Amid all the turmoil and negative news in energy markets this year, U.S. propane has been the exception, turning in a stellar performance. Even with exports up almost 10% in November from the same period last year, averaging 1.3 MMb/d for the month, inventories remain in good shape at 92.6 MMbbl, or about 5% above stocks in November 2019. Part of the reason has been strong production numbers, which are down only 5% since January, and up a whopping 14% since May. Weather has been another contributor to robust stock levels, with November 2020 coming in as one of the warmest on record. But winter is just arriving. And with export volumes now greater than total U.S. winter consumption, market dynamics have shifted. It now takes more inventory in the ground throughout the winter to support the combination of U.S. demand and exports. But how much more inventory is enough? And how should we factor in the potential for further increases in exports? At the same time, the market is still facing the possibility of another round of declining production due to COVID-related drilling cutbacks. This blog series is about making sense of what’s going on in the propane market today, and what may be coming up in the months ahead.
Recently Published Reports
Daily energy Posts
On December 1, the government of Alberta will officially end its nearly two-year-old policy of curtailing crude oil production to help shrink the massive price discounts that producers had been enduring. It would hardly be an overstatement to say that North American oil markets have changed dramatically since the production cap was implemented by Canada’s largest oil-producing province in January 2019. A short-but-bruising oil price war and a pandemic that slashed demand for crude resulted in Alberta producers making supply cuts even bigger than their government had mandated. Today, we look back at the provincial government’s policy and what has changed to motivate its suspension.
Ten years ago, East Coast refineries imported virtually all of the crude oil they needed — 60% from OPEC, 21% from Canada, and 19% from other non-OPEC countries. Only five years later, in 2015, the tables had turned. PADD 1 refinery demand for crude remained unchanged at 1.1 MMb/d, but only 14% of the oil refined there came from OPEC, 23% from Canada, and 21% from other non-OPEC countries — the other 42% was either railed in from the Bakken or shipped in from the Eagle Ford and Permian. But the changes didn’t end there. Imports rebounded sharply in 2016 and 2017, when new pipelines were built out of those basins that pulled barrels away from PADD 1 and into more competitive refining markets. In the fall of 2020, imports are falling back again but for a different reason — with COVID-19 demand destruction and other woes, East Coast refinery demand for oil is down by almost half, with more cuts on the way. Today, we continue a series on U.S. oil imports with a look at the East Coast.
Over the past 10 years, there’s been a 14-fold increase in U.S. LPG exports: from 132 Mb/d, on average, in 2010 to 1.85 MMb/d so far in 2020. That extraordinary growth in export volumes couldn’t have happened without the development of a lot of new, costly infrastructure — everything from gas processing plants, NGL pipelines, and fractionators to LPG storage capacity, marine terminals, and ocean-going gas carriers. And that build-out continues, not only along the Gulf Coast but on the shores of the Delaware River near Philadelphia. Energy Transfer has been working to expand the throughput of its Marcus Hook terminal on the Pennsylvania side of the river, and Delaware River Partners, an affiliate of Fortress Transportation & Infrastructure, will soon be transloading LPG from rail tank cars onto ships across the Delaware in New Jersey. Today, we discuss Delaware River Partners’ Gibbstown Logistics Center.
2020 has been as anomalous as it can get for energy markets, but that’s especially the case for the LNG sector, which was battered by COVID-related demand destruction. U.S. export volumes, in particular, experienced wild swings this year, going from steady increases and close to 100% utilization over the past few years as new export capacity was added, to operating at barely 30% of capacity this past summer as national lockdowns decimated demand and led to historically low gas prices abroad. Contracted cargoes were canceled en masse for the first time since the U.S. began exporting in 2016, amounting to over 500 Bcf between June and September that was pushed back into the U.S. natural gas market and into storage. But these events only exaggerated what was already a growing risk; with each new train being commercialized, domestic markets are increasingly exposed to the demand swings and other fundamentals in the export markets it serves. Today, we look at how seasonal demand patterns in the U.S.’s primary destination markets could translate to increased volatility at home.
Condensates are quirky as heck — everyone’s got his or her own definition of what they are, for one thing — and their very quirkiness has sent condensates on a wild ride during the Shale Era. For example, the U.S. government for years categorized “conde” as a very light crude oil, and the long-standing ban on most crude exports meant you couldn’t export the stuff to anywhere but Canada. Unless, that is, you ran conde through a splitter to make NGLs, naphthas, and kerosene — those are petroleum products and they could (and still can) be exported, no questions asked. Then, as condensate production started soaring, especially in the Eagle Ford, the feds said that if you “processed” conde in special equipment to make it less volatile you could export it — no splitting required. That made the folks who invested in splitters shout in unison, “Huh?!” The roller-coaster for conde didn’t end there. The U.S. soon lifted the ban on all crude exports, and suddenly you didn’t need to process condensate at all to export it. More upheaval ensued. Today, we discuss this peculiar grouping of hydrocarbons.
The natural-gas market disruptions hitting the Texas-Louisiana coast so far in 2020 — a pandemic, the collapse of the LNG export market, a rare hiccup in Permian gas production, and multiple hurricanes —threw a big wrench into market expectations. Everything had been moving along pretty smoothly since mid-2016, when the first of a series of new liquefaction trains came online at Sabine Pass LNG. As new LNG export capacity started up at Sabine Pass, Corpus Christi, Cameron, and Freeport, so did relatively steady, predictable growth in feedgas demand. Then came this crazy, unforgettable year. Still more liquefaction capacity started up, but LNG export volumes plummeted, mostly due to very weak export economics. Recently, LNG exports have been picking up and, whenever hurricanes stop pounding the Gulf Coast, the U.S. will likely finally experience the full impact of all 9.15 Bcf/d of export capacity operating at full strength, requiring nearly 10 Bcf/d of feedgas across the U.S, almost 9 Bcf/d of which is located in Texas and Louisiana. Gas flow patterns across Louisiana’s dense network of pipelines already are shifting in response to the incremental demand and are signaling increased supply competition along the Gulf Coast this winter. Today, we continue our series discussing the changing flow patterns along the U.S. Gulf Coast, this time providing an overview of the main drivers of those shifts to date, including LNG feedgas demand and Northeast inflows.
Natural gas production has been growing in Western Canada in recent years with an increasing share of that supply coming from core areas of activity within the Montney and Duvernay plays. This tighter focus has forced TC Energy to rework and expand its giant Nova Gas Transmission Limited pipeline system, a network that originally gathered gas supplies across a much larger geographic footprint. The problem is, it took far longer than expected for the latest round of NGTL expansions to win final approval from Canadian regulators. Today, we review the next phase of the pipeline’s system development, and what the regulatory delay might mean for Western Canada’s gas market.
Back in January, when the International Maritime Organization implemented more stringent limits on sulfur emissions for large, ocean-going vessels, the vast majority of shipowners and charterers complied with the new rule — commonly referred to as IMO 2020 — by switching to very low sulfur fuel oil or gasoil. A few others stuck with old, higher-sulfur bunker but installed scrubbers to remove sulfur from the engine exhaust. A third option — fueling ships with LNG — is now gaining traction, in part because it could help shipping companies deal with future IMO mandates on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Orders for new-build LNG-powered vessels and LNG bunker ships are rolling in, and plans for port infrastructure to support LNG bunkering are being implemented. Today, we begin a series on the growing use of LNG in global shipping.
For the past several months, U.S. refineries have been producing more distillate than demand warrants, resulting in a glut of distillate fuels, especially ultra-low-sulfur diesel and jet fuel. The disconnect between supply and demand has been particularly stark in the Gulf Coast region, where just a couple of weeks ago distillate stocks sat 39% above their 10-year average after coming perilously close to tank tops in August. The culprit, of course, is COVID-19, or more specifically the effects of the pandemic on air travel and the broader economy. Demand for motor gasoline rebounded more quickly than demand for ULSD and jet fuel, and refineries churned out more gasoline to keep up, but that results in more distillate too. Now, finally, there are signs that distillate stocks may be easing back down. Today, we discuss the build-up in ULSD and jet fuel stockpiles, the ways they might revert to the norm, and the potential for storing distillate now and selling it at a higher price later.
Down to only two months left in 2020. Whew! We’ll all be relieved to see this one disappear in the rear-view mirror. It’s been an extreme roller coaster ride for oil and gas — from the onset of the COVID pandemic and the crude price collapse in the spring, to withering demand for transportation fuels, to one hurricane after another, to chaotic swings in natural gas prices. And being thrashed about by all this turmoil are the natural gas liquids, with each NGL product taking its own wild ride through erratic market conditions. It’s been a challenge just keeping up with what is going on. At RBN, we’ve been working on a new app to address this challenge, and today we are rolling it out to you, as a reader of our daily blog. We are talking about access to everything from spot and futures prices, to market statistics, to reports on intra-day pricing, and to market alerts as they happen. Sound interesting? If so, hang on to your hat and read on in this RBN product advertorial.
Over the past decade, floating LNG — for liquefying and shipping offshore natural gas supply — emerged as a promising technology that would enable development of smaller, more remote offshore gas fields around the world. But with a handful of projects now completed and in commercial operation, the challenges of financing, developing, and operating this relatively new technology are overshadowing its prospects. Of the more than 20 FLNG projects that have been proposed since 2007, only five have crossed the finish line and only two others have reached a favorable final investment decision (FID). Moreover, Shell’s Prelude FLNG offshore Northwest Australia — the largest of the existing FLNG facilities — has been dogged by issues since its commissioning in mid-2019, and the operator last week said the unit will not produce any more LNG cargoes this year, after being shut down since February for electrical problems. Today, we examine the headwinds facing FLNG projects.
For the past few years, demand for U.S.-sourced ethane has been on the rise as petrochemical companies in the U.S. and abroad developed new, ethane-only steam crackers and retrofitted existing crackers to allow more ethane to be used as feedstock. U.S. NGL production was increasing too, of course, alongside growth in crude oil-focused plays like the Permian and “wet” gas plays like the Marcellus/Utica. But recently, drilling-and-completion activity has slowed to a crawl and NGL production has been leveling off, which means that less of the ethane that comes out of the ground with oil and gas will be “rejected” into natural gas and more will be separated out at fractionation plants. Today, we conclude a series on ethane exports with a look at U.S. NGL production, ethane supply and demand, ethane exports, and ethane prices.
Much has been written about the run-up in U.S. crude oil exports over the past five-plus years, and rightly so. Who would have guessed a dozen years ago that the U.S. would soon be producing as much as 13 MMb/d, and exporting one-quarter of it? Exports are only half of the story though. In fact, for every barrel of crude shipped or piped out of the U.S. today, two barrels of crude are shipped, piped, or railed in. Put simply, the U.S. refining sector still needs imported oil — or, more accurately, it can’t use all of the light, sweet crude that’s produced in the Permian and other shale/tight-oil plays in the Lower 48, and it still requires large volumes of the heavier crude that’s produced in Canada, Mexico, and overseas. Today, we begin a blog series on U.S. oil imports with a big-picture look at how crude sourcing for the refining sector has morphed in the Shale Era.
By the middle of the decade, LNG Canada should be sending its first cargoes of Canadian-sourced LNG to Asian markets. More importantly, Canada for the first time will have an alternative export market for its natural gas supplies — for more than 50 years, piping gas south to the U.S. has been its only option. But getting gas from the Montney and Duvernay production areas to the British Columbia coast is no easy task. It requires the construction of an entirely new, 2.1-Bcf/d pipeline — expandable to 5 Bcf/d — much of it over very rugged terrain. Coastal GasLink, as the planned pipe is known, has also faced major regulatory hurdles. Today, we conclude a two-part series with a look at where the pipeline project stands today.
The Permian is set to send increasing volumes of natural gas to the Texas Gulf Coast next year, but it is unlikely to be the flood that was once expected. This year’s decline in oil prices has slashed budgets for West Texas producers and rig counts show no sign of a big rebound anytime soon. As a result, growth of oil and associated gas from the Permian will be tepid at best over the next few years, which is a major change from when oil prices hovered north of $50/bbl. Despite the moderation in gas volumes out of the basin, infrastructure changes in 2021 are likely to roil Permian gas markets and have important knock-on impacts for adjacent regions and end-users that depend on West Texas supply. With much less incremental gas from the Permian, there are likely to be significant shifts in gas flows, particularly across the Texas-Louisiana border, to help meet the big increases anticipated for LNG exports. Today, we continue a series that highlights findings from RBN’s new, Special Edition Multi-Client Market Study.