Daily Energy Blog

Thursday, 12/22/2022
Category:
Renewables

Many may have nits to pick with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — some may not like one or both at all — but it would be hard to argue with the view that they provide generous financial support for the production of clean hydrogen and the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2). And now, with a clearer understanding of the tax credits that will be available going forward, companies active in the clean hydrogen and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) spaces are scrambling to advance large-scale projects that would benefit from the federal government’s largesse. That includes blue methanol plants, which produce a super-low-carbon version of the petrochemical intermediate and shipping fuel by capturing and sequestering most of the CO2 that is generated during production. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the blue methanol projects taking shape along the Gulf Coast.

Wednesday, 12/21/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

On December 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a permanent certificate authorizing the Spire STL natural gas pipeline serving the St. Louis area to continue operations. Spire STL had been on a treacherous legal roller-coaster, wherein its owner got a FERC certificate in 2018, built and started operation of the 65-mile pipeline in 2019, then in 2021 saw its certificate “vacated” — wiped out — by a U.S. Court of Appeals. Then, during the white-knuckled tail end of the ride, with the winter of 2021-22 looming, Spire STL got emergency/temporary authorization from FERC to keep operating while a brand-new application for a certificate was being considered. In today's RBN blog, we discuss the case — in which RBN played a part — and what it means for upcoming midstream projects.

Tuesday, 12/20/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

As U.S. LNG export project development accelerates along the Gulf Coast, one of the big uncertainties is where will all that feedgas come from? We estimate that there are a dozen Gulf Coast projects totaling 16 Bcf/d of export capacity in the running for completion in the next decade, with 60% of that capacity sited along a less-than-100-mile stretch of coastline straddling the Texas-Louisiana border. One of the major factors that will influence the timing and commercialization of the projects is the availability of feedgas supply where and when it is needed. With pipeline projects and production growth in the Marcellus/Utica shales at a veritable standstill, the Texas and Louisiana production regions — the Permian, Eagle Ford and Haynesville — are the frontrunners for serving the bulk of the resulting Gulf Coast demand growth. Assuming no midstream constraints, RBN’s Mid-case production forecast anticipates growth from the three basins will total 15.5 Bcf/d by 2032. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how well (or not) production levels will line up with feedgas demand.

Monday, 12/19/2022
Category:
Renewables

If clean hydrogen is not a significant contributor to the U.S. energy mix by the 2030s, it won’t be because Congress and the Biden administration didn’t try. First, last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided the Department of Energy (DOE) with up to $8 billion to support the development of several regional hydrogen hubs, plus another $1 billion to back efforts to halve the cost of producing hydrogen via renewables-powered electrolysis. Then, this year’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provided tax credits for investing in new production facilities and producing clean hydrogen — incentives generous enough to spur announcements for at least an initial round of multibillion-dollar projects. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on the variety of hydrogen-hub proposals the feds will be reviewing.

Sunday, 12/18/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

Thanks to a warm start to the season and low Asian demand for LNG, Europe has so far been able to stave off a worst-case scenario for natural gas supply this winter. Still, the European market is keeping a keen eye on the years ahead, when the continent will need to rely on new sources of LNG to meet demand and refill inventories with little chance of any Russian gas. The call for more LNG has ushered in a new wave of export-project development, with two U.S. projects reaching a positive final investment decision (FID) this year and LNG offtakers in Europe and elsewhere committing to an incredible 37 MMtpa (4.9 Bcf/d) of long-term contracts from pre-FID sites in North America. This momentum has revived a number of projects from the COVID-induced wasteland, including Sempra’s Port Arthur LNG. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our series on U.S. LNG projects by taking a closer look at Port Arthur, the one most likely to take FID next.

Thursday, 12/15/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

Natural gas pipeline project permitting sits at the nexus of the debate about the best path toward decarbonization. Industry proponents rightly point out that pipelines can reduce aggregate emissions by displacing much higher burner-tip emissions from coal in power generation. Environmental opposition, though, highlights that a high rate of methane emissions along the gas value chain could undermine those potential improvements. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the net decarbonization impact of new gas pipelines, including the importance of quantifying upstream methane emissions, by looking at a couple of canceled or long-delayed pipeline projects that could make a big difference.

Wednesday, 12/14/2022
Category:
Refined Fuels

It could be argued that no sector in the energy industry has seen more uncertainty the past three years than refining. In rapid succession, it experienced a historic collapse in demand, a shaky recovery, a run-up in crude oil and other feedstock prices, the disruption in Russian supply, and the wrath of the public and politicians alike when gasoline and diesel prices rocketed higher earlier this year. Prices at the pump may have sagged in recent months, but don’t think for a second that refining has reverted to anything resembling stability and normalcy — refiners still face a host of challenges and unknowns. For starters, what’s ahead for crack spreads, which have been spiking up and down lately? How quickly will electric vehicles (EVs) undermine demand for traditional motor fuels? And what about renewable diesel? New environmental regulations? More refinery closures? In today’s RBN blog, we look at the long list of challenges domestic and international refiners will face through the rest of the 2020s.

Tuesday, 12/13/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

Last week, even as natural gas day-ahead prices went negative in the Permian’s Waha Hub in West Texas, spot prices at northern California’s PG&E Citygate last week traded at a record-smashing $55/MMBtu, according to the NGI Daily Gas Price Index — close to 100x the Waha price. Other hubs west of the Continental Divide also surged to record levels, while markets just east and north of there were largely unruffled — a sure sign of bottlenecks for moving gas into West Coast markets. This is just the latest instance of severe gas supply shortages and constraint-driven price disruptions out West in recent years (even ignoring Winter Storm Uri and the Deep Freeze of February 2021). Moreover, it’s arguably taking progressively more benign market events to trigger similar or worse shortages. What’s going on? In today’s RBN blog, we break down the factors driving the latest Western U.S. gas price spikes.

Monday, 12/12/2022
Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

Winter arrived early in many parts of the U.S. this year, with frigid temperatures and, in some places, snow measured in feet, not inches. Propane demand for heating is up, but surprisingly, inventories are high, prices are low and the outlook for the rest of the winter looks good. And propane just dodged a hail of bullets when Congress legislated away what had been a likely rail strike. Is it too early for propane marketeers to be dancing in the aisles about what looks like a safe outlook for winter season supplies? That’s the big question. Because spring is still more than three months away. And it’s a fact that sustained cold weather, logistical challenges and other factors can wreak havoc with any propane market. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the current state of the U.S. propane market, why things have improved so dramatically and, of course, what could still go wrong.

Sunday, 12/11/2022
Category:
Crude Oil

Shipping Alberta’s fast-rising bitumen production to market through pipelines or on insulated rail cars depends on sufficient supplies of diluent, a variety of light hydrocarbons that, when blended with molasses-like bitumen, reduce the viscosity of the resulting mix. The problem is, in-region production of diluent — an economically favorable alternative to pipeline imports from the U.S. — has been growing more slowly than it was a few years ago, and increased demand for imported condensate could result in those pipelines being maxed out. In today’s RBN blog, we delve into what may be behind the slowing pace of Western Canadian diluent production and what the implications might be.

Thursday, 12/08/2022
Category:
Refined Fuels

A potentially important factor affecting the supply of octane — the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price — has been lurking in the background over the last few years. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standard applies to all refiners and importers who deliver gasoline to the U.S. market, and while delayed compliance requirements and the onset of the pandemic have blunted its full impact to refiners and consumers so far, the implications of meeting the new standard are beginning to take shape. In today’s RBN blog, we explain how the Tier 3 specs are linked to octane supply, where octane destruction comes into play, and how refiners are adapting to the octane-sulfur squeeze.

Wednesday, 12/07/2022
Category:
Financial

Storm clouds may be gathering on the economic horizon as concerns about persistent inflation and looming recession roil markets and politics. But for oil and gas producers, the third quarter was the equivalent of a driver putting the top down under a flawless azure sky, dialing up the road tunes, and cruising without a care down an endless highway. Lower oil prices led to a dip in earnings and cash flow after a record-breaking second quarter, but cash still filled producers’ coffers at the second-highest rate in decades. In today’s RBN blog, we review the Q3 results of U.S. E&Ps and discuss what may lie ahead as those storm clouds move closer.

Tuesday, 12/06/2022
Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

Over the past nine months, the frac spread —a rough-cut measure of the value of extracting NGLs from raw gas at gas processing plants — has taken a terrifying plunge, from $9.82/MMBtu in early March to only $2.16/MMBtu on Monday. Given that the frac spread is the differential between the price of natural gas and the weighted average price of a typical barrel of NGLs on a dollars-per-MMBtu basis, a 78% nosedive like that suggests that something is seriously out of whack, and that at least some market players are taking a real hit financially. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the frac spread, the drivers behind its recent freefall, and what it would take for gas processing margins to rebound.

Monday, 12/05/2022
Category:
Crude Oil

It's been almost a year since the co-owners of the massive Capline crude oil pipeline initiated southbound service between Patoka, IL, and St. James, LA, on what for a half-century had been a northbound conduit. How’s it working out? So far, so good, it seems. As expected, for the first several months the volumes of heavy Canadian crude oil flowing down the 632-mile, 40-inch-diameter pipeline to the St. James hub were modest. Since June, however, Capline has been offering a temporary incentive rate to attract more heavy oil, and starting December 1 it’s also been offering a temporary buck-a-barrel rate for light oil too. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the latest Capline developments, the challenges associated with batching heavy and light crude on such a big pipe, and the prospects for much higher flows.

Friday, 12/02/2022
Category:
Refined Fuels

Alkylate is an important and valuable part of the U.S. gasoline pool, prized for its high octane, low volatility and low sulfur content. There are two primary catalysts that refiners can opt to use in the production of alkylate: hydrofluoric acid, or HF, and sulfuric acid, or H2SO4.  Each is quite popular, with HF and sulfuric acid technologies each representing about half of domestic alkylation capacity — and with those shares varying significantly on a regional basis. While refiners have been safely operating both types of “alky” units for many decades, HF alkylation for some time has been in the crosshairs of the Environmental Protection Agency, which recently proposed that refiners be required to undertake extensive evaluations of potentially safer alternative technologies. It’s hard to know for sure, but if EPA’s proposed rule is made final it could ultimately force many refineries to make very costly changes — into the hundreds of million dollars per unit — or maybe even shut down entirely. In today’s RBN blog, we look at alkylate, how it’s made, and the potentially profound effects of the impending regulation.