Deep Water - Contenders in the Race to Build Crude Oil Export Terminals Off the Texas Coast

As Gulf Coast marine terminal owners consider ways to at least partially load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) at their facilities, a handful of midstream companies also are planning offshore terminals in deep water that would allow the full loading of VLCCs via pipeline. Projects under development by Oiltanking and others for sites along the Texas coast would appear to have at least two legs up on the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP. For one, they’d have more direct access to the Permian, Eagle Ford and other crudes flowing to coastal Texas. For another, the new terminals would be focused on crude exports — no double-duty for them. Today, we begin a review of the projects vying to be the first LOOP-like project in the deep waters off the Lone Star State.

Coming Up - The Next Round of U.S. Liquefaction Plants and LNG Export Terminals

Federal regulators are preparing to accelerate their review of a wave of applications to build new liquefaction plants and LNG export terminals — most of them sited along the Gulf Coast and scheduled for commercial start-up in the early 2020s. Only a few of the multibillion-dollar projects are likely to advance to final investment decisions (FID), construction and operation, but even they will have profound impacts on U.S. natural gas production, pipeline flows, and the global LNG market. Today, we begin a look at projects still awaiting FIDs, their developers’ efforts to line up Sales and Purchase Agreements (SPAs), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) push to review project applications in a timely manner. Warning: this blog includes a few ever-so-subtle promotions for RBN’s new LNG Voyager Report.

Breakthru - Infrastructure Additions Send U.S. Gas Exports to Mexico Soaring Above 5 Bcf/d for the First Time Ever

After idling near the 4.6-Bcf/d level for months, piped gas flows to Mexico raced to a record of more than 5 Bcf/d for the first time earlier in July, and have hung on to that level since. This new export volume signifies incremental demand for the U.S. gas market at a time when the domestic storage inventory is already approaching the five-year low. At the same time, it would also signify some much-needed relief for Permian producers hoping to avert disastrous takeaway constraints — that is, if the export growth is happening where it’s needed the most, from West Texas. However, that’s not exactly the case. What’s behind the sudden increase, where is it happening and what are the prospects for continued growth near-term? Today, we analyze the recent trends in exports to Mexico.

Got That Swing - U.S. Producers' New, Critically Important Role in Global Crude Oil Markets

U.S. crude oil production has doubled in the past eight years, from 5.5 MMb/d in 2010 to a record 11.0 MMb/d this month — an astonishing 9% compound annual growth rate. But there’s more to the Shale Revolution than higher production. Its most noteworthy characteristic may be a newfound market responsiveness that U.S. production volumes have to price, in which U.S. producers flex their “sweet spots” and an at-the-ready inventory of drilled-but-uncompleted wells (DUCs) that can be ramped up when prices warrant and pulled back when they don’t. This newfound flexibility has profoundly changed the role of the U.S. in global markets. In today’s blog, we take a big-picture look at crude oil production growth, the special ability of U.S. producers to respond to shifts in crude pricing, and the potential for the U.S. to have a stabilizing role in global markets.

Trouble Every Day, Part 2 - Permian Producers' Options When Severe Gas Takeaway Constraints Arise

Permian producers continue to walk a tightrope, almost perfectly balanced between still-rising production of natural gas and the availability of gas pipeline takeaway capacity to transport that gas to market. Don’t get us wrong. There are gas takeaway constraints out of the Permian, as evidenced by a Waha cash basis that averaged more than 50 cents/MMBtu last week. But a combination of factors — including increased flows to Mexico and a couple of small, under-the-radar expansions of existing takeaway pipes — has prevented the Waha basis from tumbling to $1 or even $2/MMBtu. But that big fall may still happen — in fact, you could say that odds are that severe takeaway constraints and differential blowouts will occur within the next few months. If and when that happens, what can producers do to quickly regain their balance? Today, we discuss recent developments in Permian gas markets and the options that producers, gas processors and midstream companies may need to consider if things get really tight.

Magical Mystery Tour, Part 6 - More Texas Fractionation Capacity Beyond the Mont Belvieu Hub

The NGL storage and fractionation hub at Mont Belvieu, TX, grabs all the attention, but more than 1 MMb/d of fractionation capacity — nearly one-third of Texas’s total — is located elsewhere in the Lone Star State. And with NGL production and demand for fractionation services soaring in the Permian, SCOOP/STACK and other nearby plays, the market will need all the fractionation capacity it can find. We’ve heard that there’s little, if any, gap between what the existing fractionators in Mont Belvieu can handle and what they’re being asked to process. That’s music to the ears of fractionation-plant owners elsewhere in Texas — assuming they aren’t already at capacity themselves, they might be able to pick up some overflow business from Mont Belvieu. Today, we continue our review of fractionators and other key NGL-related infrastructure along the Gulf Coast.

Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win - Lotteries, Shippers and Trends in Midland Price Differentials

Since early this year, the Midland crude differential has continued to widen, trading one day last week at a discount of $15.75/bbl to West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing, the widest spread since August 2014 before settling back to $11.25/bbl on Monday. The wide price differential is a result of fast-growing production in the Permian and bottlenecked takeaway pipelines. But the trajectory of this increasing price spread has been anything but smooth. Lately, we have seen a blip in the price differentials right around the 19th or 20th of the month. In each of the last three months, for a short-lived 24 to 48 hours, the Midland-Cushing price differential has narrowed by $2/bbl or more as Permian shippers have gone on feeding frenzies. Today, we look at these brief upticks in pricing and the pipeline and trader mechanics behind them.

Magical Mystery Tour, Part 5 - Texas Fractionation Capacity Beyond the Mont Belvieu Hub

Mont Belvieu may be the epicenter of NGL storage, fractionation and distribution along the Gulf Coast, but the rest of Texas offers almost half as much fractionation capacity — about 1 MMb/d of it — and a good bit of storage and pipeline connectivity too. These are particularly important facts in the summer of 2018, when demand for fractionation services in Mont Belvieu is at or near an all-time high and increasing volumes of NGLs are headed toward the hub. So what else has the Lone Star State got on the fractionation and NGL storage front? And are these assets experiencing the same strong demand as their counterparts in Mont Belvieu? Today, we continue our review of fractionators and key NGL-related infrastructure.

Bad Moon Rising, Part 2 - How the IMO's Low-sulfur Bunker Rule May Impact the Refining Sector

The planned implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s rule slashing allowable sulfur-dioxide emissions from ocean-going ships on January 1, 2020, would create significant demand for 0.5%-sulfur marine fuel — a refined product that few refiners produce today. That could present a big challenge to the global refining sector, which will be called upon to produce marine fuel that complies with “IMO 2020,” as the rule is commonly known. But refiners have stepped up before, and if the IMO 2020 mandate proves to be unachievable and would put global commerce at risk, there could be ways to deal with it — including exemptions or implementation delays. In any case, the move toward much cleaner bunker fuel will be a boon to complex refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast and elsewhere that can break down bottom-of-the-barrel “residual” fuel oil into feedstocks for gasoline, diesel and other high-value products. Today, we continue our analysis of IMO 2020 and its effects.

Sky's the Limit - Record Gas Production Reins in Futures Prices

After treading near the 79-Bcf/d level this past spring, Lower 48 natural gas production surged about 1.5 Bcf/d higher in the last three weeks of June to record highs approaching 82 Bcf/d by month’s end. The supply gains suspended the market’s bullish view of the persistently large storage deficit compared with last year and the five-year average and reeled in the prompt CME/NYMEX Henry Hub futures contract from the $3/MMBtu mark — at least for now. Where did the gains occur and how much of that influx truly is new production versus volumes returning from seasonal maintenance? Today, we examine the drivers behind the recent production jump.

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