Brent crude oil price's premium over the WTI crude oil expanded sharply to the historical high level in 2011.
Although high quality WTI prices should be higher than the inferior Brent prices, some reasons lifted the Brent's premium over the WTI to near $30 per barrel.
The premium still stays around $12/bbl currently. How long does this situation continue?
Increased crude oil stockpile at the U.S. Midwest, and tensions in the Middle East and North Africa were explained as the main reasons for the surged Brent's premium.
The Keystone Pipeline that carries oil sand origin crude oil from Canada to Cushing Oklahoma started operations in February 2011. Cushing is known as the delivery point of physical WTI crude oil contracts.
440,000 barrels per day of crude oil inflow led the stocks at the area to the record level above 40 million barrels.
Moreover, the Egyptian revolution began in January 2011 and the Libyan civil war broke out in February. These events caused worries over crude oil supply to the Europe and accelerated the rise of Brent's premium to WTI.
International Energy Agency urged OECD member nations to release total 60 million barrels of their petroleum reserves in order to ease the tightened global crude oil supply following the shrunk output from Libya.
About half of the oil release was done by the U.S. between late July and early September and the huge supply helped the Brent's premium to rise further to $30/bbl.
However, the premium slipped to below $10/bbl after the end of Libyan civil war and the news about the Seaway pipeline's reversal project. The Seaway pipeline used to deliver crude oil from the Mexican Gulf to Midwest, but it will start carrying crude oil to the counter direction in April 2012 with initial capacity of 150,000 b/d. The capacity is scheduled to expand to 400,000 b/d in early 2013.
Forecasts of lower pressure on increasing crude oil stocks in the Midwest area led many market participants to expect narrower Brent's premium.
Goldman Sachs recently predicted the Brent's premium at $7/bbl for three months, $5/bbl for six months and $4/bbl for 12 months period.
Current market assesses the premium at $12/bbl. It seems to be affected by the soared crude oil imports into Midwest in 2011 in spite of that total U.S. crude oil imports decreased by 2.7% on year.
Despite the increased imports, crude oil stocks at Cushing peaked out in April 2011 and have kept downtrend after that. The premium above $10 seems to be making light of the decreasing stockpile.
Seaway pipeline is likely to depress the Cushing crude oil stocks. Was the impact by the first crude oil transportation route from inland Midwest to Mexican Gulf already discounted into the market when the news was reported in last November? Or will we see the Brent's premium start narrowing again after April?