Natural Gas

Thursday, 12/14/2017

The clock is ticking for international shipping companies, cruise lines and others to determine how they will meet the much more stringent standard for bunker fuel sulfur content that will kick in just over two years from now. While many shipowners will likely meet the International Marine Organization’s 0.5% sulfur cap in January 2020 by shifting to low-sulfur marine distillate or a heavy fuel oil/distillate blend, a smaller number are investing in ships fueled by LNG. LNG easily complies with the sulfur cap, and while it costs more than high-sulfur HFO — the bunker that currently dominates world shipping ­­— it is less expensive than the low-sulfur distillate and HFO/distillate blends that will be needed to meet the new standard. But there are catches with LNG, including the need to dedicate more onboard space for fuel tanks and (even more importantly) the lack of LNG fueling infrastructure in a number of ports. Today, we discuss the short and long-term outlook for LNG as a marine fuel.

Wednesday, 12/13/2017

Just a month ago, the CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures contract was trading at a six-month high of $3.21/MMBtu (on November 10), and the U.S. gas storage inventory was at a three-year low, setting the stage for a bullish winter — assuming normal wintry weather. Since then, the prompt-month contract has tumbled about 50 cents to a settle of $2.715/MMBtu as of this Wednesday. In that time, temperatures fell across the country and seasonal demand for heating homes and businesses kicked in, and LNG exports ticked up slightly. But supply also grew by a lot, with natural gas production surging by 1.0 Bcf/d since then to a new record high of 76.9 Bcf/d just this past Monday. How did the fundamentals shake out in November, and what do current fundamentals mean for the balance of winter? Today, we reconcile these latest shifts in gas market fundamentals.

Sunday, 12/10/2017

Several large-scale gas pipeline expansions targeting the New England and New York City markets have been sidelined in the past year, either due to insufficient financial backing or the challenges of regulatory rigmarole in the region. But in recent weeks, a couple of smaller-scale projects along existing rights-of-way have managed to cross the finish line, allowing incremental gas supplies to trickle into the region. The new pipeline capacity will provide natural gas utilities and power generators in the region with greater access to additional gas supplies from the nearby Marcellus Shale this winter. Today, we look at recent capacity additions and their potential impacts.

Thursday, 12/07/2017

U.S. trucking companies, trash haulers and transit agencies continue to invest in new vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas, in part to meet corporate or agency carbon-footprint goals. But the economic rationale for switching trucks and buses from diesel to CNG or LNG is weaker than it was a few years ago, when diesel cost two-thirds more than natural gas fuels on a per-BTU basis — prices for diesel, CNG and LNG are now in the same ballpark. Also, developing regional or national networks of CNG/LNG fueling stations doesn’t come cheap. Today, we discuss the growing use of natural gas in trucks and buses — and threats to that trend.

Wednesday, 11/29/2017

Producers in the Bakken region made substantial progress in 2014-15 in reducing the volume and percentage of gas that was flared or burned off, but those gains stalled in 2016, and flaring has actually been on the rise through much of 2017. Due to an unfortunate confluence of events (gas processing plant and pipeline issues among them), 16% of the gas produced in the Bakken in September was flared, marking the first time producers failed to meet the state’s ratcheting-down target for gas burn-offs. The October and November flaring numbers are expected to improve, but there are worries that without more processing capacity, Bakken producers will have trouble achieving the North Dakota flaring target when it drops to 12% (from the current 15%) in November 2018. Today, we discuss recent developments in Bakken gas production, gas flaring and gas-related infrastructure.

Monday, 11/27/2017

With Lower-48 natural gas production at record highs and averaging more than 5.0 Bcf/d higher than this time last year, LNG export demand will be all the more critical this winter and the rest of 2018 in order to balance the U.S. gas market. Deliveries to Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass LNG facility (SPL) are above 3.0 Bcf/d. Dominion Energy’s Cove Point LNG is due to add nearly 0.8 Bcf/d of export capacity and begin exporting commissioning cargoes any day now. Two other projects — Elba Island LNG and Freeport LNG — are due online before the end of 2018, while another high-capacity project, Cameron LNG, faces delays. These facilities will increase baseload demand for gas in the new year, but will it be enough, and how will it impact gas pipeline flows upstream? Today, we provide an update on the timing and potential impacts of new export LNG capacity over the next year.

Tuesday, 11/21/2017

Market forces are driving an overhaul of power generation capacity in Texas — the largest electricity-consumer in the U.S. Oversupply and low power prices have increased competition for the state’s power generators, forcing them to shut down older or less efficient plants or plants burning more expensive fuels. Just last month, Vistra Energy — the state’s largest provider of coal-fired generation — announced plans to shut down more than 4.0 GW of coal-fired generation capacity by early 2018, the equivalent of nearly one-fifth of the state’s total coal-fired generation capacity as of August (2017). At the same time, generation capacity for natural gas, wind and solar-sourced power are on the rise. Today, we look at the latest power generation trends in Texas and their potential effects on gas demand.

Monday, 11/20/2017

Mexico’s natural gas supply situation is in a state of flux, to say the least. Gas production within Mexico continues to decline, but there’s hope it can rebound in the country’s Burgos Shale region. Gas demand is rising fast, and new gas pipelines are being built to deliver Permian and other U.S. gas to new Mexican power plants. At the same time, though, delays in completing some of these new pipes have forced Mexico’s electricity authority to turn to LNG imports to keep gas supply and demand in balance. And yet, plans are afoot to export LNG to Asia from Mexico’s west coast by the early 2020s — gas that, by the way, would initially originate in Texas. Today, we explore recent developments in the Mexican gas arena.

Tuesday, 11/14/2017

The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures contract last week settled at $3.213/MMBtu, the highest daily settlement since late May 2017. Despite natural gas production climbing nearly 3.0 Bcf/d over the past couple of months to record highs, the U.S. gas supply and demand balance has tightened considerably in recent weeks, particularly relative to last year at this time. Moreover, U.S. gas storage inventory has remained below year-ago levels and also moved below the five-year average level in recent weeks. That’s because gas demand has managed to more than offset the incremental supply in the market. How did that happen and what can it tell us about what to expect this winter? Today, we analyze recent shifts in gas market fundamentals.

Wednesday, 11/08/2017

Marcellus/Utica natural gas production volumes this past Saturday (November 4) set a record high of more than 23 Bcf/d, according to pipeline flow data. As a result, overall Northeast production flows on the same day also posted a milestone, with volumes approaching a record 25.3 Bcf/d. This is up ~2.7 Bcf/d from where they started the year. These gains have been made possible because of the numerous pipeline projects that have added takeaway capacity from the region, about 2.4 Bcf/d since last winter alone. Moreover, another ~4.3 Bcf/d in new takeaway capacity either was approved for in-service last week or is expected online before March 2018. Even at partial utilization through the winter, that’s a lot of capacity that could flood the market with new supply. Where is all that capacity headed? In today’s blog, we look at recent and upcoming capacity additions that will affect the gas market this winter season.

Monday, 11/06/2017

Lower-48 natural gas production has climbed more than 4.0 Bcf/d in the past 10 months. While Marcellus/Utica activity continues to drive the bulk of the recent increases in total volumes, crude-focused basins, like the Permian and SCOOP/STACK plays, also are picking up steam as a new generation of oil rigs is deployed to the fields and vying for market share. In other words, production growth is no longer a one-man — uh, one-basin — show. Today, we look at what’s happening with gas production outside the Northeast. 

Sunday, 11/05/2017

For a time after crude oil prices crashed in 2014-15, the Marcellus/Utica Shale — and also the Permian Basin to some degree — had something of a monopoly on natural gas production growth in the Lower 48. With oil prices lagging behind $50/bbl, associated gas from crude-focused plays were either in decline or, at best, in a holding pattern. But now with crude above $50 and gas above $3.00/MMBtu, just about all the major basins — including Permian, SCOOP and STACK, even Haynesville — are growing again. Nearly all of the new supply is targeting the Gulf Coast, hoping to capture market share of burgeoning export demand from the region. But not all of that supply will be able to get to where the demand is, which means, supply competition for transportation capacity and demand is bound to heat up. Today, we wrap up a blog series on our U.S. gas supply and demand outlook, in particular how we see these dynamics will shake out over the next several years.

Monday, 10/30/2017

A year ago, Lower-48 natural gas production was in steep decline and averaging less than 71 Bcf/d by the fall, down from nearly 74 Bcf/d in February 2016. The oil-price crash of 2014 had taken a toll on gas output, led by a drop in Texas. To add to that, Marcellus/Utica gas supply — which had helped prop up overall domestic gas production volumes — was no longer growing enough to offset those losses. The resulting decline in Lower-48 production helped to correct a huge storage imbalance that had developed in the market following the brutally mild winter of 2015-16. That’s a far different picture than what’s happened in 2017. Gas production began this year below 70 Bcf/d, but has climbed to more than 74 Bcf/d in the past couple of months. And just last Thursday (October 26), production set a new record of 75.7 Bcf/d, exceeding the previous single-day record of 75.1 Bcf/d set in April 2015. Several of the major supply basins are contributing to that uptick, but Marcellus/Utica gas production is again leading the pack. Today, we check in on Northeast gas production using pipeline flow data. 

Sunday, 10/29/2017

Permian natural gas production recently topped 7 Bcf/d and shows no signs of slowing its growth trajectory. While new pipelines are expected to move additional Permian gas volumes to the Gulf Coast markets by the beginning of 2020, the current paths to those markets are full. Over time, Mexico is expected to export significant volumes directly from Waha, but current amounts are relatively small. As a result, increasing volumes of gas are leaving the Permian on the pipelines that head west to California and north to the Midcontinent. However, the pricing in these markets is downright ghoulish compared to the Gulf Coast and Permian gas is increasingly finding itself in scary market conditions. Today, we analyze recent pricing and flow trends in the Permian natural gas market.

Wednesday, 10/25/2017

Midstreamers in recent years have been in overdrive to de-bottleneck the Marcellus/Utica natural gas supply region as well as other growing gas supply basins and connect producers to where the demand is increasing. Significant transportation capacity has been added in recent years and much more is on the way. Constraints are starting to ease and producers are finding relief. But with production growing again, there are signs of potential new bottlenecks on the horizon. The RBN Growth Scenario estimates that Lower-48 gas production could increase to 92 Bcf/d by 2022. Demand is expected to grow too — primarily from exports — but no more (and potentially less) than supply in the same timeframe, leaving the market in a precarious equilibrium over the next five years. Thus, it will be all the more critical that incremental supply can access what new demand there will be. At the same time, demand growth will be concentrated in one geographic region — in the Gulf Coast states. In today’s blog, we explore the potential risks of overproduction as producers crank up drilling activity.