Cold weather and spiking demand from Midwest and Great Plains farmers trying to dry their late-maturing, soggy crops have sent the PADD 2 propane market into a tizzy. Supply is not a major issue — propane inventory levels in the region are only a little below average, and stocks are plentiful along the Gulf Coast in PADD 3 — but distributing propane by rail and truck for crop-drying use has been a bigger-than-normal problem. As a result, farmers are scrambling to get more of the fuel, and propane prices in the U.S. heartland have been skyrocketing. Worse yet, Canada may not be able to come to the rescue as it has in the past, because its propane exports to Asia are up and its inventories are down. Today, we review recent developments on the fuel front in the nation’s breadbasket.
Anything but normal might be the best way to characterize today’s market for normal butane. Butane production at gas processing plants and fractionators is at or near an all-time high. Butane consumption by steam crackers is maxed out, and so were butane exports until new dock capacity came online this fall. Butane inventories? They’ve risen to record levels too, and this summer, butane prices fell to their lowest mark in more than a decade. Now, with winter-gasoline blending season in high gear and new room for export growth, butane prices at Mont Belvieu are up more than 35% from where they stood a month and a half ago. What does all this mean for the butane market this winter? Today, we discuss recent trends in normal butane production, consumption, exports and stocks.
U.S. production and exports of propane have soared through the 2010s, and an increasing share of the propane loaded onto gas carriers at U.S. Gulf Coast terminals is headed to the Far East. The numbers are staggering. So far in 2019, 57% of propane produced from U.S. gas processing plants and refineries has been sent overseas, with about half of that total moving to Asian markets. With exports to Asia now such an integral piece of the propane supply/demand balance, the price of U.S. propane during most of the year is influenced more by the markets in Japan, South Korea and China than it is by demand in Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The challenge for U.S. propane marketers, producers and exporters is that, to the uninitiated, the Asia propane market is quite convoluted, being dominated by obscure market mechanisms known as FEI and Ginga. Today, we continue our series on international LPG trading with an explanation of how these mechanisms work together to establish propane prices in Asia and, by extension, the Gulf Coast.
In October, some 45 MMbbl of liquefied petroleum gases (LPGs) were loaded onto ships and sent out from U.S. ports, more than 80% of it from Texas Gulf Coast terminals. Most propane and normal butane exports are tied to long-term deals between U.S. suppliers and overseas buyers, but a substantial share involves third-party LPG traders who cut deals to buy LPG, arrange for shipping and terminaling, then sell the LPG to buyers in distant lands. How exactly does all this happen? Today, we continue a series on how U.S.-sourced LPG makes its way to Asia, Europe and other key export markets.
U.S. propane production has been on the rise for most of 2019, but propane consumption by steam crackers has been reined in by poor economics, and propane exports have been constrained by export-capacity shortfalls. That’s led to a big buildup in propane inventories, which stand at near-record levels as the market prepares for a winter heating season that is forecasted to be milder than normal. So we’re in for only a modest draw on propane stocks between now and spring, right? Not necessarily. There’s change in the air regarding propane supply, cracker demand and export capacity and, as we learned in the balmy winter of 2016-17, the U.S. propane market isn’t nearly as dependent on the weather as it used to be. Today, we assess recent market developments and explain why a big decline in propane stocks is a real possibility.
U.S. LPG export volumes have climbed to astronomical levels this year. Almost 60% of U.S. propane production, or about 1.3 MMb/d on average so far in 2019, along with a sizable volume of butane, is being shipped to overseas markets, mostly to Asia. As anyone who’s talked shop with an LPG trader knows, international trading of propane and butane (collectively LPGs — Liquified Petroleum Gas) is a wild, roller-coaster kind of business. But how exactly does it all work? How do the players involved acquire the volumes, cut the deals with export dock owners, arrange for shipping and sell the cargoes to buyers? And, most importantly, how do these shippers make money? Today, we begin a series on international LPG trading that looks behind the curtain and drills down into the nuances that make the difference between success and failure in this traditionally opaque world.
The ready availability of low-cost propane, the expectation of renewed growth in global propylene demand and other factors are spurring development of another round of propane dehydrogenation plants in North America. Three PDH plants — two in Alberta and one in Texas — already are under construction and scheduled to come online in the 2021-23 period. Now, Enterprise Products Partners has committed to building a second PDH plant at its NGL/petchem complex in Mont Belvieu, TX, and PetroLogistics — which completed the U.S.’s first PDH plant in 2010 — has selected the technology it will use for a new facility it now plans to build along the Gulf Coast. Today, we discuss planned PDH capacity additions in the U.S. and Canada and what’s driving their development.
New fractionation plants, steam crackers and export facilities are being built along the Gulf Coast, all spurred by rising U.S. production of natural gas liquids. This incremental NGL output and these new projects are putting serious pressure on existing NGL pipeline and storage infrastructure, and prodding the development of new salt-cavern storage capacity for mixed NGLs, NGL purity products, and ethylene and other olefins. Also, new, expanded and repurposed pipelines to enhance NGL-related flows throughout the region are in the works. Today, we continue our series on NGL storage facilities along the Gulf Coast with a look at Easton Energy Services’ plans for more underground storage capacity in Markham, TX, and new NGL and olefin pipelines.
Demand for ethane from U.S. steam crackers is rising as recently completed ethane-only crackers ramp up to full production and additional crackers are finished. To keep pace with demand growth, a portion of the ethane now being “rejected” into the natural gas stream and sold for its Btu value will instead need to be left in the mixed-NGLs stream and fractionated into purity-product ethane. This raises two questions. First, in which shale plays will this shift from ethane rejection to ethane production occur? And second, how much will ethane prices need to increase to encourage the shift and make the required incremental volumes of ethane available? Today, we continue a series on ethane-market developments with a look at where the next tranche of ethane supply will come from and how high ethane prices might need to rise.
The U.S. ethane market has experienced major ups and downs in the past couple of years. First, there was sharply rising demand from new steam crackers, a fractionation-capacity crunch and soaring ethane prices. Then came an ethane demand slump, plummeting prices and a big jump in inventories. More recently, though, the market seems to have returned to a state of relative equilibrium. Ethane prices have settled in — at least for now — at about 22 cents/gallon (gal), a couple of pennies below where they had been standing rock-steady before all hell broke loose. Ethane demand from existing steam crackers is rising again, and new cracker capacity is coming online. The questions now are, with demand on the upswing, will ethane prices be rising too — and, if so, by how much? And what does that mean for steam cracker economics? Today, we discuss recent developments in the ethane market and explain why there’s good reason to believe that ethane prices won’t be spiking anytime soon.
A build-out of NGL fractionators, steam crackers and export terminals for ethane, LPG and ethylene is actively in progress along the Gulf. This growth is spurring the development of new storage capacity — not just at the Mont Belvieu NGL hub, but in other, nearby areas with access to fracs, crackers and export docks. Much of this new storage capacity is being developed by companies that fractionate mixed NGLs and sell so-called “purity products” to meet their internal needs. However, at least one project is being built by what you might call an “independent,” whose aim is to connect to multiple pipelines and provide storage services to customers, without taking title to products alongside their customers. Today, we continue our series on existing and planned NGL storage facilities along the Gulf Coast with a look at Caliche Development Partners’ new storage complex in Beaumont, TX.
The ethane market isn’t for the faint at heart — it’s got lots of ups and downs, and it’s impacted by an unusually wide range of variables. A year ago this month, a combination of fractionation constraints in Mont Belvieu and rising demand from new ethane-only steam crackers sent ethane prices north of 60 cents/gallon. For most of the time since then, though, ethane prices were in something close to freefall, bottoming out at only 10 cents in late July before rebounding in recent weeks to 20 cents or so. During the big, months-long price decline, ethane traders and cracker operators did what anyone does when they can buy something they’ll need in the future for next to nothing — they stocked up. Today, we examine recent trends in ethane supply, demand, prices and storage levels, and take a look ahead.
Energy markets are constantly changing, but pipelines can take years to complete, and once they’re in the ground, that’s where they stay. Therefore, it’s critical for midstream companies to build as much flexibility as possible into their plans for new pipelines and other infrastructure, because you never know what the markets for crude oil, natural gas, NGLs and refined products might have in store. Energy Transfer apparently has that flexibility in mind as it’s been building out its Mariner East pipeline system across Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex (MHIC) near Philadelphia. Today, we consider recent developments regarding these key midstream assets in the Northeast and their still-evolving uses.
In May 2019, the first-ever propane unit train from the Bakken to Mexico reached its destination, and since then, three more of these 100-car, single-commodity “bulk” trains have made the same trip. Facilitating these shipments by Twin Eagle Liquids Marketing is Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s (MPC) unit train-loading terminal in Fryburg, ND, which was initially set up to load crude oil but was recently expanded to handle propane too. And soon, the terminal in Torreón, Mexico, that has been receiving these unit trains will have a new loop track too, enabling producers and marketers to take full advantage of the bulk transport option. Today, we look at the economics and challenges of this relatively new propane export route.
In May 2019, Twin Eagle Liquids Marketing shipped a 100-car train filled with propane from North Dakota to Mexico, marking the first-ever single-commodity train — i.e. “unit train” — between the Bakken and the U.S.’s southern neighbor. As it turns out, it was also the first of what appears to be a regularly scheduled run to Mexico. Since May, three more unit trains have made the journey south from the Bakken’s first unit train terminal for propane. Rail shipments of propane to Mexico as part of mixed-goods trains aren’t new, but figuring out how to economically ship large quantities of propane via unit trains has long evaded NGL marketers and producers — that is, until now. What are the economics and other factors that finally made it possible, and what are the prospects and challenges ahead for unit-train exports to Mexico? Today, we look at how the first all-propane train to Mexico came to pass and what the outlook might be for these shipments to continue.