ExxonMobil earlier this month told analysts in New York that the company expects to add a total of 400 Mb/d of capacity to its three giant Gulf Coast refineries by 2025. Exxon plans to upgrade existing refineries in Houston (Baytown) and Baton Rouge, LA, to increase production of higher-value products and to add a new crude distillation unit to its 362-Mb/d Beaumont, TX, plant after 2020. A final investment decision on the Beaumont expansion — which reportedly would double the refinery’s throughput capacity and make it the largest refinery in the U.S. — is expected later this year and follows a $6 billion investment by Exxon to triple crude output from its Permian Basin production assets in West Texas. Today, we discuss the existing Beaumont operation, its feedstock sources, and the refined-product demand that supports the plant’s expansion.
Mexico’s natural gas pipeline network is entering a crucial phase of expansion with the expected completion of the La Laguna-Aguascalientes and Villa de Reyes-Aguascalientes-Guadalajara pipelines later this year. These new pipelines will be linked together with the existing Roadrunner, Tarahumara and El Encino-La Laguna pipelines to form the second largest integrated natural gas transportation network in Mexico. This system will link central Mexico with the northwestern part of the country, which is already supplied by gas flowing in from the Waha Hub on the U.S. side of the border and provide additional demand markets for Permian Basin natural gas. Fermaca, a Mexico City-based company, is constructing the new route, and its marketing affiliate, Santa Fe Gas, is actively building a natural gas marketing business within Mexico. Today, we examine Fermaca’s natural gas marketing affiliate and its role in bringing new supply from the U.S. to Mexico’s natural gas market.
Western Canadian Select (WCS), a heavy crude oil blend, has been selling for about $25/bbl less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at the Cushing, OK, hub — a hard-to-bear experience for oil sands producers that have made big investments over the past few years to ratchet up their output. And the WCS/WTI spread is unlikely to improve much any time soon. Pipeline takeaway capacity out of Alberta has not kept pace with oil sands production growth, and existing pipes are running so full that some owners have been forced to apportion access to them. Crude-by-rail (CBR) is a relief valve, but it can be costly. Worse yet, production continues to increase and the addition of new pipeline capacity is two years away — maybe more — so deep discounts for WCS are likely to stick around. Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on Western Canadian crude markets.
The supply-demand dynamic in Louisiana — and around the national benchmark pricing location Henry Hub — is rapidly changing, with LNG exports providing a new demand source in the state and both producers and midstreamers in high gear to push more supply there. These factors will disrupt existing flow patterns and pricing relationships in the region over the next two or three years, eventually turning the market entirely on its head. Today, we continue our series on the Louisiana market transformation with a detailed look at the infrastructure and gas flow trends already underway, starting with what’s going on in the eastern half of the state.
The aftershocks are still being felt from last Thursday’s decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that interstate gas and liquids pipelines’ cost-based tariff rates can’t include anything for income taxes if the pipelines are owned by master limited partnerships (MLPs) — and most are. Many investors did freak out — no other phrase sums it up better — when they heard that news. Share prices for midstream companies plummeted in midday trading, and we imagine that many angry calls were made by investors to their financial advisers. “Why didn’t we know about this?!” In fact, although this proceeding had been simmering for a while, FERC’s action was harsher than expected by most experts. But the impact of the change is likely to be less far-reaching than the Wall Street frenzy would have you believe, at least for most MLPs. And, by the way, the issue at hand — whether and how to factor in taxes in calculating MLPs’ cost-of-service-based rates for interstate pipelines –– has been around for decades. Today, we discuss FERC’s new policy statement on the treatment of income taxes and what it means for natural gas, crude oil, natural gas liquid (NGL) and refined product pipeline rates; and for investors in MLPs that own and operate the systems.
With U.S. NGL production hitting a record high of just over 4.0 MMb/d in the fourth quarter of 2017 and ethane production also reaching record volumes at 1.6 MMb/d, the price for ethane has remained stuck at about 25 c/gal — where it’s been for the past two years, even though prices for other NGLs are up over the same period. The combination of roaring high-ethane-content Permian and SCOOP/STACK NGL volumes, coupled with steam cracker outages and construction delays due to Hurricane Harvey, have landed us here. So where do we expect the ethane market to go now as incremental cracker and export demand ramp up in 2018 and 2019? Today, we continue a series on our updated NGL market forecast, highlighting the NGL product whose market is going through the most changes: ethane.
The worst of this winter’s cold has passed, but the impact of structural changes in U.S. power generation will be felt in natural gas markets for years to come. The generation mix has been changing rapidly in recent years, and the switch from coal to gas is happening at an even faster pace on the East Coast than in the country overall. This switch reflects both coal-plant retirements and ongoing competition between remaining coal plants and gas plants. But low-cost gas supplies in the Marcellus and Utica plays don’t always have ready access to the biggest consuming markets, and this winter, we saw how the increasing call on gas for Eastern power generation can stress the gas pipeline grid and cause price blowouts. Today, we continue a series on Eastern power generation and prices by untangling the sources and drivers of gas-fired generation growth in the region.
There was a time many moons ago when vast quantities of natural gas from offshore Louisiana production flowed through scores of gas processing plants along the coast, then moved north and east in pipelines destined for the Northeast and Midwest. Those flow patterns have since been turned on their head, with offshore production steadily declining and the need for gas supplies for LNG exports along the coast ramping up, driving gas southward to meet that demand. That southbound gas includes Haynesville production — now back in growth mode — and a deluge of inflows from the Marcellus/Utica on reversed pipelines and new pipes. Supply in northern Louisiana will continue rising, while demand in southern Louisiana will do the same. With Henry Hub at the epicenter of this transformation, the consequences not only for Louisiana but for the entire natural gas market will be far-reaching. Today, we begin a series to examine how Louisiana natural gas flowed historically, the shifts that have already happened, the impact of more changes just ahead, and what it all means for the future of natural gas in Bayou Country.
Natural gas flows and market dynamics are shifting at national benchmark Henry Hub. Supply receipts at Henry this year to date have doubled since the comparable period last year to nearly 450 MMcf/d, on average. That’s also a five-fold increase from the same period in 2016. In fact, current gas flows through the hub are the highest we’ve seen since 2009. The last time we saw this level of flows through the hub was when Gulf of Mexico offshore gas production volumes — much of which hit the U.S. pipeline system in southern Louisiana — were still topping 6.0 Bcf/d. That was also before the Marcellus/Utica Shale gas supply ballooned, effectively emptying out the pipeline capacity that used to flow gas north from the Gulf Coast. Now, many of those pipelines have reversed flows and the hub is showing signs of becoming a destination market for that Northeast gas and other supply targeting LNG export demand on the Gulf Coast. Today, we continue our short series looking at the changing physical flows at Henry Hub.
First came the “aha moment,” the realization that the Permian’s unusually complex geology — with multiple layers packed with hydrocarbons — is a solvable puzzle, and that the financial rewards for exploration and production companies could be very attractive. Then came the highly competitive scramble to acquire acreage in the most promising parts of the Permian’s Delaware and Midland basins. Now, with many producer’s acreage largely de-risked, competition to provide needed gathering systems and processing plants is white-hot, with some midstreamers in the prolific Delaware offering to write big checks to producers up front for commitments to infrastructure that in some cases is still on the drawing boards. These pay-to-play deals are ricocheting through the Permian business development community — at least in the Delaware. Today, we discuss recent developments in producer/midstreamer relations in the nation’s most active hydrocarbon play.
When Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), owner of the East Coast’s largest refinery, recently announced it was seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it begged a question: What happened? The answer requires a look back at the company’s original vision — namely, to capture the upside of the Shale Revolution by processing price-advantaged light, sweet crude oil produced in the U.S. — as well as a review of market developments that undermined its plan. Today, we look at the factors that drove PES’s hopes and why, in the end, they weren’t realized.
U.S. crude oil exports from the Gulf Coast remain at a high level, as does interest in transporting crude to Asia and Europe in Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) capable of carrying as much as 2 million barrels (MMbbl) each. The catch is that only one Gulf port — the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) — can send out fully loaded VLCCs, and so far LOOP has loaded only one; other Gulf ports need to fill or top off the gargantuan tankers in open waters using reverse lightering. Plans are afoot to allow greater use of VLCCs, but how long will they take to implement? Today, we discuss the economic benefits of exporting crude on supertankers, the growing use of VLCCs for Gulf Coast exports and the challenges exporters face in utilizing them even more this year and next.
In recent weeks, both crude oil and natural gas production have breached all-time records. So it should come as no surprise the same thing happened to NGLs — production blasted to over 4.0 MMb/d in the fourth quarter of 2017, and by our estimates will move considerably higher this year. This is a particularly big deal for the ethane market, which has spent the last eight years waiting patiently for a wave of new Gulf Coast ethane-only petrochemical plants — a.k.a. “steam crackers” — to come online in 2018. Well, here we are in 2018 and new demand from the crackers is finally kicking in. The good news for petchems is that all of the incremental NGL production means the supply of ethane available to the market is growing too, right on cue. What do these developments mean for future NGL production, demand and prices? Today, we begin a new blog series discussing our updated NGL market forecasts, starting with that NGL product whose market is going through the most changes: ethane.
The combination of rising Western Canadian crude oil production, little-to-no available pipeline takeaway capacity and setbacks for pipeline projects appear to be breathing new life into crude-by-rail (CBR) activity. CBR played an important supporting role earlier this decade, helping address incremental takeaway needs until new pipelines came online. And there would seem to be plenty of CBR capacity at hand this time around — the region saw some serious over-building of crude-loading terminals in 2014-15. But there may be challenges in getting some of that CBR capacity back online quickly. Today, we continue our series on Western Canadian crude, this time focusing on the crude-by-rail factor.
All this talk of trade wars is one more thing for U.S. oil and gas producers to worry about. That’s because overseas exports are the only thing balancing natural gas and NGL markets, and increasingly crude oil also relies on exports to clear light-sweet volumes from U.S. shale plays. More than half of propane produced in the U.S. already moves out of the country via ship, with China, Japan and South Korea among the highest-volume destination markets. Only about 3 Bcf/d of natural gas has been exported as LNG over the past few months, but there was only one lower-48 LNG export terminal operating until last week. In a year there will be six terminals pumping out LNG to overseas markets. And so far this year, an average of 1.4 MMb/d of crude oil — one-seventh of U.S. production — has reached the waterborne export market, not including all the gasoline and distillate exports. As exports assume an ever-larger role in U.S. hydrocarbon markets, it is important to consider ramifications of possible constraints on exports, including the potential for trade retaliation in response to President Trump’s recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum. Exports, one of the key topics we’ll consider at our upcoming School of Energy — Spring 2018, is the subject of today’s blog.