Over the past five years, the production of natural gas liquids from gas processing plants has soared by almost 2 million barrels per day (2 MMb/d), or about 60%. That has been great news for natural gas producers, processors, and end-use markets. But there is a catch: the rate of production does not match up with demand. While production is a steady, “ratable” volume, demand is anything but ratable. Demand swings with the gasoline blending season, cold weather (or lack thereof) in the propane market, export demand, petchem feedstock economics, the impact of COVID-19 on transportation fuels, and a myriad of other factors. The flywheel that balances supply and demand on any given day is storage. Not just any storage, though. For NGLs, storage of large volumes means salt caverns. Huge caverns thousands of feet below the surface. Today, we update one of RBN’s Greatest Hits blogs and take a deep dive into the history of NGL storage — all the way back to Smoky Billue.
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.
The global effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 brought the commercial aviation sector to its knees, and slashed demand for jet fuel to its lowest level in 50 years. That, combined with lower demand for motor gasoline and — to a lesser extent — diesel, forced refineries in the U.S. and elsewhere to substantially reduce their crude oil input and to make major changes in their operations, all with the aim of bringing refined product supply and demand into closer balance. After a horrific spring, U.S. jet fuel production and demand have been rebounding somewhat in recent weeks, but getting back to pre-coronavirus levels may take a long time. Today, we review the flight from hell that the jet fuel market has suffered through so far this year, and how it is affecting refineries.
The Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal — Canada’s first propane export facility — has been a game changer since it started up in May 2019. Located along the coast of British Columbia, RIPET has been shipping record amounts of propane to Asian markets in recent months, just as Western Canadian propane production has been sagging due to the twin pressures of crude oil price weakness and COVID-19-related disruptions. With production down, RIPET gradually ramping up its export capacity, a second export terminal poised to come online nearby, and Canadian demand for propane holding steady, something has to give, right? Today, we examine the changing supply/demand outlook for Western Canadian propane, and what it might mean for railed exports to the U.S.
The Northeast natural gas market this past spring and early summer averted a major meltdown, as production shut-ins, record cooling demand, and increased outflows helped the region balance. But the fall shoulder season is liable to be less forgiving, given that storage levels are much higher and carrying a surplus to prior years. Now, shut-in wells are back online for the most part and production has surged. In-region demand has been at record highs, but summer cooling demand will peak soon and give way to balmy fall weather. As that happens, the Northeast will increasingly rely on outbound flows to offset a growing supply imbalance. But pipeline capacity utilization for routes moving gas out of the region have been running high already. How much incremental volumes can the takeaway pipelines absorb before constraints develop and hammer regional supply prices? Today, we analyze flows and capacity out of the region.
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.
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.
The fundamental drivers of global energy markets are shifting as the world begins to recover from the crisis induced by COVID-19. North American natural gas markets have been upended this year by a multitude of events, chief among them the plunge in crude oil prices and a dramatic drop in LNG exports. Other smaller, yet relevant, factors have been gyrating as well, including natural gas exports to Mexico by pipeline. After climbing to new highs last fall, piped gas exports to our southern neighbor suffered significantly during the worst of this spring’s series of calamities, but things are looking up. Total exports across the border have reached new highs this month, with just-completed infrastructure in Mexico assisting in the jump. Perhaps things are getting back to normal, at least in this small corner of the energy markets. Today, we provide an update on exports of natural gas from the U.S. to Mexico.
Propane exports from AltaGas and Vopak’s Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal on the west coast of British Columbia jumped to 52 Mb/d in May, the highest since it began operations in May 2019 and exceeding the terminal’s original design capacity for the second time this year. The increased exports suggest expanded capacity at the facility and the potential for sustained higher exports from there even as Western Canada’s propane supplies plateaued in 2019 and then were hammered lower earlier this year as oil prices and demand collapsed. The resulting tighter balance in the greater Pacific Northwest region has boosted prices there, wreaking havoc on price spreads and disrupting rail movements to U.S. destinations that have relied on them for the past few years, from the Midwest to California. Moreover, Western Canadian export capacity is poised to nearly double by next spring, when a second nearby export terminal is slated to begin operations. With supply upside looking tenuous, but overseas exports set to rise further in early 2021, there is a serious squeeze emerging for propane rail exports to the U.S. Today, we consider the implications of what could be a much tighter propane market in Western Canada over the next few years.
U.S. Northeast natural gas production has surged nearly 1.5 Bcf/d in the past four weeks as wells that were shut-in this spring came back to life. The supply gains have been matched by strong intraregional demand, which has posted at or near record highs on a monthly average basis in recent months. But the returning supply volumes raise the question: what happens when summer cooling demand begins to fade? Storage will only be able to absorb so much, as regional storage inventories are already well above year-ago levels and the historical average for this time of year. That leaves flows out of the region as the only other outlet for excess supply, and those may be limited as well, as pipeline issues and drastically reduced downstream demand from LNG exports have stymied outflows. So, is the Northeast gas market headed for a shoulder-season meltdown? Appalachian gas supply prices this month already have weakened relative to the national benchmark Henry Hub, and these dynamics suggest there is more tumult ahead. Today, we consider what’s in store for the Northeast gas market this fall given the latest fundamentals.
Since the mid-2010s, MPLX has been developing a far-reaching pipeline system for delivering heavier natural gas liquids and field condensate from the Utica and “wet” Marcellus plays to Midwest refineries for gasoline blending and refining, and to the Alberta oil sands for use as diluent. The multi-year, multi-project effort, which has involved the construction of new pipelines, the repurposing of existing pipes, and the development of new storage capacity, will reach another milestone next month, when MPLX starts batching normal butane and isobutane through most of the pipeline system. And further enhancements are on the horizon. Today, we provide an update on the master limited partnership’s long-running strategy for moving Marcellus/Utica-sourced liquids to market more efficiently and at a lower per-barrel cost.
On July 20, 2020, Chevron struck the first major energy sector deal since the onset of the pandemic, announcing a $13 billion agreement to acquire U.S. E&P Noble Energy. The transaction comes 15 months after the oil major bowed out of a bidding war with Occidental Petroleum to acquire Anadarko Petroleum, a landmark, $56 billion deal in which the winner may eventually end up as the loser after taking on massive debt. Oxy is just one example of how the sharp decline in oil demand and prices has ravaged producer cash flows and earnings, virtually freezing the M&A market. Despite widespread speculation that a resumption in deal activity would target the most distressed E&Ps, Chevron has broken the market wide open with a blockbuster deal for a premier E&P. The target this time, Noble Energy, has a portfolio very similar to that of Anadarko, and is being acquired at a small fraction of the cost. Today, we examine the strategies that drove this transaction, the impacts on buyer and seller, and the implications for the upstream M&A market going forward.
Earlier this month, Shell announced that it was exploring the sale of yet another refinery — this time, it is the company’s Convent facility in Louisiana, which is one of the two refineries in the state that remain with Shell from the unwinding of its former joint venture with Saudi Aramco. Convent, with a capacity of 240 Mb/d, is near the middle of the pack in terms of refinery size and possesses some unique characteristics that could make it an attractive option for the right buyer and market conditions. But Shell’s announcement also raises a question, namely, how does the prospective sale compare with the company’s stated intent to focus on a smaller set of refineries integrated with Shell’s key trading hubs and petrochemicals operations? Today, we review the refinery’s characteristics and how it stacks up against its nearby rivals.
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.
With Broadway theaters shuttered and Hollywood studios on lockdown, one of the most compelling long-term American dramas is the ongoing saga of U.S. E&P Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). Act One was a compelling David-vs.-Goliath story as Oxy battled oil major Chevron in early 2019 to acquire Anadarko Petroleum and its prime Permian acreage. Among the most fascinating elements was the supporting cast, which featured business legend Warren Buffett, who contributed a critical $10 billion to push Oxy’s deal over the top, versus billionaire investor and corporate raider Carl Icahn, who led an unsuccessful struggle to stop what he called “the worst deal I’ve ever seen.” Oxy snagged Anadarko with a winning bid of $57 billion, the fourth-highest total for an oil and gas transaction and a 20% premium to Chevron’s offer, and predicted strong future production, dividend, and cash flow growth. But those optimistic projections have been upended in the ongoing Act Two, as plunging oil demand and prices from the COVID-19 pandemic have stymied planned asset sales and ravaged cash flows. Oxy has responded by reining in spending, revamping operations, refocusing divestment plans, and restructuring debt. But is it enough? Today, we analyze the company’s current strategies and financial maneuvering, as well as the near-term outlook, under a range of oil price scenarios.