There has been a lot of acrimony and polarization among the natural gas industry, the environmental community, various consumer advocates, industrial energy users, organized power markets and renewables developers in recent years. However, the ongoing government efforts to prop up the power sector’s coal-fired and nuclear generators have succeeded in uniting all those disparate interests into a single voice saying a single word: No! Today, we discuss the history of the administration’s planned support of coal and nuclear, the unusually unified reaction to it from groups that are more often at odds with each other, and some underlying assumptions about natural gas that aren’t — well — how the gas industry says it works.
Daily energy Posts
An influx of natural gas supply in northern Louisiana — from Marcellus/Utica inflows and the rebound in Haynesville Shale production — is not only reversing long-held flow patterns but is also starting to fill up existing pipeline capacity on routes to the Southeast U.S. and the Louisiana Gulf Coast, where demand is growing. As more LNG export capacity comes online in the Bayou State, more gas will be needed at the coast, and, with existing routes to the coast filling up, more pipeline capacity will be needed as well. These factors are expected to transform the Louisiana gas market over the next several years, with impacts to prices, transportation values and basis, and with repercussions for both the U.S. gas market and global LNG trade. Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on the fast-changing Louisiana gas flow patterns and the need for more pipeline capacity.
Permian natural gas production increased by about 10% in the winter of 2017-18, from about 7.1 Bcf/d to 7.8 Bcf/d, but all spring it’s remained relatively flat, never averaging more than an even 8 Bcf/d. There’s good reason for that. While at first glance it might seem as if there’s enough pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Permian to accommodate considerably more production growth, the big pipes from the Waha Hub to Mexico are transporting far less than they’re capable of because of delays in developing new pipes and gas-fired power plants on the Mexican side of the border. And pipes from the Permian to California are running less than full, in part because of that state’s hard tilt to renewable power. That’s left the Permian with a takeaway conundrum that may not be fully solvable — at least for a time — until new, greenfield pipeline capacity from West Texas to the Gulf Coast comes online in 15 to 18 months. Today, we discuss the options that producers, gas processors and midstream companies may need to consider if things get really tight.
The fractionation and NGL storage complex in Mont Belvieu, TX, would surely qualify as one of the Seven Wonders of the Energy World, if there were such a list. With more than 250 million barrels of NGL storage carved — by water! — out of an enormous subterranean salt dome formation, and nearly two dozen fractionation plants with a combined capacity of more than 2 MMb/d, Mont Belvieu not only serves as the largest receipt point for mixed NGL streams on the planet, it is also the key hub of distribution for the ethane, propane, normal butane and other NGL purity products that are either consumed by Gulf Coast steam crackers and refineries or exported to foreign end-users. But unlike wonders of the ancient world like the Great Pyramids at Giza, Mont Belvieu is still very much a work in progress, with new storage caverns and new fractionators now under development to try to keep up with the breakneck pace of U.S. NGL production growth. Today, we begin a company-by-company review of fractionation capacity and other key infrastructure there.
Permian producers led the U.S. exploration and production (E&P) sector’s remarkable recovery from the financial crisis that was spurred by the oil price crash in late 2014. Dramatically lower costs and higher well productivity led to strong margins even at $50/bbl oil and promised bountiful returns should oil prices move higher. It’s no surprise that investors flocked to the stocks of Permian-focused producers, driving equity valuations, as measured by enterprise value per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) of proved reserves, to multiples three or four times the industry average. Recently, however, there have been growing investor concerns that logistical constraints on shipping crude oil and gas out of the region could restrict cash flows, investment budgets and output growth, and on Friday, Baker Hughes reported that the Permian’s rig count was down (albeit by only four, to 476). Since May 15, stock prices of smaller pure-play Permian producers Concho Resources, Diamondback Energy, Parsley Energy, RSP Permian, and Laredo Petroleum have fallen 10-15%. One of the larger Permian producers has bucked the trend, though: Pioneer Natural Resources. Today, we explore the drivers of Pioneer’s current valuation and analyze the factors that could propel future growth.
Crude oil pipelines out of Cushing are filling up. With U.S. crude production approaching the 11 MMb/d mark, more and more production from the Rockies, Midcontinent and Permian is funneling into the Cushing, OK, trading hub. It’s getting increasingly difficult to get all of that volume to the major demand center at the Gulf Coast. The two major pipelines out of Cushing — Seaway and Marketlink — are near full capacity and differentials are responding as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing is now trading at a $7.60/bbl discount to Magellan East Houston (MEH) at the Gulf. Today, we look at some of the major factors affecting the WTI-MEH spread, space on major pipelines between the two points, and potential implications going forward.
Natural gas producers in Western Canada, with their share of U.S. and Eastern Canadian markets threatened by competition from producers in the Marcellus/Utica and other shale plays south of the international border, for years have seen prospective LNG exports to Asian markets as a panacea. But efforts to develop liquefaction “trains” and export terminals in British Columbia failed to advance earlier this decade — for starters, their economics weren’t nearly as favorable as those for U.S. projects like Sabine Pass LNG. Then, by 2016-17, global markets were awash in LNG as new Australian and U.S. liquefaction trains came online, and the BC LNG projects still alive were either delayed further or scrapped. Now, with LNG demand on the upswing and the need for additional LNG capacity in the early-to-mid 2020s apparent, the co-developers of LNG Canada — Shell, PetroChina, Korea Gas and Mitsubishi — have attracted a new and significant investor: Petronas, Malaysia’s state-owned oil and gas company and owner of Progress Energy Canada, which has vast gas reserves in Western Canada. Today, we continue our review of efforts to send natural gas and crude oil to Asian markets with a fresh look at the LNG project and TransCanada’s planned Coastal GasLink pipeline, which will deliver gas to it.
Mexico has been slowly increasing import volumes of natural gas from the U.S., utilizing spare capacity in the newest pipelines south of the border that access supply from the Permian Basin’s Waha Hub. The recent increases have been muted somewhat by delays in completing other infrastructure inside of Mexico, but one of those big delays is about to be resolved. TransCanada’s long-awaited El Encino-Topolobampo Pipeline is finally nearing completion, and once it’s online there may be a surprisingly big gain in gas export volumes to Mexico. As most of this gas will be supplied directly from Waha, Mexico’s impact on Permian gas balances is likely to jump materially in the weeks ahead. Today, we examine the latest development in Mexico’s natural gas pipeline buildout and its effects north of the border.
The NGL sector is firing on all cylinders. Natural gas liquids production in the Permian, the SCOOP/STACK and other key basins is up, up, up. A number of new, ethane-consuming steam crackers are coming online along the Texas and Louisiana coast, most conveniently close to the NGL storage and fractionation hub in Mont Belvieu, TX. The export market for liquefied petroleum gases — propane and normal butane — is through the roof, averaging more than 1 MMb/d in the first five months of 2018 (almost all of it being shipped out of Gulf Coast ports), and ethane exports are strong too. What’s not to like? Well, NGLs don’t do anyone much good until they are fractionated into “purity products” like ethane, propane, normal butane etc., and the rapid run-up in U.S. NGL production — combined with the reluctance of producers to commit to new fractionation capacity — has the existing fractionation plants in Mont Belvieu running flat-out to keep up. Today, we begin a review of the NGL Capital of the Western World and considers why Mont Belvieu — as big as it is — is getting bigger.
On June 1, Energy Transfer Partners’ new Rover Pipeline began service on its market segment from northwestern Ohio into southern Michigan, effectively sending nearly 800 MMcf/d of Marcellus/Utica gas production to Vector Pipeline and its northern destinations in Michigan, and, by extension, to the Dawn Hub. This latest in-service has already shuffled flows in the region and pushed back on other supplies targeting the same markets, including Canadian gas imports. And that’s even before the project has achieved its full expected capacity of 3.25 Bcf/d. Today, we analyze the early effects of Rover’s first flows to the Michigan/Dawn markets via Vector.
The Permian Basin is awash in light, sweet crude oil that’s cheap to produce and easy to process. It’s so awash, in fact, that supplies are overwhelming takeaway pipeline capacity. The resulting bottleneck in West Texas has cratered prices in Midland, where West Texas Intermediate (WTI) — the region’s light, sweet benchmark — has blown out price-wise against the same grade in other locations, including Houston, with its crude-export docks. Less well known, but influential beyond its geography, is Midland West Texas Sour, or WTS. WTS is suffering from the same wide differentials as WTI at Midland, and those yawning spreads are dragging down the price of Maya, Pemex’s flagship heavy, sour crude. Today, we discuss some surprising ripple effects of takeaway constraints out of the Permian.
Western Canada is blessed with extraordinary hydrocarbon resources and in recent years has been ramping up production in the Alberta oil sands and in the Duvernay and Montney shale plays. The U.S. is pretty much Canada’s only crude oil and natural gas customer, though, and there are limits to how much Canada can export to its southern neighbor — especially in the Shale Era, with the U.S. producing more oil and gas than ever and meeting an increasing share of its own needs. So Canadian producers, midstream companies and others have been working to gain access to new, overseas markets. It has not gone well. Pipeline projects to transport oil and gas to the British Columbia coast have been set back time and again, as have plans for crude and LNG export terminals. At last, there may be some good news. The Canadian government has stepped in to help push through a critically important oil pipeline to the coast, and BC’s leading LNG project just signed on a major new investor/customer. Today, we consider recent moves that could finally allow large volumes of Western Canadian oil and gas to be shipped to Asia.
Drilling and completion activity in the Permian Basin doesn’t only produce vast quantities of energy, it consumes a lot of energy too, mostly in the form of diesel fuel to power the trucks, drilling rigs, fracturing pumps, compressors and other equipment needed to keep the oil patch humming. And while refineries within or near the Permian meet a portion of the region’s needs, rising demand for diesel there is spurring the development of new infrastructure — and the repurposing of existing assets — to bring additional fuel into the Permian from refineries along the Gulf Coast. Today, we discuss efforts to move more diesel to the oil fields of West Texas.
Three years ago, U.S. Lower-48 LNG exports were zero. Today that number is above 3.0 Bcf/d. Three years from now, U.S. exports will make up about 20% of the global LNG trade. Perhaps even more momentous, LNG exports will equal 10% of U.S. gas demand. That’s more than deliveries to the entire residential and commercial market sectors during the six summer/shoulder months each year. All of which means that U.S. LNG exports are quickly becoming a much more important factor in both domestic and international markets. The U.S. gas market is no longer an island. In fact, the long-awaited integration of the U.S. into global gas markets is upon us, with significant implications for infrastructure utilization, trade flows and of course, price. To make sense of these new market realities, it is necessary to assess the gas value chain from U.S. wellhead to global destination — in effect, to follow the molecule from the point of production, through pipeline transportation to liquefaction and export, and from the dock to destination markets. That’s exactly what we will do in the blog series we are kicking off today.
Gas producers in the Permian are facing the prospect of severe transportation constraints over the next year or so before additional gas takeaway capacity comes online. Left unchecked, continued production growth could send gas at Waha spiraling to devastatingly low prices for producers. However, there are a number of ways producers and other industry stakeholders could mitigate the growing supply congestion in West Texas, at least in part, and possibly dodge the proverbial bullet. The longer-term solution will come in the form of new pipeline capacity, which will shift vast amounts of Permian gas east to the Gulf Coast and potentially create a new problem — supply congestion and price weakness along the Gulf Coast, at least until sufficient export capacity is built there to absorb the excess gas. Today, we wrap up our Permian gas blog series, with our analysis of how these events will unfold, including an outlook for Waha basis.
With Permian production of natural gas liquids (NGLs) on the rise and available pipeline capacity shrinking, midstream companies are in advanced stages of developing projects that — if built on their current schedules — would roughly double the 1.2-MMb/d of effective NGL takeaway capacity in place today within the next 18 months or so. Much of the planned capacity is backed by long-term commitments from Permian producers anticipating continued growth in production of crude and NGL-rich associated gas, especially in the play’s Delaware Basin. Still, the pace of NGL pipeline projects in the Permian begs the question, is all that incremental capacity needed? Today, we continue our series on the NGL takeaway challenges facing producers and processors in cowboy country.