased in the spring, peaked at an average of nearly 50,000 bbls/d for the month of April, declined slightly in May to nearly 48,000, and continued to decline through December. Within the EIA’s data, which goes back to 1981, there are only three months with imports greater than 120,000 bbls/d. This happened in the months of March, April, and May 2007. April 2007 saw the highest level of imports in history, 203,000 bbls/d. March was 167,000, while May was 163,000. April and May 2019 should be joining this club, but due to the nearly two-month lag of monthly data from the EIA, those quantities won’t start to be reported until the end of June.
For a much more real-time perspective on waterborne imports of crude and refined products, DrillingInfo leverages manifests from US Customs and Border Protection. The chart below shows a comparison between DrillingInfo’s customs-based estimate of PADD 5 gasoline and blending components imports and the EIA’s monthly report.
While the EIA does provide a weekly estimate of imports on a PADD level, the customs data allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the details, such as the port of discharge and lading. Looking at the port of discharge, it becomes evident that the biggest driver of the increased imports was addititional volume to Los Angeles. The Port of Los Angeles tends to import gasoline and components during the spring months, and that has been especially true this year. But imports to Los Angeles appear to have peaked in April. May’s record imports are actually more a result of increased imports to Bellingham, Washington.
Turning to the origins of those barrels, the customs data shows that April’s increase in imports was really driven by additional barrels from the Netherlands, along with some from Colombia. The story is different in May, with a big increase in imports from Canada, Belgium, and Ireland. The increase from Canada has not come from the west coast but rather from Point Tupper on Canada’s Atlantic coast. These imports appear to have been done by Musket, the trading arm of Love’s Truck Stops. The manifests show that the company imported two cargoes each from Point Tupper, totaling nearly 290,000 barrels of GTAB (gasoline treated as blendstock) to the West Coast so far in May, with one cargo going to Long Beach and the other to San Francisco.
Point Tupper played a role in backstopping PADD 1 gasoline supplies last summer, delivering an averge of approximately 8,000 bbls/d from May to September. This year, it’s already being called on to deliver product, with over 40,000 bbls/d going to PADD 1 and PADD 3 in April and now more than 30,000 bbls/d to PADD 5 in May. With PADD 5’s refineries coming back online, the surge in imports should begin to subside. The impact of diverting barrels from PADD 1 to PADD 5 remains to be seen, but it could result in additional tightness during the peak demand in the summer.
For a list of vessels that have delivered gasoline and blending components into PADD 5 so far this month, please see the table below.
For questions about accessing US customs import data through DrillingInfo, please contact Bert Gilbert at email@example.com.