RBN Energy

Wednesday, 4/18/2018

Four years ago this month, crude oil was selling for north of $100/bbl and natural gas prices were more than 50% higher than they are now. But while hydrocarbon prices sagged later in 2014 — and through 2015 and early 2016 — the declines didn’t deal a crippling blow to U.S. exploration and production companies. Instead, most of the upstream industry weathered the crisis remarkably well. Amidst that striking recovery, the 10 gas-focused E&Ps we’ve been tracking have engineered the strongest return to profitability. After $40 billion in pre-tax losses in 2015-16, they reported a collective $5.2 billion in pre-tax operating income in 2017, with all 10 producers in the black, as well as a 150% increase in cash flow over 2016, to $11.7 billion. However, gas prices have languished below $3.00/MMBtu since early February 2018 — their lowest level since mid-2016 — which means that the gas producers don’t have the tailwind that higher oil prices have been providing to their oil-focused and diversified competitors. Today, we conclude our blog series on E&Ps’ 2018 profitability outlook and cash flow allocation with a look at companies that focus on natural gas production.

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Daily energy Posts

Tuesday, 04/17/2018
Category:
Crude Oil

If you’ve been watching market prices over the last week, you’ll have noticed that Permian differentials have tightened a bit. With the capacity of the new Midland-to-Sealy pipeline ratcheting up and the 146-Mb/d Borger refinery near Amarillo coming back online, there has been a brief respite for crude oil prices in West Texas. But soon, continued growth in crude production will again max out pipeline capacity out of the Permian until one of the major new pipes starts operating in 2019. In the interim, producers and traders without firm pipeline space will be taking deep price discounts, all the while attempting to maintain their revenue streams by sticking to their development plans or, at the very least, avoiding the specter of well shut-ins. Today, we dive into the current state of affairs regarding Permian pipeline allocations, the impact on producer logistics, and what it all means for price differentials.

Monday, 04/16/2018
Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

Could it get any worse? Possibly, but the last time we saw petchem margins this bad was in the depths of the 2008-09 economic meltdown, and back then the atrocious margin levels resulted in drastic plant curtailments and in some cases permanent shutdowns. But this time around the petchem industry is in the process of bringing on even more capacity! Is the current situation a fluke, or a harbinger of things to come? In today’s blog we examine recent trends in steam cracker margins, by far the largest demand sector for natural gas liquids (NGLs) and consider what these developments may mean for NGL markets in general, and ethane in particular.

Sunday, 04/15/2018
Category:
Natural Gas

The Louisiana natural gas market has undergone major changes in recent years, from the decline of its offshore and onshore production volumes to the emergence of new export demand from LNG terminals. But there are many more changes on the way. The industry has plans to add another 5.0 Bcf/d of liquefaction and export capacity in the Bayou State between now and 2023. At the same time, there are a slew of pipeline projects designed to carry Marcellus/Utica gas supply to the Perryville Hub in northeastern Louisiana. And, Louisiana’s own gas supply is soaring from the Haynesville Shale. The timing of these emerging factors will drive supply-demand economics and volatility in the region — including at the national pricing benchmark Henry Hub — over the next five years. Today, we take a closer look at the timing and extent of the supply and demand factors affecting the Louisiana gas market.

Thursday, 04/12/2018
Category:
Financial

Defying predictions of widespread bankruptcies and credit defaults, the U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we track returned to profitability in 2017 through a strategic transformation that featured the “high-grading” of portfolios, impressive capital discipline and an intense focus on operational efficiencies.  However, the road to recovery has been longer and more challenging for some companies, particularly a few of the E&Ps in our Diversified Peer Group, whose output and reserves are more balanced between oil and gas. Their portfolio realignments have been the biggest among our three peer groups — collectively they have shed $36 billion in assets and 3.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) in proved reserves over the last three years. Today, we continue our review of how rebounding oil prices are affecting E&P cash flow, this time focusing on producers with a rough balance of oil and natural gas assets.

Wednesday, 04/11/2018
Category:
Crude Oil

As Permian crude differentials continue to widen, trading at a $8.45/bbl discount to Magellan East Houston this week, a lot of people are pointing fingers at midstream companies for not completing new takeaway pipeline projects quickly enough. But even in the oil patch, it takes two to tango and producers can also share some of the blame. Historically, the focus in the Permian has been on larger producers, with their sprawling acreage positions and their focus on creating long-term competitive advantages through efficient drilling programs. Many of the smaller, private equity-backed producers adopted more short-term strategies.  Their game has been to prove undervalued acreage and then flip those assets to more substantial players. But these strategies are beginning to change. Today, we continue our series on Permian differentials with a look at how the recent ramp-up in the development of second- and third-tier production areas is affecting the region’s crude oil output, pipeline takeaway constraints and price differentials.

Tuesday, 04/10/2018
Category:
Natural Gas

Everyone in the North American gas industry knows that a big wave of U.S. LNG exports is coming. Although Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal in southwestern Louisiana started shipping out LNG in 2016, exports really started having a major impact in 2017 — increasing demand for U.S.-produced gas, providing an outlet for Marcellus and Utica supplies, and affecting physical flows at the Henry Hub and in south Louisiana more generally. But with the first four liquefaction trains at Sabine Pass all but fully ramped up, attention in recent months has been turning to the next facility being commissioned: Dominion’s Cove Point terminal on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, which exported its first cargo in early March. But tracking gas pipeline flows into the Cove Point plant has not been easy, and in today’s blog, we consider the various possibilities and discuss our view of how best to monitor the amount of LNG feedgas going into Cove Point.

Monday, 04/09/2018
Category:
Crude Oil

The Permian is a beehive of activity on the burgeoning water midstream front — the pipelines, saltwater disposal wells and other assets being built to facilitate the delivery of water to new wells for hydraulic fracturing and the transport of “produced water” from the lease to disposal or treatment sites. But the Bakken — arguably the birthplace of the water midstream sector nearly a decade ago — is no slouch, and a model of sorts for the infrastructure build-out now under way in the Permian. The volume of water needed for Bakken well completions is up sharply in recent years; more important still, the region is generating more than 1 MMb/d of produced water, and producers and water midstreamers alike are building new takeaway pipelines and drilling new SWDs to more efficiently deal with it. Today, we discuss water- and produced-water-related infrastructure in one of the U.S.’s largest production regions.

Sunday, 04/08/2018
Category:
Natural Gas

Permian Basin natural gas production is growing at a torrid pace. After starting 2017 just below 6 Bcf/d, production is set to breach the 8-Bcf/d mark soon on its way to 10 Bcf/d by the end of 2019. Pipelines flowing out of the basin are coming under increasing strain, and just about every single gas pipeline leaving the Waha hub in West Texas is now being utilized at levels not witnessed in years — if ever. Even routes north from the Permian to the Midcontinent and Midwest markets, traditionally only attractive on the coldest winter days, are starting to look viable year-round. Today, we look at recent gas-price and flow trends in the Permian natural gas market.

Thursday, 04/05/2018
Category:
Financial

Despite widespread predictions that the oil and gas exploration and production sector would drown in an ocean of red ink after the crude oil price crash that started a little over three years ago, E&P companies finally returned to profitability in 2017. Better yet, with oil prices exceeding $60/bbl, margins are expected to increase in 2018, giving the 44 major E&Ps we track $24.5 billion in incremental cash flow. It’s no surprise that the 17 companies in our Oil-Weighted Peer Group are the prime beneficiaries of the higher crude price, garnering $13.6 billion, or 55%, of the incremental cash flow. Today, we continue our review of how rebounding oil prices are affecting E&P cash flow, this time zeroing in on oil-focused producers.

Wednesday, 04/04/2018
Category:
Crude Oil

Price differentials in the Permian Basin are widening at a rapid pace. The discount for Midland crude to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing has widened by over $4/bbl since the beginning of March and the discount to Magellan East Houston (MEH) crude was over $7/bbl yesterday. Permian production is increasing at a breakneck pace as new players are entering the scene. Private equity-backed exploration and production companies (E&Ps) are no longer just acquiring and flipping acreage, as they are being forced to prove their assets are profitable and can generate a return on investment. The combination of large drilling plans from the majors and new production from these smaller operators — with no new pipeline takeaway capacity in sight — has sent Permian crude pricing into a tailspin. Today, we begin a new series on the recent slide in Permian prices, how new producer strategies are contributing to it, and what it means for pipeline space, trucking and midstream infrastructure.

Tuesday, 04/03/2018
Category:
Natural Gas

Efforts to increase natural gas production in the Rockies are running into a brick wall — make that several brick walls. To the east, burgeoning gas production in the Marcellus/Utica region is surging into Midwest markets, pushing back on Rockies gas supplies. To the south, Permian gas production is ramping up toward 8 Bcf/d, most of it associated gas from crude-focused wells — volumes that will be produced even if gas prices plummet. To the west, Rockies gas faces an onslaught of renewables in power generation markets, where wind and solar are increasingly replacing gas fired and coal generation, especially during non-peak periods when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. To the north, Western Canadian producers facing a where-do-we-send-our-gas problem of their own are only days away from having expanded pipeline access to U.S. West Coast markets — access likely to displace some of the Rockies gas which has been flowing west. Today, we discuss highlights from a new report by our friends at Energy GPS that assesses these developments and explores their implications.

Monday, 04/02/2018
Category:
Crude Oil

Crude oil and natural gas production in Oklahoma have fully rebounded from the declines that followed the 2014-15 collapse in oil prices and stand at 21st-century highs. While the active rig count in the state — at about 120 in recent weeks — is off 10% from its post-crash peak in mid-2017, the productivity of new wells continues to rise, as does interest in the Merge play between the SCOOP and STACK production areas in central Oklahoma and in the Arkoma Woodford play to the southeast. All that has put additional pressure on the state’s existing pipeline and gas-processing infrastructure and spurred continuing activity among midstream companies. Today, we begin a review of ongoing efforts to add incremental processing and takeaway capacity in the hottest parts of the Sooner State.

Sunday, 04/01/2018
Category:
Natural Gas

The Louisiana natural gas market is in a state of major flux. The state’s supply mix has changed drastically, with Offshore Gulf of Mexico production declining over the past few years and the long-dormant Haynesville Shale making somewhat of a comeback in the past year. At the same time, four new liquefaction trains at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass LNG terminal have added more than 3.0 Bcf/d of export demand that didn’t exist before 2016. These trends signal a shift in Louisiana’s supply-demand balance and are a prelude to big changes yet to come as producers and midstreamers look to provide solutions for balancing the market. Today, we continue our deep-dive into recent and upcoming changes in the Louisiana market, this time focusing on flow trends across the state’s North, Offshore Gulf and Central pipeline corridors.

Thursday, 03/29/2018
Category:
Crude Oil

With crude prices in the $60s, oil-producing basins other than the Permian are finally seeing signs of life, and that includes the Rockies. But volumes flowing through the most important Rockies crude oil hub — at Guernsey, WY — are down. Moreover, the price of oil at Guernsey is up, trading at least flat and sometimes at a premium to the downstream market at Cushing, OK, suggesting that committed shippers are having to bid up the price at Guernsey to secure barrels for their downstream pipeline commitments. What about production from the nearby Powder River Basin? Well, Powder River oil production is up, and the rig count there is double what it was this time last year, so you might think there would be more than enough barrels at Guernsey. But not so. Who’s to blame? We need to look no further than the Bakken and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to discover our culprits. Today, we check in on the market at Guernsey and consider the impact of DAPL, the implications for Rockies crude oil outflows, and what it all means for Guernsey price differentials.

Wednesday, 03/28/2018
Category:
Natural Gas

The U.S. natural gas storage inventory lagged behind year-ago and five-year average levels throughout this past winter. The market started the withdrawal season in November 2017 with about 200 Bcf less in storage than the prior year. That year-on-year deficit subsequently ballooned to more than 600 Bcf. Compared to the five-year average, the inventory went from about 100 Bcf lower in November to a more than 300-Bcf deficit now, at the beginning of spring. An expanding deficit in storage is typically a bullish indicator for price. Yet, the CME/NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas futures contract struggled to hold onto the $3.00/MMBtu level it started the season with in mid-November, and, in fact, has retreated back to an average near $2.70 in the past couple of months — about 25 cents under where it traded a year ago. Today, we look at the supply-demand factors keeping a lid on the futures price.