Fear about supply interruption isn’t the frantic force it used to be in the crude oil market. A deadly confrontation that might have pushed the U.S. and Iran to the verge of war raised the spot Brent crude oil price to above $70/bbl early in the week of January 6. Despite continuing regional concerns, the price quickly subsided. By January 13, Brent spot had fallen to $64.14/bbl, its lowest point since December 3. Before the Shale Era, a U.S.-Iranian face-off may well have launched Brent crude to well over $100/bbl as oil traders blew fuses over the heightened possibility of disruption to Persian Gulf oil production and transportation. There’s nothing like adequacy of supply, globally dispersed, to keep things calm — or at least calmer than they would have been if the U.S. and Iran had drawn so much sword a dozen years ago. In this blog, we’ll discuss where U.S. crude exports have been heading, how close the oil gets to strategically touchy areas, and whether the market still has reason to worry about disruption to oil supply.
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Over the past two years, MPLX has been ramping up its midstream development activity in the Lone Star State, or more specifically in the “Permian-to-Gulf” market, where it’s been building or buying into gathering systems, gas processing plants, and crude and natural gas takeaway pipelines, among other things. Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s midstream-focused master limited partnership also has been in hot pursuit of a number of possible NGL-related projects, including MPLX’s proposed Belvieu Alternative NGL (BANGL) Pipeline and three big fractionation plants in the Sweeny, TX, area, and a planned LPG export terminal in Texas City, TX. As a group, these projects would require millions of barrels of underground salt-cavern storage capacity for y-grade and NGL purity products along the Texas coast, as well as multiple pipeline connections to move the stuff to where it needs to be. Today, we continue our series on Gulf Coast NGL storage with a look at the NGL side of the MLP’s Permian-to-Gulf strategy.
It’s been more than three years since the International Maritime Organization (IMO) fully committed to the January 1, 2020, implementation of IMO 2020, a rule that slashes the allowable sulfur content in bunker fuel used in the open seas around most of the world from 3.5% to only 0.5%. There’s been a lot of angst in the interim, most of it regarding the changes in crude slates, refinery operations and fuel blending needed to meet a flip-of-a-switch spike in global demand for low-sulfur bunker. Also, shippers worried that prices for rule-compliant fuel would go through the roof. Well, it turns out that the transition period in the months leading up to the IMO 2020 era has been largely drama-free. Supplies of very low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO) and marine gasoil (MGO) — the bunker most ships will now use — have been building in most places, prices are up but moderating, and while there may be a few hiccups as ships shift to new, cleaner fuels, life will go on. Heck, life will likely be even better for most complex U.S. refineries, which can churn out large volumes of low-sulfur refined products and which will have access to price-discounted high-sulfur “resid” as an intermediate feedstock. Today, we take a big-picture look at the global bunker market as IMO 2020’s implementation day approaches.
Much as production growth in the Permian required the development of new pipeline capacity to take away crude oil, natural gas and NGLs, increasing activity in the Williston Basin has spurred the need for incremental capacity to move all three of the energy commodities out of western North Dakota and eastern Montana. For NGLs, the recent start-up of ONEOK’s Elk Creek Pipeline has been the answer to producers’ prayers — not just in the Williston Basin (home of the Bakken formation), but also in the Rockies’ Powder River and the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) basins, through which the new, 240-Mb/d pipeline passes on its way to Bushton, KS. Elk Creek’s timing couldn’t have been better: it came online just as a number of new gas processing plants entered commercial service in the Williston Basin, and just in advance of possible Btu restrictions on the all-important Northern Border gas pipeline that may force cutbacks in ethane rejection. Today, we explain why the Elk Creek NGL Pipeline helps resolve a number of challenges Bakken producers have been facing.
The battle for pipeline supremacy in the Permian is really heating up. From Cactus II, to EPIC, to Gray Oak, to a bevy of upcoming expansions and a couple of longer-term behemoth greenfield projects, there are multiple new takeaway options for Permian producers. But could it all be coming online at the wrong time? If there’s one thing we’ve learned from third-quarter earnings calls and recent conversations with producers, it’s that balance-sheet management and fiscal conservativism are top of mind right now. As a result, drilling plans and production growth expectations have been tamped down considerably for 2020 and beyond. Midstreamers and pipeline companies in the Permian are responding quickly. Tariffs are being slashed, margins are getting cut, and competition for West Texas barrels is fierce. Today, we look at recent developments and what they’ll mean for revenues and market differentials heading into the New Year.
The midstream sector in Texas is still in the midst of what seems to be a never-ending build-out of new pipelines, storage terminals and export docks, all aimed at keeping pace with rising production and refining volumes and the increasing need to move incremental output to foreign markets. Given the understandable desire of midstream companies to earn revenue and profits multiple times as hydrocarbons move from the lease to end-users, it’s not surprising to find midstreamers at work on a variety of projects along the way. A prime example would be NuStar Energy, whose capital spending plan for 2019-20 is focused on helping to resolve three bottlenecks: between its crude oil gathering system and takeaway pipelines in the Permian, between takeaway pipes and export docks in the Corpus Christi area, and between South Texas refineries and refined products customers in Mexico. Today, we look at a leading midstreamer’s multifaceted expansion effort in the Lone Star State.
Crude oil prices and, just as important, the availability of pipeline takeaway capacity, have supported continued production growth in the Bakken. Good news, right? Except, that’s led to sharply increased output of associated gas in a region that for years has been playing catch-up on the gas processing capacity front. As a result, gas-flaring volumes have soared this year, putting pressure on crude-focused producers to slow down their drilling-and-completion activity. Things are finally getting better, though — 670 MMcf/d of processing capacity has come online in western North Dakota since late July, and another 200 MMcf/d will start up next month. That gives Bakken producers some room to grow but also poses a problem for Western Canadian producers, namely that more pipeline gas out of the Bakken means less room for Alberta and British Columbia gas on pipes to the Midwest. Today, we begin a short blog series on incremental Bakken gas processing capacity and its impacts on producers — and natural gas prices — up in Canada.
There has always been an aura of excitement, adventure and risk surrounding the quest to unlock natural resources, from the California Gold Rush to the early days of Texas oil wildcatting. Today’s exploration and production leaders may be just as passionate as their predecessors, but the “riverboat gambler”-type days of reckless spending in pursuit of growth now seem like a distant memory. In the brutal aftermath of the oil price crash in late 2014, producers have been forced to follow their heads instead of their hearts, adopting a far more careful approach to investment that prioritizes portfolio rationalization over expansion, and cash flow above growth. E&P companies in 2019 slashed capital investment, and, according to early guidance, they will again in 2020. Underscoring this more conservative attitude is the release of the 2019 Securities and Exchange Commission price deck, which impacts the economics of booking oil and gas reserves. It showed the WTI oil price for SEC reporting purposes declined about $10/bbl, or 15%, to $55.69/bbl in 2019, while the Henry Hub SEC price declined by 17%, to $2.58/MMBtu. Today, we examine a representative group of U.S. E&Ps’ spending plans for 2020, which reflect the impacts of a lower-price environment.
After more than a year of reduced natural gas flows, inspections and integrity checks, Enbridge's Westcoast Energy/BC Pipeline system in British Columbia returned its T-South segment to normal operating pressure, effective December 1, ending 13 months of restricted exports of Western Canadian gas supplies to the U.S. Pacific Northwest gas market. The outage and the resulting reduction in export flows out of Western Canada had prolonged effects on local and downstream gas flows and prices, including a run-up in prices at the Sumas, WA, border crossing point to an all-time U.S. record high of $200/MMBtu last winter. Today, we provide an update on Westcoast flows and their downstream impacts.
Private equity is playing a critically important role in the build-out of crude oil gathering systems in the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin, where rising production volumes — and the expectation of further growth, especially in and around Weld County, CO — are spurring a number of major projects. For proof, you need look no further than ARB Midstream, which, with backing from Ball Ventures’ BV Natural Resources, has developed the largest privately held crude transportation and storage network in the D-J through a combination of acquisitions and new construction. Producers have dedicated a quarter of a million acres to it. Today, we continue a series on crude-related infrastructure in the D-J with a look at ARB Midstream’s fast-expanding asset base there.
U.S. LNG cargoes’ ability to reach different destinations has become increasingly important for the global market as more liquefaction trains continue to come online, oversupply conditions worsen, and international price spreads have shrunk. Earlier this week, Freeport LNG’s first train began commercial service, marking the sixth U.S. liquefaction and export facility to start commercial operations. About 30% of U.S. long-term contracts for currently operating or commissioning liquefaction trains are held by global portfolio players — i.e., offtakers with large international portfolios and the ability to shift cargoes around the world as prices move. And destination flexibility doesn’t end there, as the other types of offtakers also have shown an increased willingness to divert or even re-sell cargoes in the spot market to better take advantage of shifting price spreads. Today, we continue a series on U.S. LNG export trends, this time focusing on how global prices impact cargo destinations.
Propane stockpiled in Canada has often been a mid-winter godsend for propane consumers in the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains states. If supplies in PADD 2 ever got tight due to unusually cold weather, greater-than-normal crop-drying demand and/or kinks in the U.S. supply chain, the higher prices spurred by the shortfall would incent more Canadian propane to be piped, railed or trucked south. This winter may be different, though. A new propane export terminal in British Columbia and steady-as-she-goes exports from the U.S.’s northern neighbor to PADDs 2 and 5 have left Canadian propane inventories nearly one-third lower than a year ago, and propane in the Edmonton, AB, hub is selling at a far-from-typical premium to propane at Conway, KS, and Mont Belvieu, TX. Today, we explain why a supply-demand imbalance in the U.S. heartland this winter might be harder to fix.
As exports of crude oil, natural gas and NGLs have surged, U.S. markets for these energy commodities have undergone radical transformations. Exports now dominate the supply/demand equilibrium. These markets simply would not clear at today’s production levels, much less at the volumes coming on over the next few years, if not for access to global markets. Making sense of these energy market fundamentals is what RBN’s School of Energy is all about. Did you miss our conference a few weeks back? Not to worry! You’ve got a second chance! All the material from the conference — including 20 hours of video, slide decks and Excel models — are now online. Fair warning: Today’s blog is an unabashed advertorial for the latest RBN School of Energy + International Online.
Crude oil gathering systems play an important role in a matter critical to producers, marketers and refiners alike: crude quality. Well-designed gathering systems can help deliver crude with the API gravity and other characteristics that refiners desire and are willing to pay a premium for. This has become a particularly big deal in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, where a big expansion of gathering capacity is under way, and where the market gives extra value to “Niobrara-spec” crude with an API of 42 degrees or lower. Today, we continue a series on existing and planned pipeline networks to move D-J-sourced crude from the lease to regional hubs and takeaway pipes with a look at Taproot Energy Partners’ system.
New U.S. liquefaction trains and LNG export terminals are entering an increasingly oversupplied global market in which international LNG prices are well below where they stood a year and a half ago and price spreads from the U.S. have collapsed. That hasn’t deterred U.S. LNG exports from increasing with each new liquefaction train and capacity contract that goes into effect, as long-term offtake contracts, which anchor more than 90% of the U.S. liquefaction capacity, have made cargo liftings relatively insensitive to global prices. However, the destinations for U.S.-sourced LNG have been in flux based on the types of offtakers holding capacity on newly commercialized trains as well as shifting global prices. Today, we continue a series on cargoes and destinations, this time focusing on how contracts impact cargo destinations.
Production of alternative, non-petroleum-based fuel continues to be a hot topic around the globe as government policies have incentivized or even mandated these products with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., we’ve seen waves of ethanol and biodiesel enter the fuel supply chain, but the latest commodity that has piqued industry interest is renewable diesel, whose chemical characteristics make it a particularly desirable replacement for conventional distillate. Today, we provide an overview of the renewable diesel market, the legislative programs in North America that are incentivizing its production, and the projects currently on the books to produce it.