Monday, 03/01/2021

Many leading energy companies have come to accept the reality that environmental, social, and governmental (ESG) matters are now front-and-center concerns to an increasing number of investors and lenders. Their challenge, of course, is that the hydrocarbon-based commodities they produce, process, transport, and refine are by their very nature prospective generators of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that the ESG movement is targeting. What’s an energy company to do? For many midstream companies, the answer — for now at least — is to focus on minimizing the release of methane, carbon dioxide (CO2), and other GHGs from their gas processing plants, pipelines, storage facilities, and fractionators, and on switching to renewables to power their operations. Today, we continues our series with a look at how midstream companies are addressing investors’ and lenders’ concerns about the sector’s GHG releases.

Wednesday, 02/24/2021

In many ways, the natural gas shortages and price spikes that came with last week’s Deep Freeze had nothing at all to do with hydrogen. There were no “green” hydrogen plants that froze up in the cold, no withdrawals of stored hydrogen into distributed local fuel cells backing the power grid, no shortages of fuel for hydrogen vehicles. None of that occurred because hardly any of that infrastructure exists just yet. But that doesn’t mean there was no link between last week’s natural gas market and existing forms of hydrogen production, namely “gray” hydrogen used to produce ammonia, most of which is used in the manufacture of fertilizers, and which makes up about a quarter of the hydrogen market. In fact, there was a strong connection, one that highlights the flexibility of industrial natural gas use during price spikes and possibly exposes a vulnerability in gray hydrogen production. Today, we continue our series on hydrogen with a look at how the ammonia industry responded to the recent spike in natural gas prices.

Wednesday, 02/17/2021

Many of us need a break from natural gas market mayhem, rolling blackouts, and frozen pipes, so we’re turning to a very different topic — at least for a day. ESG, or more specifically the environmental part of the too-important-to-ignore environment/social/governmental movement. The fact is, for many investors, lenders, and others who give heavy weight to ESG in their decisions, the companies that produce, process, transport, refine, and/or export hydrocarbons are automatically suspect. At the same time, though, it is broadly understood that crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs remain essential commodities, and that it could take decades for economies around the globe to significantly reduce their dependence on them. So, where does that leave hydrocarbon-centric companies in 2021’s ESG-conscious world? Today, we continue our series on ESG issues and how they relate to players in the energy industry.

Wednesday, 02/10/2021

When it comes to hydrogen, it’s fair to say that hard data on what it costs to produce the fuel is difficult to come by, particularly for “green” hydrogen. If you’ve followed our current work on the fuel, we hope you know at least a few more facts than the average person on the street, though we must admit we’ve really just been scratching the surface so far. Diving deeper into the nitty gritty of hydrogen production costs and economics is not for the faint of heart, but it’s necessary, unless you are of the mind to dismiss the fuel altogether. (We are not.) While it’s very early days for many production pathways to hydrogen, especially green hydrogen, time will tell if the costs to produce it follow a downward trend similar to those for producing hydrocarbons from shale or remain at levels so high the current hydrogen bubble bursts like others before it. We’re optimistic the former may pan out, and in today’s blog we continue our series on hydrogen with a look at the factors impacting production costs.

Tuesday, 02/09/2021

The run-up in crude oil prices the past couple of months has supported a rise in energy stock prices — since early November, the S&P 500 Energy Sector Index has increased by more than 40%. Yet, many investors, lenders and others remain wary of oil and gas companies, not only due to the energy industry’s historic volatility but also the unique social, political and financial pressures that hydrocarbon producers, midstreamers, and refiners face in demonstrating that they are addressing environmental, social, and governance issues. ESG has come to the fore in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere, and will shape activity in the oil patch this decade and beyond, and energy companies that ignore it or only pay lip service do so at their peril. Today, we begin a series on the growing significance of ESG and how upstream, midstream, and downstream players are incorporating it into their strategies and operations.

Wednesday, 01/27/2021

Based on the response we received to our first-ever hydrogen blog last fall, it’s fair to say we didn’t waste this space on a fringe subject. To be honest, the level of interest in hydrogen far exceeded our expectations, and suggested that we might have even been a little bit late to the party — but fashionably so, if you ask us. In the weeks since then, we’ve spent a fair amount of time distilling the tremendous amount of news flow and reading material that was either sent our way or popped up in the daily news feeds. You could go a lot of different directions with hydrogen and it’s still very easy, in our view, to get lost in the forest of green energy technology. So, as we are wont to do, we have stuck to our simple approach of tackling this fuel just like we do with hydrocarbons, and we are first turning our attention upstream. Today, we continue our series on hydrogen with a look at the top production methods for the fuel.

Monday, 01/11/2021

In the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis started hitting the energy sector hard, many refiners made the tough decision to dramatically cut back capital spending plans and operating costs for the year in order to weather the storm. While these cuts were swift and sizeable, they were not absolute — they couldn’t be, given that refining is a capital-intensive industry with complex assets that require seemingly constant maintenance, equipment swap-outs, and upgrades. And then there’s the added pressure that refiners also need to invest in keeping their facilities in compliance with changing environmental rules, and to consider the overall impact of investments in new, “greener” fuels, such as renewable diesel, that may help them improve their profitability going forward. Today, we look at refiner capital spending in the context of recent history and highlights some of the growth projects being pursued in the sector.

Thursday, 11/12/2020

Everywhere you look these days, someone is talking about hydrogen and, if you’re not well-versed in emerging technologies aimed at reducing carbon, you may not know what any of it means. A quick internet search isn’t much help either, as you will likely get lost quickly in discussions of fuel cell efficiency and electrolysis technology developments, not to mention the various “colors” of hydrogen and the myriad of ways it can be stored and transported. Don’t bother turning to your traditional green energy gurus either, as hydrogen is just one of many competing approaches to reducing the world’s carbon footprint, and electric vehicle folks like Elon Musk aren’t big fans. All the same, hydrogen news and investment plans seem to proliferate daily, and understanding this fuel — which, by the way, is not new to the energy space — seems prudent. At least that’s our view, which is why we today start a series to help us hydrocarbon experts unravel the mysteries behind the recent hydrogen ruckus.

Wednesday, 09/23/2020

There’s no doubt about it: California’s decade-long efforts to expand the use of solar, wind, and other renewable energy and improve energy efficiency have enabled the state to significantly reduce its consumption of natural gas for power generation. But the Golden State’s rapid shift to a greener, lower-carbon electricity sector — and its push to shut down gas-fired power plants — has come at a cost, namely an increased risk of rolling blackouts, especially during extended heat waves in the West when neighboring states have less “surplus” electricity to send California’s way. The main problem is that while solar facilities provide a big share of the state’s midday power needs, there’s sometimes barely enough capacity from gas plants and other conventional generation sources to take up the slack when the sun sinks in the late afternoon and early evening. Today, we discuss recent developments on the power front in the most populous state, and what they mean for natural gas consumption there.

Monday, 08/17/2020

The U.S. power sector’s shift to natural gas over the past few years has been a boon to gas producers across the Lower 48, especially in the Northeast. Scores of new gas-fired power plants have been built there during the Shale Era, and a number of coal-fired, oil-fired, and nuclear plants have been taken offline. New England is a case in point; gas-fired power now accounts for about half of the installed generating capacity in the six-state region (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine) — three times what it was 20 years ago. But New Englanders have a love-hate relationship with natural gas, and with renewables and energy storage on the rise, gas’s role in the land of the Red Sox, hard-to-understand accents, and lobsta’ rolls may well have peaked. Today, we discuss recent developments on the natural gas and power generation fronts in the northeastern corner of the U.S.

Monday, 07/06/2020

They’re generally small in size, but renewable diesel refineries are popping up in many parts of the U.S., incentivized by government programs aimed at reducing carbon emissions and very gradually weaning Americans — and Canadians — from crude oil-based diesel fuel. Recently, HollyFrontier Corp. announced that it will be converting its decades-old Cheyenne, WY, refinery into a renewable diesel facility. While the news of another entrant into the renewable diesel market is not surprising, the complete shutdown and transformation of an existing refinery for this purpose marks only the second time this has occurred in the U.S. Today, we discuss HollyFrontier’s plans and provide an update on renewable diesel supply and demand dynamics.

Wednesday, 07/01/2020

Solar photovoltaic projects accounted for an impressive 40% of all the new electric generating capacity installed in the U.S. in 2019 — the third time since 2015 that solar additions outpaced installations of natural-gas capacity. And the early 2020s are shaping up as another good period for solar, especially in states that offer both intense sun and the broad expanses of land required for large-scale solar projects. Texas is a case in point; some 8,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity is expected to be added there in the 2020-22 period. Solar power, like wind power before it, has come to be so prolific in the Lone Star State that you’d think it would be having a significant impact on how much gas-fired generation is needed day to day, right? Today, we discuss the increasing role of solar generation in the second-largest state and its impact on the demand for traditional power plant fuels.

Thursday, 12/05/2019

Production of alternative, non-petroleum-based fuel continues to be a hot topic around the globe as government policies have incentivized or even mandated these products with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., we’ve seen waves of ethanol and biodiesel enter the fuel supply chain, but the latest commodity that has piqued industry interest is renewable diesel, whose chemical characteristics make it a particularly desirable replacement for conventional distillate. Today, we provide an overview of the renewable diesel market, the legislative programs in North America that are incentivizing its production, and the projects currently on the books to produce it.

Wednesday, 09/27/2017

Renewable and hydroelectric generation has chomped away at natural gas market share of total power generation along the West Coast this year. The latest electric generation data from the Energy Information Administration shows power sourced from renewables (not including hydro) in California, Oregon and Washington combined in April 2017 through July 2017 edged up about 1% year-on-year, while hydroelectric generation averaged 23% higher year-on-year. At the same time, natural gas-fired generation fell 16% year-on-year. The reduced gas-fired generation demand, along with reduced gas storage capacity in the West, has displaced natural gas from the region and disrupted recent gas flow patterns. These shifts provide a glimpse of what gas flows and pricing dynamics could look like as more renewable capacity is added. In today’s blog, we analyze the effects of electric generation trends on regional gas flows.

Monday, 12/12/2016

The Western states continue to ramp up their renewable energy mandates—California and Oregon, for instance, plan to get at least 50% of their electricity from renewable sources, and Colorado has set a 30% requirement. Ironically, this renewable energy trend puts a spotlight on natural gas, whose at-the-ready supply will be needed to fuel the West’s increasing number of gas-fired power plants at a moment’s notice to offset the up-and-down output of solar facilities and wind farms. One way to help ensure natural gas availability is have gas storage capacity close at hand. Today we look at ongoing efforts to add tens of billions of cubic feet of natural gas storage in the Western U.S., primarily to help ensure the fueling of nearby gas-fired power plants that back up variable-output solar and wind.