Understanding West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Crude Oil

Understanding West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Crude Oil

6 Min.

West Texas Intermediate is a benchmark crude oil known for its unique properties. It is classified as a "light sweet oil" due to its low sulfur content and specific gravity. WTI originates from the Permian Basin in West Texas and is transported to refineries through Cushing, Oklahoma. It serves as a reference price for oil transactions and is compared to Brent crude, another major benchmark. Factors affecting WTI's price include supply and demand, geopolitical events, and the US shale boom. Transportation costs contribute to price differences with Brent. Understanding WTI is essential for energy trading.


West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is a specific grade of crude oil, renowned for its distinctive qualities in the oil market. As one of the primary benchmarks for oil pricing, alongside Brent and Dubai Crude, WTI plays a pivotal role in shaping the energy industry. This article delves into the essence of WTI, exploring its definition, properties, and its integral place within the oil market.

WTI: A Light Sweet Oil

West Texas Intermediate, often referred to as WTI, is categorized as a "light sweet oil." This classification stems from its unique composition, distinguishing it from other crude oil varieties. Notably, WTI contains a sulfur content ranging from 0.24% to 0.34%, a relatively low amount that earns it the "sweet" label. Moreover, its specific gravity is low, contributing to its classification as "light."

The Origin and Journey of WTI

WTI primarily originates from the United States, predominantly sourced from the Permian Basin, a prolific oil-producing region located in West Texas. The crude oil extracted from this area serves as the fundamental source for WTI. Once extracted, it embarks on a journey through pipelines to reach various refineries in the Midwest and the Gulf of Mexico. However, the heart of WTI's logistical network lies in Cushing, Oklahoma, which serves as the primary delivery point for physical exchange and price settlement.

Cushing: The Hub of WTI

Cushing plays a crucial role in the WTI market, serving as "The Pipeline Crossroads of the World." It houses an extensive delivery system composed of 35 pipelines, including 20 inbound and 15 outbound pipelines, facilitating the flow of crude oil to and from this strategic hub. In addition, Cushing boasts an impressive storage infrastructure, with 16 storage terminals, offering a staggering 90 million barrels of storage capacity. These impressive numbers collectively account for approximately 13% of the entire oil storage capacity in the United States. The inbound and outbound capacity of the Cushing hub is approximately 6.5 million barrels each day.

West Texas Intermediate: A Crucial Oil Market Benchmark

In the intricate world of oil trading, benchmarks like WTI are of paramount importance. These benchmarks serve as the reference prices upon which transactions in the oil market are based. Buyers and sellers alike rely on these benchmarks to determine fair prices and make informed decisions. As a result, the oil benchmarks are frequently quoted in the media, providing a snapshot of the current state of the oil market.

WTI vs. Brent: A Comparison of Key Benchmarks

While various benchmarks exist in the global oil market, the two that stand out are West Texas Intermediate and Brent. These benchmarks are often compared due to their widespread popularity. The key difference between them lies in their unique properties and the markets they cater to.

Brent Crude

Brent crude is the most widely used benchmark globally, with approximately two-thirds of all oil contracts worldwide referencing it. This global dominance highlights Brent's status as a go-to reference for international oil pricing. It is worth noting that both WTI and Brent are esteemed for their quality, making them the most significant oil benchmarks globally.

Crude Oil Quality

The quality of crude oil is determined by its sulfur content, and this aspect plays a vital role in refining and product applications. WTI contains a sulfur content ranging from 0.24% to 0.34%, earning its designation as "sweet" crude. In contrast, Brent boasts a sulfur content of 0.35% to 0.40%. The lower the sulfur content, the easier it is to refine, making the crude more attractive for certain applications. Crude with sulfur content below 0.5% is typically classified as "sweet." As a result, WTI is often favored for the production of gasoline, while Brent's properties make it ideal for diesel.

The Brent-WTI Spread

Theoretically, WTI crude should trade at a premium compared to Brent crude due to its superior quality. However, the dynamic nature of the oil market means that these benchmarks can trade at similar price points, despite their distinct characteristics. The price difference between Brent and WTI is often referred to as the "Brent-WTI spread," a critical indicator in the oil market that reflects the relative supply and demand dynamics for each benchmark.

Factors Influencing WTI's Price

The price of WTI is influenced by various factors, including supply and demand dynamics, geopolitical events, and market sentiment. However, the shale boom in the United States significantly impacted the WTI market. This period witnessed a substantial increase in the production of WTI, leading to a noteworthy change in its pricing dynamics.

Shale Boom and Price Dynamics

The shale boom in the United States resulted in a surge in WTI production. The extraction of crude oil from shale formations significantly increased the supply of WTI in the market. In theory, the increase in supply should have resulted in a decline in the price of WTI, given the basic principles of supply and demand.

The WTI-Brent Price Gap

One intriguing aspect of the WTI market is its price relative to Brent crude. Although the superior quality of WTI should theoretically lead to higher prices, this is not always the case. Historically, WTI has often traded at a discount to Brent. Several factors contribute to this price disparity.

Transporting WTI to Global Markets

To understand the pricing dynamics fully, it is essential to consider the logistics of transporting WTI to global markets. The costs associated with transporting WTI to Brent's market can be a determining factor in the price differential between the two benchmarks.

Transporting WTI overseas to reach the markets where Brent crude is dominant incurs additional expenses. These costs can include shipping, infrastructure, and other logistical considerations. Consequently, these additional costs can erode the price advantage that WTI's superior quality might otherwise provide.


West Texas Intermediate is a highly sought-after benchmark in the oil market due to its unique properties. It is known for being light and sweet, with a lower sulfur content, which makes it ideal for gasoline production. While Brent crude dominates as the global benchmark, WTI remains important in the North American market. The shale boom in the United States has increased the supply of WTI, resulting in changes in pricing dynamics. Despite its superior quality, WTI often trades at a discount to Brent due to the costs of transporting it internationally. Understanding WTI is crucial in the ever-evolving world of energy trading.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI)