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She's Electric - Are E-Fracs a Fix for Permian Gas Constraints and Giveaway Prices?

Persistent natural gas takeaway constraints out of the associated gas-rich Permian have pushed Waha Hub prices to between $1 and $9/MMBtu below the Henry Hub benchmark for most of 2019. Concerns about gas flaring have flared. Tanker trucks transporting diesel fuel to drilling and completion operations in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico are clogging the region’s roads. And diesel’s not cheap, especially if you’re using thousands of gallons of it a day. With Permian wells producing far more natural gas than takeaway pipelines can handle, and with gas essentially free for the taking, is this the year when electric fracs — hydraulic fracturing powered by very locally sourced gas — gain a foothold in the U.S.’s hottest shale play? Today, we look at the economic and other forces at play in the e-frac debate.

Last week, Waha basis averaged $2.25/MMBtu and the Henry Hub daily prices averaged $2.24/MMBtu — in other words, folks selling gas at the Waha Hub had to pay someone a penny per MMBtu to take the gas off their hands. This seemingly crazy situation has become all too common in the Permian in recent months, as we’ve chronicled in a number of blogs, most recently in Sitting, Waiting, Wishing. The issue is pipeline takeaway capacity — there’s simply not enough of it. And with Permian gas production now rising past the 10-Bcf/d mark, the only near-to-mid-term hopes are (1) that new pipeline capacity and gas demand will become available in Mexico (allowing more gas to flow south across the border); (2) that the next big gas pipeline from the Permian to the Texas Coast (Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast Express, or GCX) starts up a few weeks earlier than its promised October 2019 online date; or (3) that regulators continue to allow more gas flaring. (See RBN’s weekly NATGAS Permian report for the latest on Permian gas production, takeaway capacity and prices.)

While the Permian produces extraordinary volumes of hydrocarbons — all that natural gas, plus more than 4 MMb/d of crude oil and lots of NGLs — it consumes a lot of energy too, mostly in the form of diesel fuel to power the trucks, drilling rigs, hydraulic fracturing pumps, compressors and other equipment needed to keep the oil patch humming. Refineries within or near the Permian meet a portion of the region’s diesel needs, but rising demand for the fuel has been spurring the development of new infrastructure — and the repurposing of existing assets — to bring additional fuel into the Permian from refineries along the Gulf Coast. (See our Fuel blog for more on that.)

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