RBN Energy

Clean ammonia, which is produced by reacting clean hydrogen with nitrogen and capturing and sequestering the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2), is gaining momentum. In just the past few months, several more new clean ammonia production projects have been proposed along the U.S. Gulf Coast, many of them made possible by commitments from Japanese and South Korean companies that see the low-carbon fuel as an important part of the Far East’s future energy mix. Taken as a group, the dozen-plus projects now under development have the potential to produce tens of millions of tons of clean ammonia annually, and to create yet another massive energy-export market for U.S. producers. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the new projects moving forward — and one being put on hold — and what’s driving the clean ammonia market.

Analyst Insights

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.

By RBN Team - Monday, 9/25/2023 (6:30 am)

In early Monday trading, WTI is up a tiny $0.15/bbl, with the market returning to a focus on tighter supplies due to Saudi/Russia cuts versus worries about the global economy.  Last week attention was on Russia's temporary ban on petroleum product exports which looked to further tighten supplies,

By Sheetal Nasta - Friday, 9/22/2023 (3:30 pm)

Wind speeds have been unusually low this year, and wind’s market share of overall generation for the April-August timeframe declined by nearly 1.5 percentage points year-on-year, despite wind ge

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Daily Energy Blog

Over the past three-plus years, Corpus Christi has dominated the U.S. crude oil export market, largely because of the availability of straight-shot pipeline access from the Permian to two Corpus-area terminals at Ingleside — Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) and South Texas Gateway (STG) — that can partially load the huge 2-MMbbl VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers). But capacity on the pipes to Corpus is now nearly maxed out and, with Permian production rising and exports strong, an increasing share of West Texas crude output is instead being sent to Houston on pipelines with capacity to spare. The catch for Permian shippers with capacity on Permian-to-Houston pipes is that the Midland-to-MEH (Magellan East Houston) price differential for WTI has been depressingly low —$0.22/bbl on average this year, compared to almost $20/bbl for a few months in 2018 and averaging $5.50/bbl as recently as 2019. However, the Midland-to-MEH WTI price spread looks to be on the verge of a rebound of sorts, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog.

A draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) tied to a key water crossing along the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has finally been completed and made public, thereby ending another chapter in the long-running drama about the ultimate fate of DAPL, which is by far the largest crude oil pipeline out of the Bakken. While the DEIS doesn’t finish the story, the document provides hints about possible outcomes — and an opportunity to review just how important the 750-Mb/d pipeline really is to Bakken producers and shippers. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the latest developments regarding DAPL and Bakken production.

While the weather-related headlines might still scream “summer” in some places — from stifling heat to powerful hurricanes to downpour-induced mud bogs at Burning Man in the Nevada desert — we’ve actually turned the corner into meteorological fall. Oil and gas prices have moved up from their Q2 2023 lows and supply issues, particularly for oil, are the chief concerns as the heating season approaches. Long-term production by the Diversified E&P peer group, whose production streams are weighted 40%-60% for gas and oil, respectively, are a major factor in U.S. supply. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze the crucial issue of reserve replacement by the major diversified U.S. producers.

For many years now, the U.S. has been buying — and piping or railing in — virtually all of the crude oil Canada has been exporting, in part because Canadian producers have only very limited access to coastal ports. More recently, greater pipeline access from the Alberta oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast (USGC) has created an attractive pathway — a “Carefree Highway,” if you will — for Canadian crude oil to be “re-exported” to overseas customers. This year, much stronger international demand has sent re-export volumes to record highs — and provided Alberta producers very attractive price differentials for their oil sands crude. That overseas demand appears to be sustainable, but with the looming startup of the 590-Mb/d Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX), which will increase the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline system to 890 Mb/d and enable much more Alberta crude to be exported from docks in British Columbia, the re-export surge from the USGC may be in for a pullback, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog.

The level of activity at crude oil export terminals from Corpus Christi to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) is nothing short of extraordinary — a record 4.8 MMb/d was loaded the week ended August 25, according to RBN’s Crude Voyager report, and Houston-area terminals loaded an all-time high of 1.4 MMb/d. But there’s a lot more to the crude exports story. When you live this stuff day-in, day-out, you see subtle changes that often extend into trends and, if you’re lucky, you sometimes get signals that things you’d been predicting are actually happening. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from the latest Crude Voyager and what the weekly report’s data and analysis reveal about the global oil market.

As this brutally hot summer meanders towards Labor Day, we’re all facing rising gasoline prices as we head to the beach, to barbecues, or to the mall for back-to-school shopping. The main culprit is crude oil production cutbacks by the Russians and Saudis and the situation would likely be much more precarious were it not for strong U.S. shale output keeping gasoline prices from climbing to $5 a gallon or more — except in California, of course. Crucial to sustaining that production long-term is not just replenishing U.S. oil reserves but growing them. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at crude oil and natural gas reserves with an analysis of the critical issue of reserve replacement by major oil-focused U.S. producers.

There’s a lot going on in North American crude oil markets these days. Exports are running strong. Midland WTI is now deliverable into Brent (but only if it meets specs). Pipelines from the Permian to Corpus Christi are maxed out, pushing incremental production to Houston. The price differential between WTI at Midland and Houston is nearing zero. And the value of heavy Western Canadian Select (WCS) delivered to the U.S. continues to bounce all over the place. Are these unrelated, random events in the quirky U.S. physical crude market, or are they logical developments linked by the economics of refinery preferences, quality shifts, export demand, and logistics? As you might expect, we think it’s the latter. Believe it or not, crude markets sometimes do behave rationally — and, from time to time, even predictably. That’s what we explore in today’s RBN blog.

Just a couple of years ago, TC Energy finally threw in the towel on its long-planned, long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have substantially increased the flow of Western Canadian heavy crude to Gulf Coast refineries and export docks. It was a bitter loss. Since then, however, two other companies headquartered north of the 49th parallel have assumed leading roles in the U.S. crude oil market or, more specifically, crude exports. First, Enbridge acquired the U.S.’s #1 oil export terminal — now called the Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) — and related assets for US$3 billion and then, on August 1, Gibson Energy announced that it had closed on the US$1.1 billion purchase of the nearby South Texas Gateway (STG), which is #2 in crude export volumes. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the increasing role of Canada-based midstream companies along the South Texas coast.

One of the major shocks of the pandemic was walking into supermarkets to see vast stretches of bare shelves where, for decades, stacks of toilet paper, diapers, infant formula, cooking oil, and even white flour used to magically repopulate overnight. The fix turned out to be relatively easy: Get people back to work and work out the kinks in delivery networks. (Now our only concern is how expensive everything is!) Rebuilding inventories in the oil and gas industry, in contrast, is an ever-present concern, longer-term in nature and more complicated, involving a wide range of variables and uncertainties. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the challenges that exploration and production (E&P) companies face in their efforts to more efficiently and cost effectively replace their oil and gas reserves — and we highlight some early warnings signs of potential future inventory issues.

The 590-Mb/d Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) project, which is inching closer to its planned early 2024 completion, has been one of the most eagerly anticipated energy infrastructure projects in recent Canadian memory. Preliminary tolls for shipping crude on the expanded pipeline system, submitted to the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) in June, are multiples higher than the tolls currently charged on the original 300-Mb/d Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMP), possibly undermining oil producers’ economics for shipping and exporting crude on the combined 890-Mb/d system. However, the higher tolls are not the only concern. Serious logistical challenges remain in the form of restricted tanker sizes, a circuitous route for ships traveling from the open ocean to the Westridge export terminal near Burnaby, BC, and even a very tight passage under two bridges, all of which will add costs and time for each exported barrel. In today’s RBN blog, we provide more details on the complexities surrounding crude oil exports via the Trans Mountain pipeline system.

CME’s NYMEX light sweet crude oil contract in Cushing, OK, is not West Texas Intermediate — WTI. Instead, it is Domestic Sweet — commonly referred to as DSW — with quality specifications that are broader and generally inferior to Midland-sourced WTI. In fact, pristine Midland WTI delivered to Cushing sells at a reasonably healthy premium to DSW. That difference in specs, and the fact that the quality of DSW is considerably more variable than straight-as-an-arrow Midland WTI, makes most purchasers of exported U.S. crude (and many domestic refiners too) strongly prefer the more quality-consistent Midland WTI grade. For that reason, when Platts set out to allow U.S. light crude to be delivered as Brent, it said that only Midland WTI will qualify. Consequently, a marketer cannot take delivery of a NYMEX-quality barrel at Cushing, pipe it down to the Gulf Coast, and deliver it to a dock for export if the ultimate destination of that barrel is to be reflected in the Brent price assessment. The implication? There are now effectively two U.S. crude oil benchmark grades, each of which is valued differently, priced differently and used by different markets. Is this a big deal for the valuation mechanisms for U.S. crude oils, or just a minor quirk in oil-market nomenclature? We’ll explore that question in today’s RBN blog.

Back in the early 2000s, the outlook for energy security in the U.S. was bleak. Domestic oil production had been on a steady decline since 1985 and gas production was also well off its apex in the 1970s. M. King Hubbert’s concept of peak oil ignited fears of eventual energy scarcity. Given fossil fuels’ ubiquity underlying our entire Western economic and industrial structure, it’s no wonder that folks were concerned. But then the Shale Revolution changed everything. It’s often been said that necessity is the mother of invention and, after many trials and with considerable ingenuity, U.S. producers learned to wring massive volumes of previously trapped hydrocarbons from shale and gave the U.S. energy industry a new lease on life. But there are still limits on how much crude oil, natural gas and NGLs can be economically produced — and concerns lately that the best of the U.S.’s shale resources may have already been exploited. In today’s RBN blog, we examine crude oil and gas reserves: how they are estimated and what they tell us about the longevity of U.S. production.

Western Canada’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project, better-known as TMX, has experienced more than its share of setbacks over the past 10 years: environmental protests, legal challenges, financing issues, an ownership change, and even a serious flooding event in 2021. But it seems the 590-Mb/d expansion of the now-300-Mb/d Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMP) system will finally become a reality by early 2024, enabling large-scale exports of Alberta-sourced crude oil to Asian markets. There’s a catch, though. The project’s long delays and other issues resulted in massive cost overruns that are now being reflected in the preliminary tolls for the soon-to-be-combined Trans Mountain system. The proposed toll increase is so large that it will cost a similar amount to ship heavy crude oil to tidewater on Trans Mountain as it would on the competing Enbridge system to the U.S. Gulf Coast for “re-export,” despite the latter being three times the distance. In today’s blog, we discuss the history of the Trans Mountain expansion, its cost overruns and the calculations that went into the proposed tolls — the kicker being that those tolls could end up being even higher.

For years, oil and gas companies struggled to win over investors, largely because of the energy sector’s notoriously volatile history — marked by boom-and-bust cycles and sometimes scary levels of indebtedness. You might think the pandemic and the subsequent upheaval in energy markets would only make matters worse, but the chaos actually forced energy companies to get their finances in better order and, in many cases, to either acquire other companies or be acquired themselves. Financial discipline and consolidation provided another benefit: sharply improved credit ratings, which have the knock-on effect of making companies even more attractive. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the forces behind, and the importance of, the improved credit ratings that resulted from this massive wave of consolidation.

Global crude oil markets are undergoing a profound transformation. But it is mostly out of sight, out of mind for all but the most actively involved players in the physical markets. On the surface, it’s a simple change in the Dated Brent delivery mechanism: Starting May 2023, cargoes of Midland-spec WTI — we’ll shorten that to “Midland” for the sake of clarity and simplicity — could be offered into the Brent Complex for delivery the following month. This change has been in the works for years. Production of North Sea crudes that heretofore have been the exclusive members of the Brent club has been on the decline for decades. Allowing the delivery of Midland crude into Brent is intended to increase the liquidity of the physical Brent market, thereby retaining Brent’s status as the world’s preeminent crude marker, serving as the price basis for two-thirds or more of physical crude oil traded in the global market. So far, the new trading and delivery process has been working well. Perhaps too well. For the past two months, delivered Midland has set the price of Brent about 85% of the time. The number of cargoes moving into the Brent delivery “chain” process has skyrocketed, and most of those cargoes are Midland. Is this just an opening surge of players trying their hand in a new market, or does it mean that the Brent benchmark price is becoming no more than freight-adjusted Midland? In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore this question, and what it could mean for both global and domestic crude markets.