The U.S. natural gas market enters winter this year in a delicate balance: production is at an all-time high and growing fast, but gas storage inventories are well below year-ago levels and the five-year average — and at an all-time low relative to consumption. If winter weather is normal or mild, the U.S. gas market will likely begin to settle into a period of sub-$3/MMBtu prices. But this year’s low inventory level means that colder-than-typical weather this winter could spell more gas price upside than the market has seen in many years. Today, we continue our review of the current gas market with a look at the relationship between gas- and coal-fired generation, and at how the combination of low gas storage inventories and low coal stockpiles might play out this winter.
Daily energy Posts
With recent project completions, Northeast takeaway constraints have eased, and regional supply prices have strengthened. But now the slate of planned pipeline expansions is dwindling. Between late-2015 and the end of 2018, midstreamers will have completed 23 takeaway projects out of Appalachia, totaling nearly 14.5 Bcf/d of capacity. That leaves just a handful of projects with little more than 6 Bcf/d of capacity to come, most of them facing stiff environmental opposition, regulatory turmoil and higher costs. Yet, as Appalachian gas production continues to grow, these projects will be critical to keeping the takeaway constraints and depressing supply pricing from returning, at least for a little longer. More than half of the remaining capacity would come from two competing projects — Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and EQM Midstream Partners’ Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) — both greenfield efforts tied to growing gas-fired power generation demand along the Mid- and South-Atlantic seaboard and both embattled by a barrage of legal challenges. In today’s blog, we provide an update on the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects, including the latest status and timing.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that natural gas gross production in the Rockies’ Niobrara region increased to a record 5.1 Bcf/d in September 2018, narrowly beating the previous high mark set almost seven years ago. And, with major, crude oil-focused producers in the Powder River Basin (PRB) and Denver-Julesburg Basin (D-J) planning for expanded crude output in 2019 and beyond, production of associated gas is expected to continue rising. All this growth — actual and anticipated — is spurring the development of new midstream capacity, especially gas processing plants, in both the PRB and the D-J Basin. So, what’s already in place, what’s being built and planned, and how soon will it need to come online? In today’s blog, we continue our review of Rockies crude oil, gas and NGL production, processing capacity and takeaway pipes, this time with a look at the gas side of things in the PRB.
Gas-fired power generation in the U.S. has been making impressive gains lately and that trend looks likely to continue. Power demand is growing quickly and generation fueled by cheap natural gas is taking an ever-increasing market share of the new and existing load from more expensive generators like coal and nuclear, which is leading significant numbers of those plants to shut down. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) earlier this year forecast that combined-cycle, gas-fired generation capacity could rise by 6.1 GW between now and 2020, which — if fully called upon — would equate to roughly 1 Bcf/d of gas demand. That growth would displace some older gas-fired generation but also fill the void left by retiring coal-fired and nuclear power generators — two sectors EIA expects to decline over the next couple of years by 14.1 GW and 1.7 GW, respectively. What’s more, surging gas production and rapidly filling pipeline expansions in recent months suggest that gas-fired generation demand may be growing even faster than expected. Today, we take a look at how gas generation has been besting coal-fired plants on fuel costs in recent years, and at the string of nuclear and coal-fired generators that are being permanently retired.
Crude oil production has been increasing in virtually all of the shale and tight oil plays that send their output to the storage and distribution hub in Cushing, OK. A number of pipeline projects are being built and planned to accommodate that growth, and — despite the fact that two-thirds of Cushing’s existing storage capacity is currently unused — several million barrels of new tankage is being installed at the hub, again in anticipation of incremental needs in 2019, 2020 and beyond. So it should come as no surprise that midstream companies also are planning a good bit of new pipeline capacity out of Cushing, some to refinery customers in the Midwest and Midcontinent areas but some to refineries and export docks along the Gulf Coast. Today, we continue our series on the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a review of rock-solid and potential plans to enable more crude to flow out of the central Oklahoma hub.
U.S. Northeast natural gas producers will soon get another boost of pipeline capacity with direct access to Gulf Coast demand. TransCanada’s Columbia Gas and Columbia Gulf transmission systems are gearing up to place into service their tandem Mountaineer Xpress and Gulf Xpress expansions, which will allow another 1 Bcf/d of Marcellus/Utica gas to flow south as far as Louisiana. The new capacity should further ease takeaway constraints for moving gas out of the Northeast, potentially redistributing outflows across the various takeaway routes, while also allowing Appalachian gas supply to grow. The duo of expansions is also the last of the southbound expansions from the Northeast, at least until late 2019, when the embattled Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects are due online. Today, we detail the upcoming expansions.
There’s been a lot of talk lately that the crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, is losing its luster — that it may not be as important as it once was. Folks point to the precipitous, months-long decline in crude inventories that started last fall, or to the fact that just about all of the planned oil pipelines out of the red-hot Permian are pointed toward Gulf Coast refineries and export docks, not central Oklahoma. Then you’ve got ICE and CME’s new WTI futures contracts, both deliverable in Houston — another challenge to Cushing. While Cushing’s role as the epicenter of crude storage and trading may be in flux, rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, as evidenced by the long list of midstream projects under development to transport more crude to — and out of — the Oklahoma hub, and to add storage tanks there. Just yesterday (November 5), in fact, Magellan Midstream Partners and Navigator Energy Services announced plans for what would be the first new Cushing-to-Houston pipeline since 2014. Today, we continue our comprehensive review of the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a look at the many capacity-expansion efforts now under way.
Right now, pipeline capacity out of the Permian is constrained, and consequently some producers have cut back on well completions, more gas is getting flared, and ethane recovery is being driven more by bottlenecks than by gas plant economics. But even with these issues, there are still 487 rigs drilling for oil in the basin (according to Baker Hughes), and all will come along with sizable quantities of natural gas. Not only does this production need to be moved out of the Permian, the volumes need to find a home — either in the domestic market or overseas. These were all issues that were considered by our speakers, panelists and RBN analysts last month at PermiCon, our industry conference designed to bridge the gap between fundamentals analysis and boots-on-the-ground market intelligence. In today’s blog, we continue our review of some of the key points discussed during the conference proceedings.
Refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC), which account for half of the country’s total refining capacity, are generally among the most sophisticated and complex anywhere, with configurations that enable them to break down heavy, sour crude oil into high-value, low-sulfur refined products. However, over the past eight years, the USGC has been flooded with increasing volumes of light, sweet crudes produced in the Eagle Ford, the Permian and other U.S. shale plays as new pipelines were constructed or reversed to the coast for domestic refining or export. Still more pipelines will be coming online over the next year. Today, we evaluate how much domestic crude oil has been absorbed into the USGC refining system, the implications to the overall crude slate qualities, and options for increasing domestic crude oil processing in the near term.
Pipeline capacity constraints are nothing new to producers in the Bakken. Prior to the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in mid-2017, market participants had been pushing area pipeline takeaway to the max. When DAPL finally came online following a lengthy political and legal battle, producers and traders were able to breathe a sigh of relief. But with Bakken production steadily increasing over the past 18 months — and primed for future growth — new constraints are on the horizon. Over the next year or so, Bakken output could overwhelm takeaway capacity and push producers to find new market outlets. The questions now are, which midstream companies can add incremental capacity, how much crude-by-rail will be necessary, and is there a chance a major new pipeline gets built? Today, we forecast Bakken supply and demand, discuss some upcoming projects and lay out the possible headaches for Bakken producers heading into 2019.
The U.S. Northeast natural gas market has had a volatile few weeks. Regional gas production has surged, averaging 30.4 Bcf/d in the second half of October (2018), up 800 MMcf/d from the first half of the month and up nearly 1 Bcf/d from the September average. Normally (for the past several years), those kinds of supply gains, particularly in a shoulder month and during maintenance season, would have one result: Marcellus/Utica prices taking a nosedive. But that’s not exactly the case this year. Instead, Appalachian spot prices have been on a wild ride the past few weeks, swinging from barely $1.00/MMBtu (or more than $2.00/MMBtu below Henry Hub) on October 8, to over $3.00 (just $0.12 under Henry) on October 24 — the highest levels seen at this time of year since 2013, both in terms of outright prices and basis differentials to Henry Hub. The catalyst is nearly 3 Bcf/d of new takeaway capacity from the growing producing region that has been added in recent weeks, including, most recently, partial service on a brand-new route on Enbridge/DTE Energy’s 1.5-Bcf/d NEXUS Gas Transmission. What does this latest round of expansions and the resulting basis strength mean for the Northeast and its downstream gas markets? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new 26-page report on evolving Northeast gas takeaway capacity utilization and additions, and their effects on price relationships.
Phillips 66 loaded its first Panamax tanker for export to Mexico over the weekend. Late on Sunday night, the SCF Prime signaled that it was headed for Pajaritos, Mexico, after loading at Phillips' terminal in Beaumont, TX. Mexico is making history with this pivotal first purchase of Bakken crude from Phillips 66 at the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC). Up until now, the crude oil trade between the U.S. and Mexico had been a one-way street, with oil moving from Mexico to the U.S. and not the other way around. But now, as Mexico’s state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) faces dwindling oil production and refinery outputs, importing light, sweet crude from the U.S. is a new avenue to revive Mexico’s refinery utilization. Today, we examine the new shift in the traditional flows of crude oil across the Gulf of Mexico.
Crude oil production in the Niobrara region in northeastern Colorado and eastern Wyoming has quadrupled since the start of the 2010s, and now tops 600 Mb/d. Fortunately for producers in the Niobrara’s Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin and Powder River Basin (PRB), midstream companies not only developed enough new pipeline takeaway capacity to transport all those incremental barrels, they overbuilt. As a result, the region — unlike the Permian and Western Canada — currently has no crude-oil pipeline constraints, something that makes the Niobrara even more attractive to producers. But part of a pipeline system now moving crude out of the D-J is being repurposed to carry NGLs instead, and with D-J and PRB crude production still rising, you’ve got to wonder, is a takeaway shortfall on the horizon? Today, we continue our series on the Rockies’ premier hydrocarbon production area and the infrastructure needed to serve it, this time focusing on crude oil.
LNG Canada, the newly sanctioned liquefaction/LNG export project in British Columbia, is an entirely different animal than its operational and under-construction counterparts in the U.S. The Shell-led LNG Canada project is being developed without any of the long-term offtake contracts that financed Sabine Pass, Cove Point and the projects now being built along the Louisiana and Texas coasts, and it requires the construction of a new, long-haul pipeline — Coastal GasLink. What’s also different is that the BC project’s co-owners have been developing their own gas reserves to supply the project, though they may also turn to the broader Montney and Duvernay markets for the gas they will need. Today, we conclude a two-part series with a look at how the project expects to undercut its U.S. competitors.
U.S. natural gas supply continues to set all-time records, and strong production growth is expected to continue. Most of these supply gains will come from the Northeast, where another round of pipeline capacity additions are being completed. But despite all this incremental gas output, a combination of cold weather last winter and hot weather this summer means that U.S. gas storage inventories are likely to end the fall season at their lowest levels since 2005. And even this comparison understates how low inventories are — gas consumption has grown dramatically in the past 10 years, and storage inventories are at all-time lows when considered in terms of the number of days of average consumption. Today, we begin a series on the implications of historically low gas storage inventories, including what the gas market might look like if this winter turns out to be colder than normal.
The discount for Bakken crude prices at Clearbrook to WTI at Cushing has been on a rollercoaster in recent weeks, widening from $1.30/bbl at the beginning of September 2018 to over $10/bbl in mid-October and narrowing again most recently. There are several factors at play here. Canadian production has overwhelmed area pipelines and prices are being heavily discounted. These cheap Canadian barrels are creating oversupply issues at markets that Bakken barrels also trade into. On the demand side, Midwestern refiners are in the middle of seasonal turnarounds, reducing the demand for both Bakken and Canadian grades. Meanwhile, Bakken production growth continues to steadily chug along, increasing by over 150 Mb/d since the beginning of the year. And while this recent Bakken price angst is cause for concern, there is a looming bottleneck for pipeline space that could really shake things up sometime next year. Today, we examine the recent price phenomenon, the relationship between Canadian crude differentials and Bakken prices, and why producers should be concerned about future pipeline shortages.