RBN Energy

Thursday, 10/29/2020

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.

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Daily energy Posts

Tuesday, 10/20/2020

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.

Thursday, 10/15/2020

Last week, Hurricane Delta became the latest of a string of hurricanes and tropical storms that have assaulted the Gulf Coast this year and disrupted energy production in the Gulf of Mexico — and energy exports. A number of major storms made direct hits or glancing blows to crude export centers like Corpus Christi, Houston, Beaumont, and Louisiana, forcing marine terminals to either slow down their carrier-loading operations or shut down for a few days at a time. That led to a yo-yoing of weekly export volumes: way down one week, way up the next. Despite the short-term dislocations, however, total export volumes since the hurricane season started on June 1 are actually up slightly from the first five months of 2020, a testament to the resilience not only of the export market but to the marine terminals themselves. Today, we discuss how hurricanes and tropical storms have been affecting export-terminal activity.

Tuesday, 10/13/2020

Six months on from the height of the crude oil price rout of April 2020 and the unprecedented market convulsions that followed, energy markets appear to be settling into a state of hyper-uncertainty amidst the ongoing pandemic. Crude oil prices have been downright equanimous, stabilizing near $40/bbl in recent months. Volatility has reigned in the gas market, but it has thus far managed to avoid a major collapse, and the NGLs market has dodged a complete derailment from norms, if barely. The relative calm provides the perfect opportunity to assess how COVID-era energy markets are operating and what lies ahead — which is what we’ll be doing next week at RBN’s Virtual School of Energy. There’s a new order taking shape, and we’re rolling out RBN’s freshly updated outlooks for U.S. crude oil, natural gas and NGL markets. As always, we’ll pull back the curtain on the fundamental analysis and models behind our forecasts, so you can understand how we arrived at our answers, and gain the skills and tools to adjust the assumptions as markets evolve. As you’ve gathered by now, today’s blog is an unabashed advertorial for our virtual conference, but read on if you’d like to hear more about the underlying premise behind our latest outlook.

Tuesday, 10/06/2020

Tough times in the crude oil sector generally affect all participants to some degree, but the impacts can vary widely by production basin. We saw that back in 2014-16, when the crash in oil prices battered the Eagle Ford, Bakken, and Niobrara but left the Permian unscathed — production there actually kept rising. Fast-forward to 2020, with its COVID-induced demand destruction, anemic prices, and uncertain-at-best recovery, and again the Bakken really took it on the chin. Production in the basin plummeted by 28% in one month — from April to May — and while Bakken output rebounded this summer, the rig count has been hovering at its lowest level in memory and another, albeit slower production decline may be imminent. Today, we discuss the challenges facing exploration and production companies in western North Dakota.

Monday, 09/21/2020

Western Canada’s relentless, decade-long increase in crude oil production began maxing out its export pipeline capacity in the past few years. With more supply than could be carried by pipelines, exporting crude by rail tank car became the next best alternative, leading to record amounts of rail-based exports earlier this year. However, this year’s wild swings in oil prices and COVID-led demand destruction resulted in drastic production cutbacks that freed up space on pipelines and put the kibosh on more expensive crude-by-rail, at least temporarily. Things are shifting again, though. With oil production recovering somewhat in the past couple of months and excess pipeline capacity dwindling, are we headed for a resurgence in the use of rail to export Canadian crude? Today, we conclude a series on Western Canada crude production and takeaway options with an analysis of what’s ahead for crude-by-rail.

Thursday, 09/17/2020

In a normal year, the autumn months would be filled with the smell of brisket at a tailgate barbecue and the sound of college football fans cheering in their favorite team's stadium. But with the college football stadiums largely empty due to COVID-19, is there something that could fill the void? Well, maybe. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) a couple months back issued a notice proposing Lease Sale 256 for oil and gas exploration of 78.8 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). You will probably not be able to find the announcement of the lease sale on ESPN this November, but you will be able to tune into the livestream set in New Orleans. Today, we describe the process for bidding and acquiring lease acreage in the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, 09/14/2020

A combination of new-pipeline development, lower capex by producers, production shut-ins, and changing expectations for future production has significantly altered crude oil and natural gas market fundamentals in the all-important Permian Basin. Just over a year ago, Permian production was rising steadily and oil and gas pipelines out of West Texas were running at or near full capacity. Since then, nearly 2.2 MMb/d of incremental crude takeaway capacity has come online, and production dropped by about 700 Mb/d before rebounding somewhat in recent weeks. As for gas, some takeaway constraints remain, but they are limited to when pipelines are offline for maintenance, and will be alleviated when new pipelines start operating in 2021. Today, we discuss the recent downs and ups in Permian production, takeaway capacity additions, and the resulting impacts on markets and market participants.

Thursday, 09/10/2020

The offshore Gulf of Mexico is often viewed as the rock-steady player in U.S. crude oil production. Unlike price-trigger-happy shale producers that quickly ratchet their activity up or down, depending on what WTI is selling for that month or quarter, producers in the Gulf base their big, upfront investments in new platforms or subsea tiebacks on very long-term oil-price expectations. Also, unlike shale wells, whose production peaks early then trails off, wells in the GOM typically maintain high levels of production for years and years. But don’t think for a minute that production in the Gulf can’t spike down, if there’s a good reason. GOM output dropped by 300 Mb/d, or 16%, from March to April as producers shut down wells in response to sharply lower oil prices, and a couple of weeks ago more than 80% of GOM wells were taken offline in anticipation of Hurricane Laura. Today, we look at offshore oil production ups and downs in a wild and woolly year and what’s ahead for the GOM.

Tuesday, 09/08/2020

As the year 2020 wears on, it seems that every month brings a new surprise. In August, in addition to the ongoing pandemic and protests, a major hurricane was added to the mix. What comes next is anybody’s guess. A zombie apocalypse? An alien invasion? At this point, the possibilities seem boundless. And the energy industry has been no stranger to this year’s turmoil, what with COVID-related demand destruction, an oil-price collapse, and production shut-ins. Amidst the chaos, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced that for the first time, private-sector energy companies would be allowed to store crude oil in the U.S.’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), which resulted in the leasing of 23 MMbbl of capacity. Recently, those volumes have begun to be drawn back out. Today, we examine the factors influencing movements of crude oil into and out of the U.S. SPR.

Monday, 09/07/2020

Western Canadian producers have been deeply impacted by lower crude oil prices and the demand-destroying effects of COVID-19. This past spring, oil production in the vast region dropped by an estimated 940 Mb/d, or as much as 20% from the record highs earlier this year. Taking that much production offline helped in at least one sense: it eased long-standing constraints on takeaway pipelines like Enbridge’s Canadian Mainline, TC Energy’s Keystone Pipeline, and the government of Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. Production has been rebounding this summer, however, and there are indications that pipeline constraints may be returning and apportionment of uncommitted space on some pipes may again become a persistent issue. Today, we continue a review of production and takeaway capacity in Alberta and its provincial neighbors with a look at apportionment trends on the biggest pipelines.

Thursday, 09/03/2020

Yup. Pigs are critical to the safety and integrity of pipelines. Some are your basic utilitarian pigs, while others are quite smart, if not downright cool. No, these are not the pigs down on the farm. Instead, these pigs are devices run through pipes to clean, inspect, and support “batching” on hydrocarbon pipeline networks. They help ensure the safe and efficient transportation of crude oil, NGLs, petroleum products, and natural gas through more than 2.5 million miles of pipeline in the U.S. If you’re interested in energy and energy delivery, you’ve gotta know about pigs, and that's just what we'll be discussing in today’s blog.

Tuesday, 09/01/2020

Pipelines are lifelines to refineries, steam crackers, and other consumers of energy commodities, and even the hint that a major pipeline may be shut down raises big-time concerns. For evidence, look no further than Enbridge’s Line 5, which batches light crude oil and a propane/normal-butane mix across Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and to points beyond. One of Line 5’s two pipes under the Straits of Mackinac is temporarily out of service, halving the 540-Mb/d pipeline’s throughput, and Michigan’s attorney general continues to pursue a lawsuit that, if successful, could be Line 5’s death knell. Enbridge also is facing a fight on its plan to replace the twin underwater pipes with a new, safer “tunnel” alternative. All of which raises the question, what would be the market effects if Line 5 is permanently closed? Today, we conclude a miniseries on one of the Upper Midwest’s most important liquids pipelines.

Sunday, 08/30/2020

In May of this year, Western Canada’s oil production shut-ins due to weak demand and poor pricing were estimated to have peaked near 1 MMb/d, resulting in a 20% drop from the near-record production levels reached only a few months earlier. The magnitude of the production fall in such a short period of time caused a significant drop in the utilization of pipelines that transport crude oil from Alberta to other parts of Canada and the U.S. All of a sudden, pipelines that had been heavily rationing their capacity over the past couple of years to accommodate steadily rising production suddenly had ample spare capacity. With those supplies now on the road to recovery, pipelines have begun to fill some of that extra space and are moving toward rationing capacity once again. Today, we continue our review of Western Canadian production and takeaway capacity with a look at how this spring’s production cuts affected the region’s biggest pipelines.

Sunday, 08/23/2020

The Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t the only interstate liquids pipe facing an uncertain future. The fate of Enbridge’s Line 5, which batches either light crude oil or a propane/butanes mix from Superior, WI, through Michigan and into Ontario, also hangs in the balance as the company renews its battle with Michigan’s top elected officials to keep the 67-year-old pipeline open and its effort win regulatory approval to replace the pipe’s most important water crossing. Line 5 supporters say that closing the 540-Mb/d pipeline would slash supplies to residential and commercial propane consumers in the Great Lakes State, steam crackers in Ontario, and refineries and gasoline blenders in three states and two Canadian provinces. Critics of Line 5 counter that there are plenty of supply alternatives. Today we discuss the pipeline, what it transports, and who it serves, as well as challenges it faces.

Tuesday, 08/18/2020

The oil price meltdown earlier this year and demand destruction wrought by COVID-19 forced Canadian crude oil producers to throttle back output. At the height of the cutbacks in May, almost 1 MMb/d of oil supply had been curtailed due to uneconomic prices and/or lack of downstream demand. With oil prices and demand having staged a partial recovery in the past few months, production is rising off the lows and producers are talking about even higher supplies in the months ahead, with the prospect of returning to pre-pandemic levels. Today, we begin a short series that reviews the recent production pullback and discusses how producers are positioning themselves for a resurgence of their oil supplies.