North Dakota Sour is a high-sulfur grade of crude and “is a small portion of the state’s production, with less than 15,000 barrels a day coming out of the ground,” Bloomberg notes, citing John Auers, executive vice president at Turner Mason & Co. in Dallas. “The output has been dwarfed by low-sulfur crude from the Bakken shale formation in the western part of the state, which has grown to 1.1 million barrels a day in the past 10 years.”
High-sulfur grades are more expensive to refine and thus fetch lower prices at market. As Bloomberg goes on to note, “Enbridge stopped allowing high-sulfur crudes on its pipeline out of North Dakota in 2011, forcing North Dakota Sour producers to rely on more expensive transport such as trucks and trains [and] the price for Canadian bitumen — the thick, sticky substance at the center of the heated debate over TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline — fell to $8.35 last week, down from as much as $80 less than two years ago.”
So there you have it. The global deflationary supply glut has now reached the point that the market is effectively forcing producers to pay to give their oil away or else see it sit in bloated storage facilities until Riyadh decides enough is enough and until the world comes to terms with the return of Iranian supply. In other words, for some US producers the business isn’t just loss making, it’s an exercise in sadomasochistic futility.
Meanwhile, MLP Plains All American is quoting Colorado Southeastern, Nebraska Intermediate, Eastern Kansas Common Special, and Oklahoma Sour at just $16.50/bbl, $16.00/bbl, $12.20/bbl, and $13.50/bbl, respectively.
It’s no wonder the Dallas Fed suspended mark-to-market on energy debts – there’s no market to mark to.