Natural Gas Liquids

Monday, 04/16/2018

Could it get any worse? Possibly, but the last time we saw petchem margins this bad was in the depths of the 2008-09 economic meltdown, and back then the atrocious margin levels resulted in drastic plant curtailments and in some cases permanent shutdowns. But this time around the petchem industry is in the process of bringing on even more capacity! Is the current situation a fluke, or a harbinger of things to come? In today’s blog we examine recent trends in steam cracker margins, by far the largest demand sector for natural gas liquids (NGLs) and consider what these developments may mean for NGL markets in general, and ethane in particular.

Thursday, 03/15/2018

With U.S. NGL production hitting a record high of just over 4.0 MMb/d in the fourth quarter of 2017 and ethane production also reaching record volumes at 1.6 MMb/d, the price for ethane has remained stuck at about 25 c/gal — where it’s been for the past two years, even though prices for other NGLs are up over the same period. The combination of roaring high-ethane-content Permian and SCOOP/STACK NGL volumes, coupled with steam cracker outages and construction delays due to Hurricane Harvey, have landed us here. So where do we expect the ethane market to go now as incremental cracker and export demand ramp up in 2018 and 2019? Today, we continue a series on our updated NGL market forecast, highlighting the NGL product whose market is going through the most changes: ethane.  

Tuesday, 03/06/2018

In recent weeks, both crude oil and natural gas production have breached all-time records. So it should come as no surprise the same thing happened to NGLs — production blasted to over 4.0 MMb/d in the fourth quarter of 2017, and by our estimates will move considerably higher this year. This is a particularly big deal for the ethane market, which has spent the last eight years waiting patiently for a wave of new Gulf Coast ethane-only petrochemical plants — a.k.a. “steam crackers” — to come online in 2018. Well, here we are in 2018 and new demand from the crackers is finally kicking in. The good news for petchems is that all of the incremental NGL production means the supply of ethane available to the market is growing too, right on cue. What do these developments mean for future NGL production, demand and prices? Today, we begin a new blog series discussing our updated NGL market forecasts, starting with that NGL product whose market is going through the most changes: ethane.  

Thursday, 02/15/2018

With ethane prices remaining below 30 c/gal, making it only slightly more valuable than natural gas at Henry Hub on a Btu equivalence, most natural gas processors/producers can earn a greater profit when ethane is sold with natural gas (rejected) than when it is extracted and sold with the NGLs. How much more money you may be wondering? The answer is — it depends. Are there downstream pipeline contracts and sunk costs impacting the decision making? Are the contracted volumes on an ethane-only pipeline or a raw mix pipeline? How far away is the producing basin from the Gulf Coast market? How do all these factors come together to determine whether ethane is produced or rejected and the value created? Today, we continue our discussion of the MQQV gas processing model — this time focusing on the Value principle. This is our final blog focusing on the MQQV model and, with it, we are making it available to all Backstage Pass holders should you want to run scenarios of your own.

Tuesday, 02/06/2018

It was a wild ride for Asian butane in 2017, driven by a range of diverse market factors, including U.S. ethane and LPG exports, a government program in India to encourage switching from firewood to LPG, the OPEC/NOPEC crude oil production cuts and LPG contract pricing set by Saudi Arabia. It was a textbook example of how today’s energy markets are buffeted by changes in production trends, government intervention and the growing influence of exports. Today, we introduce a series on the supply and demand dynamics that shaped Asian butane markets in 2017, and that will drive LPG markets in Asia, Europe and the U.S. in coming years. 

Tuesday, 01/23/2018

There has been growing concern regarding NGL pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Williston Basin and the Niobrara — particularly the DJ Basin — over the past year, with one of the major pipes through those regions now running full. Finally, ONEOK has announced plans for the Elk Creek Pipeline, which will have an initial capacity of 240 Mb/d and be expandable to 400 Mb/d. The new pipe will transport mixed, unfractionated NGLs from eastern Montana to the Conway/Bushton fractionation hub in central Kansas, and provide long-term relief for a lot of Bakken, Powder River and Denver-Julesburg (DJ) Basin producers. But with an end-of-2019 in-service date, will the new capacity come soon enough to avert NGL takeaway constraints? Today, we discuss the Elk Creek project, the flows on existing NGL pipes to Conway/Bushton, and the growing significance of ethane as pipelines fill.

Wednesday, 01/17/2018

Prices for heavy NGLs (propane, butanes, natural gasoline) have been rising fast since the middle of 2017, but the same cannot be said for the price of ethane. For most natural gas processors/producers, low ethane prices mean that ethane continues to be worth more when sold with natural gas (rejected) than when it is extracted and sold with the other liquids. But as NGL production continues to grow, hitting a record-high 3,968 Mb/d in October 2017, and new steam crackers are just starting to come online, there is a limit to how much ethane can be left in the residue gas stream without violating dry gas pipeline Btu specifications. How do processing plant designs, gas pipeline specs and economics play into a gas processor’s decision regarding whether to extract or reject ethane? Today, we continue our discussion of RBN’s MQQV gas processing model — this time focusing on the Quantity and Quality principles.

Tuesday, 11/28/2017

NGL prices have been rising fast since the middle of this year, but the same cannot be said for the price of natural gas. So how does this market scenario play out for gas processors who make their money extracting NGLs from gas? It plays out pretty darn good. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how the relationship between the price of NGLs versus natural gas can be assessed by the Frac Spread, and concluded that things are definitely looking up for gas processing economics. But we also concluded that the Frac Spread misses the impact of a few key factors, including the BTU value and composition of the inlet gas stream. So today we’ll see what it takes to incorporate those factors into our assessment and, in the process, do a deep dive into the math of gas processing to examine the relationship between volumetric capacity, gallons of NGLs per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas (GPMs) and moles. Today, we continue our latest expedition into the wilds of gas processing.

Tuesday, 10/31/2017

Not long after crude oil prices crashed in 2014, natural gas processing economics hit the skids. From late 2014 through the first half of 2017, times were tough for natural gas processors and the producers processing natural gas to extract NGLs in their plants. That’s because the per-MMBtu price difference between natural gas prices and NGL prices was low. Very low. In fact, during 2015-16, it was the lowest it’s been over the past decade except for a brief period during the 2009 financial meltdown. But things are looking up. Thanks to a big boost in from propane and butane prices — and, to a lesser extent, rising ethane and natural gasoline prices — natural gas processing economics look healthier today than they have in years. It is going to get even better as more new ethane-only steam crackers come online. Given these developments, it is clearly time for another deep dive into what makes gas processing economics work, and how the numbers are about to change. Today, we begin our latest expedition into the wilds of gas processing. 

Wednesday, 10/18/2017

Available ethane in the Marcellus/Utica is expected to increase 70% by 2022 to 800 Mb/d, from about 470 Mb/d this year. That should be good news for the slew of ethane-only steam crackers coming online in that time frame, primarily along the Gulf Coast. But unfortunately, there is limited ethane pipeline takeaway capacity out of the region and today more than half of the potential ethane supply is being rejected into the natural gas pipeline stream. Without additional takeaway capacity, that rejected volume is expected to grow and few additional ethane barrels will make their way to the Gulf Coast. The question is, will transportation economics support additional pipeline development to where the demand is growing the most? Today, we will explore how the changing ethane market is likely to impact the Marcellus/Utica producing region.

Wednesday, 10/11/2017

As new ethane-only steam crackers come online and ethane exports accelerate, ethane demand is ramping up from 1.3 MMb/d today to somewhere between 2.1 and 2.3 MMb/d in 2022. The good news is that a lot of new ethane supply is becoming available — from high-Btu Permian associated gas, more gas from other oil-focused plays, and of course rapidly growing Marcellus/Utica production. Depending on what happens to oil and gas prices, somewhere between 2.5 and 3.2 MMb/d of “potential” ethane could be available by 2022 to meet that demand. So, no problem, right? Not so fast. Some of this potential ethane will be very expensive to get to market, and some won’t be able to get to market at all due to pipeline capacity constraints. How these market dynamics play out raises the possibility of wide swings in ethane prices. Today we will explore how this may play out.

Thursday, 09/07/2017

Last week Hurricane Harvey roiled the entire energy complex, with NGL markets suffering substantial disruption — curtailed natural gas liquids production from gas processing in the Eagle Ford and other basins, reduced operating rates at Mont Belvieu and other fractionation sites, shuttered LPG and ethane export docks, widespread refinery closures and a virtual shutdown of Gulf Coast petrochemical plants. While little major damage to facilities has been reported and several plants are now restarting, operating conditions continue to be extremely difficult for both the supply and demand sides of the market. Today we continue our look at how high winds and days of torrential rain affected the U.S. energy industry, this time focusing on NGLs.

Thursday, 08/24/2017

The widely held expectation that Permian NGL production will rise sharply through the early 2020s has set off fierce competition among midstream companies to develop new pipeline capacity out of the play — mostly to the NGL storage and fractionation hub in Mont Belvieu, TX, but also to Corpus Christi. Only some of the incremental pipeline takeaway capacity being planned is likely to be needed, though, raising the stakes among midstreamers to line up the long-term commitments they need to finance and build their projects. Today we continue our series on NGL-related infrastructure in the U.S.’s hottest shale play with a look at efforts to add new takeaway capacity as NGL production in the Permian ramps up.

Thursday, 08/17/2017

Production of natural gas liquids in the Permian is growing so quickly that within a year or two some parts of the super-hot play may experience NGL takeaway constraints. That is good news for the owners of the eight existing NGL pipelines out of the Permian, which are likely to see flows on their pipes increase as NGL production rises — assuming, that is, that they have capacity to spare and that they are connected to natural gas processing plants within the faster-growing parts of the region. Today we continue our blog series on Permian NGL production, processing and pipelines with a look at ONEOK’s West Texas LPG Pipeline and the Chevron Phillips Chemical EZ Pipeline.

Tuesday, 08/15/2017

Nearly two-thirds of the effective NGL pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Permian is controlled by Energy Transfer Partners and DCP Midstream. But there are several other NGL pipelines used to flow Permian NGLs to faraway storage facilities and fractionators — assuming, that is, that their natural gas processing plants are connected to the pipe alternatives in question. Today we continue our blog series on the NGL side of the Permian with a look at Enterprise Products Partners’ Chaparral and Seminole pipelines and Enterprise’s and BP’s Rio Grande Pipeline, including the volumes of NGLs that have been flowing through them.