It’s almost Spring 2020 and energy markets are making another turn. Prices have been clobbered by a combination of low, weather-related demand and COVID-19. Tight capital markets have the E&P sector hunkered down and the pace of production growth is slowing. But at the same time, new pipelines out of the Permian and Bakken are under construction; some are already ramping up flows. Long-delayed LNG terminals and NGL-consuming petrochemical plants are coming online. Essentially all growth in crude and gas — plus most incremental NGL production — is being exported to global markets, and those markets are pushing back. All this has huge implications for commodity flows, infrastructure utilization and price relationships for oil, natural gas and NGLs. Which means that it’s time for RBN’s School of Energy, with all of our curriculum and models updated for the realities of today’s energy markets. Today — in a blatant advertorial — we’ll examine our upcoming School of Energy and explain why this time around we are concentrating even more than usual on NGLs.
Oil-production restraint by OPEC and 10 cooperating countries grows more challenging with time, and just when market projections began to hint at relief for the OPEC-Plus group, the spread of the new coronavirus in China and beyond became a sudden and possibly serious impediment to global economic growth and oil demand. Yesterday’s slide in crude oil prices amid newly heightened concern about the potential pandemic’s effects will only add to the challenges that OPEC-Plus countries will face in managing crude supply. So far, the OPEC-Plus group has achieved unprecedented compliance with its production ceilings, which it implemented in January 2017 and has adapted a few times since in response to market pressure. That effort has kept the crude price above the ruinous levels of 2015, memories of which have encouraged quota discipline. But the threat of a major, coronavirus-related slowdown in global oil demand could seriously undermine OPEC-Plus’s efforts, which already had been hurt by dissent within its ranks. Today, we continue our series with a look at Monday’s price drop, the latest supply and demand forecasts and a discussion of the obstacles that might affect OPEC-Plus going forward.
After a major decontracting and partial recontracting last fall, Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline headed into 2020 with 839 MMcf/d in firm, long-haul commitments for natural gas moving east out of the Rockies for delivery into the Midwest. That volume is down from 1.3-1.8 MMcf/d in firm commitments previously. The contracted volume is also much lower than the peak — and even the average — historical gas flows on the route to the Midwest markets in recent years. At the same time, Tallgrass’s Cheyenne Connector pipeline and Cheyenne Hub Enhancement projects are expected to bring as much as 800 MMcf/d of new firm gas supply from the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin to the REX mainline at Cheyenne Hub. What will these changes mean for Rockies’ eastbound flows and prices? Today, we wrap up our series on REX’s recontracting with an assessment of how the recent contract changes could affect REX gas flows.
There is no such thing as a typical NGL barrel. For example, the composition of y-grade production out of the Marcellus is significantly different from y-grade out of most of the Permian. And it is not just gas processing engineers who care. The make-up of an NGL barrel is inextricably linked to the value of that barrel. The reason is pretty simple: there’s a big difference in the value of each of the five NGL products. These days, natural gasoline is worth nearly eight times as much per gallon as ethane. Normal butane is worth 1.6X as much as propane. Consequently, the more natural gasoline and normal butane in your barrel versus the amounts of ethane and propane, the more the barrel is worth. So it’s important to anyone trying to follow the value added by gas processing and related infrastructure to understand where these numbers come from and how much the composition of a barrel can vary from basin to basin, or for that matter, from well to well. In Part 2 of our series on gas processing, we turn our attention to the variability in the mix of NGL production and its implication for processing uplift.
The fortunes of U.S. midstream companies in 2020 and beyond will be largely determined by how shrewdly they invested during the frenzied infrastructure build-out of the past few years. One of the most interesting case studies is San Antonio-based NuStar Energy, a master limited partnership born in 2001 to hold refiner Valero Energy’s midstream assets and spun off as a separate entity in 2007. In May 2017, as the industry was still recovering from the late 2014 plunge in crude oil prices, the MLP made a major play to capture growing Permian production through the ~$1.5 billion acquisition of Navigator Energy, which owned a crude oil gathering, transportation, and terminaling system in the Midland Basin. The purchase was widely panned as overpriced by analysts and investors, and NuStar’s unit price plummeted by 60%. But by 2019, the company’s Permian acquisition — and soaring exports from its Corpus Christi terminal — drove big year-on-year gains in NuStar’s fourth-quarter 2019 operating income and EBITDA. Today, we preview our new Spotlight report on NuStar.
Natural gas supplies in Western Canada fell into a hole in 2019, registering their first decline in a half-dozen years. That drop was led by a supply pullback on TC Energy’s Nova Gas Transmission Limited (NGTL) system, the largest gas pipeline network in the region, as producers grappled with widespread pipeline maintenance, shrinking budgets, and wellhead shut-ins due to ultra-low prices, especially during the summer months. That supply hole is going to be fixed in the months ahead, thanks to a major pipeline expansion — the North Montney Mainline — that recently entered service with a direct connection into the NGTL system. With this new pipeline tapping deeper into the vast Montney formation in northeastern British Columbia, gas supplies are showing signs of pushing higher, and more upside is expected in the months ahead. Today, we examine the new pipe and what it means for gas supplies on NGTL.
Crude oil production in the Bakken Shale, which slumped after the 2014-15 crash in oil prices, has increased by more than 50% in the past three years, and now tops 1.5 MMb/d. Just as important, producers in the core of the crude-focused play in western North Dakota have been ratcheting down their drilling-and-completion costs and making plans for continued production growth in 2020. Also, midstreamers are addressing a gas processing capacity shortfall that had threatened to slow drilling activity; in addition, some of them are developing crude oil takeaway capacity, including the planned Liberty Pipeline to the crude hub in Cushing, OK. Today, we begin a series on the Bakken’s expanding network of smaller-diameter crude pipelines and their role in further improving the shale play’s economics.
On January 1, 2020 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implemented new fuel standards for oil-powered vessels, except those equipped with exhaust scrubbers to remove pollutants. In the absence of a scrubber, the IMO 2020 rule stipulates that ships' bunkers contain less than 0.5% sulfur. Using a scrubber allows the vessel to burn cheaper high-sulfur fuel. Last March, a shipowner’s estimated $2.5 million scrubber investment for a 2-MMbbl Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) would take just over three years to recover, based on average fuel prices during the first quarter of 2019. This year, barely a month after the new regulation came into force, the payback period has shortened dramatically, to less than a year, though the coronavirus’s effect on shipping demand and fuel prices, among other factors, could again put payout timing at risk. Today, we look at changing price spreads between high-sulfur and low-sulfur bunker and the scrubber payback economics that suggest a rosier outlook for vessel owners who invested in scrubber installations, at least for now.
Wouldn’t it be nice if everything you needed to keep up with the market was right there on your phone or tablet? And it would be even handier if the data and stories organized themselves just for you, around topics you care about the most. Such a technology would address a formidable challenge we all face: keeping up with the torrent of market information coming at us from trading platforms, online services, trade publications, you name it. It would pull everything you needed into a single database and then organize information on the fly around whatever topic matters most to you at a point in time. And it would be able to reorganize that information on demand as market data ebbs and flows. Over the past few months, we’ve designed an app that tackles this challenge head-on. Today we are introducing the concept of ClusterX, explaining how it works, and giving you the opportunity to help us roll out our new technology to the RBN blogosphere. Warning: this is a blatant advertorial for our new energy market analytics app.
OK, we admit it. Our title may be a bit of an overstatement in early 2020, but it was absolutely true back in 2012, when the frac spread was $13/MMBtu. These days, the frac spread — the differential between the price of natural gas and the weighted average price of a typical barrel of NGLs on a dollars-per-Btu basis — is only $2.48/MMBtu as of yesterday. But with Henry Hub natural gas prices in the doghouse — they closed on February 11 at $1.79/MMBtu — getting $4.27/MMBtu for the NGLs extracted from that gas, or an uplift of 2.4x, is still a pretty darned good deal. And that’s Henry Hub. Natural gas prices are lower in all of the producing basins, and are likely headed back below zero in the Permian this summer. So even with NGL prices averaging 30% lower than last year, the value of NGLs relative to gas can be a big contributor to a producer’s bottom line — assuming, of course, that the producer has the contractual right to keep that uplift. Today, we begin a blog series to examine the value created by extracting NGLs from wellhead gas, including processing costs, transportation, fractionation, ethane rejection, margins, netbacks and the myriad of factors that make NGL markets tick. We will start with the frac spread — what it tells us in its simplest form, how we can improve the calculations so it can tell us more, and, just as important, the economic factors that the frac spread excludes.
The Shale Revolution created enormous opportunities for U.S. midstream companies. But opportunities are only that. It’s what individual midstreamers did with those opportunities through the 2010s — the decisions each made on where to invest and what to invest in — that will help determine how well they will do over the next decade and beyond. And the best way to assess the wisdom of these investments is to examine them one by one, and consider their locations, their exposure to risk and their potential for growth. Today, we discuss highlights from the newly released company-by-company portion of East Daley Capital’s “Dirty Little Secrets” report.
For much of the time since it began operations, the capacity on Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline has been contracted and utilized at high rates for long-haul flows east from the Rockies to the Midwest. Specifically, the pipeline consistently has had between 1.3 and 1.8 Bcf/d out of a total 1.8 Bcf/d contracted, mostly for 10-year terms. That all changed in the past year, however, as the original long-term shipper contracts that took effect in 2009 came due and the pipeline experienced a major decontracting, with the bulk of the contracts rolling off in November 2019. Since then, a number of open seasons led to a partial recontracting. Tallgrass also is developing two projects — Cheyenne Connector and REX Cheyenne Hub Enhancement — that could increase flows to REX later this year. Today, we continue a series providing an update on eastbound pipeline contracts and gas flows on REX.
U.S. shale oil production and exports have contributed to global oversupply in recent years, which, in turn, has amplified pressure on OPEC to implement production cuts to keep crude oil prices from collapsing to untenable levels. That’s led to an agreement among most OPEC countries and nearly a dozen other non-member producing countries — together known as OPEC-Plus — to limit production, an accord that’s remained in place since January 2017. However, oversupply conditions now are also prompting U.S. oil and gas producers to pull back on their planned capital expenditures for 2020, suggesting a slowdown in U.S. production growth later this year and into 2021. Recent global oil supply and demand forecasts by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and OPEC itself suggest that such a slowdown, if it materializes, could present a window of opportunity for OPEC-Plus to relax its quotas and potentially reclaim some of its lost oil market share, at least for a time. Today, we examine what the recent changes in monthly data from IEA, EIA and OPEC indicate about potential shifts in the OPEC versus non-OPEC oil supply and demand balance and what that could mean for OPEC’s role in meeting global demand.
The development of Appalachia’s Marcellus and Utica shales has flipped regional natural gas prices in the U.S. Northeast from their long-time premiums to Henry Hub, to trading at a significant discount and, in the process, reversed inbound gas flows, including from Eastern Canada. But there is an exception: from an entry point at the northern edge of New York, the Iroquois Gas Transmission pipeline is still importing Canadian gas supply nearly year-round to help meet local demand, despite its proximity to Marcellus/Utica production via other Northeast pipelines. This has kept prices along the Iroquois pipeline system at a premium to the other points in the region. And with the new, 1,100-MW Cricket Valley Energy Center power plant due online this spring, Iroquois prices are likely to strengthen. Today, we examine the dynamics driving Iroquois prices and gas flows.
In the global crude oil market, at least some degree of coordinated management of supply has been the norm since the end of World War II. From the mid-1940s to the early 1970s, the cabal of oil companies known as the Seven Sisters jointly managed production to keep crude prices at levels that accommodated their interests. Then it was OPEC’s turn. More recently, the efforts to keep supply from overwhelming demand — and help prevent oil prices from crashing — have been led by a combination of OPEC and some other major producers, including Russia. U.S. shale producers — who’ve contributed significantly to the global supply growth in recent years — have both benefited from this supply management and partially thwarted it by continuing to increase production to offset cuts by “OPEC-Plus.” But a projected slowdown in U.S. production growth in 2021 may change these market dynamics. Today, we begin a short blog series on global oil supply and demand trends, supply management efforts by OPEC-Plus, and what it all means for OPEC, U.S. producers and the broader oil market.