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Crude-by-rail supplies the West Coast

Crude-by-rail provides the West Coast with supply as regional crude oil production falls
Crude-by-rail supplies the West Coast

While total US crude oil production increased by nearly 3.2 MMb/d from 2010-14, production in the West Coast region (PADD 5) decreased by 0.1 MMb/d, continuing a long-term decline. With no major crude oil pipelines connecting the West Coast to other parts of the country, refineries on the West Coast adjusted to the declining in-region production by increasing imports of foreign crude oil, reaching an average of 1.1 MMb/d over the past five years. Shipments of domestic crude-by-rail (CBR) to the West Coast have also increased, from an average of 23,000 b/d in 2012 to 157,000 b/d in 2014. In the first quarter of 2015, West Coast CBR movements averaged 191,000 bbl/d.

Bakken crude oil production from the Midwest (PADD 2) is the major source of rail shipments to the West Coast (PADD 5), accounting for nearly 90% of West Coast CBR receipts in 2014. Relatively small shipments from other domestic regions have also increased. Shipments from the Gulf Coast (PADD 3) tripled from 2013-14, and Rocky Mountain (PADD 4) shipments quintupled. These increases in CBR movements occurred only after West Coast CBR unloading infrastructure was significantly expanded.

CBR is moved to unloading facilities at refineries in Washington and terminals in California, Washington, and Oregon. Coast-wise compliant vessels and pipelines then transport the oil to refineries without CBR unloading facilities.

In California, regulatory and permitting problems have delayed construction of some crude oil unloading facilities and forced the closure of operations at others. Despite permitting delays, refineries in California receive some domestic crude CBR from other PADDs. California Energy Commission data indicate that California receives CBR from Rocky Mountain states, specifically Utah and Wyoming.

Future increases in shipments of CBR to West Coast refineries will depend on the economic viability of CBR versus imported crude oil, the type of crude oil refineries are able to process, and the regulatory outcomes for new or existing CBR facilities.

Image: West Coast crude oil movements/US Energy Information Administration

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