To fire on all cylinders — especially during a period of strong high crude oil prices and rising production — the U.S. energy sector depends on midstream infrastructure networks that can efficiently handle the transportation and processing of every type of hydrocarbon that emerges from the wellhead. It’s no secret that rapid production growth in the Permian has left the red-hot West Texas play short of crude-oil pipeline capacity, and midstream companies there have also struggled to keep pace with natural gas takeaway needs too. What’s less well known is that fractionation capacity at the all-important NGL hub in Mont Belvieu, TX, is nearly maxed out, and that some Permian producers — and others — are now scrambling to find other places to send their incremental NGL barrels for fractionation into purity products. We put this issue front-and-center earlier this week in Hotel Fractionation. Today, we discuss highlights from the first of two planned Drill Down Reports on fractionators and other key assets at the nation’s largest NGL hub, and the potentially broader effects of a fractionation-capacity shortfall.
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It’s no secret by now that Permian natural gas pipelines have been running near full the last few months, jam-packed like Southern California traffic while trying to whisk away copious volumes of mostly associated natural gas to markets north, south, west and east of the basin. Despite every major artery running near capacity this summer, Permian prices had so far managed to avoid falling below the dreaded $1.00/MMBtu threshold, a precipice that historically defines a gas producing basin as definitively oversupplied. That all changed yesterday, as word came in that Southern California Gas Company, one of the largest recipients of Permian gas, has nearly filled its gas storage caverns and will soon need far less gas hitting its borders. That’s particularly bad news for the Permian, which has few other options if it needs to reduce the supply that is currently flowing west out of the basin to California. A large unplanned outage for maintenance was also announced on one of the pipelines leaving the Permian and heading north to the Midcontinent. As a result, the SoCalGas news and maintenance combined to put a huge dent in Permian gas prices, some of which plunged as low as 50 cents in Wednesday’s trading. Today, we detail this most recent development and the implications for Permian gas takeaway.
It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain on Houston and its environs, but memories from those fateful days remain remarkably fresh. Harvey is not only unforgettable, it put a spotlight on just how important Texas refineries — and the refined-products pipeline infrastructure connected to them — are to the rest of the U.S. For several days, more than half of the Gulf Coast’s refining capacity was offline. Major pipelines transporting gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to the East Coast and the Midwest shut down too. But how do Harvey’s impacts on refining and refined products markets compare with the effects of other major hurricanes this century? Today, we conclude our series on Gulf Coast refining and pipeline infrastructure, and how a natural disaster along the coast can impact the rest of the country.
The crude oil hub at Cushing, OK, has more than 90 MMbbl of tankage, 3.7 MMb/d of incoming pipeline capacity and 3.1 MMb/d of outbound pipes. That’s an impressive amount of infrastructure by any standard. The real marvel of the place, though, is the variety of important roles it plays and services it provides for a wide range of market participants — producers, midstream companies, refiners and marketers, as well as producer/marketer and refiner/marketer hybrids. To truly understand Cushing — what it does and how it works — you need to know the hub’s assets and how they fit together. Today, we continue a series on the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a look at the companies that own Cushing storage capacity and how that storage is put to use.
Y-grade, welcome to the Hotel Fractionation. You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave! OK, so that’s a bit of an overstatement. But there is no doubt that the U.S. NGL market has entered a period of disruption unlike anything seen in recent memory. Mont Belvieu fractionation capacity is, for all intents and purposes, maxed out. Production of purity NGL products is constrained to what can be fractionated, and with ethane demand ramping up alongside new petchem plants coming online, ethane prices are soaring. But that’s only a symptom of the problem. Production of y-grade — that mix of NGLs produced from gas processing plants — continues to increase in the Permian and around the country. Sooo … If you can’t fractionate any more y-grade, what happens to those incremental y-grade barrels being produced? How much can the industry sock away in underground storage caverns? Does it make economic sense to put large volumes of y-grade into storage if it will be years before it can be withdrawn? — i.e., “you can never leave.” And what happens if y-grade storage capacity fills up? Today, we begin a blog series to consider these issues and how they might impact not only NGL markets, but the markets for natural gas and crude oil as well.
Any joint venture has its pros and cons for each party, and in an ideal world, everyone involved in a JV sees net benefits from pairing up with a partner. A quarter-century ago, state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) purchased a 50% stake in Shell’s Deer Park, TX, refinery. The JV partners also entered into a 30-year processing agreement under which each would purchase half of the refinery’s crude feedstock and own half the output. Separately, Pemex agreed to supply as much as 200 Mb/d of Mexico’s heavy sour Maya crude to Deer Park and Shell agreed to supply Pemex with 35-40 Mb/d of gasoline to help meet Mexico’s refined products deficit. The partners recently agreed to an early extension of the deal by 10 years from 2023 to 2033, while reducing the supply of Maya crude after 2023 to 70 Mb/d, to be sold at a fixed price. Today, we continue an analysis of the JV and the new changes to it.
For the first time in years, natural gas takeaway capacity constraints from the Marcellus/Utica producing region appear to be easing, even as production volumes from the area continue to record new highs. That’s allowed regional supply prices this year to strengthen dramatically relative to national benchmark Henry Hub. A closer look at pipeline flow data indicates these developments stem from shifting gas flows that coincide with the ramp-up of Energy Transfer Partners’ Rover Pipeline. In today’s blog, we continue our update of the Northeast gas market with the latest on Rover’s gas receipts, along with its effects on other regional takeaway capacity and price relationships.
The late-August decision by Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal to overturn the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project will delay the project’s completion to at least 2021 or 2022. And — who knows? — the unanimous ruling may ultimately lead to TMX’s undoing, despite the Canadian government’s acquisition of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline and the expansion project and its commitment to get TMX built. As producers in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) know all too well, TMX’s 590 Mb/d of incremental pipeline capacity would help to resolve ever-worsening pipeline takeaway constraints out of the Alberta oil sands and other production areas in the WCSB. These constraints are having a major economic impact every day — as evidenced by price differentials wide enough to run a locomotive through. Speaking of trains, crude-by-rail exports out of Western Canada reached a record 205 Mb/d in June, an 86% increase from the same month last year, and with WCSB production rising as new oil sands capacity comes online and with only limited relief likely on the pipeline capacity front from the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Project in late 2019, many producers will need to depend on rail shipments of crude well into the 2020s. Today, we discuss the recent court ruling and what it means for Western Canadian producers, price spreads and the future of crude-by-rail.
Each of the “second wave” liquefaction/LNG export projects along the U.S. Gulf Coast now closing in on a Final Investment Decision (FID) believes it has an edge — that special something that will enable it to cross the finish line ahead of its competitors. Things like a prime location, access to an existing network of natural gas pipelines, lower capital costs, or going with smaller “midscale” liquefaction trains instead of traditional big ones. Some tout the experience and depth of their executive teams, while others claim that thinking outside the box is key. Time will soon tell which two or three (or four) projects advance to FID. Today, we continue our series on the next round of liquefaction/LNG export terminals “coming up” with a look at NextDecade’s plan for the Rio Grande LNG project in Brownsville, TX, which would export large volumes of Permian and Eagle Ford gas.
The push to develop local sources of frac sand — and significantly reduce well-completion costs in the process — started in the Permian Basin, but it didn’t end there. A number of new sand mines are being opened and developed in the Eagle Ford in South Texas, and there are early signs the same is happening in the SCOOP/STACK in Oklahoma. With local sand eliminating the need for rail deliveries and rail-to-truck transloading terminals, sand and logistics companies are streamlining the delivery and management of frac sand by providing integrated mine-to-well-site proppant services. Today, we discuss recent developments on the frac sand front and what they mean for exploration and production companies in key plays.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1993, the Mexican national oil company — Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex — purchased a 50% stake in Shell’s Deer Park, TX, refinery. The joint-venture partners entered into a 30-year processing agreement under which each would purchase half of the refinery’s crude feedstock and own half the output. Separately, Pemex agreed to supply as much as 200 Mb/d of Mexico’s heavy sour Maya crude to Deer Park and Shell agreed to supply Pemex with 35-40 Mb/d of gasoline to help meet Mexico’s refined products deficit. The partners recently agreed to an early extension of the deal by 10 years from 2023 to 2033, while reducing the supply of Maya crude after 2023 to 70 Mb/d, to be sold at a fixed price. Today, we begin a two-part series on the joint venture with a look at how Pemex has benefitted.
The Marcellus/Utica region is in the midst of a major turning point. Natural gas production from the region continues to post record highs. But regional basis differentials to Henry Hub are the strongest they’ve been at this time of year since 2013. Spot prices at Dominion South — the representative location for the overall Marcellus-Utica supply — averaged at a $0.35/MMBtu discount to Henry Hub this August, compared with a $1-plus discount to Henry in each of the past four years. The deep discounts in previous years reflected the inadequate takeaway capacity and the resulting pipeline constraints to get gas out of the region. Now, basis shifts suggest those constraints are easing somewhat — a trend that will redefine pricing relationships across the broader gas market. In today’s blog, we continue a series examining the changing flow and price dynamics in the Northeast gas market.
The race is on to be the first to reach a Final Investment Decision (FID) for the next round of U.S. liquefaction/LNG export terminals along the Gulf Coast. And like the Kentucky Derby, being first — or, at worst, second or third — is a do-or-die proposition, because only a very small number of these projects are likely to line up the multibillion-dollar commitments needed to push them over the FID line. The tried-and-true approach of LNG project financing has been to secure a stack of long-term Sales and Purchase Agreements (SPAs) from international LNG trading companies or huge overseas utilities, and that’s the tack being taken by Venture Global LNG, which is developing two projects near the Louisiana coast that, if built, would consume a total of nearly 4 Bcf/d of U.S. natural gas. Today, we continue our series on the next round of liquefaction/LNG export terminals “coming up” with a look at Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass and Plaquemines projects.
The Utica and “wet” Marcellus plays in eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania are producing increasing volumes of natural gas liquids and field condensates that need to be moved to market. In response, MPLX, a master limited partnership formed by Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC) six years ago, has been implementing a multi-part strategy to develop new or expanded pipeline takeaway capacity through the Midwest to deal specifically with the heaviest NGLs — natural gasoline and other pentanes — and with field condensates. That work is now largely done, the results have been positive, and MPLX is now undertaking the next phase of its strategy that will further expand the system’s capacity and add a new element: the ability to transport batches of two other, lighter NGLs — normal butane and isobutane — on a few of the same pipelines. Today, we discuss the next steps the company is taking to facilitate the transport of liquid hydrocarbons out of the Utica and Marcellus.
In the first half of 2018, the U.S. E&P sector continued to reap the benefits of its dramatic evolution from decades of “boom or bust” exploration to large-scale, manufacturing-style exploitation of premier resource plays. Upstream companies halved their break-evens and reserve replacement costs through technological innovation, financial discipline, and ruthless portfolio paring, which allowed them to generate record domestic oil production in 2018 on half the capital outlays expended in 2014. As a result, the 44 E&Ps we track reported $21 billion in pre-tax operating profits in the first half of 2018, up from $6.2 billion in the first six months of 2017, and over $50 billion in operating cash flow, up from $39 billion a year ago. Most notably, these companies are on pace to garner an astonishing $30 billion in free cash flow. Today, we discuss the ongoing effort by leading E&Ps to maintain financial discipline in a period of strong oil and gas prices.
It’s been a year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall and devastated the Texas Gulf Coast, and the Atlantic Basin is once again entering peak hurricane season. Among the widespread and prolonged effects of Harvey was the disruption of refinery and refined product pipeline capacity along the Gulf Coast, which then reverberated in downstream markets across Texas, and the U.S. East Coast and Midwest regions. As such, a closer look at Harvey’s timeline provides key insights into the importance of Gulf Coast refineries to the broader U.S. market. Today, we continue our series on Gulf Coast refining and pipeline infrastructure, and how a natural disaster along the coast can impact the rest of the country.