RBN Energy

Friday, 12/02/2022

Alkylate is an important and valuable part of the U.S. gasoline pool, prized for its high octane, low volatility and low sulfur content. There are two primary catalysts that refiners can opt to use in the production of alkylate: hydrofluoric acid, or HF, and sulfur acid, or H2SO4.  Each is quite popular, with HF and sulfuric acid technologies each representing about half of domestic alkylation capacity — and with those shares varying significantly on a regional basis. While refiners have been safely operating both types of “alky” units for many decades, HF alkylation for some time has been in the crosshairs of the Environmental Protection Agency, which recently proposed that refiners be required to undertake extensive evaluations of potentially safer alternative technologies. It’s hard to know for sure, but if EPA’s proposed rule is made final it could ultimately force many refineries to make very costly changes — into the hundreds of million dollars per unit — or maybe even shut down entirely. In today’s RBN blog, we look at alkylate, how it’s made, and the potentially profound effects of the impending regulation.

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Daily Energy Blog

Thursday, 10/20/2022
Category:
Refined Fuels

Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) are credits used to certify compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which requires certain minimum volumes of biofuels to be blended into fuels sold in the U.S. There are many types of fuels covered by the RFS and so RIN credits come in different categories. One category, the D6 RIN, applies to the blending of corn-based ethanol into refined gasoline to make the gasoline-ethanol blends we pump into our cars, SUVs and pickups. In 2013, the D6 RIN price skyrocketed 100-fold in one of the most extreme cases of panic buying in any major commodity market in history. In today’s RBN blog, we examine that event and address three key questions: How did it happen, what was the solution, and why does it matter today?

Wednesday, 10/19/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

Permian crude oil production has climbed ~30% since the lows of 2020 to about 5.2 MMb/d this summer and helped keep crude oil — and gasoline — prices in check as market balances tightened. With that has come a lot of gross gas, which surged by over 40% to 21.3 Bcf/d on average this summer, up from the 2020 low of just under 15 Bcf/d. If unconstrained by infrastructure, RBN expects that to grow another 30%, or more than 6 Bcf/d, in the next three years, but only if there is adequate midstream capacity — everything from gathering lines to processing plants and, ultimately, gas and liquids transportation lines to deliver the products to consuming markets on the Gulf Coast. While there’s been a significant midstream build-out over the past two years, and more expansions are in the works, there are major outstanding questions about whether it will get built in time and in the right places to prevent prolonged bottlenecks.  In today’s RBN blog, we continue our series focusing this time on upcoming expansions and how total processing capacity stacks up against RBN’s Mid-Case production outlook over the next several years.

Tuesday, 10/18/2022
Category:
Crude Oil

It would be tough to find a large U.S. E&P with a clearer, more consistent geographic focus than Diamondback Energy. Over the past four years, the Permian-centric producer has closed on four 10-figure deals — total value $13.7 billion — that together have added more than 200,000 net acres in the nation’s leading shale/tight-oil play. Just this month, Diamondback went to the Permian well yet again, this time with a $1.6 billion deal to acquire FireBird Energy, a privately held Midland Basin producer that has been on a Permian buying spree of its own. When the deal closes later this year, Diamondback’s total production in the Midland and Delaware basins will approach 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (Mboe/d), or more than 100x what it was producing 10 years ago when the company had just gone public. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the company’s latest acquisition and its rapid rise to Permian prominence.

Monday, 10/17/2022
Category:
Renewables

PADD 2 — the 15-state region that includes both the Midwest and the Great Plains — is a major player in U.S. hydrocarbon production and refining, not to mention energy consumption, with its rich mix of industry and farming. It’s also bound to be a hot spot in the energy transition, given its vast wind resources, scores of ethanol plants, and extensive plans for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Not surprisingly, there also may be a clean hydrogen hub or two in PADD 2’s future — after all, it’s got natural gas in spades, plus lots of zero-carbon nuclear plants, countless wind farms, and more existing and potential hydrogen end-users than you can shake a stick at. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the PADD 2 proposals now under development and why they may have a good shot at winning Department of Energy (DOE) support.

Friday, 10/14/2022
Category:
Renewables

Global demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is on the rise, and with it demand for EV batteries and the key minerals needed to produce them. China is the world’s fourth-largest producer of lithium — perhaps the most important EV component of all — and is far-and-away the #1 lithium processor, giving it a critical edge over the U.S. and its democratic, capitalist trading partners as EV production and sales ramp up. The Biden administration and Congress have been taking a number of steps to enable the U.S. and its compadres to reduce — with an aim to end — our dependence on Chinese batteries going forward. One recent move by the U.S. was to provide EV subsidies only to vehicles whose batteries and battery components come from the U.S., Canada or other countries we can depend on through thick and thin. But much more substantial advances need to be made to encourage lithium production if there’s to be any hope of securing a significant portion of the minerals expected to be required for an energy transition. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss these efforts and the challenges the U.S. and its friends face in becoming “EV-battery independent.”

Thursday, 10/13/2022
Category:
Crude Oil

Whether it’s crude oil, natural gas or some other buried treasure, there’s one piece of advice from Indiana Jones that still rings true — finding it is never as easy as “X marks the spot.” Well-site preparations and drilling can take long enough on their own, but that doesn’t account for the time it takes to ensure — or at least raise the odds — that those all-important hydrocarbons will actually be found. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how seismic surveys are conducted and the key steps in permitting and well-site preparation.

Wednesday, 10/12/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

After the catastrophic experience of Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas was restructured, with new statutory requirements and a whole new cast of characters. The Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC) put in place a number of fixes, including more stringent reliability rules for natural gas suppliers, from producers to transmission pipelines. At the same time, booming LNG exports, largely to Europe, combined with growth in Permian production have created new pressures and opportunities around the Texas energy mix — as well as implications for the ongoing transition to low- or no-carbon energy sources. How can all of these issues be understood and addressed at once — and in a way that doesn’t bore us all to tears? In today’s RBN blog, we outline the major themes to be discussed during the Texas Energy Symposium being planned by the Energy Bar Association and the University of Texas Law School.

Tuesday, 10/11/2022
Category:
Refined Fuels

In these uncertain times, with the energy transition in flux and a recession looming, it takes moxie for a company to make a major capital investment in an energy-related project, especially one that could arguably be called the first of its kind. But that’s what’s happening at a site along the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) in Pasadena, TX, where Next Wave Energy Partners, which is now completing an ethylene-to-alkylate plant, is planning an adjoining ethanol-to-ethylene facility that will enable the company to produce bioethylene, renewable alkylate and/or sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), depending on market demand, production economics and other factors. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the ins and outs of Next Wave’s Project Lightning.

Monday, 10/10/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

When it comes to U.S. crude oil plays, no basin has been more resilient than the Permian post-2020, and by extension, no basin has played a bigger role in taming oil prices — and regional natural gas prices — in recent months. While crude production in most other oil-focused basins is flat-to-lower on average since 2020, Permian crude output has climbed 15% in that time, from about 4.5 MMb/d in 2020 to just over 5.1 MMb/d this year to date, with much of that growth occurring in the past year or so. You could say Permian crude saved the day — at least for a time. However, that growth could not have happened without a significant build-out of natural gas midstream infrastructure. And a lot more of it will be needed if Permian crude production is to continue growing and keep U.S. crude oil prices in check. In today’s RBN blog, we provide an update on gas processing capacity in the Permian.

Sunday, 10/09/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

Total U.S. LNG export capacity is around 12 Bcf/d, including the still-commissioning-but-nearly-complete Calcasieu Pass. About 13.5 Bcf/d of U.S. natural gas supplies, or feedgas, is required to produce that much LNG, but feedgas demand has averaged just 10.5 Bcf/d over the past week despite still-soaring global gas prices and an undersupplied global LNG market. Two U.S. terminals are currently offline: Freeport LNG, which has been out of service since an explosion and fire in June, and now Cove Point LNG, which shut for annual maintenance October 1. Beyond those outages, which have taken about 2.75 Bcf/d of demand out of commission, LNG feedgas volumes have been extremely volatile, swinging as much as 2 Bcf/d within a week. Don’t expect this to last, however — with winter approaching, the return of both Freeport and Cove Point on the horizon, and the full startup of Calcasieu Pass in sight, feedgas demand will likely rise to new heights and soon consistently top 13 Bcf/d. In today’s RBN blog we take a closer look at the recent volatility in LNG feedgas and the potential demand coming this winter.

Thursday, 10/06/2022
Category:
Renewables

The U.S. Department of Energy has laid out a clear set of criteria for the six to 10 clean hydrogen hubs it will select next year to receive up to $8 billion in federal support. For example, DOE wants at least one hub to use renewable energy to make hydrogen, another to use nuclear power, and another to use fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). It also wants diversity among hydrogen end-users — geographic diversity too (at least two hubs must be in areas with the greatest natural gas resources) — and the department says it will give extra weight to proposals likely to create the most opportunities for skilled training and long-term employment. Yet another factor that’s sure to boost the prospects for hydrogen hub proposals in the heart of the Marcellus/Utica Shale is the looming presence of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, the Energy & Natural Resources Committee chairman who helped make hydrogen hub funding — and the rest of last year’s $1-trillion-plus infrastructure bill (and this year’s Inflation Reduction Act) — a reality. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the hydrogen hub proposals now under development in northern West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

Wednesday, 10/05/2022
Category:
Renewables

Lithium is in high demand worldwide for the production of rechargeable batteries used in the rapidly expanding electric vehicle (EV) and utility-scale energy storage markets, as well as a plethora of everyday mobile devices. The problem is, there are relatively few places on the planet that offer rock formations or naturally occurring underground brine reservoirs conducive to the economic production of lithium — and even there the concentrations of lithium in the rock and brine are measured in parts per million. Now, a handful of companies in Alberta and elsewhere are exploring the potential for “direct lithium extraction” from oil and gas well brine, an alternative technique that some view as a potential breakthrough. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the promise — and potential pitfalls — of lithium production from oil and gas brine.

Tuesday, 10/04/2022
Category:
Crude Oil

The swift increases in crude oil and gasoline prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February — and the sanctions that were implemented soon thereafter — spurred a lot of concern that the U.S. and global economies would go into a tailspin. In response, government officials here and abroad turned to their strategic reserves as a way to quickly balance the market and rein in prices while buying time for additional oil production to come online. But U.S. production growth and rig activity have hit a wall since June, when releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) started to pick up steam, reducing the prospects for a significant output increase this year. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the changes in the market since the major withdrawals were announced, how the hoped-for bridge to higher oil production has so far failed to materialize, and why it’s unlikely the government will turn to the SPR if prices spike again soon.

Monday, 10/03/2022
Category:
Renewables

By all appearances, the momentum behind electric vehicles (EVs) has done nothing but increase over the last year, boosted by higher gasoline prices and federal legislation intended to speed the pace of EV adoption. But the transportation sector's transition to electric power and away from the internal-combustion engine (ICE) won't be easy, and may take a lot longer than many expect or hope, due in part to the significant challenges in finding the hard-to-come-by metals and other materials needed for EV production. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the continuing focus on EVs, China’s current dominance in the global market, and how the newly passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is boosting plans to make EV batteries in the U.S.

Friday, 09/30/2022
Category:
Natural Gas

It’s hard to think of a $5.2 billion acquisition as a “bolt-on,” but that’s what EQT Corp. — the U.S.’s #1 natural gas producer — is calling its recently announced purchase of Tug Hill’s gas production assets and XcL Midstream’s pipeline and processing assets in northern West Virginia. The deal, which represents the largest acquisition in the Marcellus/Utica Shale in five years, will not only give EQT even more scale in the nation’s leading gas-and-NGLs production region, it also will lower EQT’s breakeven gas price and its emissions intensity. Oh, and with the deal, EQT is doubling its share-repurchase authorization and increasing its year-end-2023 debt-reduction goal by 60%. In today’s RBN blog, we examine and assess these and other aspects of the agreement.