The ethane market isn’t for the faint at heart — it’s got lots of ups and downs, and it’s impacted by an unusually wide range of variables. A year ago this month, a combination of fractionation constraints in Mont Belvieu and rising demand from new ethane-only steam crackers sent ethane prices north of 60 cents/gallon. For most of the time since then, though, ethane prices were in something close to freefall, bottoming out at only 10 cents in late July before rebounding in recent weeks to 20 cents or so. During the big, months-long price decline, ethane traders and cracker operators did what anyone does when they can buy something they’ll need in the future for next to nothing — they stocked up. Today, we examine recent trends in ethane supply, demand, prices and storage levels, and take a look ahead.
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Daily energy Posts
The options for moving Western Canada’s natural gas supply out of the region are limited. This situation has become more acute in the past few years with the upswing in associated gas production from specific areas within the sprawling region, meaning that not all the takeaway pipelines are created equal in terms of being able to move this incremental gas supply to downstream markets. One pipeline system — TC Energy’s mammoth Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL) network — is ideally located to help out, given that big parts of it run through the fastest-growing production areas. But it’s been running full and is increasingly constrained. Will the planned expansions to the NGTL system be enough? Today, we continue our series on the Western Canadian natural gas market with a look at TC Energy’s NGTL network, the largest and most geographically advantaged of the pipeline systems in the region.
Limetree Bay Refining plans to restart a former Hovensa plant in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, at the end of 2019. The refinery’s initial processing capacity of 200 Mb/d represents a significant addition to the North American stack, helping to replace the loss this year of the 335-Mb/d Philadelphia Energy Solutions plant in Pennsylvania. If it opens on time before the year’s end, Limetree will be well-positioned to fill a void in Caribbean refining that’s been left by Venezuela’s collapse as well as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2020 changes to the bunker fuel market. The plant’s location in the middle of world trade routes conveys some advantage, but it must compete with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries to supply regional markets. While higher input costs compared to U.S. rivals will dampen margins, a tolling agreement with BP could insulate Limetree from market exposure. Today, in the first of a two-part blog series, we review the operations and potential product market for the refinery.
2019 was supposed to be a milestone year for U.S. LNG exports. And to a degree, it has been. Natural gas pipeline deliveries to liquefaction and export terminals have peaked above 6.5 Bcf/d in the past couple of weeks and averaged about 6 Bcf/d for that period, up nearly 2 Bcf/d from where they started this year and more than twice where they stood at this time a year ago. But the growth has come haltingly as under-construction projects have faced a number of setbacks and delays. Moreover, the longer-term, “second-wave” export projects still in the early stages of development and looking to pass “go” are facing challenges of their own, including global oversupply and collapsed margins. Today, we begin a short series providing an update on where U.S. LNG export demand and new projects stand.
Despite last month’s much-publicized start-up of two new crude oil pipelines from the Permian Basin to the Gulf Coast — Plains All American’s Cactus II and EPIC Crude Holding’s EPIC Pipeline — tangible evidence of how much crude is actually moving on those pipelines has been hard to come by. That’s because crude oil pipelines don’t post daily flow data, like some natural gas pipelines do, and shipper volumes are a closely held secret that often only becomes available long after the fact. However, Cactus II and EPIC both deliver into the Corpus Christi, TX, market area, where a number of export facilities have been waiting to move Permian barrels out into the global market. We’ve been keeping a close eye on Corpus-area docks and have noticed a significant increase in export volumes over the last few days — a clear indication that Permian crude on Cactus II and EPIC has broken through to the global market. Today, we detail a recent rise in Corpus Christi oil export volumes driven by new supply from the Permian Basin.
It’s a challenging time to be active in the crude oil market in Western Canada. Barrels are selling at a huge discount to domestic U.S. benchmarks, there is major uncertainty surrounding most new pipeline projects and crude-by-rail opportunities, and Alberta officials are unsure how long to maintain caps on production. As a result, the Canadian market is wildly volatile. It seems like a piece of the fundamentals equation changes on a weekly basis, which makes it next to impossible for producers, shippers, refiners — or anyone else really — to make long-term decisions and plan for the future. And now, the Enbridge Mainline pipeline system is asking folks to do just that: sign up for multi-year take-or-pay contracts on Western Canada’s biggest takeaway system, or risk leaving barrels stranded for who knows how long. Some market players aren’t buying in. In today’s blog, we recap the recent protests of Enbridge’s plan and examine what might be driving the decisions of Canada’s biggest oil companies.
Here at RBN, we frequently receive questions about our thoughts on the value of storage. Whether it be crude, natural gas, or NGLs, we answer like any good consultant, “It depends.” What operational need does this storage serve? Where is it located? Does it have optionality for receipts and deliveries? These factors and many more can affect both the strategic and tactical value of a storage asset. Those assets that are integrated into midstream systems and facilitate movements from the upstream to the downstream are generally better poised for success. Those attempting to carve out a niche in isolation or relying on uplift purely from commodity price fluctuations … well, good luck to them. Today, we begin a series examining the value of — and changing markets for — crude oil storage.
The Permian Basin has attracted more than its share of midstream start-up companies over the past few years, and for good reason. The region has experienced big gains in crude oil, natural gas and NGL production, and that’s put stress on the Permian’s already significant pipeline infrastructure and spurred the development of many new projects. One new midstreamer that’s made a big splash is Lotus Midstream, which, since it was formed in early 2018, has partnered with some of the Permian’s biggest players — including ExxonMobil and Plains All American — to advance the now-sanctioned 1.5-MMb/d Wink-to-Webster crude pipeline. It’s also acquired Occidental Petroleum’s (Oxy) Centurion pipeline system, which includes a lot of crude gathering pipe and is one of the two main takeaway links between the Permian and the Cushing, OK, hub. What’s Lotus up to, and how is it shaping Permian crude transportation? Today, we examine what has quickly become one of the largest midstreamers in the U.S.’s hottest shale play.
The “wet,” liquids-rich parts of the Marcellus/Utica region enable producers there to benefit from the sale of both natural gas and NGLs. The catch is that, unlike major production areas in other parts of the U.S., the Northeast has no pipelines to transport unfractionated, mixed NGLs — also known as y-grade — long distances to fractionation centers in Mont Belvieu, TX, or Conway, KS. As a result, midstream companies serving the region have developed a number of interconnected gas processing, NGL pipeline and fractionation networks within the wet Marcellus/Utica to efficiently and reliably deal with the increasing flows of NGLs coming their way. No one has done this on a larger or more impressive scale than MPLX, Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s midstream-focused master limited partnership. Today, we continue our series on recently completed and planned gas processing and fractionation projects in the Northeast with a look at MPLX, the regional leader in this space.
Battered by a flood of new supply and limited pipeline takeaway capacity, prices for Permian natural gas and crude oil have spent a lot of time in the valley over the past 18 months. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices at the Permian’s Midland Hub traded as much as $20/bbl less than similar quality crude in Houston last year. That’s a big oil-price haircut that producers have had to absorb while ramping up production. However, the collapse in the Permian crude oil differential was tame compared to what happened with Permian natural gas prices. Prices at the Waha Hub in West Texas traded as low as negative $5/MMBtu, a gaping $8/MMBtu discount to benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana. As bad as that all was, new pipeline takeaway capacity has arrived, and Permian prices are beginning to claw their way out of the depths. Today, we look at how new pipelines are impacting the prices received for Permian natural gas and oil.
Canadian natural gas production — over 95% of which originates in Alberta and British Columbia — has averaged about 16 Bcf/d in 2018 and 2019 year-to-date, and this past January, it topped 16.7 Bcf/d, just shy of the peaks last seen in the mid-2000s. Production has stayed strong even as prices at AECO, the gas benchmark hub, have plummeted to historical lows in the face of relentless competition from U.S. gas supplies, slower demand growth locally, and pipeline takeaway constraints. Under these conditions, producers’ future growth prospects will come down to access to local and export demand, and that means there needs to be adequate pipeline capacity to reach those destination markets. Today, we continue our analysis of existing and potential pipeline takeaway capacity and utilization out of the region, this time with a focus on the Alliance Pipeline system.
The Shale Revolution that unlocked vast, low-cost oil and gas reserves, resulting in soaring production that transformed the U.S. from a major oil and natural gas importer to a rising exporter, was supposed to usher in a “Golden Age” for exploration and production firms (E&Ps). Instead, investors have increasingly abandoned energy equities, sending the S&P E&P stock index to an all-time low. The index closed at 3,272 on August 16, 2019, or about 75% lower than the all-time high of about 12,500 in mid-2014 and 46% lower than a year ago. And the stock prices of three-fourths of the big, publicly traded E&Ps have hit record lows over the last month. This energy-equities bloodbath would seem to indicate that the E&P industry is on the verge of financial meltdown. However, the just-released second-quarter 2019 results from the 44 U.S. E&Ps we track suggest that’s not entirely the case. Lower commodity prices certainly tightened the screws on the bunch, particularly companies that focus on gas production, but oil-weighted companies managed to eke out profit and cash-flow gains. Today, we provide an in-depth analysis of second-quarter earnings for oil-weighted, gas-weighted and diversified producers.
As exports of crude oil, natural gas and NGLs have surged, U.S. markets for these energy commodities have undergone radical transformations. Exports now dominate the supply/demand equilibrium. These markets simply would not clear at today’s production levels, much less at the volumes coming on over the next few years, if not for access to global markets. It is more important than ever to understand how the markets for crude, gas and NGLs are tied together, and how the interdependencies among the commodities will impact the future of energy supply, demand, exports and, ultimately, prices. Making sense of these energy market fundamentals is what RBN’s School of Energy is about. Warning! Today’s blog is a blatant commercial for our upcoming Houston conference. But we hope you will read on, because this time around, our curriculum includes all the topics we have always covered at School of Energy, PLUS five all-new sessions dedicated to export markets.
Energy markets are constantly changing, but pipelines can take years to complete, and once they’re in the ground, that’s where they stay. Therefore, it’s critical for midstream companies to build as much flexibility as possible into their plans for new pipelines and other infrastructure, because you never know what the markets for crude oil, natural gas, NGLs and refined products might have in store. Energy Transfer apparently has that flexibility in mind as it’s been building out its Mariner East pipeline system across Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex (MHIC) near Philadelphia. Today, we consider recent developments regarding these key midstream assets in the Northeast and their still-evolving uses.
Crude oil pipeline shippers across the U.S., and especially in the Permian, are about to experience something they haven’t seen in a few years: a bunch of new crude takeaway capacity with lower-cost tariffs coming online, and the sudden need among committed shippers to fill their pipe space. This also affects some folks committed to space on older pipelines, whose higher-cost tariffs could leave them out of the money. The start-up of pipelines like Plains All American’s Cactus II, with a super-low $1.05/bbl tariff — and several pipelines in other basins lowering tariffs — has traders with pipeline commitments old and new re-running their economics and trying to determine their best strategy moving forward. Some may be forced to move volume at a loss. Today, we analyze the recent trend in tariff compression and how traders deal with uneconomical take-or-pay contracts.
The rise in unconventional natural gas supplies in Western Canada has forced the region to again confront a dilemma that it faced in the 1990s and early 2000s: not enough export pipeline capacity to move all that gas to market. Although demand for natural gas has been growing in Alberta’s oil sands and power generation markets, it has not kept pace with provincial gas supply growth, leading to oversupply conditions and historically low gas prices. The need to export more of the gas to other parts of Canada and the U.S. is driving some pipeline expansions in the region. The question is, will they be enough? Today, we provide an update on the utilization of existing export routes, as well as the prospects (or lack thereof) for takeaway expansions, starting with Westcoast Energy Pipeline.