The fundamental drivers of global energy markets are shifting as the world begins to recover from the crisis induced by COVID-19. North American natural gas markets have been upended this year by a multitude of events, chief among them the plunge in crude oil prices and a dramatic drop in LNG exports. Other smaller, yet relevant, factors have been gyrating as well, including natural gas exports to Mexico by pipeline. After climbing to new highs last fall, piped gas exports to our southern neighbor suffered significantly during the worst of this spring’s series of calamities, but things are looking up. Total exports across the border have reached new highs this month, with just-completed infrastructure in Mexico assisting in the jump. Perhaps things are getting back to normal, at least in this small corner of the energy markets. Today, we provide an update on exports of natural gas from the U.S. to Mexico.
U.S. Northeast natural gas production has surged nearly 1.5 Bcf/d in the past four weeks as wells that were shut-in this spring came back to life. The supply gains have been matched by strong intraregional demand, which has posted at or near record highs on a monthly average basis in recent months. But the returning supply volumes raise the question: what happens when summer cooling demand begins to fade? Storage will only be able to absorb so much, as regional storage inventories are already well above year-ago levels and the historical average for this time of year. That leaves flows out of the region as the only other outlet for excess supply, and those may be limited as well, as pipeline issues and drastically reduced downstream demand from LNG exports have stymied outflows. So, is the Northeast gas market headed for a shoulder-season meltdown? Appalachian gas supply prices this month already have weakened relative to the national benchmark Henry Hub, and these dynamics suggest there is more tumult ahead. Today, we consider what’s in store for the Northeast gas market this fall given the latest fundamentals.
In many parts of the world, the shift away from coal-fired to natural gas-fired generation and renewables has been gaining momentum in an attempt to curtail the output of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. The Canadian province of Alberta kicked off such an initiative in 2016 to eliminate all of its coal-fired power generation sources and replace these with either gas-fired plants, wind farms, or solar by 2030. In the past two years, the province’s major electric utilities and independent power producers (IPPs) have been accelerating these plans, such that the complete phase-out of coal will be accomplished many years in advance of the original deadline. Today, we consider this transition and highlight what should be a pivotal year for Alberta’s use of natural gas in power generation.
For a few years now, U.S. natural gas producers have benefited from the electric-power sector’s shift from coal-fired plants toward gas-fired ones. The ongoing transition makes sense. Not only is gas-fired generation cleaner, it’s mostly been cheaper than the coal alternative. Better still, gas turbines and combined-cycle plants are very flexible companions to all those new wind farms and utility-scale solar facilities, whose variable output requires at-the-ready replacement power when the wind’s not blowing and the sun’s not shining. But with the continued push by many state regulators — and many utilities — for lower-carbon generation fleets, gas-fired plants are facing a growing challenge from energy storage, mostly in the form of very big lithium-ion batteries. Today, we look into the increasing use of large-scale batteries in utility settings and whether they might pose a serious threat to gas-fired power in the 2020s and beyond.
In the nearly three months since it began initial service, natural gas flows on Cheniere Energy’s Midship Pipeline out of the SCOOP/STACK have ramped up, and now consistently top 700 MMcf/d. This, despite production from the Oklahoma basins declining by close to 10% in that time. In other words, Midship is doing what it was supposed to do — namely, giving producers and shippers incremental capacity to reach relatively more attractively priced markets. However, the pipeline was also meant to connect that supply region with growing LNG export demand on the Gulf Coast, which has been slashed in recent months as global oversupply and poor economics have marginalized U.S. LNG cargoes. That raises the question, where are Midship flows heading? Today, we provide an update on Midship gas flows.
U.S. LNG exports in recent months have gone from providing a consistent and growing source of demand to balance the U.S. natural gas market to now being a drag on demand growth and the gas market balance. Rising storage surpluses and record low prices in Europe and Asia, along with relative strength in the U.S. national benchmark prices at Henry Hub, have turned the economics upside down for U.S. exports and led to widespread cancellations of contracted cargoes. Feedgas deliveries and cargo liftings at Lower-48 terminals both have plummeted to the lowest levels since early 2019, despite domestic liquefaction capacity climbing by more than 4 Bcf/d since then. Moreover, the dynamics that led to the current predicament are likely to persist at least through injection season and potentially even beyond that to a certain extent. Today, we provide an update on how cargo cancellations have affected U.S. gas demand for exports, overall and at individual terminals.
Solar photovoltaic projects accounted for an impressive 40% of all the new electric generating capacity installed in the U.S. in 2019 — the third time since 2015 that solar additions outpaced installations of natural-gas capacity. And the early 2020s are shaping up as another good period for solar, especially in states that offer both intense sun and the broad expanses of land required for large-scale solar projects. Texas is a case in point; some 8,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity is expected to be added there in the 2020-22 period. Solar power, like wind power before it, has come to be so prolific in the Lone Star State that you’d think it would be having a significant impact on how much gas-fired generation is needed day to day, right? Today, we discuss the increasing role of solar generation in the second-largest state and its impact on the demand for traditional power plant fuels.
The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt contract settled at $1.482/MMBtu yesterday, down 11.5 cents (7%) from the previous day and the lowest settle that the market has ever seen during June trading. That’s also a 33-cent (18%) drop from just two weeks ago when prompt futures were around $1.80/MMBtu. The immediate rationale is the larger-than-expected and larger-than-normal storage build reported by the Energy Information Administration yesterday. But current price levels are also indicative of bigger problems looming for the gas market, namely that while gas production is down, total demand, including exports, has been exceptionally weak too. As a result, by mid-July, the storage inventory appears likely to reach record highs for that time of year — record highs that may well persist through the end of injection season in early November unless there is a substantial correction in the gas supply-demand balance. Moreover, it’s looking less and less likely that relief will come from the demand side. Today, we look at the drivers behind the latest gas market meltdown and implications for the balance of injection season.
Tallgrass Energy and DCP Midstream’s Cheyenne Connector pipeline and the REX Cheyenne Hub Enhancement projects are set to begin operations tomorrow, June 26, after receiving FERC approval yesterday. The natural gas projects will add takeaway capacity out of the Denver-Julesburg and Powder River production basins. For Tallgrass, the incremental capacity has the potential to increase utilization of its Rockies Express Pipeline (REX), which has struggled to fully recontract its mainline capacity after a slew of long-term contracts expired last year. For gas producers, the new capacity and hub upgrades mean an alternative route out of the core DJ with farther-reaching destination options for gas flows, including access to REX and its growing direct-connect load and numerous third-party interconnects in the Midcontinent/Midwest. About 600 MMcf/d in firm contracts will kick in for each project with the start of service, but given that Niobrara gas production is down and there’s likely no new production waiting behind the capacity, gas flows on the two projects may come down to economics. In today’s blog, we provide an update on the projects in the context of today’s uncertain market.
Lower crude oil prices whack oil-directed drilling, slashing crude production, which cuts associated gas output, tightening the gas supply-demand balance, and boosting gas prices enough to spur more gas-directed drilling — it’s a classic case of commodity market schadenfreude, where one product benefits at the expense of another. That’s the way it was supposed to work, according to various trading strategies touted a few weeks back. But here we sit, with crude oil prices still around $40/bbl and gas prices languishing at a paltry $1.66/MMBtu. Was there something wrong with the schadenfreude thesis, or do we have to look deeper to understand how prices will behave in this convoluted COVID era? In today’s blog, we’ll explore this question and what it may mean for natural gas prices in the coming months.
U.S. Northeast natural gas production has tumbled nearly 900 MMcf/d in the past month alone since EQT Corp., Cabot Oil & Gas, and others began curtailments in response to low gas prices, and is averaging nearly 2 Bcf/d below last November’s peak of 32.9 Bcf/d. But regional gas demand has lagged this year, storage inventories have surpassed five-year highs and outbound flows to the Gulf Coast are being challenged by reduced takeaway capacity and drastically lower demand from LNG export facilities. Today, we examine the net impact of these competing fundamental factors on the region’s supply-demand balance and the resulting implications for Appalachian supply prices.
Natural gas prices in the U.S. were under pressure for many years, long before the COVID crisis gripped the world and threw energy markets into flux. Shale gas production, from both crude- and gas-focused basins, has driven U.S. output to incredible levels over the last 10 years. That growth has led to persistently low U.S. gas prices across the Lower 48, with the benchmark Henry Hub being no exception. The upshot of low gas prices has been steadily increasing demand, both in the domestic market and for exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to various markets around the globe. Until recently, those international markets had often been viewed as an insatiable demand sink, but reality has set in over the past year. Prices in Europe, one of the most popular destinations for U.S. LNG, have crashed below Henry Hub, and are threatening the once-steady flow of LNG. Market participants in the U.S. and Europe now find themselves poring over the fundamental details of both markets to determine how long the price weakness will last, or if it will only get worse from here. Today, we look at the increasingly interconnected gas markets on both sides of the Atlantic.
U.S. Northeast natural gas producers may be on the other side of a years-long battle with perpetual pipeline constraints and oversupply conditions. But they’re now facing new challenges to supply growth, at least in the near-term, from low crude oil and gas prices and the decline of a major downstream consumer of Appalachian gas supplies: LNG exports along the Gulf Coast. Most of the U.S. well shut-ins since the recent oil price collapse are concentrated in oil-focused shale plays, and gas volumes associated with those wells will be the hardest hit. However, a number of gas-focused Marcellus/Utica producers also have announced or escalated supply curtailments in recent weeks, as they wait for associated gas declines to buoy prices enough to support drilling. The pullback has had immediate effects on the region’s production volumes and supply-demand balance. Today, we provide an update on the latest Appalachia gas supply trends using daily gas pipeline flow data.
Progress for the second wave of U.S. LNG export projects, which already had begun slowing in the latter half of 2019, has come to a near standstill this year, with several developers delaying final investment decisions (FIDs). The economics for U.S. LNG exports have evaporated in recent weeks, and for the first time in the four years or so since the Lower 48 began exporting LNG, cargo cancellations have become a regular part of the U.S. gas market’s vernacular. International prices are signaling that oversupply conditions will linger for a while, likely well after COVID’s impacts on demand ease. Nevertheless, projects that are already under construction are pushing forward, including the last of the first-wave expansions and two facilities from the second wave of proposed projects. There’s also one more second-wave development that could take FID this year. Today, we provide highlights from RBN’s latest LNG Voyager Quarterly report.
Cancellations of U.S. LNG cargoes are starting to take a toll on Lower-48 natural gas demand. Feedgas flows to U.S. terminals last week fell to as low as 5.76 Bcf/d, down from the daily peaks above 9 Bcf/d seen as recently as April and the lowest since October 2019. While some of the slowdown may be attributable to domestic outages or maintenance on feeder pipes — or short-lived marine channel weather conditions — the bulk of it is a precursor to the first big round of cancellations by offtakers for June liftings. This, as COVID-related demand destruction and the resulting supply glut in the past month have collapsed what already were weak economics for exporting U.S. LNG to Europe and Asia, wiping out offtakers’ margins for delivery into those markets. Nevertheless, many cargoes will continue to move. What drives offtakers’ decision of whether to lift or cancel cargoes? Today, we wrap up a short series looking at the market and logistical dynamics forcing cancellations, as well as some of the mitigating factors that could prop up cargo liftings more than you’d expect in the current environment.