RBN Energy

The Houston crude oil hub has become busier over the last few months, and if one or more proposals to build a deepwater export terminal nearby capable of fully loading a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) cross the finish line, it could become the hub supplying them. That could push Permian Basin oil flows on Houston-bound pipelines higher at the expense of flows to Nederland and Corpus Christi. In today’s RBN blog, the third in a series, we will examine the latest Permian oil flows to Houston and how that could change if and when a deepwater project comes online. 

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 Sheela Tobben - Thursday, 5/23/2024 (8:30 am)

The U.S. Department of Energy is offering nearly 1 MMbbl of gasoline from its Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve (NGSR) in a sale that seeks to lower pump prices as Americans prepare for summer driving season, the highest fuel demand period of the year. 

By RBN Team - Wednesday, 5/22/2024 (4:00 pm)
Report Highlight: U.S. Propane Billboard

The EIA reported total U.S. propane/propylene inventories recorded a build of 2.25 MMbbl for the week ended May 17, which was slightly below the average of industry expectations for an increase of 2.7 MMbbl but above the 1.8 MMbbl average build for the week. Total U.S.

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Daily Energy Blog

Storage has long been a critically important balancing mechanism in the Lower 48 natural gas market. Now, after languishing for much of the Shale Era, storage values are coming out of the doldrums. The key driver behind this change is that, unlike in the old days, when the storage market was driven primarily by the intrinsic value of capacity — i.e., the need to sock away gas in the lower-demand summer months for use in the peak winter months — the value of storage is being driven almost exclusively by extrinsic economics — i.e., how flexible and responsive capacity allows market participants to manage supply and demand during short-term market swings. This flexibility and responsiveness have become increasingly important criteria for ensuring reliability as LNG export facilities and an increasingly renewables-heavy power sector navigate frequent demand fluctuations day to day, or even intraday, as well as during high-stakes, extreme weather events like 2021’s Winter Storm Uri. In today’s RBN blog, we delve into the fundamental shifts influencing today’s storage market. 

New England is hell-bent on decarbonizing quickly, and it’s been making some progress. But like it or not, the region still depends heavily on natural gas for both power generation and space heating, and gas supplies are stretched to the limit during periods of extreme winter demand. Worse yet, the Everett LNG import terminal, which for years has fed a big, soon-to-close gas-fired power station and supported the Boston area’s gas grid, may be on the verge of shutting down. Well, help may finally be on the way. Enbridge recently proposed an expansion to its 3-Bcf/d Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline system. The question is, can it get built in a region notorious for its opposition to energy infrastructure projects? In today’s RBN blog, we discuss Enbridge’s Project Maple and the role it could play in New England’s aggressive plan to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Appalachian natural gas producers and marketers are adapting to a new status quo — a world where new pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Northeast is hard to come by and is more or less capped ad infinitum. Without the assurance of pipeline expansions, regional gas producers are no longer drilling with abandon in hopes that the capacity will eventually get built. Instead, producers are practicing restraint by slowing drilling activity, delaying completions and choking back producing wells to manage their inventory during periods of lower demand and prices. In today’s RBN blog, we consider what this new playbook will mean for pricing trends in the supply basin.

LNG feedgas demand has averaged a record of about 12 Bcf/d this summer and fall. While that may sound like an impressive number (and it is), it could increase significantly — even without new capacity additions — over the next few months as seasonal demand rises and maintenance activity slows. And that’s just for starters. Next year, the first of several planned LNG export terminals and expansions of existing ones will start commissioning, and by the end of this decade feedgas demand may well double. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how current LNG feedgas demand stacks up compared to past years, the factors driving current demand, and the potential for additional upside.

Government forecasts are predicting a sharp drop in natural gas demand in the power sector in the coming decades based on an expectation that the renewable capacity build-out will accelerate and displace other sources. However, forecasts in the past decade have consistently and severely underestimated gas burn for power. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the pitfalls of forecasting gas consumption in a world often focused on pushing a renewables-heavy generation stack.

U.S. natural gas producers had a rough start to 2023, with spot prices dipping to just above $2.15/MMBtu this past spring. But optimism was abundant in midyear earnings calls on expectations that demand will eventually soar, driven largely by a near-doubling of U.S. LNG export capacity by the end of the decade. A  key question, however, is whether E&Ps have built the inventories of proved reserves to support future production increases to meet that demand. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze the crucial issue of reserve replacement by the major U.S. Gas-Weighted E&Ps.

There’s a lot of nitrogen out there — it’s the seventh-most common element in the universe and the Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen (and only 21% oxygen). And there’s certainly nothing new about nitrogen in the production, processing and delivery of natural gas. That’s because all natural gas contains at least a little nitrogen. But lately, the nitrogen content in some U.S. natural gas has become a real headache, and it’s getting worse. There are two things going on. First, a few counties in the Permian’s Midland Basin produce gas with unusually high nitrogen content, and those same counties have been the Midland’s fastest-growing production area the past few years. Second, there’s the LNG angle. LNG is by far the fastest-growing demand sector for U.S. gas. LNG terminals here in the U.S. and buyers of U.S. LNG don’t like nitrogen one little bit. As an inert gas (meaning it does not burn), nitrogen lowers the heating value of the LNG and takes up room (lowers the effective capacity) in the terminal’s liquefaction train. Bottom line, nitrogen generally mucks up the process of liquefying, transporting and consuming LNG, which means that nitrogen is a considerably more problematic issue for LNG terminals than for most domestic gas consumers. So as the LNG sector increases as a fraction of total U.S. demand, the nitrogen issue really comes to the fore. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore why high nitrogen content in gas is happening now, why it matters and how bad it could get.

The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures prices have been relatively rangebound this injection season and have averaged around $2.60/MMBtu since June — a third or less of where prices stood during the same period last year, in the $7-$9/MMBtu range, and at or below most natural gas producers’ breakeven costs. Yet, this is a much rosier scenario than it could have been considering that the first quarter of 2023 was one of the most bearish in over a decade and led to a massive storage surplus vs. last year that persisted through much of the summer. Since setting the year-to-date monthly average low of $2.19/MMBtu in April, prompt futures rose to an average of nearly $2.50/MMBtu in June, ~$2.65/MMBtu in July and August, and have mostly stayed in the $2.50-$2.75 range in September to date. In today’s RBN blog, we break down the factors that kept prices from unraveling this injection season to date and the implications for the rest of the shoulder season. 

After being relegated to the back burner during the shale boom, the natural gas storage market is showing signs of a comeback. Market participants are clamoring for storage solutions, storage values are rising, and storage deals and expansions are bubbling up. However, that won’t necessarily lead to a widespread build-out of new storage capacity like the one that transpired in the pre-shale storage heyday of the mid-to-late 2000s. That’s because the world has changed, and what’s driving storage values today is vastly different than what drove the last big capacity build-out. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the emerging developments in the storage market, what’s driving them, and the implications for Lower 48 storage capacity.

Permian producers are churning out ever-increasing volumes of associated gas, all of which needs to find a home. New or expanded takeaway pipelines to Gulf Coast markets are an obvious option — and a few projects are in the works — but locking in capacity requires long-term commitments that many producers are loathe to make. As a result, the balance between Permian takeaway capacity and the volumes of gas that need to exit the basin is always on a knife’s edge, often resulting in a Waha basis so ugly that producers are essentially giving their gas away. But what if there was a way to put more Permian gas to good, economic use within the basin, and ideally very close to where it’s produced? Better yet, what if the producers could garner some environmental cred in the process? In today’s RBN blog, we discuss a trio of Permian projects — a couple of them involving top-tier E&Ps — that would use local gas to make gasoline, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and electricity.

In the last 12 months, U.S. natural gas prices have touched highs not seen since the start of the Shale Revolution as well as depths previously plumbed only briefly during downturns in 2012, 2016 and 2020. Where will prices go next? Well, if we knew that, we wouldn’t be writing blogs. As we’ve seen in the past couple of years, there’s just too much going on in global markets to think you can know where gas prices will be 10 years, five years or even one year from now. But that never stopped us from trying. As we’ve done many times before, we’ll take a scenario approach — a high case and a low case. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore these scenarios for domestic natural gas prices and what sort of ramifications each would entail for other markets. 

The global push to slash methane emissions from natural gas-related operations — from production wells to end-users — and certify gas as being “responsibly sourced” has been accelerating and broadening. It now seems possible that within the next two or three years the majority of gas produced in the U.S. will be certified as responsibly sourced gas, or RSG, and that large numbers of gas buyers — power generators, industrials, LNG exporters and local distribution companies (LDCs) among them — will be buying RSG, or at least moving toward doing so. Further, an RSG market is developing (a handful of trading platforms have already been launched), as are tracking systems to ensure that gas sold as RSG is fully accounted for and legit, with no double-counting or fuzziness. In today’s RBN blog, we begin an in-depth look at RSG and its emergence from a relative novelty to the cusp of wide acceptance.

It took an “Act of Congress” and a decision from the highest court in the land — handed down by the Chief Justice no less — but it’s looking more and more like Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) will be completed as early as by the end of this year, opening up 2 Bcf/d of new takeaway capacity for the increasingly pipeline-constrained Appalachian gas supply basin. That’s shifted the industry’s gaze to bottlenecks downstream of where the bulk of the volumes flowing on the new pipeline will land — on the doorstep of Williams’s Transco Pipeline in southern Virginia. A number of midstream expansions have been announced to capture the influx of natural gas supply from MVP and shuttle it to downstream markets in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions, and indications are that more will be announced and greenlighted in the coming months. These projects will be key to both enabling gas production growth in the Appalachia basin as well as meeting growing gas demand in the premium markets lying on the other side of the constraints. In today’s RBN blog, we delve into the details and timing of the announced expansion projects vying to increase market access to MVP supply.

In the last 12 months, U.S. natural gas prices have touched highs not seen since the start of the Shale Revolution as well as depths previously plumbed only briefly during downturns in 2012, 2016 and 2020. Where will prices go next? Well, if we knew that, we wouldn’t be writing blogs. As we’ve seen in the past couple of years, there’s just too much going on in global markets to think you can know where gas prices will be 10 years, five years or even one year from now. But that never stopped us from trying. As we’ve done many times before, we’ll take a scenario approach — a high case and a low case. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore these scenarios for domestic natural gas prices and what sort of ramifications each would entail for other markets. 

With the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project clearing some major legal hurdles in recent weeks and construction resuming, it’s become increasingly likely that Appalachian gas producers will soon have 2 Bcf/d of new takeaway capacity, potentially as early as late 2023. However, the degree to which the pipeline will translate into higher production from the supply basin and improved supply access for the gas-thirsty, premium markets in the Southeast will largely depend on the availability of transportation capacity downstream of MVP. As such, the race is on to expand pipeline capacity from the pipe’s termination point at Williams’s Transco Pipeline Station 165 in southern Virginia, not only to deal with the impending influx of supply from MVP but also to move that gas to growing demand centers in Virginia and the Carolinas. MVP’s lead developer, Equitrans Midstream, is hoping to build an extension to the mainline — the MVP Southgate project — while Transco has designs of its own for capturing downstream customers. In today’s RBN blog, we provide an update on MVP and the various expansion projects in the works to move newly available supply to market.