Every day, about 1.8 million barrels of NGLs, naphtha and other ethylene plant feedstocks are “cracked” to make both ethylene and an array of petrochemical byproducts. And every day, decisions are made for each steam cracker on which feedstock—or mix of them—would provide the plant’s owner with the highest margins. Within each petchem company, these decisions are optimized by staffs of analysts and technicians using sophisticated and complex mathematical models that consider every nuance of a specific ethylene plants’ physical capabilities. Fortunately for us mere mortals, it is possible to approximate these complex feedstock selection calculations for a “typical” flexible cracker using a relatively simple spreadsheet model. Today we continue our series on how the raw materials for ethylene plants are picked with an overview of RBN’s feedstock selection model, a review of feedstock margin trends, and an explanation of how the model also can be used to indicate future NGL and naphtha prices and to assess the prospects for various industry players.
Daily energy Posts
Crude oil and natural gas production growth stalled in 2015 and has declined this year in some of the big shale basins. But we may be seeing a turnaround. The latest EIA Drilling Productivity Report, released on December 12, 2016, included upward revisions to its recent shale production estimates and also projects an increase in its one-month outlook for the first time in 21 months (since its March 2015 report). Today we break down the latest DPR data.
The Shale Revolution has had a profound impact on U.S. NGL markets by vastly increasing production and by lowering NGL prices relative to the prices of crude oil and natural gas. That has been good news for the nation’s steam crackers, the petrochemical plants that have enjoyed low NGL feedstock prices since 2012. But NGL markets are in for some big changes as new U.S. steam crackers coming online over the next two years will be competing for supply with export markets, raising the specter of higher NGL prices—a good thing for NGL producers, but not so for petrochemical companies. How this plays out will be determined by the feedstock supply decisions petrochemical producers make as NGL prices respond to rapidly increasing demand. Today we begin a series on how steam cracker operators determine day-by-day which feedstocks are the most economic, and on the factors driving the value of ethylene feedstock prices.
The build-out of incremental natural gas takeaway capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica region has come in fits and starts, with new pipelines—as opposed to the reversal or expansion of existing pipes—proving to be the most troublesome. Energy Transfer Partners and Traverse Midstream Holdings’ long-planned 3.25-Bcf/d Rover Pipeline to southern Michigan is a case in point. The latest challenge for the $4.2 billion project is getting final federal approval in time to allow tree clearing along the pipeline’s 711-mile route to be completed before federally protected bats start roosting in early April. If that timeline’s not met, Rover’s planned completion later in 2017 may be delayed a full year, enabling Western Canadian gas producers to sell more gas to Ontario and the Upper Midwest. Today we assess what’s at stake for ETP, Traverse, and producer-shippers in the Marcellus/Utica and Western Canada.
There’s good reason to believe that the international LNG market has turned a corner, with demand and LNG prices on the rise and with a number of new LNG-import projects being planned. That would be good news for U.S. natural gas producers, who know that rising LNG exports will boost gas demand and support attractive gas prices. It also would help to validate the wisdom of building all that liquefaction/LNG export capacity now nearing completion. Today we look at recent developments in worldwide LNG demand and pricing and how they may signal the need for more LNG-producing capacity in the first half of the 2020s.
The SCOOP and STACK combo play in central Oklahoma recently has emerged as one of the most prolific and attractive shale production regions in the U.S. Like the Permian Basin (albeit on a much smaller scale), rig counts in this play have weathered the crude oil price decline better than most of the rest and, along with the Permian, are leading a rebound as prices move higher. These days, SCOOP/STACK producers are primarily targeting crude oil and condensates, but the area also is seeing a resurgence of natural gas output from associated gas. More than that, given its economics, location and ample infrastructure, gas supply from the region has the potential to be directly competitive with Marcellus/Utica supply. Today, we begin a series analyzing production trends in the SCOOP/STACK, with a focus on natural gas.
Change continues to come fast and furious to midstream MLPs, with no master limited partnership facing a bigger shift than MPLX. MPLX LP, formed in 2012 by Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC), is no stranger to transformation. In 2015, MPLX acquired MarkWest Energy Partners for $14.7 billion, a move that in one fell swoop made the merged entity the fourth-largest MLP in the U.S. In October 2016, Marathon announced an aggressive “dropdown” strategy that will provide MPLX with additional assets that will generate about $1.4 billion in annual earnings by the end of 2019. MPLX also has a significant capital investment program that allocates $2.3-$2.8 billion to build out gathering and processing infrastructure and logistics and storage facilities in Appalachia and Texas. Today, we review our latest Spotlight analysis of one of the nation’s largest MLPs.
U.S. propane inventories rose by an impressive 55 million barrels (MMbbl) during the spring/summer/fall of 2014, and the mild winter of 2014-15 left propane stocks at well-above-normal levels the following spring. Another impactful inventory build—53 MMbbl—occurred during 2015’s March-to-November stock-building season, leaving propane stocks at a record 104 MMbbl as the freakishly mild winter of 2015-16 started. But propane inventories grew much more slowly through the spring/summer/fall of 2016, due in part to rising exports, and—while stocks are high as this winter begins—even-higher exports and the possibility of real winter weather raise the specter of an especially big drop in stored volumes. In today’s blog we begin a series on the significance of propane inventory levels with a look at why propane stocks rose so much in the 2014 and 2015 stock-building seasons.
Each winter, New York spot prices for gasoline and diesel spike higher than spot prices in Chicago, opening a seasonal arbitrage opportunity for Midwest refineries and motor fuel marketers—if only they could move more product east from Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 2 to the East Coast’s PADD 1. Midstream companies have taken note, and have been adding eastbound refined product pipeline capacity in Ohio and Pennsylvania. So far the aim has been to move gasoline and diesel as far east as central Pennsylvania, but the longer-term goal seems to Philadelphia, which ironically is the center of East Coast refining. Today we look at the ongoing shift in market territories claimed and sought by gasoline and diesel refineries and marketers in PADDs 1 and 2.
The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub January contract settled yesterday at $3.54/MMBtu, about 30.8 cents (~10%) above where the December contract expired ($3.232) and 77.6 cents (28%) higher than where November settled ($2.764). The natural gas winter withdrawal season is officially underway—it’s a lot colder and gas demand has spiked. But this week also marks another key bullish threshold: as today’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report will likely show, the U.S. natural gas inventory has fallen below the prior year’s levels for the first time in two years (since early December 2014). That’s in sharp contrast to where the inventory started the injection season in April—more than 1,000 Bcf higher compared to April 2015. Moreover, we expect the emerging deficit to grow substantially over the next several weeks. Today we look at the supply-demand fundamentals driving this shift and what it means for the winter gas market.
In 2015, Sooners held on tight as Oklahoma was rocked by 890 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3 or higher—up sharply from only 43 earthquakes in 2010 and an average of less than two earthquakes per year in the previous quarter-century. Oklahomans have experienced hundreds of earthquakes this year too, including a record-breaking 5.8 event on September 3 and, on November 6, a 5.0 quake very near Cushing, OK, which serves as the delivery point for the CME/NYMEX Light Sweet Crude contract and which has earned the nickname “Pipeline Crossroads of the World”. Today we look at the latest quake near Cushing and other recent pipeline disruptions to assess the resilience of critical crude-delivery systems.
The Western states continue to ramp up their renewable energy mandates—California and Oregon, for instance, plan to get at least 50% of their electricity from renewable sources, and Colorado has set a 30% requirement. Ironically, this renewable energy trend puts a spotlight on natural gas, whose at-the-ready supply will be needed to fuel the West’s increasing number of gas-fired power plants at a moment’s notice to offset the up-and-down output of solar facilities and wind farms. One way to help ensure natural gas availability is have gas storage capacity close at hand. Today we look at ongoing efforts to add tens of billions of cubic feet of natural gas storage in the Western U.S., primarily to help ensure the fueling of nearby gas-fired power plants that back up variable-output solar and wind.
Mexico’s consumption of motor fuels is rising, its production of gasoline and diesel continues to fall, and U.S. refineries and midstream companies are racing to fill the widening gap. The export volumes are impressive: deliveries of finished motor gasoline from the U.S. to Mexico averaged 328 Mb/d in the third quarter of 2016, up 41% from the same period last year, and exports of low-sulfur diesel were up 29% to 194 Mb/d. And there’s good reason to believe that U.S.-to-Mexico volumes will keep growing. Today we look at recent trends in gasoline and diesel production and consumption south of the border, and at ongoing efforts to enable more U.S.-sourced gasoline and diesel to reach key Mexican markets by rail and pipeline.
It’s been a tough few years for Canadian oil producers. As they ramped up production in the oil sands, Canadian E&Ps faced pipeline takeaway constraints that drove down the price of Western Canadian Select versus Gulf Coast crudes. The Keystone XL pipeline would have largely solved things, but when that project was killed by Canada’s U.S. friends and neighbors, oil sands producers had to settle for a series of smaller, more incremental projects that provided only a partial fix. The devastating Alberta fires of May 2016 reduced production and pretty much eliminated constraints for much of this year. But volumes have recovered, and if oil sands production is to continue growing, more pipelines and new customers will be needed. Today we consider Canada’s long-running effort to ensure there’s enough capacity to move its crude to market, two major projects that just won the backing of the Canadian government, and what may be next.
Of the six interstate pipelines that account for most of the natural gas crossing the Texas/Louisiana state line, two have net flows that are westbound into Texas––something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. By the end of this decade—and maybe far sooner—Texas will be receiving more gas from Louisiana than vice versa, mostly due to planned pipeline reversals aimed at moving more Marcellus/Utica gas to Texas export markets. Today we continue our look at changing Texas gas flows, this time with a focus on the half-dozen most important pipelines at the Texas/Louisiana border.
Takeaway capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica shale producing region is about to get another significant boost. Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) expects to bring the first 200 MMcf/d of its 800-MMcf/d Zone 3 Capacity Enhancement project (Z3CE) in service any day now, and ramp up to the full 800 MMcf/d by end of the year. Moreover, the pipeline operator has hinted that it may be able to eke out incremental Zone 3 operating capacity over and above the new design capacity in the near future. The Z3CE expansion will mark the third time in as many years that REX will increase westbound takeaway capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica region. With each capacity boost, Northeast production volumes have risen to the occasion and the capacity has filled up. Today we examine this latest expansion and what it will mean for U.S. gas production.