If you follow developments in the energy industry, you know that news about permitting for major infrastructure projects can sometimes read more like a horror story: 14 years to build an electric transmission line, a decade to get a mining permit, and the reality that some projects can be constructed in far less time than it takes to secure the required permits and work through any legal challenges. It’s a known problem with a lot of contributing factors, but no easy answers. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how permitting difficulties have become a flashpoint for all sorts of stakeholders — industry groups, environmental advocates, the general public, and politicians of all stripes. Our focus today will be on the current poster child of permitting challenges, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), but we’ll also discuss how permitting setbacks complicate the development of all types of projects, from traditional oil and gas pipelines to initiatives at the heart of the energy transition.
Analyst Insights are unique perspectives provided by RBN analysts about energy markets developments. The Insights may cover a wide range of information, such as industry trends, fundamentals, competitive landscape, or other market rumblings. These Insights are designed to be bite-size but punchy analysis so that readers can stay abreast of the most important market changes.
WTI inched higher on Tuesday, settling at $73.20/bbl, up $0.39/bbl. That followed a huge 5% increase on Monday, triggered by curtailed exports of about 450 Mb/d out of Iraq’s Kurdistan region due to cuts on a Turkish pipeline on Saturday following an arbitration decision that confirmed Baghdad's consent was needed to ship the oil. Crude prices are also being supported by easing of concerns about the global banking system, making a recession less likely. In early Wednesday trading, WTI is up about $1.00/bbl to the $74/bbl range. WTI stats are out this morning.
U.S. steam cracker margins for normal butane feedstock have soared over the past month moving from the least economical to most economical feedstock. As shown on the chart below, butane cracking margins have increased from a negative 12 c/lb in late February to 21 c/lb as of March 27. Ethane and propane steam cracker margins have improved by only about 5 c/lb over the same period, well below the 33 c/lb increase in the butane margin.
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Daily Energy Blog
Over the next couple of years — and the next couple of decades — global supply/demand dynamics in refined products markets will be driven by two critically important factors. The first is the understandable reluctance of refiners to expand capacity in the face of climate policy and ESG headwinds. The second is a growing gap between policymakers’ aggressive energy-transition goals and the global pivot to a renewed focus on energy security brought about by the Russia-Ukraine war and worries about China’s global ambitions. These factors, which will fuel the prospects for constrained supply and higher-for-longer demand, have far-reaching implications, not only for refinery owners but also for E&Ps, midstreamers, exporters, energy industry investors and policymakers, all of whom need to gain a clearer understanding of what’s just ahead — and what’s over the horizon, just out of sight. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss key findings in “Future of Fuels,” a new, in-depth report by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics practice on everything you need to know about U.S. and global supply and demand for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and biofuels over the short-, medium- and long-term.
The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures price has fallen precipitously in recent months and 2023 has the potential to be one of the most bearish in recent history. But longer term, the stage is set for tighter balances, price spikes and increased volatility. After a slowdown in 2022-23, LNG export capacity additions will come fast and furious over the next several years. As they do, they will outpace production growth, which will increasingly depend on pipeline and other midstream expansions. In other words, 2023 will be the last aftershock of Shale Era surpluses. We got a taste of what that could look like in 2022, but just how out-of-whack could the gas market get? In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the supply and demand trends that will shape the gas market over the next five years.
When carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured and stored deep underground, a process known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), it’s supposed to remain there permanently. Although much of today’s emphasis is on moving carbon-capture projects from aspirational to operational, there are long-term challenges to making sure those emissions stay put away for good, even if the odds of a significant leakage are considered remote. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the common risk factors for carbon-capture projects, explain why a site’s post-injection care-and-monitoring period can last for several decades, and detail the leakage risks that project planners must be prepared to handle.
2022 was a particularly significant year for the global LNG industry, distinguished by a sharp increase in LNG demand in Europe tied to the reduction in flows of Russian pipeline gas after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Whereas Europe had historically been the last market option for many LNG sellers, it became the most highly priced market in the world and pulled in LNG from multiple locations, including a cargo from Australia delivered in October. Paying premium prices enabled European buyers to fill the continent’s underground storage at an unprecedented rate — as of mid-January, storage there was over 80% full. A mild winter, at least to date, coupled with conservation efforts and fuel switching have reduced European natural gas demand by 10% to 15% and helped avoid a gas shortage. Now, gas prices (and LNG cargo prices) have fallen to pre-invasion levels and prompted market observers to suggest that, with China emerging from pandemic-related lockdowns, Asia may start pulling large volumes of LNG its way. In today’s RBN blog, we examine LNG cargo movements within the Asia Pacific and Atlantic regions and what rising Asian demand could mean for European gas supplies going forward.
The U.S. is gearing up to provide billions of dollars in financial support for a series of regional clean hydrogen hubs and had what amounts to an informal cutdown at the end of December, announcing that 33 project proponents had been formally encouraged to submit a full application this spring. Although the Department of Energy (DOE) didn’t name any of the projects on the “encouraged” list, we’ve been able to identify many of the proposals — and add five more in today’s blog — even though a lot of project details remain under wraps. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll look at the new projects on our list and examine the major factors that are likely to influence a project’s viability.
The National Environmental Policy Act was created to ensure federal agencies consider the environmental impacts of their actions and decisions, but it is the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which serves as the White House’s environmental policy arm, that provides guidance as to how those agencies should evaluate the projects subject to their review. Energy and environmental policy have shifted under President Biden, and interim guidance recently submitted by the CEQ extends efforts to prioritize the administration’s commitment toward lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Still, it’s not easy to swiftly change policy, for a variety of reasons. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the CEQ’s interim guidance and why the real-world impact on energy and environmental policy might be hard to quantify for a variety of reasons, at least in the short term.
Refineries with hydrofluoric acid alkylation units account for about 40% of total U.S. refining capacity. Many in the refining sector are concerned that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to compel refineries to conduct exacting studies of newer, alternative alkylation technologies could be leveraged to discourage and effectively ban HF alkylation, and as a result, potentially lead to more refinery closures. The U.S. already has lost more than 1.3 MMb/d of refining capacity since 2019 — losses that exacerbated the run-up in motor fuel prices through the first half of last year — and the specter of another round of refinery closures on the horizon looms large. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the challenges that refineries with HF “alky” units might face if they were required to replace them.
Pretty much everywhere you look, there’s a focus on decarbonizing the global economy, and a lot of those discussions start with the transportation sector. It generated 27% of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020, putting it at the top of the list, just ahead of power generation and industrial production; combined, the three sectors account for more than three-quarters of the nation’s GHG emissions. For personal transportation, most of the attention has been on electric vehicles (EVs), but since the commercial transportation sector is largely powered by diesel and jet fuel, the push for decarbonization in trucking, air travel, and shipping has largely focused on ways to produce alternative fuels that reduce GHGs. Among those are ultra-low-carbon fuels called electrofuels, also referred to as eFuels, synthetic fuels, or Power-to-Liquids (PtL). In today’s RBN blog, we explain what eFuels are and how they compare to other alternatives, how they are produced, and what opportunity there might be to make a dent in the consumption of traditional transportation fuels.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February upended long-standing expectations about natural gas supplies to Europe and resulted in elevated global gas prices as countries bid for LNG to fill the void. But U.S. suppliers can only produce so much LNG, and how much of it ends up in Europe versus Asia or other gas-consuming regions in 2023 and beyond will depend largely on market forces — in other words, who needs the LNG more and is willing to pay up for it. At the center of these market-based decisions about LNG cargo destinations are large portfolio players like Shell, BP, TotalEnergies and Naturgy and short-side portfolio players like Japan’s JERA. In today’s RBN blog we look at these two types of players, the roles they play, and their contributions to energy security.
“Top-tier rock, massive scale, and ever-improving efficiency” — that’s the mantra of the largest publicly held E&Ps in the Permian, many of which have only added to their heft during the pandemic/post-pandemic era by acquiring complementary production and midstream assets from private equity funds and old-time oil-and-gas families. Yes, it’s either/or time in the U.S.’s leading oil and gas basin: Either you get bigger, high-grade the acreage you control and supercharge your free cash flow (and your stock buybacks and dividends) or you accept your fate as an also-ran or, if you’re lucky, an acquisition target. Just last week, Matador Resources announced a $1.6 billion deal to acquire Advance Energy Partners, which will boost Matador’s Delaware Basin output by 25% and give it a foothold in the Permian’s big-boy league. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss this and other recent asset acquisitions in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico and what they say about the Permian’s future.
The Lower 48 natural gas market has had the most bearish start to a new year in a long time. Production has been at record highs, an exceptionally warm start to January suppressed demand, and LNG exports have been hobbled since last June when Freeport LNG went offline. The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub February gas futures contract slid to an 18-month low of $2.94/MMBtu last Thursday and expired Friday at $3.109/MMBtu, down 54% from where the prompt contract closed just two months earlier. The March contract extended the slide Monday to a 20-month low of $2.677/MMBtu. Freeport’s eventual return will restore existing export capacity, but there’s no new LNG export capacity due online this year — for the first time since 2016. After one of the tightest gas markets of the last decade in 2022, the stage is set for one of the most oversupplied markets we’ve seen in years. But the bulls out there can take solace: 2023 will also mark the final throes of the kind of oversupply conditions that defined the Shale Era as we know it. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss how we got here and RBN’s outlook for natural gas supply and demand.
For the past several years, Western Canada’s natural gas producers have been forced to sit on the sidelines of too many broader price rallies as their main benchmark, AECO, languished at painfully low levels. Though an increasing number of producers have been steadily diversifying their price exposure away from Western Canada and AECO, even greater pricing upside might be captured if marketing arrangements could be developed to access higher international LNG prices via U.S. Gulf Coast terminals. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the steps that two of Canada’s largest natural gas producers have taken to capture that LNG price upside.
We can’t conjure up a more old-school, more intrinsically American industry than whiskey-making, or more iconic whiskey names than Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam — the latter, of course, being a bourbon, a particular type of whiskey. The recipes for both “Jack” and “Jim” have remained unchanged for generations and their distillers in Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively, are traditionalists to their core. That doesn’t mean, though, that they’re unaware of the need to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — or are blind to the opportunities that decarbonization may present. Now, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog, both Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam are all-in on producing renewable natural gas (RNG) from spent grains.
If you buy premium gasoline, you’ve probably noticed its price differential versus regular has been increasing in recent years. That is a sign of the rising value of octane, the primary yardstick of gasoline quality and price. In this blog series we’ve examined a new gasoline sulfur specification called Tier 3, which is causing complications for U.S. refiners looking to balance octane and gasoline production while still meeting the regulatory limits on sulfur. In today’s RBN blog, the fourth and final on this topic, we provide an analysis of the obscure Sulfur Credit Averaging, Banking and Trading (ABT) system, which allows refiners to buy credits to stay in compliance with the Tier 3 specs. The price of these credits quintupled in 2022, another sign of a tight octane market that will be attracting increased attention in the months and years ahead.
New, stiffer rules on well siting, drilling and production undoubtedly pose potential challenges to producers. After all, these changes typically impose further limits on what E&Ps can do on the acreage they control as well as new requirements. But like death and taxes, environmental regulation is a certainty that producers need to deal with and, if they’re lucky, they can find a way to work with new rules and minimize their impact on their businesses. That seems to be what’s happening in Colorado — home to the rebounding Denver-Julesburg (DJ) Basin and other production areas — which enacted a new oil and gas permitting law a couple of years ago and subsequently developed and implemented related regulations. As we discuss in today’s RBN blog, most producers seem to have figured out how to manage the new regs.