RBN Energy

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

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 - Wednesday, 3/29/2023 (6:30 am)

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.

By Todd Root - Tuesday, 3/28/2023 (2:45 pm)

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.

Recently Published Reports

Report Title Published
LNG Voyager LNG Voyager Weekly - March 28, 2023 22 hours 39 min ago
Crude Oil Permian Crude Oil Permian - March 28, 2023 1 day 42 min ago
Chart Toppers Chart Toppers - March 28, 2023 1 day 1 hour ago
NATGAS Billboard NATGAS Billboard - March 27, 2023 1 day 23 hours ago
NATGAS Permian NATGAS Permian - March 27, 2023 2 days 52 min ago


Daily Energy Blog

The 43 large U.S. E&Ps that we monitor posted record earnings in 2021 and tripled their cash flow — an extraordinary turnaround from a very tough 2020. But as big a story, at least for investors, is how those oil and gas producers are allocating their surging cash reserves. Their dramatic strategic transformation from growth at any cost to maximizing returns is expected to result in 2022 yields approaching 10% for some E&Ps, rates higher than the much broader S&P 500 sector and more than double the payouts of the oil majors, the former dividend kings. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the cash-flow allocation of the major E&P companies and explain what it means for investors.

With soaring oil prices dominating recent headlines, it’s no surprise that profits and cash flows for the U.S. exploration-and-production (E&P) sector rebounded dramatically in 2021 from heavy, pandemic-induced losses in 2020. Rising crude oil and natural gas demand fueled a whopping $150 billion turnaround in results, as the 43 major publicly traded E&Ps we monitor recorded $86 billion in pre-tax income after incurring a net loss of $66 billion in 2020. Oh, and by the way, 2021 was the most profitable year in at least the last two decades for producers, which reported income two-thirds higher than the previous peak in 2014, when commodity prices were significantly higher. In today’s RBN blog, we compare producers’ 2021 performance with 2020 and 2014 and explain why results should be even stronger this year.

The Biden administration’s March 31 announcement that it will release an average of 1 MMb/d of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months was an acknowledgement of sorts that U.S. E&Ps won’t be ramping up their production enough in the near term to bring down oil or gasoline prices. It seems like a good assumption because, while the 40-plus crude oil and natural gas producers we monitor have indicated they are planning a 23% increase in capital spending this year and an 8% increase in production, further examination reveals that those numbers are somewhat misleading — the real gains will be significantly smaller. In today’s RBN blog, we scrutinize producers’ spending plans and production outlooks by peer group and company-by-company.

So far, most of the merger-and-acquisition activity among crude-oil-focused producers in the COVID era has occurred where you would expect it: the Permian, which seems to dominate almost every discussion about the U.S. energy industry. More recently, though, there has been an uptick in E&P consolidation in the Denver-Julesburg Basin in the Rockies and, earlier this month, in the Bakken. There, Whiting Petroleum and Oasis Petroleum — two once-struggling producers — have agreed to a merger of equals that will create the Bakken’s second-largest producer and the largest pure-play E&P. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the companies’ stock-and-cash deal, which will result in a yet-to-be-renamed entity with an enterprise value of about $6 billion.

Amid all the energy-market excitement of the past few months — the soaring demand for LNG, the march to $100/bbl crude oil, sky-high propane prices, and the like — there also has been a continuing consolidation and repositioning in the U.S. midstream sector. While midstream M&A activity has been all over the map, literally and figuratively, it also has revealed discernible themes, chief among them a push to increase the scale and efficiency of gathering systems. Also evident is the desire to expand into growing production areas and, for some energy giants, to either buy out stakes held by joint venture partners or absorb midstream master limited partnerships they had spun off a few years ago. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss a variety of recent midstream deals and what they tell us about 2022’s energy market.

In the early days of the Shale Revolution, merger-and-acquisition activity in the midstream sector was happening at a frenetic pace. That frenzy peaked with crude oil prices in 2014, then petered out over the next five years before hitting bottom in COVID-impacted 2020, when abysmal demand and commodity pricing hampered prospects for the production and transportation of oil, natural gas and NGLs. In those dark days, it seemed the only deals getting done were for bulk orders of hand sanitizer and toilet paper from Amazon. Now, with energy prices soaring and energy companies regaining some of their pre-pandemic luster, the pace of deal-making in the oil patch in 2022 looks poised to maintain the momentum that carried through the end of 2021. But buying or marketing midstream assets isn’t nearly as simple as ordering through your Amazon Prime account. Considerable effort is put into the strategy of selling and the diligence of purchasing and, for the uninitiated, the process can be daunting. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our series on midstream dealmaking with a look at what to expect in a sales process.

Any time there’s a step-change in technology, it presents intrepid industrialists with tremendous opportunities. Just looking at U.S. history, this has played out many times, with railroads, oil, automobiles, computers, and the internet being a few obvious examples. The Shale Revolution provided significant opportunities of its own, not just for the savviest producers but for midstreamers who jumped at the chance to develop the pipelines, gas processing plants, fractionators, and other infrastructure that was desperately needed to transport and process rapidly growing volumes of crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs. Master limited partnerships (MLPs) led the way, boosted by their advantaged access to capital, but they got an important assist from private-equity-backed developers, who were willing to take big risks in the hope of creating successful businesses. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at midstream dealmaking — and midstreamers’ prospective role in the coming lower-carbon economy — this time with a focus on the private equity (PE) side.

In March 2020, the collapse of the OPEC-plus coalition, the initiation of COVID-19 lockdowns, and other factors pushed the U.S. E&P sector to the brink of insolvency. Crude oil prices had crashed to $20/bbl — one-third their level at the start of that fateful year — and producers had shifted to survival mode, slashing capex, cancelling infrastructure projects, and eyeing new, more dire worst-case scenarios. Who would have thought that only 22 months later E&Ps would be winning back investors and enjoying sky-high share prices? Of course, the recovery in commodity prices played a major role in this reversal. But another driver has been an unexpected wave of corporate consolidation that has allowed many E&Ps to boost their inventories of high-margin assets, accelerate free cash flow generation, and grow shareholder returns while slashing capital and corporate expenditures. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the forces behind — and the implications of — the most important surge of corporate upstream deals in two decades.

Over the last decade and a half, oil and gas companies have taken investors on a wild roller coaster ride as their ambitious growth strategies and stock prices have been boosted, then badly battered, by volatile demand and commodity prices. With sentiment toward the old-school energy industry turning negative, producers and midstreamers shifted course to emphasize value over volume, prioritizing solid cash flow generation and substantial shareholder returns. Midstream giant Kinder Morgan has found it especially difficult to win back investor confidence despite its largely successful efforts to stabilize its balance sheet, internally fund growth, and gradually restore its dividend. But will that be enough to improve the company’s prospects? In today’s RBN blog, we draw on more highlights from our recent Spotlight report on KMI’s portfolio, performance, and near-term growth potential, with an emphasis on the opportunities ahead.

It may seem like a strange turn of phrase, but the best way to describe the E&P sector’s recent round of quarterly earnings calls is a celebration of remarkable climate change. Buffeted and nearly swamped over the past few years by price volatility, investor revolt, regulatory restrictions, and a global pandemic, oil and gas producers finally have the opportunity to bask amid robust returns in an increasingly sunny economic environment. E&Ps are enjoying higher profits and massive free cash flow, raising their dividends, and looking forward to 2022 with renewed optimism. In today’s RBN blog, we outline the dramatic recovery of E&Ps since mid-2020, examine the surge in third-quarter results, and look ahead to the next round of earnings calls this winter.

Market sentiment toward oil and gas companies, particularly producers and midstreamers, has been increasingly negative since the oil price crash in late 2014, driven by a mix of shorter-term concerns like price volatility and corporate debt and longer-term worries like the environment and an impending energy transition. One company that has found it especially difficult to regain investor confidence is midstream giant Kinder Morgan Inc., whose late-2015 decision to slash its dividend got an ice-cold reception from shareholders and sent the company’s stock price sharply lower. Over the past six years, KMI has been largely successful in its efforts to stabilize its balance sheet, internally fund growth, and gradually restore its dividend, but its current share price remains close to its late-2015 low and barely one-third its early-2015 high. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report, which analyzes KMI’s current portfolio and performance and discusses in detail the company’s new strategic initiatives to restore investor confidence.

For many years, the exploration and production sector of the oil and gas business was notorious for its profligate ways. When energy prices were high and money was flowing in, many E&P companies would spend like Beyoncé. But the commodity price volatility of the past few years gave E&Ps a new-for-them financial discipline. Even when prices rebounded, they held down their capital spending, and focused on paying down debt and returning cash to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividends. But there’s been a shift in all that lately, with a bigger share of the inflowing money now being used to build cash balances. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze recent cash flow allocation by the 38 E&Ps we monitor and examine what this new shift may mean.

Everyone knows the old saw, “Make hay while the sun shines.” Oil and gas producers have historically honored this sentiment by boosting their capital spending when commodity prices were high and cutting back when realizations dipped. Their investment peaked in 2014, when oil prices were hovering over $100 per barrel, plunged with the price crash in 2015-16, recovered with $70 oil in 2018, and crashed again in the ugly early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sun is out again in 2021, but E&Ps seem to have tossed out their old mantra in favor of fiscal discipline, setting and maintaining investment at historic lows despite solid oil prices and surging gas futures. In today’s RBN blog, we review mid-year changes to E&P capital budgets and their impact on oil and gas production.

Memories of disasters linger, and it’s likely that no one in the North American energy sector is likely to ever forget the second quarter of 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed demand and crude oil prices bottomed out, exploration and production companies (E&Ps) scrambled to shut in wells and slashed spending in the face of an unprecedented plunge in average realizations to less than $14 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe). Not everyone bought into apocalyptic visions of the industry’s future that were circulating widely, but few analysts expected the rapid return to the level of profitability reflected in the recently released second-quarter 2021 results of the 39 major E&Ps we monitor. Rising oil prices and continuing cost control propelled the earnings of the Oil-Weighted and Diversified peer group companies over the results from the last industry performance peak in the third quarter of 2018, when WTI was priced 10% higher. Although the results of Gas-Weighted producers lagged, soaring third-quarter natural gas prices suggest a catch-up in the second half of the year. In today’s blog, we analyze the second-quarter results of our universe of 39 producers and preview third-quarter results.

The seven years since the heady days of $100/bbl oil in mid-2014 have been a tumultuous time for midstream companies tasked with funding a massive infrastructure build-out to support surging crude oil and natural gas production. Midstreamers have been buffeted by volatile commodity prices, waves of E&P bankruptcies, rapidly shifting investor sentiment, and, finally, a global pandemic. Perhaps no company has had a more challenging road than master limited partnership (MLP) Plains All American, which had to cut unitholder distributions three times over a turbulent five years as it built out a crude gathering and long-haul transportation portfolio focused on the Permian Basin. With its capital program winding down, commodity prices rising, and a new joint venture in the works, can Plains performance rebound and win back investor support? In today’s blog, we discuss highlights from our new Spotlight report on Plains, which lays out how the company arrived at this juncture and how well-positioned it is to benefit from the significant recovery in commodity prices and Permian E&P activity.