Daily Energy Blog

Tuesday, 11/15/2022

As U.S. E&Ps deal with a slew of shorter-term challenges such as broken supply chains, labor shortages, and infrastructure constraints, they’re also paying increasing attention to a longer-term concern: “inventory exhaustion.” There is a growing chorus of analysts asserting that oil and gas producers’ inventory of top-tier drilling locations has been significantly depleted as the nation’s major unconventional resource plays mature. Many producers have continued to rein in their capital spending and husband their current resources and several have boosted inventories through bolt-on acquisitions. Premier E&P EOG Resources has taken a different approach, emphasizing organic exploration that has led to the discovery of two new significant plays over the past two years, including the recent announcement of a new Utica Shale combo play that it describes as being “almost reminiscent” of the early Delaware Basin. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss EOG’s dramatically different approach to building inventory and dive into the details of its new Utica discovery.

Monday, 11/14/2022

Way back in 2015, the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas was big news, duking it out with the Permian and the offshore Gulf of Mexico for the #1 spot in crude oil production and with the then-preeminent Haynesville for top honors in natural gas output. But the mid-decade crash in oil and gas prices hit the Eagle Ford harder than any other U.S. production area — in fact, production there remains below its peak seven years ago. Lately, however, M&A activity in the shale play has been surging, suggesting that the Eagle Ford may finally be on the verge of a serious, sustained comeback. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss this renewed interest in South Texas and whether this time the play’s recovery is for real.

Sunday, 11/13/2022

Infrastructure constraints in the energy sector come in all shapes and sizes, and don’t think for a second that they only involve pipelines. For many producers of crude oil, refined products and other liquids, the Mississippi River is a critically important conduit for barging commodities to market. Lately though, water levels on sections of the river have been near historic lows, reducing both the volume of liquids that each barge can carry and the number of barges the Mississippi can handle. Among other things, the low water situation has been putting a squeeze on condensate producers in the “wet” Marcellus/Utica, who depend on barges to transport a significant portion of their superlight crude oil down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to refineries and for blending into Light Louisiana Sweet (LLS). In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the situation.

Tuesday, 11/08/2022

Despite global energy insecurities, many countries continue to push forward with efforts to incentivize an energy transition and fulfill emission-reduction targets. Canada has been no exception, with its federal government earlier this year introducing detailed climate goals for each of its major economic sectors, with particular emphasis placed on oil and gas, the country’s largest emitter. With the aim of a 42% emissions reduction for this sector by 2030 versus 2019 levels, Canada has set a target that may well be beyond reach, raising the possibility that production cutbacks later this decade will be the only alternative. In today’s RBN blog, we examine this potentially disruptive prospect.

Wednesday, 10/26/2022

Earlier this month, the price discount for Western Canadian Select (WCS) versus WTI at Cushing blew out to more than $30/bbl — 2.5x what’s typical and a signal that something was seriously out of whack. Well, it turns out that several things were — and to some degree still are — off-kilter, combining to drive down the price of Western Canada’s benchmark heavy-oil blend to its lowest levels relative to WTI in four years. The culprits? Everything from renewed pipeline constraints to a deadly refinery fire in Ohio to the aftereffects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including releases from the U.S.’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the recent ups and downs in WCS pricing and the prospects for WCS-WTI differentials to return to a more normal range in the weeks to come. (Hint: This roller-coaster ride ain’t over.)

Tuesday, 10/18/2022

It would be tough to find a large U.S. E&P with a clearer, more consistent geographic focus than Diamondback Energy. Over the past four years, the Permian-centric producer has closed on four 10-figure deals — total value $13.7 billion — that together have added more than 200,000 net acres in the nation’s leading shale/tight-oil play. Just this month, Diamondback went to the Permian well yet again, this time with a $1.6 billion deal to acquire FireBird Energy, a privately held Midland Basin producer that has been on a Permian buying spree of its own. When the deal closes later this year, Diamondback’s total production in the Midland and Delaware basins will approach 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (Mboe/d), or more than 100x what it was producing 10 years ago when the company had just gone public. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the company’s latest acquisition and its rapid rise to Permian prominence.

Thursday, 10/13/2022

Whether it’s crude oil, natural gas or some other buried treasure, there’s one piece of advice from Indiana Jones that still rings true — finding it is never as easy as “X marks the spot.” Well-site preparations and drilling can take long enough on their own, but that doesn’t account for the time it takes to ensure — or at least raise the odds — that those all-important hydrocarbons will actually be found. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how seismic surveys are conducted and the key steps in permitting and well-site preparation.

Tuesday, 10/04/2022

The swift increases in crude oil and gasoline prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February — and the sanctions that were implemented soon thereafter — spurred a lot of concern that the U.S. and global economies would go into a tailspin. In response, government officials here and abroad turned to their strategic reserves as a way to quickly balance the market and rein in prices while buying time for additional oil production to come online. But U.S. production growth and rig activity have hit a wall since June, when releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) started to pick up steam, reducing the prospects for a significant output increase this year. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the changes in the market since the major withdrawals were announced, how the hoped-for bridge to higher oil production has so far failed to materialize, and why it’s unlikely the government will turn to the SPR if prices spike again soon.

Thursday, 09/29/2022

In days gone by, the common sentiment in the oil patch when prices rose was “Drill, baby, drill!” Not only have times changed, but even back when the phrase was made famous by former Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008 it vastly oversimplified and understated the efforts required to secure new production. It’s easy to overlook how intensive (and time-consuming) the operation at a well site is before even being able to extract any of those precious crude oil, natural gas and NGL molecules found beneath our feet. Prior to hydrocarbon production, well sites must be obtained, tested and developed by exploration and production companies trying to determine their chances of making a reasonable return on their investment. In today’s RBN blog, we take a step-by-step look at the leasing process.

Wednesday, 09/21/2022

Economic sanctions can be a powerful tool to punish a country or group, especially if they involve an essential commodity like crude oil. Imposed for a variety of reasons (military, political, social), sanctions can cause serious harm to the targeted entity. But levying them effectively is not as simple as it may seem, and even the most well-intentioned plans can fall short or have unintended consequences or backfire altogether. In today’s RBN blog we look at a plan by the U.S. and its allies to limit the price of Russian crude oil and the significant challenges in designing a cap that is effective and enforceable.

Sunday, 09/11/2022

Massive shifts are occurring in the U.S. crude oil export market, but you wouldn’t know it from the steady-as-she-goes pace of activity. The volumes being loaded along the Gulf Coast have stayed within a relatively tight range — 2.5 MMb/d to 3.2 MMb/d — for 12 consecutive quarters now, and the export pace for each of the past three quarters has remained within a few thousand barrels of 3 MMb/d. So, what’s changed? For one thing, Corpus Christi is now by far the dominant point of export, with Houston, Louisiana, and Beaumont/Nederland trailing. Another is that Europe, heavily impacted by the sharp decline in imports from Russia, is now the leading destination for U.S. barrels. There are other changes, too, including increased use of Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) and terminal expansion projects. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our recently published Crude Voyager Quarterly Report.

Tuesday, 09/06/2022

The renewed focus on energy security — and the acknowledgment that the world will continue to rely on hydrocarbons for decades to come — may be breathing new life into an often-overlooked U.S. production area: Alaska’s North Slope. The state’s crude oil output is down to its lowest level since before the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) came online in 1977. But now federal regulators are moving toward final approval for ConocoPhillips’s $8 billion Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve, and Australia’s Santos Ltd. and Spain’s Repsol have taken a final investment decision (FID) on the $2.6 billion first phase of their Pikka project between Willow and Prudhoe Bay. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss recent hydrocarbon-related developments in America’s Last Frontier.

Monday, 08/29/2022

Western Canada’s heavy oil producers have become all too familiar with fluctuating and often very wide price discounts for their product. Too often, the culprits have been insufficient pipeline export capacity and/or rapidly rising production. It might be easy to quickly dismiss the latest widening of the heavy oil price discount as being related to these well-known factors, but it turns out that other more international trends are at work, ranging from U.S. government-backed competition in the Gulf Coast to heavy discounting of competing barrels in other far-flung regions of the world. In today’s RBN blog, we look beyond the borders of Canada for an explanation of the latest pressures driving wider Canadian heavy oil price discounts.

Wednesday, 08/17/2022

Yesterday’s Weekly Petroleum Status Report from the Energy Information Administration included an eye-popping statistic: 5 million barrels a day of crude oil were exported from the U.S. in the week ended August 12. It’s the highest U.S. export volume ever reported — and by a margin of nearly half a million barrels a day! But as huge as that top-line number is, and as many headlines as it’s sure to grab, it's not unexpected. Major changes in international crude markets, coupled with tectonic shifts in North American upstream and midstream, have conspired to push U.S. exports higher and higher. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the factors leading up to this point and what it means for crude markets in the U.S. and abroad.

Tuesday, 08/16/2022

There’s a growing acknowledgment in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere that crude oil will remain an important part of our energy future for decades to come. At the same time, however, the drive to decarbonize will continue, and as part of that effort, oil producers will be working to ratchet down their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A lot of that will be achieved through the purchase of carbon offsets or the use of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), but another approach is for producers to “high-grade” their portfolios by divesting production assets that generate inordinately high volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane during production and investing instead in assets with much lower carbon intensity. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the push by some producers to shift to “lower-carbon oil.”