The next wave of Permian crude oil pipeline infrastructure is getting completed as we speak. In West Texas, several new pipeline projects are either finalizing their commercial terms and agreements, wrapping up the permitting process, or actually putting steel in the ground. In the Permian alone, there is a potential for 4.3 MMb/d of new pipeline takeaway capacity to get built in the next two and a half years. Along with those major long-haul pipelines, there are also crude gathering systems being developed to help move production from the wellhead to an intermediary point along one of the big new takeaway pipes. While we often like to give pipeline projects concrete timelines with hard-and-fast online dates, the actual logistics of how producers, traders and midstream companies all bring a pipeline from linefill to full commercial service are never clean and simple. There can be a lot of headaches, learning curves, and expensive — not to mention time-consuming — problem-solving exercises that come with the start-up process. In today’s blog, we discuss why new pipelines often experience growing pains, and how market participants navigate the early days of new systems.
With Permian crude oil production now topping 4 MMb/d — and likely to surpass 5 MMb/d in short order — producers in the play are working closely with midstream companies to help ensure there is sufficient capacity in place to efficiently transport their crude from the lease to larger shuttle systems, regional hubs and takeaway pipelines. Sometimes, gathering systems need to be built from scratch, but in most cases, it is more cost-effective to expand existing systems that are already connected to key infrastructure downstream. Today, we continue our series with a look at a big pipeline network that NuStar Energy acquired two-plus years ago and has been expanding and improving ever since.
When it comes to U.S. NGL exports, propane and ethane grab most of the attention. Each accounts for a big share of the typical NGL barrel, and ethane exports are a frequent topic of conversation because of the potential for growth — especially if the U.S. and China find a way to end their trade war. But three other so-called NGL “purity products” — normal butane, isobutane and natural gasoline — are being exported in increasing volumes too, providing important supplemental revenue to NGL producers and marketers. What’s their story? Today, we look at the export volumes and destinations of three often overlooked purity products.
Persistent natural gas takeaway constraints out of the associated gas-rich Permian have pushed Waha Hub prices to between $1 and $9/MMBtu below the Henry Hub benchmark for most of 2019. Concerns about gas flaring have flared. Tanker trucks transporting diesel fuel to drilling and completion operations in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico are clogging the region’s roads. And diesel’s not cheap, especially if you’re using thousands of gallons of it a day. With Permian wells producing far more natural gas than takeaway pipelines can handle, and with gas essentially free for the taking, is this the year when electric fracs — hydraulic fracturing powered by very locally sourced gas — gain a foothold in the U.S.’s hottest shale play? Today, we look at the economic and other forces at play in the e-frac debate.
A raft of natural gas pipeline projects completed in the past couple of years has — for the first time — left room to spare on most takeaway routes out of the Northeast and provided Marcellus/Utica producers a reprieve from the all-too-familiar dynamic of capacity constraints and heavily discounted supply prices, even as regional production continues achieving new record highs. There’s on average close to 4 Bcf/d of unused exit capacity currently available — more in the winter when higher in-region demand means more of the production is consumed locally and less than that (but still more than in past years) in the spring, summer and fall seasons, when greater outbound flows are needed to help offset the relatively lower Northeast demand. But we’re expecting Northeast production to grow by another 8 Bcf/d or so over the next five years. And the list of projects designed to add more exit capacity has dwindled to just a few troubled ones that, even if built, wouldn’t be enough to absorb that much incremental supply. When can we expect constraints to re-emerge? Today, we conclude this series with a look at RBN’s natural gas production forecast for the Marcellus/Utica and how that correlates to the region’s pipeline takeaway capacity over the next five years.
Offer any energy commodity at a low-enough price and buyers will surface, as long as there’s a way to get that liquid or gas from where it’s being sold to where it’s being used or put on a boat for export. That’s been the recent experience of the butane market in Western Canada, where a perfect storm of events last fall caused butane prices in Edmonton, AB, to freefall to near zero. But things have turned around, at least for now. Today, we take a look at the dramatic recovery of the Edmonton butane market and what might lie ahead.
The competition to develop the one or possibly two new offshore crude oil export terminals that the U.S. will likely need by the mid-2020s has been under way for more than a year now, and the field of contestants continues to expand. Within the past few weeks, both Phillips 66 and Sentinel Midstream filed applications with the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) — Phillips 66’s project would be located off the coast of Corpus Christi and Sentinel’s in the waters off Freeport. And who knows, maybe another deepwater project or two capable of fully loading Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) might still be in the offing. Today, we update our series on prospective offshore crude export terminals with a look at the P66 and Sentinel project details revealed by their applications to MARAD.
The margin for producing ethylene by steam-cracking ethane has been less than a dime per pound since mid-March 2018, and less than a nickel for nearly nine of the past 15-and-a-half months. In fact, for two weeks last September, the ethylene-from-ethane margin fell below zero. And yet, a joint venture of two of the world’s savviest companies — energy giant ExxonMobil and petchem behemoth Saudi Basic Industries Corp., or SABIC — recently committed to building what will be the world’s largest ethane steam cracker: a 4-billion-pounds/year facility to be constructed near Corpus Christi by 2022. Is this a case of blind optimism? No, not when you factor in the cracker’s location, the JV’s concurrent plan to construct two polyethylene plants and a monoethylene glycol plant right next door, and the co-developers’ global market reach. Today, we discuss the thinking behind ExxonMobil and SABIC’s big investment in Texas’s San Patricio County.
Just two years ago, severe transportation constraints and steep price discounts were part and parcel of the Northeast natural gas market. Midstreamers were racing to add much-needed pipeline capacity out of the region, but not fast enough for producers. It was an inevitability that any pipeline expansions would instantaneously fill up. Gas production records were an almost monthly or weekly occurrence, and just as unrelenting were the takeaway constraints and pressure on the region’s supply prices. Not so today. Northeast gas production in June posted a record high, with the monthly average exceeding 31 Bcf/d for the first time. Yet, June spot prices at Dominion South, Appalachia’s representative supply hub, were the strongest they’ve been in six years relative to national benchmark Henry Hub. Why? The spate of pipeline expansions and additions in the past two years have not only caught up to production but capacity now far outpaces it, and consequently, producers now have something they haven’t had in a long time — optionality. Today, we break down how much spare capacity is available and its effect on regional pricing.
For a few years now, Buckeye Partners’ plan to revise the current east-to-west refined products flow on its Laurel Pipeline across Pennsylvania has pitted Midwest refiners against their Philadelphia-area brethren — and gasoline and diesel marketers in western Pennsylvania. Each side has good arguments. Midwest refiners note that westbound volumes on Laurel have been declining through the 2010s, and assert that making the western part of the pipeline bidirectional would result in higher utilization of the line and enhance competition in central Pennsylvania, Maryland and eastern West Virginia. Pittsburgh-area marketers counter with the view that allowing refined products to flow east on a portion of Laurel would hurt competition in Pirates/Steelers/Penguins Country, while Philly refiners — their ranks now thinned by the planned closure of the fire-damaged Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) facility — say Buckeye’s plan would further threaten their economic viability. Amid all this, might there be a “perfect-world” solution? Today, we provide an update on this still-in-limbo project and discuss a few possible paths forward.
Independent refiner PBF Energy on June 11 announced its plan to acquire Shell Oil’s Martinez, CA, refinery for about $1 billion; the deal is expected to close by the end of 2019. The purchase will give PBF its sixth U.S. refinery and add 157 Mb/d to the company’s existing 865-Mb/d refining portfolio, pushing its total capacity past 1 MMb/d. Post-acquisition, PBF will retain overall fourth place in the U.S.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) announced last week (on June 26) that it was shutting down its 335-Mb/d refinery in Philadelphia, PA. This announcement came just five days after a major fire destroyed a portion of the refinery, which turned out to be the last straw for the facility that has been struggling financially for many years. Today, we consider the various market impacts that will likely follow the closure of the PES refinery, including its effect on fuel supply, where the closure leaves refinery production capacity in the region and how the refined product supply will need to adjust in response.
Enbridge’s long-running effort to revamp how it allocates space — and charges for service — on its 2.9-MMb/d Mainline crude oil pipeline system is about to enter a new and important phase. On July 15, the Calgary, AB-based midstream giant plans to initiate an open season for shippers interested in locking up long-term capacity on the Mainline, which serves as the primary conduit for heavy and light crude from Western Canada to U.S. crude hubs and refineries. If all goes well, shippers will know by late in the year how much space they will have on the system starting in mid-2021, assuming Enbridge’s plan is approved by regulators. This is a huge change. The Mainline isn’t just the largest crude pipeline system out of Western Canada, it’s also the only major line whose service is currently 100% “uncommitted” — that is, the Mainline has no capacity under long-term contracts with shippers. Today, we discuss the latest on the midstreamer’s Mainline tolling plan.
For more than six months now, the provincial government of energy-rich Alberta has been trying to mitigate the sometimes painful effects of having too little pipeline capacity to move crude oil to market. They’ve mandated production cuts by larger producers, contracted for crude-by-rail (CBR) services — then moved to undo those deals — and pressed the Canadian government to help advance long-delayed pipeline projects. Things appear to have reached a semi-happy medium for now: the price spread between Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) has narrowed, but remains wide enough to justify sending crude out by train. Still, it’s clear that the big tranches of new pipeline capacity many had hoped would be built or at least under construction by now face more hurdles. How long will Alberta producers need to wait for unfettered pipeline access to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast and to Canada’s West Coast? Today, we provide an update on WCS pricing, Alberta crude-by-rail, and the key pipeline projects that never seem to get finished.
A key to success for midstream companies developing crude oil gathering systems in the Permian is establishing strong, trusting relationships with the producers driving the region’s growth. Hitch your wagon to one or more producers with top-notch rock and aggressive expansion plans, develop gathering systems that meet their needs for flow assurance and destination optionality, and life will be good. Many of the midstreamers whose Permian gathering systems we’ve been discussing in our ongoing series have done just that. Today, we review the existing and planned systems of EnLink Midstream, another company whose growth is founded in large part on the relationships it has developed with major Permian producers.