The fractionation and NGL storage complex in Mont Belvieu, TX, would surely qualify as one of the Seven Wonders of the Energy World, if there were such a list. With more than 250 million barrels of NGL storage carved — by water! — out of an enormous subterranean salt dome formation, and nearly two dozen fractionation plants with a combined capacity of more than 2 MMb/d, Mont Belvieu not only serves as the largest receipt point for mixed NGL streams on the planet, it is also the key hub of distribution for the ethane, propane, normal butane and other NGL purity products that are either consumed by Gulf Coast steam crackers and refineries or exported to foreign end-users. But unlike wonders of the ancient world like the Great Pyramids at Giza, Mont Belvieu is still very much a work in progress, with new storage caverns and new fractionators now under development to try to keep up with the breakneck pace of U.S. NGL production growth. Today, we begin a company-by-company review of fractionation capacity and other key infrastructure there.
Daily energy Posts
Not long after crude oil prices crashed in 2014, natural gas processing economics hit the skids. From late 2014 through the first half of 2017, times were tough for natural gas processors and the producers processing natural gas to extract NGLs in their plants. That’s because the per-MMBtu price difference between natural gas prices and NGL prices was low. Very low. In fact, during 2015-16, it was the lowest it’s been over the past decade except for a brief period during the 2009 financial meltdown. But things are looking up. Thanks to a big boost in from propane and butane prices — and, to a lesser extent, rising ethane and natural gasoline prices — natural gas processing economics look healthier today than they have in years. It is going to get even better as more new ethane-only steam crackers come online. Given these developments, it is clearly time for another deep dive into what makes gas processing economics work, and how the numbers are about to change. Today, we begin our latest expedition into the wilds of gas processing.
Available ethane in the Marcellus/Utica is expected to increase 70% by 2022 to 800 Mb/d, from about 470 Mb/d this year. That should be good news for the slew of ethane-only steam crackers coming online in that time frame, primarily along the Gulf Coast. But unfortunately, there is limited ethane pipeline takeaway capacity out of the region and today more than half of the potential ethane supply is being rejected into the natural gas pipeline stream. Without additional takeaway capacity, that rejected volume is expected to grow and few additional ethane barrels will make their way to the Gulf Coast. The question is, will transportation economics support additional pipeline development to where the demand is growing the most? Today, we will explore how the changing ethane market is likely to impact the Marcellus/Utica producing region.
As new ethane-only steam crackers come online and ethane exports accelerate, ethane demand is ramping up from 1.3 MMb/d today to somewhere between 2.1 and 2.3 MMb/d in 2022. The good news is that a lot of new ethane supply is becoming available — from high-Btu Permian associated gas, more gas from other oil-focused plays, and of course rapidly growing Marcellus/Utica production. Depending on what happens to oil and gas prices, somewhere between 2.5 and 3.2 MMb/d of “potential” ethane could be available by 2022 to meet that demand. So, no problem, right? Not so fast. Some of this potential ethane will be very expensive to get to market, and some won’t be able to get to market at all due to pipeline capacity constraints. How these market dynamics play out raises the possibility of wide swings in ethane prices. Today we will explore how this may play out.
Last week Hurricane Harvey roiled the entire energy complex, with NGL markets suffering substantial disruption — curtailed natural gas liquids production from gas processing in the Eagle Ford and other basins, reduced operating rates at Mont Belvieu and other fractionation sites, shuttered LPG and ethane export docks, widespread refinery closures and a virtual shutdown of Gulf Coast petrochemical plants. While little major damage to facilities has been reported and several plants are now restarting, operating conditions continue to be extremely difficult for both the supply and demand sides of the market. Today we continue our look at how high winds and days of torrential rain affected the U.S. energy industry, this time focusing on NGLs.
The widely held expectation that Permian NGL production will rise sharply through the early 2020s has set off fierce competition among midstream companies to develop new pipeline capacity out of the play — mostly to the NGL storage and fractionation hub in Mont Belvieu, TX, but also to Corpus Christi. Only some of the incremental pipeline takeaway capacity being planned is likely to be needed, though, raising the stakes among midstreamers to line up the long-term commitments they need to finance and build their projects. Today we continue our series on NGL-related infrastructure in the U.S.’s hottest shale play with a look at efforts to add new takeaway capacity as NGL production in the Permian ramps up.
Production of natural gas liquids in the Permian is growing so quickly that within a year or two some parts of the super-hot play may experience NGL takeaway constraints. That is good news for the owners of the eight existing NGL pipelines out of the Permian, which are likely to see flows on their pipes increase as NGL production rises — assuming, that is, that they have capacity to spare and that they are connected to natural gas processing plants within the faster-growing parts of the region. Today we continue our blog series on Permian NGL production, processing and pipelines with a look at ONEOK’s West Texas LPG Pipeline and the Chevron Phillips Chemical EZ Pipeline.
Nearly two-thirds of the effective NGL pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Permian is controlled by Energy Transfer Partners and DCP Midstream. But there are several other NGL pipelines used to flow Permian NGLs to faraway storage facilities and fractionators — assuming, that is, that their natural gas processing plants are connected to the pipe alternatives in question. Today we continue our blog series on the NGL side of the Permian with a look at Enterprise Products Partners’ Chaparral and Seminole pipelines and Enterprise’s and BP’s Rio Grande Pipeline, including the volumes of NGLs that have been flowing through them.
The year-ago completion of Energy Transfer Partners’ Lone Star Express NGL pipeline from West Texas to the Mont Belvieu storage and fractionation hub near Houston was a big deal. The new, 533-mile pipe increased effective NGL takeaway capacity out of the Permian by more than 25% and gave Energy Transfer a larger conduit for moving NGL produced at its Permian natural gas processing plants directly to the company’s still-growing complex of fractionators in Mont Belvieu. Energy Transfer also owns another big NGL pipeline out of the Permian: the Lone Star West Texas Gateway. Today we continue our blog series on the NGL side of the Permian with a look at what is currently the biggest fish in the play’s NGL pond.
In the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest ethane production stats — for the month of May — gas plant production of ethane exceeded 1.4 MMb/d for the first time. In the same month, ethane exports also hit a record at 191 Mb/d, and ethane demand for petrochemical production — you guessed it — hit still another all-time high, topping 1.2 MMb/d. All this is just the beginning. These numbers and the throughput of any midstream infrastructure transporting or fractionating ethane will continue to increase over the next two years as new, ethane-only crackers come online, ethane rejection dwindles and overseas exports of ethane ramp up. By 2020, U.S. ethane demand is expected to reach 2 MMb/d — up by two-thirds from where it stands now. Today we continue our series on rising ethane demand, how the new demand will be met and what it all means for ethane prices.
The utilization of NGL takeaway pipelines out of the fast-growing Permian is determined to a significant degree by the natural gas processing plants that the pipes are connected to. Midstream companies prescient — or lucky — enough to own NGL pipelines that extend out of the hottest, most productive sub-regions within the Permian’s Midland and Delaware basins are benefiting not only from higher NGL volumes now, but the likelihood of even fuller pipes as Permian production continues to ramp up. Today we continue our blog series on the NGL side of the Permian phenomenon with a look at existing gas processing plants in the play and their connections to NGL pipelines that move y-grade to storage and fractionators.
A big question mark hanging over the Permian like a dark cloud is whether there will be sufficient pipeline takeaway capacity to deal with continued production growth in the U.S.’s hottest shale play. Mostly, takeaway-adequacy questions are asked about either crude oil or natural gas, but ensuring sufficient NGL pipeline capacity out of the Permian may ultimately be the biggest challenge of all. Why? Because just about everything involving NGLs seems to be more complicated — how they are produced, transported, stored and even priced. Today we begin a series on Permian natural gas processing, natural gas liquids production growth and existing plus planned NGL pipelines out of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
MPLX is wrapping up a three-part, $500 million plan to facilitate the pipeline transport of large volumes of field condensate and natural gasoline from the Marcellus and Utica plays to Midwest refineries, western Canadian heavy-crude shippers and other end users. But “wrapping up” may be the wrong phrase. In fact, MPLX sees its Cornerstone Pipeline, Utica Build-Out Projects and other elements of the company’s Midwest pipeline push as part of a larger and continuing effort to deal with remaining inefficiencies in the delivery of Marcellus/Utica liquids to market. Today we review what has been accomplished so far, and what expansions and enhancements to MPLX’s pipeline plan may be in the offing.
The last couple of years have been a wild ride for the U.S. ethane market, but look out ahead. It’s going to get crazy. The onslaught of new, ethane-only crackers is upon us at the same time overseas exports are expected to ramp up. At first glance, it might appear there is enough ethane to meet all that demand, coming from molecules that today are being rejected — that is, sold as natural gas rather than liquid ethane. But the big question — will it be enough? Because not all that rejected ethane has access to pipeline capacity needed to get it to market, at least not right now. In today's blog, we begin a new series on rising ethane demand, how the new demand will be met, and what it all means for ethane prices.
Plans are afoot to double and maybe triple the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) export capacity of the Pacific Northwest — British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon — giving the region an enhanced role in what has been a booming business. Volumes being shipped to Asia out of the Ferndale marine terminal in northwestern Washington State are at near-record levels, and AltaGas and Royal Vopak are building a 40-Mb/d (and expandable) export facility in northwestern BC that is planned to come online in early 2019. Further, Pembina may be only months away from committing to the construction of a 20-Mb/d LPG marine terminal, also in BC. Today we continue our series on the expanding role of Western Canada in LPG exports with a look at plans for new propane/butane marine-dock capacity in BC.
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.