The rig count in the Niobrara Shale’s Denver-Julesburg (DJ) Basin has doubled in the past year, and crude oil production has been rebounding modestly in recent months. Most of the activity in the play is concentrated in super-hot Weld County, CO, where 23 of the DJ Basin’s 29 active rigs are set up. But with crude prices below $50/barrel, will the DJ make a real comeback, or will production sag again, just like it did after the big price declines of 2014-15? And what about Niobrara-related midstream infrastructure? Even some of the more optimistic forecasts leave the region with far more pipeline takeaway capacity than it needs. Today we consider recent developments in the Rocky Mountain region’s most important shale play and what they mean for exploration and production companies and midstreamers.
Daily energy Posts
Drilling, well completions and multibillion-dollar investments in the Permian are being driven by the region’s potential for producing vast quantities of crude oil. But the Permian juggernaut isn’t only about crude — far from it. Over most of the past 12 months, the fastest-growing energy commodity in the Permian wasn’t crude oil, it was natural gas. And consider this: The U.S. play with the lowest breakeven prices for natural gas is not the Marcellus/Utica. It’s the Permian, where many of the most prolific areas have negative natural gas breakeven prices. And perhaps most important, constrained gas takeaway capacity poses a bigger threat to Permian crude production growth than constrained crude takeaway capacity, because if the gas produced in the play can’t be transported to market, crude production may need to be curtailed. Today we discuss highlights from RBN’s new Drill Down Report, which focuses on the all-important gas side of the U.S.’s hottest hydrocarbon production region.
After posting huge pretax operating losses in 2015-16, the nine U.S. natural gas-focused exploration and production companies (E&Ps) we’ve been tracking returned to profitability in the first quarter of 2017. This reversal of fortunes in peer group performance was driven mostly due to higher natural gas prices, which ended a massive flow of red ink that had principally resulted from big reserve write-downs. Now, with higher profits and cash flows, these producers are ramping up their 2017 capital budgets and planning for long-term production growth. Today we continue our series on the financial performance of 43 U.S. E&Ps, this time zeroing in on companies whose hydrocarbon reserves are mostly natural gas.
Permian natural gas production has climbed 1.75 Bcf/d, or nearly 40%, in the past three years to more than 6.3 Bcf/d in 2017 to date, and it’s poised to grow to nearly 12 Bcf/d over the next five years. Note that’s a “dry” or “residue” gas number; gross gas production is a couple of Bcf/d higher. As Permian production growth occurs, pipeline takeaway capacity from the primary trading hub in the area — the Waha Hub — will become increasingly constrained, a trend that will drive pricing and flow dynamics into the early 2020s. How full are the takeaway pipelines now and how quickly will constraints emerge? Today we continue our series on the Waha Hub with a look at current takeaway capacity and flows from the hub.
Worldwide, refiners expect to add significant capacity over the next five years, mostly in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific region. While only a small amount of crude processing capacity additions are expected in the U.S. and Canada, the capacity additions elsewhere could have major product-trade and utilization effects on U.S. refiners — especially in PADD 1 (East Coast). Today we analyze expected near-term refinery capacity additions, global demand projections, and potential effects in the U.S.
The Pacific Northwest will never be a Houston or even a Marcus Hook when it comes to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) export volumes, but the region — British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon — is finally poised to get a second marine terminal dedicated to loading propane and butane, the two LPG family members. When AltaGas and Royal Vopak’s planned 40-Mb/d LPG export terminal on BC’s Ridley Island comes online in the first quarter of 2019, it will join Petrogas’s 30-Mb/d terminal in Ferndale, WA, in offering time-saving, straight-shot LPG deliveries to Asia, which has emerged as a leading destination for North American-sourced propane and butane. Other LPG export terminals in the Pacific Northwest have been proposed. Today we begin a blog series on propane and butane exports from Ferndale and the prospects for regional export growth.
Refiners in the Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic states have each experienced good times and bad, both before the Shale Era and more recently. Lately, though, fortune has been smiling on the owners of midwestern refineries, a number of which have been expanded and reconfigured to run cheaper heavy crude from western Canada — changes that have put them at a competitive advantage to East Coast refineries running more expensive light crudes. Now, a proposed refined products pipeline reversal in Pennsylvania would allow more motor fuels to flow east from Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 2 into markets traditionally dominated by PADD 1 refineries. Today we look at recent developments in Midwest and Mid-Atlantic refining, and at the consequential battle for turf that’s just starting to flare.
Rising volumes of associated natural gas production from accelerating oil-directed drilling in the Permian, along with growing demand downstream in Mexico and along the Texas Gulf Coast, are placing renewed importance on a key West Texas trading hub and pricing point — Waha. Permian gas production climbed almost 900 million cubic feet/day (MMcf/d) during 2016 to nearly 6.0 billion cubic feet (Bcf/d), and is up another 400 MMcf/d since then. Moreover, the pace of growth shows no signs of slowing. Much of this incremental supply will rely on the pipeline interconnects and takeaway capacity available at the Waha trading hub to get to desirable markets. The questions that arise, then, are, will the capacity at Waha be sufficient and at what point will more be needed? Today we begin a series diving into the infrastructure, gas flows and capacity at Waha.
If you missed the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Championship win last week, or an unbelievable putt at the U.S. Open this weekend you can always see it on ESPN’s SportsCenter. But what if you missed the most recent RBN School of Energy? Well, you’re in luck — we’re now offering 11 hours of video from SOE, which unlike other natural gas, crude oil or NGL conferences covers all three markets with hands-on course work. In each of the seven streaming-video modules, we drill down on an important aspect of the markets, explain how it works and provide spreadsheet models accompanied with instructional videos. Fair warning: Today’s blog is an unabashed advertorial.
The U.S. nuclear power sector is facing its biggest crisis in years, with an increasing number of nuclear units being retired for economic reasons and the four new units now under construction in the Southeast facing possible cancellation. Bad news for the nuclear sector is good news for owners and developers of natural gas-fired power plants — and, of course, for natural gas producers — because gas plants are a primary alternative to nuclear in providing reliable, around-the-clock power. Gas plants also are a go-to choice for supporting intermittently available renewable sources like wind and solar. Today we review the woes facing the nuclear sector, efforts by some states to prop it up with subsidies, and the strong economic/environmental case for ramping up gas-fired generation.
Of the 43 major U.S. exploration and production companies we have been tracking, the 13 diversified companies — the ones with a balanced mix of crude oil and natural gas reserves — engineered the most dramatic financial reversal in the first quarter of 2017, generating $4.6 billion, or $11.46 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe), in pretax operating profit after almost $65 billion in pretax losses in 2015-16. These producers, like their oil-weighted and gas-weighted counterparts, benefited from higher prices and sharply lower drilling and completion costs and lease operating costs. The magnitude of the turnaround was driven by exceptional results from giant ConocoPhillips, which generated more than one-third of the total first quarter 2017 pretax operating profits for our 43-company universe and nearly one-quarter of the total cash flow. The remaining 12 diversified companies reported $1.3 billion in first-quarter pretax profit after $54 billion in losses over the past two years. Today we look at how the turnaround efforts of 13 diversified oil-and-gas E&Ps have been paying off.
The U.S. natural gas market in recent weeks has turned less bullish than when it began the injection season on April 1. Last week, natural gas production surpassed year-ago levels for the first time this year. Meanwhile, weather and related demand are lagging behind historical comparisons. The result has been larger injections into storage, a fast-rising inventory and lower prices. The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub futures price for the prompt July contract has been averaging about $3.029/MMBtu, down about 21 cents (6.4%) from where the June contract expired at $3.236/MMBtu. Today, we provide an update of the gas supply and demand balance and prospects for injection-season storage fill.
After years of oversupply conditions and pipeline constraints, the U.S. Northeast natural gas market is on the verge of reaching a point where it is unconstrained by transportation capacity and enjoys increased optionality for reaching growing demand markets downstream. There are no fewer than 20 pipeline projects in the works to facilitate that. If all – or even most of them get built, the region would develop the opposite problem — not enough gas to fill all that new pipe. Ultimately, the state of the Northeast market will come down to the timing of the expansions projects compared with the pace of production growth. Today, we conclude this series with a look at how supply will line up with pipeline expansion in-service dates over the next five years.
Exploration and production companies (E&Ps) in shale basins have a water problem — in fact, they have three water problems. Two are upfront well-completion costs: sourcing water for the frac job and disposal of the flowback water from the frac job. These are nontrivial issues, but they pale in comparison to a much bigger problem – produced water – the water that always comes along with the oil and natural gas out of a well. It is a lot of water; on average in the U.S., somewhere around five to six barrels of water are produced for every barrel of oil that comes out of the ground, more from some basins than others. The Permian, for example, produces six to eight barrels of water per barrel of crude. That’s over 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools full of water out of the Permian alone each day. And because this water is chock-full of minerals, petroleum residue and especially salt (which makes it brine), producers must dispose of the water in a safe, environmentally responsible manner. They are doing that today. But what happens if Permian production doubles — a distinct possibility. Today we continue our surfing-themed series on the effect of sand and water costs on producer economics with a focus on produced water in the U.S.’s hottest shale play.
After posting significant pretax operating losses in 2015-16, U.S. oil-weighted exploration and production companies returned to profitability in the first quarter of 2017. The 180-degree turnaround in peer group results was driven not only by higher oil prices, but by major strategic and operational shifts. Most of the 21 E&Ps we’ve been tracking responded to the plunge in revenue that started nearly three years ago by optimizing their portfolios, shedding properties with higher breakeven costs to focus on core unconventional plays and implementing operational efficiencies that led to sharply lower drilling and completion costs. Today we discuss how, with higher cash flows and profits, crude oil producers are ramping up their 2017 capital spending to generate long-term production growth.
By the early 2020s, crude oil flows from the Permian to Corpus Christi are likely to increase by at least several hundred thousand barrels a day and may well rise by more than one million barrels a day. That can only happen, though, if new pipeline capacity is in place to move crude from West Texas to the coast and if enough crude-related infrastructure — storage, distribution pipelines, marine docks, etc. — is developed in Corpus to receive, move and load all that oil. Docks and ship-channel depth are particularly important; the bigger the vessels that Corpus marine terminals can handle, the more competitive Permian crude will be in far-away markets like Asia. Today we continue our series on the build-out of crude infrastructure in South Texas’s largest port and consider Corpus’s ability to load Suezmax-class vessels and maybe even Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs).