Crude Oil

Thursday, 09/17/2020

In a normal year, the autumn months would be filled with the smell of brisket at a tailgate barbecue and the sound of college football fans cheering in their favorite team's stadium. But with the college football stadiums largely empty due to COVID-19, is there something that could fill the void? Well, maybe. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) a couple months back issued a notice proposing Lease Sale 256 for oil and gas exploration of 78.8 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). You will probably not be able to find the announcement of the lease sale on ESPN this November, but you will be able to tune into the livestream set in New Orleans. Today, we describe the process for bidding and acquiring lease acreage in the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, 09/14/2020

A combination of new-pipeline development, lower capex by producers, production shut-ins, and changing expectations for future production has significantly altered crude oil and natural gas market fundamentals in the all-important Permian Basin. Just over a year ago, Permian production was rising steadily and oil and gas pipelines out of West Texas were running at or near full capacity. Since then, nearly 2.2 MMb/d of incremental crude takeaway capacity has come online, and production dropped by about 700 Mb/d before rebounding somewhat in recent weeks. As for gas, some takeaway constraints remain, but they are limited to when pipelines are offline for maintenance, and will be alleviated when new pipelines start operating in 2021. Today, we discuss the recent downs and ups in Permian production, takeaway capacity additions, and the resulting impacts on markets and market participants.

Thursday, 09/10/2020

The offshore Gulf of Mexico is often viewed as the rock-steady player in U.S. crude oil production. Unlike price-trigger-happy shale producers that quickly ratchet their activity up or down, depending on what WTI is selling for that month or quarter, producers in the Gulf base their big, upfront investments in new platforms or subsea tiebacks on very long-term oil-price expectations. Also, unlike shale wells, whose production peaks early then trails off, wells in the GOM typically maintain high levels of production for years and years. But don’t think for a minute that production in the Gulf can’t spike down, if there’s a good reason. GOM output dropped by 300 Mb/d, or 16%, from March to April as producers shut down wells in response to sharply lower oil prices, and a couple of weeks ago more than 80% of GOM wells were taken offline in anticipation of Hurricane Laura. Today, we look at offshore oil production ups and downs in a wild and woolly year and what’s ahead for the GOM.

Tuesday, 09/08/2020

As the year 2020 wears on, it seems that every month brings a new surprise. In August, in addition to the ongoing pandemic and protests, a major hurricane was added to the mix. What comes next is anybody’s guess. A zombie apocalypse? An alien invasion? At this point, the possibilities seem boundless. And the energy industry has been no stranger to this year’s turmoil, what with COVID-related demand destruction, an oil-price collapse, and production shut-ins. Amidst the chaos, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that for the first time, private-sector energy companies would be allowed to store crude oil in the U.S.’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which resulted in the leasing of 23 MMbbl of capacity. Recently, those volumes have begun to be drawn back out. Today, we examine the factors influencing movements of crude oil into and out of the U.S. SPR.

Monday, 09/07/2020

Western Canadian producers have been deeply impacted by lower crude oil prices and the demand-destroying effects of COVID-19. This past spring, oil production in the vast region dropped by an estimated 940 Mb/d, or as much as 20% from the record highs earlier this year. Taking that much production offline helped in at least one sense: it eased long-standing constraints on takeaway pipelines like Enbridge’s Canadian Mainline, TC Energy’s Keystone Pipeline, and the government of Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. Production has been rebounding this summer, however, and there are indications that pipeline constraints may be returning and apportionment of uncommitted space on some pipes may again become a persistent issue. Today, we continue a review of production and takeaway capacity in Alberta and its provincial neighbors with a look at apportionment trends on the biggest pipelines.

Thursday, 09/03/2020

Yup. Pigs are critical to the safety and integrity of pipelines. Some are your basic utilitarian pigs, while others are quite smart, if not downright cool. No, these are not the pigs down on the farm. Instead, these pigs are devices run through pipes to clean, inspect, and support “batching” on hydrocarbon pipeline networks. They help ensure the safe and efficient transportation of crude oil, NGLs, petroleum products, and natural gas through more than 2.5 million miles of pipeline in the U.S. If you’re interested in energy and energy delivery, you’ve gotta know about pigs, and that's just what we'll be discussing in today’s blog.

Tuesday, 09/01/2020

Pipelines are lifelines to refineries, steam crackers, and other consumers of energy commodities, and even the hint that a major pipeline may be shut down raises big-time concerns. For evidence, look no further than Enbridge’s Line 5, which batches light crude oil and a propane/normal-butane mix across Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and to points beyond. One of Line 5’s two pipes under the Straits of Mackinac is temporarily out of service, halving the 540-Mb/d pipeline’s throughput, and Michigan’s attorney general continues to pursue a lawsuit that, if successful, could be Line 5’s death knell. Enbridge also is facing a fight on its plan to replace the twin underwater pipes with a new, safer “tunnel” alternative. All of which raises the question, what would be the market effects if Line 5 is permanently closed? Today, we conclude a miniseries on one of the Upper Midwest’s most important liquids pipelines.

Sunday, 08/30/2020

In May of this year, Western Canada’s oil production shut-ins due to weak demand and poor pricing were estimated to have peaked near 1 MMb/d, resulting in a 20% drop from the near-record production levels reached only a few months earlier. The magnitude of the production fall in such a short period of time caused a significant drop in the utilization of pipelines that transport crude oil from Alberta to other parts of Canada and the U.S. All of a sudden, pipelines that had been heavily rationing their capacity over the past couple of years to accommodate steadily rising production suddenly had ample spare capacity. With those supplies now on the road to recovery, pipelines have begun to fill some of that extra space and are moving toward rationing capacity once again. Today, we continue our review of Western Canadian production and takeaway capacity with a look at how this spring’s production cuts affected the region’s biggest pipelines.

Sunday, 08/23/2020

The Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t the only interstate liquids pipe facing an uncertain future. The fate of Enbridge’s Line 5, which batches either light crude oil or a propane/butanes mix from Superior, WI, through Michigan and into Ontario, also hangs in the balance as the company renews its battle with Michigan’s top elected officials to keep the 67-year-old pipeline open and its effort win regulatory approval to replace the pipe’s most important water crossing. Line 5 supporters say that closing the 540-Mb/d pipeline would slash supplies to residential and commercial propane consumers in the Great Lakes State, steam crackers in Ontario, and refineries and gasoline blenders in three states and two Canadian provinces. Critics of Line 5 counter that there are plenty of supply alternatives. Today we discuss the pipeline, what it transports, and who it serves, as well as challenges it faces.

Tuesday, 08/18/2020

The oil price meltdown earlier this year and demand destruction wrought by COVID-19 forced Canadian crude oil producers to throttle back output. At the height of the cutbacks in May, almost 1 MMb/d of oil supply had been curtailed due to uneconomic prices and/or lack of downstream demand. With oil prices and demand having staged a partial recovery in the past few months, production is rising off the lows and producers are talking about even higher supplies in the months ahead, with the prospect of returning to pre-pandemic levels. Today, we begin a short series that reviews the recent production pullback and discusses how producers are positioning themselves for a resurgence of their oil supplies.

Sunday, 08/09/2020

It’s only August, but the folks involved in Permian markets must feel like they’ve already packed in a full year’s worth of action. The events are well known by now, but they’re still remarkable. A crash in refining utilization, followed by massive field shut-ins, all precipitated by a novel virus and exacerbated by some unusual moves by global oil producers. The year’s not over, and the coronavirus hasn’t gone away like a miracle, but a calm has emerged in oil prices that has helped producers get their sea legs. While $40/bbl West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is a far cry from where we started 2020, it’s been just enough to get most of the shut-in crude production back online in West Texas. Today, we provide an update on the status of curtailments in the Permian Basin.

Wednesday, 08/05/2020

The collapse in crude oil prices this year hit U.S. producers hard, and forced them to make big cuts in their capital budgets and drilling plans. But it also helped to prove their resilience. Throughout the Shale Era, and especially since the 2014-15 oil price crash, producers have been increasing their productivity and slashing their production costs, enabling most of them to survive even when prices slipped below $30 and $20/bbl for a while. Not all producers are alike, however — neither is all production. Even with oil prices rebounding to about $40/bbl in recent weeks, production based on enhanced oil recovery (EOR) through carbon-dioxide (CO2) “flooding” has become economically challenged, at least for some producers. Can EOR, with its high production costs, survive in a low-price environment? Today, we take a fresh look at EOR in an era of $40/bbl crude.

Thursday, 07/30/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has undone a number of long-standing energy-market expectations. Just a few months ago, U.S. crude oil production was hitting new heights, export volumes were rising fast, and producers, shippers, and others were worried whether there would be sufficient marine-terminal capacity in place. Now, crude production is down sharply, and while crude exports have held up during this year’s market turmoil, the old belief that exports would keep rising through the early 2020s is out the window. Where does that change in expectations leave all those crude export terminals along the Gulf Coast, many of which were recently built or expanded to help handle the flood of crude that was supposed to be heading their way? Today, we discuss highlights from RBN’s new Drill Down Report on crude-handling marine facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coast.

Wednesday, 07/29/2020

As the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise, so does the oil patch’s apprehension that crude oil prices could be poised to take another hit. If that happens, producers would have to review, yet again, their plans for optimizing production as best they can, given their pricing outlook. But producers do not all receive uniform prices reflecting NYMEX WTI for their physical barrels — far from it. Crude quality and proximity to a demand market can make a big difference in the price that the barrels will ultimately sell for. Price reporting agencies (PRAs) such as Argus and Platts track and publish these differentials. But how are those differentials calculated and how do they affect producers? Today, we discuss crude differentials and their impact. 

Monday, 07/20/2020

Associated natural gas production out of the Permian Basin rebounded sharply a few weeks ago, indicating production curtailments that went into effect in May in response to low crude oil prices are coming back online. Just as abruptly as gas production dived in early May, it lurched upward in late June, nearly back to where it was before the shut-ins began. But the rig count has continued falling to a record low, and indications are that many of the wells drilled over the past few weeks have not been completed. The meager drilling and completion activity suggests that the natural declines of existing wells, which were temporarily exaggerated by the shut-ins, will now be felt — and felt for as long as rig counts remain depressed — not just in the Permian but also in other oil-focused basins. Daily gas production volumes in the Permian in the past 10 days or so already are slipping, despite shut-ins tapering. Today, we examine the latest production trends in the Permian and what it will mean for the gas production outlook.