If you think that yesterday’s 13 year-low CME/NYMEX crude settlement price ($26.21/Bbl – February 11, 2016) is bad news for struggling U.S. producers then try putting yourself in Canadian producer’s shoes! The headwinds facing Western Canada’s heavy oil sands these days would try the patience of a saint. Prices for benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) blend in Alberta traded as low as $12.50/Bbl in January 2016 – clawing back to $14.06/Bbl on February 10, 2016. But by the time gathering, transport and diluent purchase costs are subtracted, the netback (market price less transport cost) at the lease is negative for many producers – especially when shipping by rail. To be clear, that’s below zero at the wellhead! Yet there are few signs that production is falling off – at least in the short term. Today we lament the ongoing plight of Canadian producers.
As of the weekly EIA natural gas storage report due out today (Thursday) for the week ending February 5, 2016, the U.S. gas inventory surplus is likely to grow to near 600 Bcf above levels at the same time last year. Current weather forecasts suggest the surplus over 2015 will soar to near 800 Bcf by the end of February. With outright inventory levels already exceptionally high, this surplus growth kicks the market’s oversupply problem further down the futures curve – meaning prices could stay lower for longer. Today we look at the winter 2015-16 fundamentals leading to this surplus and what it means for the rest of 2016.
Mexican production of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel continues to fall and Mexico’s imports of these refined petroleum products from the U.S. are rising fast to keep pace with increasing demand. Longer term upgrade projects to increase Mexican refinery transport fuel are finally underway. But before refinery upgrades make a dent in imports, two ambitious refined-products pipeline/terminals projects will make it easier and more efficient to move large volumes of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas refineries into Mexico. Today, we update our coverage of fast-moving developments in Mexico-U.S. hydrocarbon trading.
Crude prices are hovering around $30/Bbl making crude–by-rail (CBR) transport an expensive option for hard pressed producers looking to conserve cash – especially where pipeline alternatives are available. The crude price differentials that once justified shipping inland crude to coastal destinations by rail have all but disappeared. In November, 2015 pipeline shipments exceeded rail out of North Dakota for the first time since 2011 and by 2017 available pipeline capacity out of the region should exceed producer’s needs. In the circumstances, rail shipments would appear to be living on borrowed time but as we describe today - some North Dakota rail shipments are continuing in spite of the poor economics.
The Mid-Continent trading and storage hub at Cushing, OK is the nation’s largest commercial crude tank farm – with an estimated 73 MMBbl of working storage capacity according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The latest weekly EIA Petroleum Supply report (January 29, 2016) indicated inventory levels at Cushing just over 64 million barrels – 24 thousand barrels below the all-time high set two weeks previously.
Prices for CME/NYMEX West Texas Intermediate (WTI) have been on a rollercoaster this week – falling under $30/Bbl one minute then jumping back over $32/Bbl the next. Yesterday (February 4, 2016) WTI closed down 56 Cents at $31.72/Bbl. CME Henry Hub natural gas futures fell back under $2/MMBtu to close at $1.972 yesterday. That left the crude-to-gas ratio (WTI divided by Henry Hub) at just over 16 X – a little higher than the 15 X range we’ve been seeing this year. That is nearly half as much again as the 27X average between 2009 and 2014. The futures market implies that low ratios could continue for years – with December 2024 values implying a ratio of 13.3 X. The potential consequences of these low ratios are dramatic for the natural gas liquids (NGL) business as well as the competitiveness of U.S. natural gas in international markets. Today we describe the implications.
CME/NYMEX Henry Hub gas futures prices are currently struggling to stay above $2.00/MMBtu in the face of milder weather and record high production (closing up slightly at $2.038/MMBtu yesterday February 3, 2016). The market is on edge and at the mercy of daily weather forecast revisions that may signal further downside for prices. At the same time gas demand from power generation could increase in response to lower prices. To help navigate these volatile market conditions, we’ve teamed up with Criterion Research to develop the daily NATGAS Billboard: Natural Gas Outlook report. In today’s blog, we highlight specific features of the report and what they tell us about the market.
With crude prices below $30/Bbl and the price spread between U.S. domestic crude benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and international equivalent Brent trading in a very narrow range – the economics of moving Crude-by-Rail (CBR) rarely make sense any more. Rail shipments are down across all regions and railroads are reporting sharply lower revenues from CBR shipments. Today we start a new series revisiting the regions where CBR traffic boomed a couple of years back and contemplating its future value to shippers and refiners.
The US natural gas market is in a precarious state. CME/NYMEX futures contract prices have been settling at historic lows for this time of year. Producer returns are dismal in most shale basins. Yet production volumes remain robust, and the supply/demand balance is way out of whack. The surplus in storage is soaring at more than 500 Bcf above last year and more than 400 Bcf above the 5-year average. It’s clear something has to give. But how will the imbalance get resolved and how will the resolution impact the price of natural gas? To help you navigate market signals and stay ahead of upcoming turning points, today we introduce our new daily NATGAS Billboard: Natural Gas Outlook report featuring storage and price forecasts plus a daily market outlook.
Things are not looking so good in the liquefied natural gas sector. LNG prices--both in the spot market and in contracts linked to oil prices—are very low, LNG demand growth is weak or non-existent, and a flood of new liquefaction capacity is coming online. But as we’re starting to see with crude oil, markets thrown out of whack respond; they try to self-heal. Low LNG prices are spurring demand growth in Europe and attracting some new buyers—Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan among them. The pace of liquefaction-capacity expansions is slowing. And Asia may finally get an LNG hub, which would only improve LNG’s long-term prospects there. Today, we continue our look at the fast-changing international market for LNG with an assessment of demand and destinations.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) CME NYMEX crude futures settled up 92 cents/Bbl yesterday (January 28, 2016) at $33.22/Bbl and NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas futures settled up slightly at $2.182/MMBtu. The crude-to-gas ratio - meaning the crude price in $/Bbl divided by the gas price in $/MMBtu - was 15.22 X. For most of this year so far the ratio has been less than 15X On January 20, 2016 it dipped to 12.5 X – its lowest point since March 2009. Over the 5 years between 2010 and 2014 the ratio averaged 27X - reaching a high of 54X in April 2012. That lofty five year run for the crude-to-gas ratio was arguably responsible for much of the crude and natural gas liquids production boom since 2011 and a “Golden Age” of natural gas processing. Today we begin a two-part series discussing the ratio and the market implications if it stays low.
Over the past six years surging U.S. hydrocarbon production from shale has exceeded domestic demand in many cases – leading to the development of export infrastructure. Large volumes of natural gas liquids (NGLs) such as propane are already being exported. Natural gas exports in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are about to start and the recent end to federal restrictions offers the possibility to increase crude exports if they become competitive. A critical assumption behind all these export opportunities is that the U.S. continues to be the only country (except Canada to a lesser degree) to successfully “crack the code” in shale exploitation to produce commercially significant volumes competitively. This assumption would be turned on its head if competing countries like Mexico, China, Poland, Argentina and the U.K. are able to unlock their own shale potential. Today we review RBN Energy’s first Drill Down report of 2016, which considers the many “below-ground” and “above-ground” factors that will determine whether and how quickly, shale development becomes a worldwide phenomenon.
Deepwater and ultra-deepwater crude oil production projects in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) are complex and take years to complete, so the several GOM projects on which exploration and production companies made final investment decisions in 2012-14 are only now coming online—just in time, it turns out, for the lowest oil prices in a dozen years. So there’s this irony: Crude is selling for little more than $30/Bbl, but the new projects coming online in 2016 and beyond are likely to bring GOM production to record highs. Today, we continue our examination of still-rising production in the GOM with a review of more projects increasing the Gulf’s output.
Without the use of corporate structures called Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) the midstream infrastructure build out that helped make the U.S. shale revolution possible over the past 5 years would have taken far longer to gain traction. MLPs were very successful as the market grew and high prices encouraged new oil and gas production. But along the way some of the businesses these structures were applied to crossed the line from toll-road fee based infrastructure into exposure to commodity prices. For this reason and others, today MLPs are struggling to attract growth capital in a low price environment. Today we conclude our series analyzing the future of MLPs.
On Friday (January 22, 2016) West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude prices on the CME/NYMEX futures exchange closed up $2.66/Bbl – the second day of a recovery from their 28% plunge during the first 20 days of 2016. The jury is still out on whether the recovery will be sustained. There was a similar (though less pronounced) price decline a year ago in January 2015 that did not last very long at the time. But in comparison the price destruction during this month’s collapse was unusually severe - not just because we saw prices under $30/Bbl for the first time since 2003. Today we explain why the extent of the price destruction along the forward curve this time suggests that last week’s recovery may be short lived.