Traditional domestic propane markets were dominated by seasonal consumer demand in the Northeast and Mid-Continent and petrochemical industry demand in the Gulf Coast region. Today domestic demand is still dominated by these two sectors although consumer use is declining slowly while new propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plants look set to boost chemical demand. Meantime the bounty of shale production has swamped domestic consumer needs – making exports by far the largest growth sector. Today we continue our deep dive review of the propane market.
This blog and others in the series are based on an analysis recently completed by RBN for the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC). PERC engaged RBN to assess market developments that could impact the prospects of disruptions similar to the one that occurred in the Perfect Storm winter of 2013-14, and to suggest actions that could alleviate the risk of such market turmoil. The project was completed in August and with the permission of PERC, this blog series summarizes some of RBN’s analysis and conclusions.
This is the fifth episode in the series. Episode 1 provided an overview and introduction to the analysis – beginning with the dramatic increase in propane production over the past 7 years. Total U.S. propane output has increased by nearly 70% from an average of 0.8 MMb/d in 2008 to 1.4 MMb/d during the 1st half of 2015. Most of that growth has been driven by production from gas processing plants that has more than doubled from 0.5 MMb/d in 2008 to 1.1 MMb/d in 2015. The overall growth in propane has outpaced domestic demand such that as much as 50% of the total is now exported to balance the market – even as inventories are at all time high levels. RBN’s analysis for PERC sought to understand changes to the propane market since the disruptive winter of 2013-14 as well as how susceptible today’s market is to similar events and what actions should be taken to reduce the risk of it happening again. Our approach to the analysis involved developing a monthly model of U.S. propane supply, demand, logistics and pricing at the PADD (Petroleum Administration District for Defense) level using historic propane market data. In Episode 2 we outlined supply and demand scenarios for the model based on oil price Growth and Contraction as well as Normal and Severe weather patterns. Episode 3 took a closer look at propane production by PADD region – noting the dramatic growth in the Northeast as well as the Midwest. Episode 4 detailed regional historic and future projected propane demand by PADD. This time we look at domestic propane demand sectors and the projected influence of weather on consumption.
The largest domestic U.S. propane demand sector is petrochemicals - expected to consume about 415 Mb/d during 2015. Propane is mainly used by the chemicals industry as a feedstock for two kinds of petrochemical plants. The first is olefin steam crackers that primarily produce ethylene – a petrochemical building block used to manufacture a wide variety of fiber, liquid chemical and plastic materials. The second is propane dehydrogenation (PDH – see Son of a PDH Man) plants that produce propylene – another petrochemical building block.