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.

Working on a Dream - Plans Afoot to Load Crude onto VLCCs at More Gulf Coast Ports

For the first time ever, U.S. crude oil exports have hit the 3 MMb/d mark — a once-unthinkable pace equivalent to sending out 10 fully loaded Very Large Crude Carriers a week. VLCCs, with their 2-MMbbl capacity and rock-bottom per-bbl delivery costs, are the most cost-effective way to transport crude to distant markets like China and India. But there’s still only one terminal on the Gulf Coast that can fill a VLCC to the brim — the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port — and pipeline connections from key Texas and Oklahoma plays to LOOP are limited. Elsewhere along the coast, VLCCs need to be loaded in offshore deep water by reverse lightering from smaller vessels — a slower and more costly loading process. Change is a-comin’, though. Companies are testing the docking and partial loading of VLCCs at terminals along the Texas coast, and plans for a number of greenfield facilities capable of partially — or even fully — loading the gargantuan vessels at the dock are being considered. Today, we review the latest efforts to streamline the loading of VLCCs and what they mean for crude-export economics.

We're Not in Kansas Anymore - The Conway vs. Mont Belvieu Propane/NGL Differential Blowout

For 10 years prior to 2018, the differential between propane prices at the Conway, KS, hub averaged less than a nickel per gallon below Mont Belvieu. In fact, between 2013 and 2017, the price spread was only 3.5 c/gal — excluding a winter 2014 Polar Vortex aberration — which basically reflects the cost of moving barrels 700 miles north-to-south. Not this year, though. After starting 2018 at 3 c/gal, the propane price spread took off, and has averaged 18 c/gal since April, some days moving above 26 c/gal, far above the per-bbl cost of transporting propane 700 miles south to Mont Belvieu. Is it pipeline capacity constraints? In part. But there is a much more significant factor driving this differential wider, not only in the propane market, but across all five of the NGL purity products. What is this mysterious factor? To find out, read on. But here’s your first clue: the problem is not in Kansas anymore.

Bakken the High Life Again - An Update on Natural Gas Flaring Challenges in North Dakota

Crude oil and natural gas production in the Bakken are at record highs, and with the surge in production has come infrastructure constraints and higher rates of flared gas, renewing concerns about possible production shut-ins. As gas production volumes exceeded gas processing capacity, the flaring rate in April 2018 rose to 15% of total monthly volumes –– precisely the current limit set by North Dakota’s gas capture plan and three percentage points above the 12% cap due to kick in this November. Rig counts, producers’ drilling plans and $70/bbl crude oil prices all point to further production growth, which means that without additional processing capacity — or a change in the gas-capture policy — it will be increasingly difficult for producers and processors to comply. Today, we look at the latest developments in Bakken gas production, gas-related infrastructure and the gas capture policy.

P.H.P., Dynamite! - Kinder Morgan and EagleClaw Midstream's Proposed Permian Highway Gas Pipeline

Permian natural gas fundamentals were rocked with some major infrastructure news on Monday, when Kinder Morgan announced its plans to build the 2-Bcf/d Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) from Waha to the Texas Gulf Coast. The announcement revealed that EagleClaw Midstream, a Blackstone Energy Partners portfolio company, has signed a letter of intent to become a 50% owner in the project and commit natural gas volumes to the pipeline. Adding firepower to the project, Apache Corp. is committing significant volumes to the pipeline too, with an option to take an ownership stake. While Kinder Morgan and EagleClaw Midstream stopped short of a final investment decision (FID), the destination flexibility that PHP’s tie-ins with other key pipes offer makes the project a major contender in the race to become the second new long-haul natural gas pipeline out of the Permian. Today, we discuss the latest infrastructure development in the Permian natural gas market.

Magical Mystery Tour, Part 3 - More on Mont Belvieu's Fractionation Capacity and Related NGL Assets

The NGL storage and fractionation complex in Mont Belvieu, TX, now offers 2.1 MMb/d of fractionation capacity — the largest concentration of fractionators in the world. As impressive as that may be, though, NGL production growth in the Permian Basin, the SCOOP/STACK and other liquids-rich plays is quickly ramping up the demand for fractionation services and challenging Mont Belvieu’s ability to keep up. A number of new fractionators are being added, but will they come online soon enough? Today, we continue our review of fractionators, NGL and purity-product storage and other key infrastructure within and near the NGL Capital of the World.

Here I Am, Baby (Come and Take Me) - A New Report Tying U.S. Natural Gas and Global LNG Markets

As U.S. LNG exports play an increasing role in the global market, the U.S. will not only be exporting its vast natural gas supplies but also to a degree its market realities — namely, the risks, opportunities and, at times, volatility of a highly liquid, fungible and economically-driven spot market. The global LNG market also has shifted toward more flexible and spot-oriented trade, opening the window for some ad lib wheeling and dealing based on the prevailing economic conditions at any given time. These two factors together will come with significant implications across the supply chain — from the producing basins to the pipeline transport routes and from the export terminals to the destination markets they are serving. This month, with feedgas receipts at Sabine Pass LNG down and an explosion on a key supply route from Appalachia to Louisiana, we are starting to see how this integration of the U.S. and global markets is likely to play out. To help you keep up with this complicated dynamic and extrapolate the big-picture impacts, today we introduce RBN’s new LNG Voyager Report, featuring a comprehensive, pipe-to-port-to-destination approach to understanding how U.S. LNG fits into the global market.

Trouble Every Day - Possible Fixes to the Permian's Gas Takeaway Constraints

Permian natural gas production increased by about 10% in the winter of 2017-18, from about 7.1 Bcf/d to 7.8 Bcf/d, but all spring it’s remained relatively flat, never averaging more than an even 8 Bcf/d. There’s good reason for that. While at first glance it might seem as if there’s enough pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Permian to accommodate considerably more production growth, the big pipes from the Waha Hub to Mexico are transporting far less than they’re capable of because of delays in developing new pipes and gas-fired power plants on the Mexican side of the border. And pipes from the Permian to California are running less than full, in part because of that state’s hard tilt to renewable power. That’s left the Permian with a takeaway conundrum that may not be fully solvable — at least for a time — until new, greenfield pipeline capacity from West Texas to the Gulf Coast comes online in 15 to 18 months. Today, we discuss the options that producers, gas processors and midstream companies may need to consider if things get really tight.

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