Daily Energy Blog

Category:
Crude Oil

Crude oil production in the offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) increased by more than 50% from 2013 to 2019, an extraordinary period of growth supported by new discoveries, new offshore platforms and new subsea tiebacks. Then, battered by Covid and major hurricanes, GOM output stumbled in 2020 and 2021, twice falling to less than 1.1 MMb/d, barely half the all-time mark of 2.04 MMb/d achieved in August 2019. More recently, production in the Gulf has been rebounding. But despite these gains — and a relatively mild 2023 hurricane season in the central and western Gulf — the region faces new challenges, including federal leasing delays, a significant oil spill, and an endangered species of sea giants known as Rice’s whales. 

Category:
Refined Fuels

The price of the Tier 3 gasoline sulfur credit hit $3,600 in October, up by a factor of 10 from two years ago and roughly in line with the all-time highs seen in late 2019. This tradable credit allows refiners to sell gasoline that exceeds the sulfur specification on gasoline sold in the U.S. In today’s RBN blog, we examine what’s behind the credit’s steep and steady rise — and why it matters. 

Category:
Natural Gas

The drive to minimize methane emissions along the natural gas value chain — and have entities like MiQ and Project Canary certify or differentiate natgas as “low-emissions” — may have started upstream with E&Ps eager to boost their environmental cred, but the effort also has been monitored closely by gas utilities, industrials and others that consume large volumes of gas, and regulators. In what may be a hint of what’s to come, a number of initial deals for certified/differentiated gas have been announced and a handful of pilot programs are in the works. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our examination of the emerging low-emissions natgas market with a look at “first-mover” gas buyers and regulatory bodies. 

Category:
Refined Fuels

Florida is entirely dependent on others for the vast amounts of refined products it consumes — every gallon of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel that’s pumped into cars, SUVs, trucks, locomotives and airplanes in the Sunshine State needs to be either shipped or trucked in. Now, a midstream company is planning a project that would enable large volumes of refined products to be railed into Florida by unit trains to three new storage and distribution terminals — and eventually several more. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the plan. 

Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

It’s the 10-year anniversary of a polar vortex winter that’s seared into the memories of every propaner who lived through it. Shortages. High prices. Government inquiries. Sure, there were difficulties during that winter in the markets for natural gas and fuel oil too, but it was particularly bad for propane. It seemed like a perfect storm hit the propane market right where it hurt the most — in the heart of propane country: the Upper Midwest and the Northeast. A lot has changed since then, but it’s important to look back at what went wrong, what’s been done to make a repeat of that chaotic winter far less likely, and what those events still mean for the propane market today. 

Category:
Financial

The cacophony of Black Friday promotions may make us all wonder if the “giving thanks” part of the fourth Thursday of November has been subsumed by rampant consumerism. But we suspect that E&P executives sat down to more traditional celebrations of gratitude as the upstream part of the oil and gas industry rebounded nicely in Q3 from five consecutive periods of declining profits and cash flows. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze Q3 2023 E&P earnings and cash flows and provide some perspective on the past and future profitability of U.S. oil and gas producers. 

Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

Since the start of the Shale Revolution 15 years ago, U.S. NGL production has increased by an extraordinary 260% to more than 6.5 MMb/d. And it’s not just NGL production that’s up sharply. So are exports of NGL purity products, especially LPG (propane and normal butane) and ethane. All that growth — and the growth that’s still to come — wouldn’t be possible without a seemingly non-stop expansion of NGL-related infrastructure. Everything from gas processing plants and NGL pipelines to salt-dome storage, fractionators and export docks. And much of that infrastructure is in the hands of just a few large midstream companies that over the years have developed “well-to-water” NGL networks that enable their owners to collect multiple fees along the NGL value chain. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on NGL networks. 

Category:
Natural Gas

There’s a lot of nitrogen out there — it’s the seventh-most common element in the universe and the Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen (and only 21% oxygen). And there’s certainly nothing new about nitrogen in the production, processing and delivery of natural gas. That’s because all natural gas contains at least a little nitrogen. But lately, the nitrogen content in some U.S. natural gas has become a real headache, and it’s getting worse. There are two things going on. First, a few counties in the Permian’s Midland Basin produce gas with unusually high nitrogen content, and those same counties have been the Midland’s fastest-growing production area the past few years. Second, there’s the LNG angle. LNG is by far the fastest-growing demand sector for U.S. gas. LNG terminals here in the U.S. and buyers of U.S. LNG don’t like nitrogen one little bit. As an inert gas (meaning it does not burn), nitrogen lowers the heating value of the LNG and takes up room (lowers the effective capacity) in the terminal’s liquefaction train. Bottom line, nitrogen generally mucks up the process of liquefying, transporting and consuming LNG, which means that nitrogen is a considerably more problematic issue for LNG terminals than for most domestic gas consumers. So as the LNG sector increases as a fraction of total U.S. demand, the nitrogen issue really comes to the fore. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore why high nitrogen content in gas is happening now, why it matters and how bad it could get. 

Category:
Renewables

If it seems like the push for decarbonization has suddenly picked up the pace lately, Michigan provides proof. Home to the Big 3 automakers and for many the symbolic heart of U.S. manufacturing, its efforts to move away from fossil fuels have long been met with skepticism and resistance. But changing attitudes about climate change and renewable power — and full Democratic control of the state government for the first time in 40 years — have led to a swift about-face in the state’s energy policy. In today’s RBN blog, we examine Michigan’s plans to accelerate its transition away from coal-fired power and the long-term challenges that come with it. 

Category:
Natural Gas

Appalachian natural gas producers got good news earlier this month: Williams announced it was moving forward with the Southeast Supply Enhancement project, a large-scale expansion of southbound capacity out of the Northeast on its Transco Pipeline system. Not only that, but it super-sized the project to 1.4 Bcf/d of capacity — nearly double the 800 MMcf/d it had offered in an open season held this summer. The project is one of several brownfield expansions planned to provide additional supply access in Transco’s premium Zone 5 market area, which runs through Virginia and North Carolina — and the first large-scale takeaway expansion to be announced in the area since the long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) was cleared for completion following years of regulatory and legal hurdles. In today’s RBN blog, we provide the latest on the Transco Corridor expansions.

Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

U.S. Gulf Coast LPG exports are sky-high, averaging just under 2 MMb/d in October, with nearly two-thirds of those volumes bound for Asia — a straight-shot trip once a Very Large Gas Carrier (VLGC) has passed through the Panama Canal. But an unprecedented dry spell has left the canal’s operators — and LPG shippers — in a real bind. The century-old maritime shortcut, which was expanded just a few years ago to accommodate more and larger vessels, uses massive amounts of fresh water, and to help conserve what’s left in the system’s main reservoir, the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) is ratcheting down how many ships can pass through each day. Worse yet, VLGCs are a low priority compared to other, larger vessels that pay higher tolls. That means that far fewer Asia-bound LPG ships will be using the Panama Canal for who knows how long. Instead, many shippers will need to make far longer, more costly trips through the Suez Canal or around the southern tip of Africa. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss what LPG shippers in particular are up against.

Category:
Renewables

The push to decarbonize frequently focuses on the transportation sector, which is responsible for the largest share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That has led to increased blending of ethanol into gasoline and the development of several alternative fuels, most notably renewable diesel (RD) and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). But as production of those two fuels accelerates, an often-overlooked byproduct of their creation is beginning to attract more attention: renewable naphtha. In today’s RBN blog, we explain the similarities and differences between traditional naphtha and renewable naphtha, look at how renewable naphtha is produced, and show how it can be used to help refiners, petrochemical companies and hydrogen producers meet their sustainability goals and reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of their products.

Category:
Crude Oil

Wider price discounts for Western Canadian heavy crude oil have been weighing on its oil producers for the past few months. This appears to be the result of a combination of weak refinery demand, rapidly rising oil production and insufficient oil takeaway capacity from Western Canada. A more permanent solution for wider discounts might be to increase pipeline export capacity to ensure that rising oil production has more options to reach markets. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the pending startup of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX) as a means to do just that.

Category:
Financial

Much like their upstream counterparts, midstream companies have shifted to fiscal conservatism over the past few years, focusing less on growth and capital investment and more on shareholder returns, acquisitions and debt reduction. But there are significant differences between the strategies of midstream companies set up as traditional corporations, or C-corps, and those established as master limited partnerships, or MLPs. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our short series on midstream company cash flow allocation with an analysis of their reinvestment rates vs. their shareholder payouts. 

Category:
Natural Gas Liquids

Crude-oil-focused production growth in the Permian is generating increasing volumes of associated gas that need to be processed and mixed NGLs that need to be piped to Mont Belvieu, fractionated and exported. All that suggests the need for still more infrastructure — processing plants, NGL pipelines, fractionators and export facilities — and Enterprise Products Partners, a top-tier NGL midstreamer, recently laid out a multibillion-dollar plan to help Permian producers keep pace. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the new set of projects Enterprise has in the works.