RBN Energy

Tuesday, 12/01/2020

Fifteen years ago, just before the dawn of the Shale Era, more than 1.8 MMb/d of Gulf Coast and imported crude oil was being piped and barged north from PADD 3 to refineries in the Midwest. By 2019, those northbound flows had fallen by half, to less than 930 Mb/d, and in the first nine months of  this year they averaged only 550 Mb/d. Refineries in PADD 2, many now equipped with cokers and other hardware that enables them to break down heavy, sour crude into valuable refined products, have replaced those barrels — and more — with piped- and railed-in imports of favorably priced crude from Western Canada, including a lot of dilbit and railbit from Alberta’s oil sands. Today, we discuss the evolution of feedstock supply to the Midwest refinery sector.

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Daily energy Posts

Monday, 11/30/2020
Category:
Financial

It’s no surprise that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early this year shut down upstream mergers & acquisition (M&A) activity, just as it did America’s corporate offices, restaurants, entertainment venues, and schools. U.S. M&A deal flow slowed to a trickle in the first half of 2020 as companies’ valuations dropped along with bid prices and E&P executives struggled to realign expenditures with dwindling cash flows. But, as we’ve seen in the past, energy-commodity price crashes eventually spur a resurgence in M&A activity. The dam finally broke in late July, when Chevron announced a $13 billion takeover of Noble Energy, followed in short order by other, major corporate consolidations that brought the deal value total for the last five months to nearly $50 billion. This time was different in one important way, though: Instead of the strong preying on the weak, the strong merged with the strong in low-premium, all-stock transactions. Today, we analyze this new paradigm and delve into the details of the high-value deals.

Sunday, 11/29/2020
Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

Amid all the turmoil and negative news in energy markets this year, U.S. propane has been the exception, turning in a stellar performance. Even with exports up almost 10% in November from the same period last year, averaging 1.3 MMb/d for the month, inventories remain in good shape at 92.6 MMbbl, or about 5% above stocks in November 2019. Part of the reason has been strong production numbers, which are down only 5% since January, and up a whopping 14% since May. Weather has been another contributor to robust stock levels, with November 2020 coming in as one of the warmest on record. But winter is just arriving. And with export volumes now greater than total U.S. winter consumption, market dynamics have shifted. It now takes more inventory in the ground throughout the winter to support the combination of U.S. demand and exports. But how much more inventory is enough? And how should we factor in the potential for further increases in exports? At the same time, the market is still facing the possibility of another round of declining production due to COVID-related drilling cutbacks. This blog series is about making sense of what’s going on in the propane market today, and what may be coming up in the months ahead. 

Thursday, 11/26/2020
Category:
Crude Oil

On October 25, a major consolidation of two Canadian oil and gas companies was announced with the planned merger of Cenovus Energy and Husky Energy. The prospective consolidation will offer the opportunity for corporate-level synergies and, over the longer term, for the physical integration of some of the companies’ operations, especially in Alberta’s oil sands. In today’s blog, we discuss some of the more nuanced elements of the consolidation, including potential improvement in crude oil market access and the larger presence of the combined company in PADD 2 refining, a sector that has taken a major hit during the pandemic. This blog also introduces a new weekly report from RBN and Baker & O’Brien: U.S. Refinery Billboard.

Wednesday, 11/25/2020
Category:
Financial

The energy industry in North America is in crisis. COVID-19 remains a remarkably potent force, stifling a genuine rebound in demand for crude oil and refined products — and the broader U.S. economy. Oil prices have sagged south of $40/bbl, slowing drilling-and-completion activity to a crawl and imperiling the viability of many producers. The outlook for natural gas isn’t much better: anemic global demand for LNG is dragging down U.S. natural gas prices — and gas producers. The midstream sector isn’t immune to all this negativity. Lower production volumes mean lower flows on pipelines, less gas processing, less fractionation, and fewer export opportunities. But one major midstreamer, Enbridge Inc., made a prescient decision almost three years ago to significantly reduce its exposure to the vagaries of energy markets, and stands to emerge from the current hard times in good shape — assuming, that is, that it can clear the major regulatory challenges it still faces. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on the Calgary, AB-based midstream giant, Enbridge, which plans to de-risk its business model.

In observance of today’s holiday, we’ve given our writers a break and are revisiting a recently published blog on our last Spotlight Report on Enbridge, Inc. If you didn’t read it then, this is your opportunity to see what you missed! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, 11/24/2020
Category:
Natural Gas

You wouldn’t know it from the $2.50-plus/MMBtu Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures prices in the past couple of months, but the U.S. gas market this injection season just barely managed to avoid a complete meltdown. Despite gas production volumes trailing year-ago levels all summer long, it wasn’t until the last month or two of the traditional injection season (April through October) that the market tightened enough to escape a major storage crunch. In reality, it took the multi-pronged effects of production cutbacks — in part from hurricane-related disruptions — higher LNG and pipeline exports, and cooler fall weather, to make that happen. Today, we review the U.S. natural gas supply/demand balance and implications for 2021.

Monday, 11/23/2020
Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

Like everything else in 2020, the propane market has been exceedingly difficult to navigate. So far this year, we’ve seen Mont Belvieu propane prices down to 24 cents/gallon (c/gal) and up to 57 cents. Exports continue to increase, but stocks seem to be reasonably healthy, partly thanks to November so far being one of the warmest on record. Propane production was projected to dip in the fourth quarter but has held up pretty well. During the spring there was considerable concern about the possibility of a tight supply-demand situation this winter, but so far, market conditions seem relatively benign. Does that mean we are in the clear for winter 2020-21? Unfortunately, there may be a few gotchas still out there. As always, a lot depends on the weather. But there are other factors at work that could surprise us because some of the statistics we’ve relied on in the past to gauge what’s ahead are not what they used to be. In today’s blog, we begin a series looking at those factors.

Sunday, 11/22/2020
Category:
Petroleum Products

For a few years now, refineries in the eastern part of PADD 2 — feedstock-advantaged and capable of producing far more refined products than their regional market can consume — have been eyeing the wholesale and retail markets to their east in PADD 1. Their thinking has been, if they could just pipe more of their gasoline and diesel into Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and adjoining areas, they could sell the transportation fuels at a premium and take market share. Well, things are looking up for PADD 2 refineries pursuing this strategy. Not only has new pipeline access to the east been opening up, but PADD 1’s refining capacity has been shrinking fast, leaving East Coast refineries less able than ever to meet in-region demand. Today, we discuss recent developments in the battle for refined-product market share in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Thursday, 11/19/2020
Category:
Crude Oil

For most of the past few years, crude oil producers in Alberta have dealt with pipeline constraints that often forced them to sell their crude at steep discounts. While the constraints eased somewhat earlier this year as producers reduced their output due to cratering oil demand and oil prices, production more recently has been rebounding, resulting in the return of takeaway concerns. The big hope is that long-planned pipeline projects like the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) and Keystone XL will finally be built and commissioned, but they still face legal and regulatory hurdles before being completed. Lately, a different option has gained momentum focusing on a proposed rail line linking Alaska to the immense oil sands region of northern Alberta, potentially creating another corridor for the export of oil sands crude. Today, we describe recent developments in a bold plan to build a rail line from Alberta, across northern Canada, and into Alaska.

Wednesday, 11/18/2020
Category:
Petroleum Products

It has been nearly a year since the novel coronavirus was first detected in China — that’s right, a year. In that time, we have seen significant parts of the world come to a near standstill, become all too familiar with video conferencing, and canceled family vacations and business travel. The fact that many of us have been stuck at home has wreaked havoc on the U.S. refining industry, with plummeting utilizations and some facilities shutting down, either temporarily or permanently. And, depending on how the U.S. transportation sector rebounds from the pandemic in 2021 and beyond, more refinery closures may be on the horizon. Today, we look at the U.S. facilities that are shutting down and tally up the capacity lost so far.

Tuesday, 11/17/2020
Category:
Crude Oil

Bombarded by COVID-related demand destruction and weak — sometimes dismal — crude oil pricing, producers have been pulling in their horns this year, and midstream companies have been doing the same. A number of major pipeline projects have been delayed, scrapped, or simply removed from midstreamers’ slide-deck presentations, having failed to garner the long-term shipper commitments they needed to remain viable in this era of retrenchment and fingers-crossed-we-survive. Even with the 2020 pullback in pipeline development, at least a couple of major production areas — the Permian and the Bakken — may well end up with considerably more takeaway capacity than they will need for the foreseeable future. Today, we discuss the oil pipeline projects that have stalled or died this year, and the ones that have managed to move forward despite it all.

Monday, 11/16/2020
Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

The leaves have already fallen off New England’s trees, the first snow has come and gone, and the six-state region is preparing for another long, cold winter — this time with no Tom Brady and little hope that their beloved Patriots will make it to the playoffs. There is at least some good news, though: record volumes of propane have been railed or shipped into New England and put in storage, which should help to ensure that the many homes and businesses that depend on the fuel for space heating will stay warm. Today, we discuss propane supply and demand in the northeastern corner of the U.S., including a look at SEA-3 Newington — New England’s largest propane storage and distribution center, which rails in the fuel from the Marcellus/Utica and Canada and imports and exports propane by ship.

Sunday, 11/15/2020
Category:
Natural Gas

With the rise of LNG feedgas demand in southern Louisiana, physical natural gas flows at Henry Hub have been climbing. As such, volumes moving through the U.S. benchmark pricing location are increasingly affected by swings in LNG feedgas deliveries, as well as in the gas supply flows into southern Louisiana that serve that demand. Those impacts have become particularly evident in recent months as nearby LNG export capacity utilization went from a trough this summer due to cargo cancellations, to being erratic during late summer and fall as hurricanes disrupted marine traffic and facility operations, and, in more recent days, to being at full bore at most facilities. In conjunction with brimming storage and pipeline maintenance in the area, this has meant more operational constraints and volatility in flows and pricing at the hub. Today, we continue our series on the changing dynamics in and around Henry Hub. 

Thursday, 11/12/2020
Category:
Energy

Everywhere you look these days, someone is talking about hydrogen and, if you’re not well-versed in emerging technologies aimed at reducing carbon, you may not know what any of it means. A quick internet search isn’t much help either, as you will likely get lost quickly in discussions of fuel cell efficiency and electrolysis technology developments, not to mention the various “colors” of hydrogen and the myriad of ways it can be stored and transported. Don’t bother turning to your traditional green energy gurus either, as hydrogen is just one of many competing approaches to reducing the world’s carbon footprint, and electric vehicle folks like Elon Musk aren’t big fans. All the same, hydrogen news and investment plans seem to proliferate daily, and understanding this fuel — which, by the way, is not new to the energy space — seems prudent. At least that’s our view, which is why we today start a series to help us hydrocarbon experts unravel the mysteries behind the recent hydrogen ruckus.

Wednesday, 11/11/2020
Category:
Natural Gas

A few years ago, the most damning things skeptics could say about using LNG as a fuel for large ocean-going ships were that very few ships were fitted with LNG storage tanks and that there was little or no infrastructure in place at most ports to load the fuel. Well, they can’t say that anymore. About 170 large, LNG-powered vessels already are in operation around the world — including a French containership that just set a world record for carrying the most containers — and another 220 or so are on order. Just as important, the vast majority of key ports either have robust LNG bunkering operations in place or are in advanced stages of developing them. Today, we continue our series with a look at LNG’s growing acceptance and use as a ship fuel.

Tuesday, 11/10/2020
Category:
Crude Oil

On October 25, a major consolidation of two Canadian oil and gas companies was announced with the planned merger of Cenovus Energy and Husky Energy. The prospective consolidation will offer the opportunity for corporate-level synergies and, over the longer term, for the physical integration of some of the companies’ operations, especially in Alberta’s oil sands. In today’s blog, we discuss some of the more nuanced elements of the consolidation, including potential improvement in crude oil market access and the larger presence of the combined company in PADD 2 refining, a sector that has taken a major hit during the pandemic. This blog also introduces a new weekly report from RBN and Baker & O’Brien: U.S. Refinery Billboard.