Four years ago this month, crude oil was selling for north of $100/bbl and natural gas prices were more than 50% higher than they are now. But while hydrocarbon prices sagged later in 2014 — and through 2015 and early 2016 — the declines didn’t deal a crippling blow to U.S. exploration and production companies. Instead, most of the upstream industry weathered the crisis remarkably well. Amidst that striking recovery, the 10 gas-focused E&Ps we’ve been tracking have engineered the strongest return to profitability. After $40 billion in pre-tax losses in 2015-16, they reported a collective $5.2 billion in pre-tax operating income in 2017, with all 10 producers in the black, as well as a 150% increase in cash flow over 2016, to $11.7 billion. However, gas prices have languished below $3.00/MMBtu since early February 2018 — their lowest level since mid-2016 — which means that the gas producers don’t have the tailwind that higher oil prices have been providing to their oil-focused and diversified competitors. Today, we conclude our blog series on E&Ps’ 2018 profitability outlook and cash flow allocation with a look at companies that focus on natural gas production.
Daily energy Posts
U.S. inventories of distillate — especially ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) and heating oil — are at their lowest pre-winter level in three years after falling during the summer months for the first time since inventory records started being measured in 1982. Rising diesel exports are one culprit; another is the shutdown of a number of Gulf Coast refineries during and immediately after Hurricane Harvey. The good news is that distillate prices have been increasing, as have the margins for refining crude oil into distillate — both encouraging refineries to ramp up their diesel/heating oil production. Today, we look at recent developments in the distillate market and what they may mean for diesel and heating oil prices this winter.
Over the past few years, rising production in the Canadian oil sands and U.S. shale plays such as the Bakken, Permian and Eagle Ford has given refiners new options for sourcing their crude, causing changes in oil pipeline utilization and prompting the development of new pipelines — or the reversal of existing pipes. A prime example of all this is playing out in Memphis, TN, where a Valero Energy refinery will be shifting from mostly U.S. Gulf Coast-sourced light crude to light crude that will flow in on the new Diamond Pipeline from the Cushing, OK, crude storage hub. Valero’s change in crude sourcing will be yet another blow to the 1.2-MMb/d Capline Pipeline, which for decades has moved crude north from the Gulf Coast to Patoka, IL, and other points along the way, including western Tennessee. Today, we look at the thinking and economics behind Valero’s plan and at the latest news on Capline.
For the past three years, the price for U.S. WTI crude oil at Cushing has remained close to $50/bbl while natural gas at the Henry Hub has gravitated in a range around $3.00/MMbtu. It has been one of the most stable periods of energy prices in decades. But below the surface of stability at the major hubs, prices at the regional level have been wildly volatile, driving dramatic swings in geographic basis. Alternating cycles of basis blowouts followed by basis collapses have become standard fare for U.S. oil, gas and NGLs as producers ramp up production, local prices get hammered due to capacity constraints, midstream companies respond by (over) building infrastructure, and regional price differentials implode due to overcapacity. With more production growth and infrastructure on the way, these basis cycles will keep on coming. In today’s blog, we’ll consider a few of the market sectors particularly susceptible to basis volatility, and provide a subliminal advertorial for our upcoming School of Energy, where we explore both the underlying causes and the outlook for future basis cycles.
California’s 12 remaining refineries don’t feel much love from their native state. The refinery fleet is particularly sophisticated — capable of refining mostly heavy and sour crude oil into the ultra-clean transportation fuels that state rules require. But state regulators seem to treat refiners like unwanted guests, to the point that rules have been put in place to actively encourage the shift from petroleum-based fuels to lower-carbon alternatives. The reward for refiners’ pain comes in the form of higher refining margins — particularly during unplanned outages. Today we weigh the rewards of higher gasoline and diesel prices today against a questionable future for refining in the Golden State tomorrow.
California refiners are under siege. State regulators seem to view crude oil refining as a nasty habit that needs to be broken. There’s an important catch, though: car-happy California is not only the nation’s largest consumer of gasoline — and second to Texas in diesel use — it allows only special, superclean blends to be sold within its boundaries. And California’s 12 remaining refineries need to meet tougher emission standards, too, making it difficult for them to expand their business or even modernize their plants. Today we discuss the irony that sophisticated refineries producing the cleanest fuels in the U.S. are faced with a shrinking market and no real hope of expansion.
Today’s energy markets are being rocked by new technologies, massive flow shifts to exports, and a myriad of new midstream infrastructure projects — to say nothing of the continuing onslaught of Mother Nature. It is more important than ever to understand how the markets for crude oil, natural gas and NGLs are tied together, and that is why it is time again for RBN’s School of Energy. But … this is not the best time for our Houston conference venue. So we’ve made the decision to GO VIRTUAL! We will webcast the entire School in real-time, with the same content, the same faculty and the same models. And since an understanding of the new realities of today’s energy markets is so essential, we have renewed, restructured and rebuilt our curriculum to CONNECT THE DOTS across our content, data and models. That’s the theme for our upcoming School of Energy 2017 – Virtual Edition, which we summarize in today’s advertorial blog.
Over the past five years, the price differential between regular and premium gasoline has been widening steadily. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), as of July 2017 the premium -vs.-regular differential reached $0.53/gallon — more than double the differential in 2012. This has produced cringe-worthy experiences at the pump for consumers requiring the premium grade and an incentive for refiners to optimize the gasoline pool. Consequently, refiners have been making operational adjustments and capital investments to squeeze additional high-octane components out of their feedstocks. Today we examine the premium-regular gasoline differential, provide a primer on gasoline blendstocks and octane levels, and discuss some contributing factors to the widening divide between the pump prices of 87- and 93-octane gasoline.
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.
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.
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.
Faced with uncertain growth in demand for refined products in the U.S., at least five refiners with major U.S. operations — including majors Shell, BP and Chevron — joined the bidding at a recent auction offering access to Mexico's downstream distribution system. Energy market reforms now unraveling national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos’ domestic supply monopoly are providing this opportunity. Initial auction winner Tesoro gained storage and pipeline capacity in two states in northwestern Mexico it expects to supply from a Washington state refinery. The market reforms also extend to retail gasoline stations, and majors BP and ExxonMobil as well as Valero and international trader Glencore have recently announced plans to launch retail networks in Mexico. Today we review the access Tesoro won in the first logistics auction as well as the wider Mexican market opportunity for refiners with operations north of the border.
U.S. exports of diesel and other distillates averaged 1.2 million barrels/day (MMb/d) in 2016, more than eight times their 2005 level and up slightly from 2015, another in a series of record-busting years for distillate exports. So far, 2017 looks like another winner. This year, though, a lot more distillate is being shipped south from Gulf Coast marine terminals to nearby Central America and South America, and less is being floated across the Atlantic to Western Europe. Today we consider recent trends in U.S. distillate exports and the significance of the export market to U.S. refiners.
The five refineries in the U.S. Pacific Northwest (PNW) performed better in 2016 than rivals on the East Coast for two main reasons. First, the changing pattern of North American crude supply has worked to their advantage. Faced with the threat of dwindling mainstay crude supplies from Alaska, refiners in Washington State replaced 22% of their slate with North Dakota Bakken crude moved in by rail. They have also enjoyed advantaged access to discounted crude supplies from Western Canada. Second, PNW refiners face less competition for refined product customers than rivals on the East and Gulf coasts, meaning they have a captive market that often translates to higher margins. Today we review performance and prospects for PNW refineries.
Shipping companies now know that within three years all vessels involved in international trade will be required to use fuel with a sulfur content of 0.5% or less—an aggressive standard, considering that in most of the world today, ships are currently allowed to use heavy fuel oil (HFO) bunker fuel with up to 3.5% sulfur. This is a big deal. Ships now consume about half of the world’s residual-based heavy fuel oil, but starting in January 2020 they can’t—at least in HFO’s current form. How will the global fuels market react to a change that would theoretically eliminate roughly half the demand for residual fuels? How will ship owners comply with the rule? What are their options? Today we discuss the much-lower cap on sulfur in bunker fuels approved by the International Marine Organization, and what it means for shippers and refineries.
After enduring 2015-16 it is about time for some good news, right? And that’s just what 2017 is shaping up to be—a relatively good news year for energy markets. But don’t go crazy with this. The key word in that sentence is “relatively’” —which means better than 2015-16, but if you are looking for that other “R” word (“recovery”) you won’t see it here. Crude prices will be up some, but nothing like the first few years of this decade. Natural gas and NGL prices will be stronger too. But both may have to wait still another year before seeing a real upswing in 2018. Nevertheless, 2017 is looking good for most of the energy market. Not for everyone, mind you. Many will struggle because their assets are in the wrong places, they are at the wrong end of the food chain, or they were simply unprepared for this new market reality. How will you know the difference between the winners and losers? Well of course, by looking deeply into the RBN crystal ball to see what 2017—Year of the Rooster—has in store for us. Cock-a-doodle-do!