If you follow developments in the energy industry, you know that news about permitting for major infrastructure projects can sometimes read more like a horror story: 14 years to build an electric transmission line, a decade to get a mining permit, and the reality that some projects can be constructed in far less time than it takes to secure the required permits and work through any legal challenges. It’s a known problem with a lot of contributing factors, but no easy answers. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how permitting difficulties have become a flashpoint for all sorts of stakeholders — industry groups, environmental advocates, the general public, and politicians of all stripes. Our focus today will be on the current poster child of permitting challenges, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), but we’ll also discuss how permitting setbacks complicate the development of all types of projects, from traditional oil and gas pipelines to initiatives at the heart of the energy transition.
Daily Energy Blog
At first glance, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to facilitate increased sales of E15 — an 85/15 blend of gasoline blendstock and ethanol — by putting it on the same summertime regulatory footing as commonly available E10 in eight Midwest/Great Plains states might seem like a boon to corn farmers and ethanol producers. But as we discuss in today’s RBN blog, there are a number of economic, practical and even psychological barriers to broadened public access to — and use of — E15 that go well beyond the specific regulatory issue the EPA proposal addresses. As a result, as we see it, EPA’s plan is unlikely to boost E15 demand in any meaningful way, at least for now.
Oil and gas production in the Shale Era is a refined, controlled process — and a far cry from the early days of wildcatting a century ago. Modern drilling typically involves multiple wells on a single well pad, with each well going through a four-stage process to produce hydrocarbons that are then separated into distinct components. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how drilling-and-completion techniques have evolved over the years, from old-school vertical wells to the highly complex strategies targeting shale areas today, and how they set the stage for hydrocarbon production and recovery.
Over the next couple of years — and the next couple of decades — global supply/demand dynamics in refined products markets will be driven by two critically important factors. The first is the understandable reluctance of refiners to expand capacity in the face of climate policy and ESG headwinds. The second is a growing gap between policymakers’ aggressive energy-transition goals and the global pivot to a renewed focus on energy security brought about by the Russia-Ukraine war and worries about China’s global ambitions. These factors, which will fuel the prospects for constrained supply and higher-for-longer demand, have far-reaching implications, not only for refinery owners but also for E&Ps, midstreamers, exporters, energy industry investors and policymakers, all of whom need to gain a clearer understanding of what’s just ahead — and what’s over the horizon, just out of sight. In the encore edition of today’s RBN blog, we discuss key findings in “Future of Fuels,” a new, in-depth report by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics practice on everything you need to know about U.S. and global supply and demand for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and biofuels over the short-, medium- and long-term.
Over the next couple of years — and the next couple of decades — global supply/demand dynamics in refined products markets will be driven by two critically important factors. The first is the understandable reluctance of refiners to expand capacity in the face of climate policy and ESG headwinds. The second is a growing gap between policymakers’ aggressive energy-transition goals and the global pivot to a renewed focus on energy security brought about by the Russia-Ukraine war and worries about China’s global ambitions. These factors, which will fuel the prospects for constrained supply and higher-for-longer demand, have far-reaching implications, not only for refinery owners but also for E&Ps, midstreamers, exporters, energy industry investors and policymakers, all of whom need to gain a clearer understanding of what’s just ahead — and what’s over the horizon, just out of sight. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss key findings in “Future of Fuels,” a new, in-depth report by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics practice on everything you need to know about U.S. and global supply and demand for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and biofuels over the short-, medium- and long-term.
The National Environmental Policy Act was created to ensure federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their actions and decisions, but it is the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which serves as the White House’s environmental policy arm, that provides guidance as to how those agencies should evaluate the projects subject to their review. Energy and environmental policy have shifted under President Biden, and interim guidance recently submitted by the CEQ extends efforts to prioritize the administration’s commitment toward lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Still, it’s not easy to swiftly change policy, for a variety of reasons. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the CEQ’s interim guidance and why the real-world impact on energy and environmental policy might be hard to quantify for a variety of reasons, at least in the short term.
Refineries with hydrofluoric acid alkylation units account for about 40% of total U.S. refining capacity. Many in the refining sector are concerned that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to compel refineries to conduct exacting studies of newer, alternative alkylation technologies could be leveraged to discourage and effectively ban HF alkylation, and as a result, potentially lead to more refinery closures. The U.S. already has lost more than 1.3 MMb/d of refining capacity since 2019 — losses that exacerbated the run-up in motor fuel prices through the first half of last year — and the specter of another round of refinery closures on the horizon looms large. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the challenges that refineries with HF “alky” units might face if they were required to replace them.
If you buy premium gasoline, you’ve probably noticed its price differential versus regular has been increasing in recent years. That is a sign of the rising value of octane, the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price. In this blog series we’ve examined a new gasoline sulfur specification called Tier 3, which is causing complications for U.S. refiners looking to balance octane and gasoline production while still meeting the regulatory limits on sulfur. In today’s RBN blog, the fourth and final on this topic, we provide an analysis of the obscure Sulfur Credit Averaging, Banking and Trading (ABT) system, which allows refiners to buy credits to stay in compliance with the Tier 3 specs. The price of these credits quintupled in 2022, another sign of a tight octane market that will be attracting increased attention in the months and years ahead.
Senior refining executives were called to Washington, DC, in June, around the time U.S. gas prices hit their high-water mark for the year, as the government sought recommendations about how to increase the supply of gasoline. One suggestion made to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm was to relax sulfur specifications on fuels, including the Tier 3 gasoline sulfur specifications. But what is the connection between those rules and the U.S. refining system’s ability to produce gasoline? In today’s RBN blog, we explain how the Tier 3 rules constrain gasoline supply capacity in the U.S. and discuss ways to break free from those chains.
Since 2019, more than 1.3 MMb/d of U.S. refinery capacity has been either shut down for economic reasons or converted to renewable diesel production. The decline in the nation’s ability to produce gasoline and diesel hampered the refining sector’s response to the post-COVID demand recovery and exacerbated the big run-up in motor fuel prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February. Now, there may be a new threat to U.S. refining, namely the possibility that a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule on hydrofluoric-acid-based alkylation could, over time, spur an even larger round of refinery closures. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at alkylate — a critically important part of the U.S. gasoline pool — the prospective regulation and its possible effects.
As we bid adieu to 2022, it’s once again time for the Top 10 RBN Energy Prognostications, our long-standing tradition where we look into our crystal ball to see what the upcoming year has in store for energy markets. And unlike many forecasters, we also look into the rearview mirror to see how we did with last year’s predictions. Ouch. No, we did not predict a lingering, hot war in Europe in 2022, and that had a variety of ramifications for our scorecard this time around. Even so, we actually feel pretty good about those market calls. Most turned out to be spot-on, and for the others, well, it’s informative just to see what we thought was going to happen in 2022, pre-Ukraine. Then tomorrow we’ll take on the challenge of predicting the energy markets of 2023. But today it’s time to look back. Back to what we posted on January 2, 2022.
Well, you might say energy markets got smacked upside the head in 2022. After a decade of energy abundance, a meltdown in demand in 2020, and what looked like a budding recovery in 2021, energy security had devolved into a back-burner issue. After all, why worry about existing fuel sources when they would soon be replaced by waves of renewable and sustainable fuels? Then, literally overnight, the world changed on February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Prior assumptions about energy security were out the window. Suddenly, the availability, source of production and, of course, the price of traditional energy were front-and-center. In fact, those priorities swiftly overshadowed energy-transition goals. We could see that shift in focus every day at RBN by monitoring the website hit rate of our blogs to see which ones garnered the most interest. This year, all of the top blogs were in some way tied to energy security. So today we dive into our Top 10 blogs based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits to see how energy security has permeated all aspects of energy markets.
It could be argued that no sector in the energy industry has seen more uncertainty the past three years than refining. In rapid succession, it experienced a historic collapse in demand, a shaky recovery, a run-up in crude oil and other feedstock prices, the disruption in Russian supply, and the wrath of the public and politicians alike when gasoline and diesel prices rocketed higher earlier this year. Prices at the pump may have sagged in recent months, but don’t think for a second that refining has reverted to anything resembling stability and normalcy — refiners still face a host of challenges and unknowns. For starters, what’s ahead for crack spreads, which have been spiking up and down lately? How quickly will electric vehicles (EVs) undermine demand for traditional motor fuels? And what about renewable diesel? New environmental regulations? More refinery closures? In today’s RBN blog, we look at the long list of challenges domestic and international refiners will face through the rest of the 2020s.
A potentially important factor affecting the supply of octane — the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price — has been lurking in the background over the last few years. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier 3 gasoline sulfur standard applies to all refiners and importers who deliver gasoline to the U.S. market, and while delayed compliance requirements and the onset of the pandemic have blunted its full impact to refiners and consumers so far, the implications of meeting the new standard are beginning to take shape. In today’s RBN blog, we explain how the Tier 3 specs are linked to octane supply, where octane destruction comes into play, and how refiners are adapting to the octane-sulfur squeeze.
Alkylate is an important and valuable part of the U.S. gasoline pool, prized for its high octane, low volatility and low sulfur content. There are two primary catalysts that refiners can opt to use in the production of alkylate: hydrofluoric acid, or HF, and sulfuric acid, or H2SO4. Each is quite popular, with HF and sulfuric acid technologies each representing about half of domestic alkylation capacity — and with those shares varying significantly on a regional basis. While refiners have been safely operating both types of “alky” units for many decades, HF alkylation for some time has been in the crosshairs of the Environmental Protection Agency, which recently proposed that refiners be required to undertake extensive evaluations of potentially safer alternative technologies. It’s hard to know for sure, but if EPA’s proposed rule is made final it could ultimately force many refineries to make very costly changes — into the hundreds of million dollars per unit — or maybe even shut down entirely. In today’s RBN blog, we look at alkylate, how it’s made, and the potentially profound effects of the impending regulation.