Limited natural gas export options and persistently weak gas prices are not new phenomena in Western Canada. But market conditions in the past couple of years have become particularly untenable. Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) gas supply has ratcheted higher and shows signs of further growth, even as its share of export markets has been shrinking with the rise of U.S. shale gas. In-region oversupply conditions have worsened, creating transportation constraints further and further upstream in the WCSB, and prices at the regional benchmark AECO hub have seen historical lows as a result. To deal with this, and perhaps provide a long-term solution to weak natural gas prices, pipeline egress will have to expand again after a decade of decline and stagnation. New takeaway capacity is now starting to be developed. The question is, will it be enough? Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report, which assesses the expanding gas pipeline options out of Western Canada, including when, where and how much takeaway capacity will be developed.
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Daily energy Posts
Crude oil production in the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin has nearly doubled since January 2016 — only the Permian has outpaced the D-J’s growth rate over the same period — and production there now averages about 640 Mb/d. The D-J has just about everything producers want, including an unusually intense concentration of hydrocarbons within four geologic layers, or “benches,” only a few thousand feet below the surface, low per-well drilling costs, and direct pipeline access to the crude hub in Cushing, OK. Production growth in the D-J has spurred a rapid build-out of crude gathering systems and other infrastructure, especially in Colorado’s Weld County, the epicenter of D-J activity, which is located a short drive northeast of Denver. Today, we begin a series on existing and planned pipeline networks to move D-J crude from the lease to regional hubs and takeaway pipes.
After a months-long regulatory delay, two Tallgrass Energy-led natural gas projects have progressed in the past month that will expand takeaway options out of the growing Denver-Julesburg (D-J) production area. Tallgrass in early October began construction on the Cheyenne Connector pipeline and the Rockies Express Pipeline’s Cheyenne Hub Enhancement — aimed at expanding outbound capacity and destination optionality for growing natural gas supplies from the Denver-Julesburg play in the Niobrara Shale, as well as providing a new outlet for Powder River Basin gas. The projects also have secured additional capacity commitments in recent weeks. And in its earnings call last week, Tallgrass said that DCP Midstream, which was already a shipper on Cheyenne Connector, has exercised its option to purchase 50% interest in the project. The influx of gas supply at Cheyenne Hub resulting from these projects will boost eastbound flows on Rockies Express (REX), which is in the midst of recontracting its capacity as existing long-term contracts roll off today. Next, we provide an update on the company’s plans to increase takeaway capacity out of the D-J basin and PRB.
A number of proposed liquefaction plants and LNG export terminals along the U.S. Gulf Coast are racing to secure regulatory approvals and line up sales and purchase agreements, all in the hope of reaching final investment decisions before their rivals. Yet, these Texas and Louisiana projects now face competition from a facility that would be sited more than 3,000 miles away, in the icy waters just off the North Slope of Alaska. Qilak LNG would use a “near-shore” liquefaction plant in the Beaufort Sea off Point Thomson, AK, to supercool the region’s nearby, abundant and now largely stranded supplies of natural gas, load the resulting LNG onto ice-breaking carriers, and use these carriers to make shuttle runs to and from LNG customers in Asia. Today, we review the Qilak LNG project and the economic and logistic rationales driving it.
Like the proverbial dog who finally catches the truck he’s been chasing, only to wonder what to do next, midstreamers at long last have brought on enough crude oil pipeline capacity to move Permian barrels to the Gulf Coast. In fact, right now there appears to be more than enough pipeline space, with several pipes flowing less than their capacity. What midstream companies now face is a race to the bottom as their pipelines compete with each other to attract barrels by offering service to Gulf Coast markets at the lowest price — resulting in transportation rate compression. Today, we begin a blog series on the tug-of-war for barrels and its effect on prices.
In October, some 45 MMbbl of liquefied petroleum gases (LPGs) were loaded onto ships and sent out from U.S. ports, more than 80% of it from Texas Gulf Coast terminals. Most propane and normal butane exports are tied to long-term deals between U.S. suppliers and overseas buyers, but a substantial share involves third-party LPG traders who cut deals to buy LPG, arrange for shipping and terminaling, then sell the LPG to buyers in distant lands. How exactly does all this happen? Today, we continue a series on how U.S.-sourced LPG makes its way to Asia, Europe and other key export markets.
Refined product supply in Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 1, which comprises Atlantic Coast states from New England to Florida, has been in trouble all year. Maintenance issues beset refineries during the first quarter, and then in June, the region's largest refinery, a 355-Mb/d plant owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES), was shuttered after a fire. The loss of the PES output would've been manageable if imports had taken up the slack. But although gasoline imports increased, distillate shipments have actually been lower than normal since June. As a result, the PADD 1 distillate market has been drawing an average 163 Mb/d from inventory since mid-August, according to weekly Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports, leaving stocks in the region at a 10-year low. That storage deficit versus previous years will increase when the weather turns colder and heating oil demand kicks into high gear. With stocks at historical lows and market prices not attracting new supplies, the shortage may well foreshadow price spikes this winter. A potential strike by unionized workers at the Phillips 66 Bayway refinery in northern New Jersey could make matters worse. Today, we look at what's behind the PADD 1 distillate shortfall.
Crude-by-rail has saved the day for Alberta producers before, and it’s about to again. The talk of the Western Canadian province the past few days has been the Alberta government’s October 31 announcement that it will allow incremental crude oil production beyond the province’s 3.8-MMb/d cap — if that crude is transported to market by rail. Within hours of the government’s statement, a trio of major producers indicated that they now expect to ramp up their Alberta output by a total of more than 100 Mb/d over the next few months, with a good bit of the gain occurring by year’s end. Production increases from others are likely to follow, as are parallel plans to load that crude into tank cars and rail it to market. But can Alberta producers really thrive without more pipeline capacity? Today, we review recent developments in “Canada’s Energy Province” and what they mean for producers and Alberta crude prices.
In our blogs and at our 2019 School of Energy a couple of weeks ago, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the ins and outs and pros and cons of a multitude of proposed crude oil export terminals. What we’ve come to believe is that, with U.S. production growth appearing to slow and market players fearful of overbuilding, many of these multibillion-dollar greenfield projects are unlikely to advance to financing and construction. Odds are that the midstream sector instead will focus on ways to add new capacity to existing terminals, even if that means still relying on reverse lightering in the Gulf of Mexico to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). In today’s blog, we discuss why producers, traders and midstreamers alike may be pulling back from investments in big, expensive export projects, and what it could mean down the road.
U.S. propane production has been on the rise for most of 2019, but propane consumption by steam crackers has been reined in by poor economics, and propane exports have been constrained by export-capacity shortfalls. That’s led to a big buildup in propane inventories, which stand at near-record levels as the market prepares for a winter heating season that is forecasted to be milder than normal. So we’re in for only a modest draw on propane stocks between now and spring, right? Not necessarily. There’s change in the air regarding propane supply, cracker demand and export capacity and, as we learned in the balmy winter of 2016-17, the U.S. propane market isn’t nearly as dependent on the weather as it used to be. Today, we assess recent market developments and explain why a big decline in propane stocks is a real possibility.
New U.S. liquefaction trains and export terminals coming online are entering an increasingly oversupplied, lower-priced global market. Even so, domestic LNG exports have continued to climb with each new train that is commissioned and commercialized. Feedgas deliveries to the terminals hit an all-time high well above 7 Bcf/d this past week and have stayed up there the past several days. That’s because more than 90% of the operating or commissioning liquefaction capacity is underpinned by long-term Sales and Purchase Agreements (SPAs) that keep cargoes flowing. Planned facilities still under construction are contracted at a similar level, and we expect that to keep U.S. LNG exports on a growth trajectory that’s in line with the commissioning and construction schedules of new plants, to a large extent regardless of international price trends. Today, we continue a series on U.S. LNG export cargoes and destinations, this time with a focus on the existing capacity contracts for operational and commissioning terminals.
U.S. LPG export volumes have climbed to astronomical levels this year. Almost 60% of U.S. propane production, or about 1.3 MMb/d on average so far in 2019, along with a sizable volume of butane, is being shipped to overseas markets, mostly to Asia. As anyone who’s talked shop with an LPG trader knows, international trading of propane and butane (collectively LPGs — Liquified Petroleum Gas) is a wild, roller-coaster kind of business. But how exactly does it all work? How do the players involved acquire the volumes, cut the deals with export dock owners, arrange for shipping and sell the cargoes to buyers? And, most importantly, how do these shippers make money? Today, we begin a series on international LPG trading that looks behind the curtain and drills down into the nuances that make the difference between success and failure in this traditionally opaque world.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another in the Permian natural gas market. Just as it appeared that prices in the West Texas basin were finally turning a corner and strengthening with the full start-up of Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast Express Pipeline (GCX) late last month, various issues have again conspired to send daily Permian cash prices back down to near zero yet again. And it’s not just the daily spot markets that have come under pressure; forward prices were also severely discounted a few days ago when Kinder Morgan announced that the in-service date of its next long-haul pipeline from the region — the Permian Highway Pipeline project — would be delayed from late 2020 to early 2021. Keeping track of the roller-coaster ride of Permian gas prices and the drivers behind the highs and lows continues to keep heads spinning. Today, we explain the latest wild moves in the Permian natural gas market.
The ready availability of low-cost propane, the expectation of renewed growth in global propylene demand and other factors are spurring development of another round of propane dehydrogenation plants in North America. Three PDH plants — two in Alberta and one in Texas — already are under construction and scheduled to come online in the 2021-23 period. Now, Enterprise Products Partners has committed to building a second PDH plant at its NGL/petchem complex in Mont Belvieu, TX, and PetroLogistics — which completed the U.S.’s first PDH plant in 2010 — has selected the technology it will use for a new facility it now plans to build along the Gulf Coast. Today, we discuss planned PDH capacity additions in the U.S. and Canada and what’s driving their development.
For some time now, natural gas producers in the Permian and the Eagle Ford have been counting on rising pipeline exports to Mexico to help absorb a lot of the incremental production in their plays. Their hopes have been bolstered in the past couple of years by the build-out of a number of new pipelines from the Waha and Agua Dulce gas hubs to the U.S.-Mexico border. Gas pipeline development south of the border hasn’t kept pace, though, mostly due to regulatory and construction delays. Also, a recent dispute over tariffs on a newly completed large-diameter pipeline, extending from the southern tip of Texas to key points along Mexico’s Gulf Coast, had left the pipe sitting empty this summer. That tiff has since been resolved and gas is flowing on the new pipeline, allowing those piped southbound exports to hit a daily record high near 5.9 Bcf/d earlier this month and average above 5.5 Bcf/d this month to date. Plus, progress is being made on other planned Mexican pipes too. This all leads us to ask, is the long-promised surge in U.S. gas exports to Mexico just around the corner? Today, we look at the latest developments regarding Mexico’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure additions.
To hear proponents of Uinta Basin waxy crude oil tell it, all that’s keeping the hydrocarbon-packed region in northeastern Utah from significantly increasing production in the 2020s is a better way to transport their shoe-polish-like crude to Gulf Coast refineries than trucking to existing transloading facilities. And now, they think they’ve finally found it. If all goes to plan, by early 2023 a new, 85-mile short-line railroad will be in place to move at least two 110-car unit trains of waxy crude a day from the epicenter of Uinta Basin production to interconnections with two long-haul rail lines. That would give producers significantly enhanced access to markets far beyond the five Salt Lake City-area refineries to which they now truck some 90% of their output. Today, we conclude our series on the Uinta Basin with a look at the proposed Uinta Basin Railway crude-by-rail project and what it would mean for the play’s producers, as well as for Gulf Coast refiners.