Fast-rising NGL production in the Permian, SCOOP/STACK and other plays is testing the ability of fractionators to keep up, and spurring the development of new NGL pipelines — and new fractionation plants, not just in the Mont Belvieu hub but elsewhere along Texas’s Gulf Coast. By our count, more than 1 MMb/d of new fractionation capacity is under development in the Lone Star State, and while some projects are more solid and certain than others, it’s fair to say we’re in for at least a mini-boom in fractionator construction after a multiyear lull. Today, we review the Texas fractionation projects being planned and begin assessing whether they will come online as quickly as they will be needed.
After idling near the 4.6-Bcf/d level for months, piped gas flows to Mexico raced to a record of more than 5 Bcf/d for the first time earlier in July, and have hung on to that level since. This new export volume signifies incremental demand for the U.S. gas market at a time when the domestic storage inventory is already approaching the five-year low. At the same time, it would also signify some much-needed relief for Permian producers hoping to avert disastrous takeaway constraints — that is, if the export growth is happening where it’s needed the most, from West Texas. However, that’s not exactly the case. What’s behind the sudden increase, where is it happening and what are the prospects for continued growth near-term? Today, we analyze the recent trends in exports to Mexico.
U.S. crude oil production has doubled in the past eight years, from 5.5 MMb/d in 2010 to a record 11.0 MMb/d this month — an astonishing 9% compound annual growth rate. But there’s more to the Shale Revolution than higher production. Its most noteworthy characteristic may be a newfound market responsiveness that U.S. production volumes have to price, in which U.S. producers flex their “sweet spots” and an at-the-ready inventory of drilled-but-uncompleted wells (DUCs) that can be ramped up when prices warrant and pulled back when they don’t. This newfound flexibility has profoundly changed the role of the U.S. in global markets. In today’s blog, we take a big-picture look at crude oil production growth, the special ability of U.S. producers to respond to shifts in crude pricing, and the potential for the U.S. to have a stabilizing role in global markets.
Back on March 15, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shook up master limited partnerships (MLPs) and their investors by deciding that income taxes would no longer be factored into the cost-of-service-based tariff rates of MLP-owned pipelines. We said then that there was no need to panic. In part, this was based on the view the FERC policy wouldn’t affect as much of the industry as some worried it would. But more importantly, our soothing message was tied to the fact it would take a long time for this to play out. It looks like we were right to have some confidence. Today, we explain why the commission’s July 18 vote on a topic as nerdy as “accumulated deferred income taxes” can warm the hearts of MLP investors.
Permian producers continue to walk a tightrope, almost perfectly balanced between still-rising production of natural gas and the availability of gas pipeline takeaway capacity to transport that gas to market. Don’t get us wrong. There are gas takeaway constraints out of the Permian, as evidenced by a Waha cash basis that averaged more than 50 cents/MMBtu last week. But a combination of factors — including increased flows to Mexico and a couple of small, under-the-radar expansions of existing takeaway pipes — has prevented the Waha basis from tumbling to $1 or even $2/MMBtu. But that big fall may still happen — in fact, you could say that odds are that severe takeaway constraints and differential blowouts will occur within the next few months. If and when that happens, what can producers do to quickly regain their balance? Today, we discuss recent developments in Permian gas markets and the options that producers, gas processors and midstream companies may need to consider if things get really tight.
Despite intensifying competition from U.S. natural gas producers — or because of it — Western Canadian gas producers are ramping up their long-term commitments for intra-basin takeaway capacity from the Montney Shale, as well as for capacity at both intra-provincial and export delivery points. Not only has there been a slew of new project announcements in the region, but in some cases, commitments reportedly have exceeded proposed capacity during open seasons. Today, we provide an update of gas pipeline expansion projects in Western Canada.
The NGL storage and fractionation hub at Mont Belvieu, TX, grabs all the attention, but more than 1 MMb/d of fractionation capacity — nearly one-third of Texas’s total — is located elsewhere in the Lone Star State. And with NGL production and demand for fractionation services soaring in the Permian, SCOOP/STACK and other nearby plays, the market will need all the fractionation capacity it can find. We’ve heard that there’s little, if any, gap between what the existing fractionators in Mont Belvieu can handle and what they’re being asked to process. That’s music to the ears of fractionation-plant owners elsewhere in Texas — assuming they aren’t already at capacity themselves, they might be able to pick up some overflow business from Mont Belvieu. Today, we continue our review of fractionators and other key NGL-related infrastructure along the Gulf Coast.
Mexican demand for U.S.-sourced refined products continues to increase, but Mexico lacks the infrastructure required to efficiently import, store and distribute large volumes of gasoline and diesel. That has spurred the rapid build-out of new port and rail terminals, new pipelines and new storage capacity on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. At the same time, Mexico’s state-owned energy companies are gradually opening access to their existing refined-products pipeline and storage networks — which helps a little, but not enough. Today, we discuss the latest round of midstream projects tied to U.S. exports of motor and jet fuels to its southern neighbor.
Since early this year, the Midland crude differential has continued to widen, trading one day last week at a discount of $15.75/bbl to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing, the widest spread since August 2014 before settling back to $11.25/bbl on Monday. The wide price differential is a result of fast-growing production in the Permian and bottlenecked takeaway pipelines. But the trajectory of this increasing price spread has been anything but smooth. Lately, we have seen a blip in the price differentials right around the 19th or 20th of the month. In each of the last three months, for a short-lived 24 to 48 hours, the Midland-Cushing price differential has narrowed by $2/bbl or more as Permian shippers have gone on feeding frenzies. Today, we look at these brief upticks in pricing and the pipeline and trader mechanics behind them.
Mont Belvieu may be the epicenter of NGL storage, fractionation and distribution along the Gulf Coast, but the rest of Texas offers almost half as much fractionation capacity — about 1 MMb/d of it — and a good bit of storage and pipeline connectivity too. These are particularly important facts in the summer of 2018, when demand for fractionation services in Mont Belvieu is at or near an all-time high and increasing volumes of NGLs are headed toward the hub. So what else has the Lone Star State got on the fractionation and NGL storage front? And are these assets experiencing the same strong demand as their counterparts in Mont Belvieu? Today, we continue our review of fractionators and key NGL-related infrastructure.
Lower 48 dry gas production has climbed 3 Bcf/d since April to nearly 82 Bcf/d this month to date, which is an average ~9 Bcf/d — or 12% — higher year-on-year. Despite that meteoric rise in supply, the U.S. gas storage inventory, which started the injection season well below year-ago and five-year average levels, continues to carry a substantial deficit. That’s because record demand volumes thus far have managed to keep storage injections in check. Today, we provide an update of the demand factors affecting the 2018 gas injection season.
The slower-than-hoped-for build-out of natural gas pipelines and gas-fired power plants in Mexico has been a source of frustration for producers in the Permian Basin, who face pipeline takeaway constraints to their west, north and east and who desperately want to send more gas south. But it’s not just the Permian that benefits as the doors to the Mexican market creak open. The Eagle Ford — the Permian’s less glamorous step-sister — was the primary source of the first wave of gas exports to points south of the border. Now, with the recent opening of the Nueva Era Pipeline from the Rio Grande to power plants and other customers in Monterrey and Escobedo, another Mexican demand outlet will be made available to South Texas producers. Today, we discuss Howard Energy Partners and Grupo CLISA’s newly completed pipeline and the boost it gives to Eagle Ford production.
The planned implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s rule slashing allowable sulfur-dioxide emissions from ocean-going ships on January 1, 2020, would create significant demand for 0.5%-sulfur marine fuel — a refined product that few refiners produce today. That could present a big challenge to the global refining sector, which will be called upon to produce marine fuel that complies with “IMO 2020,” as the rule is commonly known. But refiners have stepped up before, and if the IMO 2020 mandate proves to be unachievable and would put global commerce at risk, there could be ways to deal with it — including exemptions or implementation delays. In any case, the move toward much cleaner bunker fuel will be a boon to complex refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast and elsewhere that can break down bottom-of-the-barrel “residual” fuel oil into feedstocks for gasoline, diesel and other high-value products. Today, we continue our analysis of IMO 2020 and its effects.
After treading near the 79-Bcf/d level this past spring, Lower 48 natural gas production surged about 1.5 Bcf/d higher in the last three weeks of June to record highs approaching 82 Bcf/d by month’s end. The supply gains suspended the market’s bullish view of the persistently large storage deficit compared with last year and the five-year average and reeled in the prompt CME/NYMEX Henry Hub futures contract from the $3/MMBtu mark — at least for now. Where did the gains occur and how much of that influx truly is new production versus volumes returning from seasonal maintenance? Today, we examine the drivers behind the recent production jump.
For the first time ever, U.S. crude oil exports have hit the 3 MMb/d mark — a once-unthinkable pace equivalent to sending out 10 fully loaded Very Large Crude Carriers a week. VLCCs, with their 2-MMbbl capacity and rock-bottom per-bbl delivery costs, are the most cost-effective way to transport crude to distant markets like China and India. But there’s still only one terminal on the Gulf Coast that can fill a VLCC to the brim — the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port — and pipeline connections from key Texas and Oklahoma plays to LOOP are limited. Elsewhere along the coast, VLCCs need to be loaded in offshore deep water by reverse lightering from smaller vessels — a slower and more costly loading process. Change is a-comin’, though. Companies are testing the docking and partial loading of VLCCs at terminals along the Texas coast, and plans for a number of greenfield facilities capable of partially — or even fully — loading the gargantuan vessels at the dock are being considered. Today, we review the latest efforts to streamline the loading of VLCCs and what they mean for crude-export economics.