The reversal of Shell’s Zydeco Pipeline (formerly Ho-Ho) in 2013 was a big deal. It enabled eastbound flows of a wide range of crude streams from the Houston area to the storage and distribution hub at St. James, LA and from there to a dozen nearby refineries. Soon, though, Zydeco (named for the region’s Creole music) was running full and shippers were competing for space, spurring midstream companies to consider further enhancements. New pipeline capacity being developed is planned to come online later this year and in 2017, but—with ever-changing market dynamics—will it all be necessary? In today’s blog, “Take the Long Way Home—Easing Crude Pipeline Constraints to St. James,” Housley Carr begins a series on new pipeline capacity to St. James, and whether it will meet (or exceed) market needs.
Daily energy Posts
With storage inventories soaring to record-high levels and production remaining relatively flat, the U.S. natural gas market is in dire need of record demand this summer to balance storage. All eyes are on power generation to soak up the gas storage surplus. Low gas prices and increased gas-fired generating capacity makes natural gas the go-to generation fuel this year. However, in the largest summer demand market – Texas – natural gas is facing increasing competition from wind. Wind power still provides a much smaller share of Texas’s power than natural gas, but the addition of several big wind farms in 2015 gives wind a stronger footing in the Texas market this year. Today we take a closer look at the potential impact of growing wind generating capacity on natural gas demand, particularly in Texas.
When the Rockies Express (REX) Pipeline was being planned and built a few years ago, no one could have predicted that the natural gas-hungry Northeast REX was developed to serve would soon become a gas-production behemoth able to meet its own needs and have plenty of gas left over. But that’s just what happened, and in response, REX’s owners developed a revised strategy that deals with the reality of Marcellus/Utica production growth by making more and more of REX bi-directional. Now, Tallgrass Energy Partners (TEP), a master limited partnership (MLP), has acquired a 25% interest in REX from Sempra, joining existing co-owners Tallgrass Development (an affiliate with a 50% stake in REX) and Phillips 66 (with a 25% stake), and has laid out a long-term vision for maintaining—and even increasing—REX’s relevance in a still-changing energy world. Today, we consider TEP’s $1.08 billion investment in REX, and the steps that the pipeline’s co-owners are taking to bolster REX’s future.
Northeast natural gas production has been averaging nearly 3.0 Bcf/d higher this year than last year, while demand has lagged behind due to mild weather. At the same time, storage inventories are running well above normal and there is little new takeaway capacity due online this summer. This means the Northeast is under pressure to balance excess supply in the region. In today’s blog, we wrap up our analysis of the Northeast supply/demand balance with a closer look at recent demand trends.
Production in Alberta’s oil sands region is gradually rebounding after devastating wildfires that forced output scale-backs and temporary shutdowns of some production facilities, terminals and pipelines. It may be a while before life—and production—in the oil sands are back to normal, but Canada’s National Energy Board, producers and others expect the region’s output to continue to rise (if only gradually) the next few years, reflecting long-term oil sands expansion projects committed to when oil prices were more than double what they are today. There are very different views, though, about whether the oil sands will eventually need more takeaway capacity in the form of new or expanded pipelines. Today, we continue our look at the oil sands post-wildfires with a review of existing and proposed pipeline capacity.
Wildfires are notoriously unpredictable and, sure enough, as soon as the worst seemed to be over in the Fort McMurray, AB area, new flare-ups in mid-May threatened oil sands production areas north of the city. Thanks to heroic efforts by Alberta fire crews, no production area has experienced any significant damage (so far at least—fingers crossed), but a few work camps have been destroyed or damaged, and will need to be rebuilt. Good news is trickling in though, such as Imperial Oil’s May 19 announcement that it has restarted limited operations at its Kearl oil sands site. If, as everyone hopes, the wildfires are brought under control within the next few days, it seems likely that oil sands production will ramp up gradually over the next few weeks, and that by mid-summer Alberta’s output might be close to the 3.1 MMb/d that the province was producing before the fires were sparked.
Drill-rig counts and crude oil production are down sharply in the Eaglebine, one of many less-than-stellar shale plays that drillers and producers have mostly abandoned in favor of superstar counties in the Permian Basin, the southern Eagle Ford and the STACK play in Oklahoma. It’s understandable; in today’s low-oil-price/high-stress environment, everyone’s chasing the sky-high initial production (IP) rates that provide the biggest, quickest returns and help pay the bills. Still, as we will discuss today, there are at least a few glimmers of hope in the Eaglebine, including a possible pipeline restart and a new pipeline tie-in that will reduce crude-delivery costs. Now all we need is $60+/bbl oil.
As U.S. electric utilities become increasingly dependent on natural gas-fired power, they’re looking for ways to mitigate the risk of future gas-price volatility. One hedging option that’s gained some attention lately is direct utility investment in natural gas production assets, the idea being that by acquiring gas-in-the-ground—especially now, when gas prices seem low and many financially strapped gas producers are eager to make deals—utilities can lock in the price of at least part of the future gas needs. Today, we consider the latest efforts by electric utilities to expand their gas hedging strategies—and hold the line on future gas prices—by including direct investments in gas production assets.
The Northeast has been the biggest driver of U.S. natural gas production growth in recent years, and while rig counts have come down, output from the Marcellus and Utica has remained resilient and helped offset declines in other supply regions. In the process, the Northeast has reinvented itself, shifting from a gas-thirsty consuming region to one of the biggest gas net producing regions in the U.S. But pipeline flow data indicates that Northeast production peaked in February and growth has flattened since then. Is the data signaling a long-term peak or is this a temporary lull? Today, we continue our analysis of the Northeast supply/demand balance with a closer look at recent production trends.
Ever-increasing production of natural gas liquids (NGLs) in the U.S. Northeast is highlighting—and exacerbating—what has always been a challenge for the region: a serious lack of nearby NGL storage capacity. In the years before NGL production took off in the “wet” Marcellus and Utica shale plays, this storage shortfall mainly affected propane and butane, with their very seasonal demand; the lack of Northeast NGL storage required a huge wintertime influx of propane and additional butane that had been stockpiled elsewhere. More recently, with Northeast NGL production booming, propane and butane barrels need to be moved out of the region by rail during the non-winter months and be railed back when the weather turns colder and motor gasoline blending limits are higher—killing producer netbacks in the process. Add to that a new (and equally vexing) challenge: dealing with the vast quantities of ethane being produced in the wet Marcellus/Utica. There is currently no in-region demand for ethane and (unlike propane and butane) you can’t just load surplus purity ethane onto rail cars. Today, we begin a series on the need for more NGL storage in the Northeast, and the pros and cons of a specific proposed storage project.
It will take at least a few weeks, but it seems likely that production in the Alberta oil sands will return to near normal levels, setting the stage for continued incremental growth over the next few years as expansion projects committed to when oil prices were much higher come online. Although fires are still burning, the devastation in and around Fort McMurray, AB--the unofficial capital of the oil sands region—that forced tens of thousands of people from their homes, prompting oil sands staffing shortages, production scale-backs and a handful of temporary production shutdowns has moved beyond most oil sands operations. But the wildfires’ chain of effects didn’t end there; at one point, crude oil output declines were estimated at upwards of 1 MMb/d (about one-third of Alberta’s normal production of 3.1 MMb/d) caused world oil prices to inch up, some refineries in the U.S. Midwest that depend on Alberta-sourced oil have been forced to scramble for replacement crude, and natural gas prices fell to near zero for a brief period. Today, we begin a two-part look at post-wildfire prospects for the region, and—looking ahead--at the possible need for more pipeline takeaway capacity.
The U.S. Northeast natural gas supply/demand balance has been getting less and less short in recent years due to the onslaught of Marcellus/Utica production, and in 2015 flipped to net long supply for the first time on an annualized basis. That means the 15-state Northeast region as a whole produced more gas in 2015 than it used. Then, in the winter of 2015-16, the region reached another milestone when it ended the season net long supply for the first time. Now regional production may be flattening out and future growth is at risk as takeaway capacity projects face economic and regulatory headwinds. What does that mean for the Northeast balance going forward? Today, we begin a series analyzing the latest fundamental trends in the Northeast gas market.
Even in tough times like these, companies need to look ahead, to consider what steps they would take--or investments they would make--if, for example, oil prices were to rise to X dollars per barrel, or the cost of drilling and completing a well were to fall by Y%. For methanol producers, these “what-ifs” might include what if methanol prices (holding steady the past few months at $249/metric ton, or MT) were to rebound to where they stood a year ago ($442/MW in May 2015)? Or what if we could add new capacity at a fraction of the cost of new-build? Today, we consider how building more methanol capacity might make sense in the right circumstances.
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP is the nation’s second-largest master limited partnership (MLP), with a market capitalization of $16.6 billion, $39.7 billion in 2015 revenue and $8 billion in 2015 capital investments, and a general partner—Energy Transfer Equity (ETE)—whose once-promising merger deal with Williams Cos. has turned ugly and may well be doomed. ETP’s extensive holdings include several major interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines, midstream natural gas services, and natural gas liquids (NGL) pipelines and services; it also holds approximately 27.5% of the limited partner interests and all of the general partner interest in Sunoco Logistics Partners (SXL). With ETP’s size, its huge portfolio of midstream assets, and its high-profile general partner, the MLP was an obvious choice for our new Spotlight Report. Today, we provide the highlights of the report, which is available to RBN Backstage Pass subscribers.
Few segments of the energy market have experienced the roller-coaster ride that U.S. condensates have been on over the past five years. Prior to 2011, U.S. condensates were a forgotten backwater of the hydrocarbon complex, mostly blended off into crude oil. Then condensates rapidly transitioned from obscurity to an oversupplied, price-discounted growth market, then to a driver of massive infrastructure investment, then to the star of the show as the only member of the U.S. crude oil family that could be exported. By mid-2014, producers and midstreamers were in love with condensates. Exports were legal and growing. New pipeline, splitter, stabilizer and export dock infrastructure was coming online. U.S. condensate markets were tightening and condensate prices were increasing. Then in one fell swoop in December 2015, Congress swept away all export restrictions on crude oil, potentially relegating U.S. condensates back to the obscurity from whence they came.
A few years back, crude-by-rail (CBR) emerged as the go-to fix that enabled pipeline-constrained shale regions to move fast-increasing volumes of oil to market. A total of 178 rail terminals were built or significantly expanded, with 99 loading terminals and 79 unloading terminals developed in the U.S. and Canada. But changes in the market -- lower oil prices, slowing/declining production, new pipeline capacity -- have been challenging and undermining CBR. Only about 20% of U.S. nameplate capacity is being used, and further declines in CBR volumes are expected, prompting serious questions about CBR’s future role. Today, we discuss RBN Energy’s latest Drill Down Report, which examines CBR’s pros and cons, its evolution, and its current status and prospects.
The U.S. natural gas market is carrying about an 850-Bcf surplus in storage versus last year and the 5-year average. But it looks like the surplus will finally start to contract in earnest over the next few weeks. So the big question is -- will it be fast enough to prevent crippling supply congestion by this fall? With Canadian storage inventories also high and U.S. gas production still averaging slightly higher than last year, it seems record demand will be needed to bring storage into balance. Today we look at the prospects for demand this summer to trump last year’s record demand.