Record high production with prices still rangebound! As of year-end 2017, Lower-48 natural gas production was at an all-time high — 77 Bcf/d and rising. NGL production from gas processing was at 3.7 MMb/d, the highest since EIA started recording the numbers. And U.S. crude oil output stood at 9.8 MMb/d, within spitting distance of the 10 MMb/d record set back in October/November 1970. All this with the price of WTI crude oil no more than 9% higher than it was this time last year, and natural gas prices 20% below year-end 2016. Yup, the dogs are out. Productivity is the culprit: longer laterals, super-intense completions, manufacturing-process pad drilling — the list goes on. Clearly the U.S. can’t absorb all this production growth, so the export market must be the answer. Or is it? Are we really that confident that world markets will make room for still more U.S. hydrocarbons? If not, what does it mean for prices? And ultimately, how will these prices impact U.S. producers? These are big questions, and with this much turmoil in the market it is impossible to know what will happen. Impossible? Nah. No mere market turmoil will dissuade RBN from sticking our collective necks out to peer into our crystal ball one more time to see what 2018 holds.
Posts from Rusty Braziel
So here we are. Last workday of 2017. Which means it’s almost time again to post our annual Top 10 RBN Prognostications for the upcoming year. According to our long-standing tradition, we’ll do that on the first workday of the New Year — Tuesday, January 2, 2018. But today, it’s time to look back, too see how those 10 Prognostications we posted way back at the start of 2017 — The Year of the Rooster in the Chinese calendar — held up. Yes, we actually check our work! In today’s blog, we grade ourselves on our year-ago views of how 2017 would turn out for energy markets.
The new normal. Or at least the market’s perception of a new normal. That’s how we will remember 2017. Producers have come to terms with the possibility of crude prices in the $50-60/bbl range for a long time to come, and natural gas stuck around $3/MMBtu. But even in the face of this sober market outlook, crude oil production is near its all-time record. And Lower-48 natural gas blew past its historic maximum a few weeks back. Increasingly the biggest challenges facing the market are related to infrastructure –– where will all these hydrocarbons find a home. As we have over the past six years, RBN tracked these trends in 2017 as they played out, and now at the end of the year, it’s time to look back to see what topics generated the most interest from you, our readers. We monitor the hit rate for each of our blogs that go out to about 23,000 of our members each day, and the number of hits tells you a lot about what is going on in energy markets. So once again, we look into the rearview mirror to check out the top blogs of 2017, based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits.
Last Wednesday, November 22, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission acted on a Petition for Declaratory Order (PDO) by Magellan Midstream Partners in which the midstreamer asked for FERC’s blessing to establish a marketing affiliate to “buy, sell and ship” crude oil on pipelines owned by Magellan as well as pipes owned by other companies. Today Magellan does not have such an affiliate, although many of its competitors do. Most of those competitors use their affiliates to generate incremental throughput on their pipelines, sometimes by doing transactions that result in losses for the marketing affiliate, but that are still profitable for the overall company because the marketing arm pays its affiliated pipeline the published tariff transportation rate. FERC denied Magellan’s request, coming down hard on such transactions as “rebates” specifically prohibited by the law governing interstate oil pipelines. In today’s blog, we take a preliminary look at FERC’s Magellan order and what it could mean for U.S. crude oil markets.
For the past three years, the price for U.S. WTI crude oil at Cushing has remained close to $50/bbl while natural gas at the Henry Hub has gravitated in a range around $3.00/MMbtu. It has been one of the most stable periods of energy prices in decades. But below the surface of stability at the major hubs, prices at the regional level have been wildly volatile, driving dramatic swings in geographic basis. Alternating cycles of basis blowouts followed by basis collapses have become standard fare for U.S. oil, gas and NGLs as producers ramp up production, local prices get hammered due to capacity constraints, midstream companies respond by (over) building infrastructure, and regional price differentials implode due to overcapacity. With more production growth and infrastructure on the way, these basis cycles will keep on coming. In today’s blog, we’ll consider a few of the market sectors particularly susceptible to basis volatility, and provide a subliminal advertorial for our upcoming School of Energy, where we explore both the underlying causes and the outlook for future basis cycles.
Today’s energy markets are being rocked by new technologies, massive flow shifts to exports, and a myriad of new midstream infrastructure projects — to say nothing of the continuing onslaught of Mother Nature. It is more important than ever to understand how the markets for crude oil, natural gas and NGLs are tied together, and that is why it is time again for RBN’s School of Energy. But … this is not the best time for our Houston conference venue. So we’ve made the decision to GO VIRTUAL! We will webcast the entire School in real-time, with the same content, the same faculty and the same models. And since an understanding of the new realities of today’s energy markets is so essential, we have renewed, restructured and rebuilt our curriculum to CONNECT THE DOTS across our content, data and models. That’s the theme for our upcoming School of Energy 2017 – Virtual Edition, which we summarize in today’s advertorial blog.
Crude oil prices are up more than $5/bbl over the past couple of weeks, mostly due to Middle East tensions and the latest readings of OPEC tea leaves. U.S. markets have contributed little to the bullish trend, with crude oil inventories hanging in there at 533.4 million barrels, just under the all-time record hit last week. U.S. production is up almost 800 Mb/d since the low last summer and a whopping 550 Mb/d since the OPEC/NOPEC deal. That’s some decidedly bearish statistics. If these trends hold, the U.S. could completely offset the 1.2 MMb/d in OPEC production cuts in another six months. But that begs the questions, where exactly do these statistics come from, and how should they be interpreted? The first answer is simple: it is the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But where do they get the numbers? And what can we learn about the crude oil market through a better understanding of the sources and assumptions behind these numbers? That is our topic in today’s blog.
U.S. crude oil production is back above where it was this time last year—at 9.1 MMb/d, 700 Mb/d over the low point last summer. Nearly 400 Mb/d of that surge has been since end-November when the OPEC deal was announced. So, in less than four months, U.S. producers have already taken one-third of the 1.2 MMb/d market share OPEC gave up. No doubt about it: The U.S. E&P sector is back. But not because prices are above $60 or $70/bbl. Instead, this recovery is being driven by rising productivity in the oil patch. And that makes it a whole different kind of animal than we’ve seen before, with implications for upstream, midstream, downstream and just about anything that touches energy markets. That’s the theme for our upcoming School of Energy—Spring 2017—“Back in the Saddle Again—Market Implications of the 2017 U.S. Oil and Gas Recovery” that we summarize in today’s blog.
After enduring 2015-16 it is about time for some good news, right? And that’s just what 2017 is shaping up to be—a relatively good news year for energy markets. But don’t go crazy with this. The key word in that sentence is “relatively’” —which means better than 2015-16, but if you are looking for that other “R” word (“recovery”) you won’t see it here. Crude prices will be up some, but nothing like the first few years of this decade. Natural gas and NGL prices will be stronger too. But both may have to wait still another year before seeing a real upswing in 2018. Nevertheless, 2017 is looking good for most of the energy market. Not for everyone, mind you. Many will struggle because their assets are in the wrong places, they are at the wrong end of the food chain, or they were simply unprepared for this new market reality. How will you know the difference between the winners and losers? Well of course, by looking deeply into the RBN crystal ball to see what 2017—Year of the Rooster—has in store for us. Cock-a-doodle-do!
A long-standing tradition at RBN is our annual Top 10 RBN Energy Prognostications blog, where we lay out the most important developments we see for the year ahead. Unlike so many forecasters, we also look back to see how we did with our forecasts the previous year. That’s right! We actually check our work. Usually we can get that all into a single blog. But a lot will be coming at us in 2017, so this time around we are splitting our Prognostications into two pieces. Tomorrow’s blog will look into the RBN crystal ball one more time to see what 2017 has in store for energy markets. But today we look back. Back to what we posted on January 3, 2016. Recall back in those days that crude production had not started to decline materially, West Texas Intermediate (WTI; the U.S. light-crude benchmark) was at $37/bbl, natural gas was $2.33/MMbtu in the middle of winter, Congress had just OK’ed crude exports, and weak exploration and production companies (E&Ps) were dropping like flies. Now let’s look at RBN’s Prognostications for 2016.
From the depths of despair in the first quarter when WTI crude collapsed to $26.21/bbl on February 11 and Henry Hub gas crashed to $1.64/MMbtu on March 3, we are back, sort of. Growth in the rig count has been nothing short of spectacular, up 249 or 62% from the low point in late May. Crude oil, natural gas and NGL prices have all more than doubled since the lows of Q1. Yes, 2016 has been quite a roller coaster ride for energy markets. Here in the RBN blogosphere, we’ve documented this saga every step of the way. Now at the end of the year, as we’ve done for the past five years, it is time to look back. Back over the past 12 months––to see which blogs have generated the most interest from you, our readers. We track the hit rate for each of our daily blogs, and the number of hits tells you a lot about what is going on in energy markets. So once again we look into the rearview mirror at the top blogs of 2016 based on numbers of website hits in “The 2016 Hydrocarbon Top 10 RBN Blogs”.
Some 3.2 Bcf/d of new LNG export capacity will be coming online along Texas’s Gulf Coast over the next two and a half years, and 8 Bcf/d of new natural gas pipeline capacity is under development to transport vast quantities of gas through Texas to the Mexican border. But while gas-export opportunities abound, Texas gas production is down, mostly due to a big fall-off in Eagle Ford output, so exporters will need to pull gas from as far away as the Marcellus/Utica to meet their fast-growing requirements. That will flip Texas from a net producing region to a net demand region once when you factor in exports that will flow through the state. This profound shift will put extraordinary pressure on Texas’s unusually complex network of interstate and intrastate pipeline systems, which will need to be reworked and expanded to deal with the new gas-flow patterns. It also will have a significant effect on regional gas pricing––putting a premium on Texas prices. These issues and more are addressed in RBN’s latest Drill Down Report, highlights of which we discuss in today’s blog.
The natural gas pipeline grid in Texas is undergoing a historic transformation as interstate pipelines designed to move gas north and east from the Gulf Coast region are being reversed, enabling Marcellus/Utica gas to flow to LNG export markets in Louisiana and Texas, and via Texas for pipeline export to Mexico. With a history of oil and gas production going back more than 100 years, no region in the world has a more convoluted network of pipelines than Texas. The state can be viewed as a dense “spaghetti bowl” of interconnected interstate and intrastate systems that defies traditional gas market analysis, in part because intrastate pipelines do not post receipts and deliveries on their systems as required by federally regulated interstate pipelines. However, it is possible to assess the dynamics of regional flows and capacities by examining the morass of flow data available from interstate pipelines in the region that connect to the intrastates. To help make sense of this data, RBN has developed a simplified model that facilitates an understanding of Texas natural gas flows and capacities that we call (unsurprisingly since it’s RBN) the Fretboard Model because the region’s interstate pipelines and capacity constraints look (with just a bit of artistic license) very much like a guitar fretboard. In today’s blog, we introduce this model.
For the past month, WTI crude oil prices have averaged $49/bbl, trading within a relatively narrow $7/bbl range. Two years ago, this price would have been devastating for producers, but not so in late 2016. The crude directed rig count is up by 127 since May, +11 just last week. U.S. crude production is down about 1.2 MMb/d since April 2015, but over the past three months has stabilized at 8.5 MMb/d. On the gas side, since the second quarter of 2016 a combination of lower natural gas production and higher demand (from the power, industrial and export sectors) has worked off a big inventory surplus. Consequently, U.S. natural gas prices are up more than 70% since March, even considering the big price drop over the past week. NGL prices are at the highest value relative to crude for any October since 2012. Is this it? Is this what a Shale Era recovery looks like? In today’s blog, we consider a possible road map for the next couple of years. Warning, we have also included a short infomercial for RBN’s School of Energy next week in Houston.
Over the next three years, 16 pipeline projects are in the works to add more than 14 Bcf/d of new take-away capacity to move Marcellus/Utica natural gas to the south and west, relieving takeaway capacity constraints that have plagued the Northeast since 2012-13. Much of this gas will be moved to the Gulf Coast, primarily via reversals of pipes that traditionally transported gas north and east, and will target rapidly growing LNG and Mexico export markets. But few of these pipeline projects get the gas all the way to those export outlets. The new supplies must traverse “Miles and Miles of Texas” (and Louisiana) to reach the export gateways and along the way deal with shifting production trends within the state, pipeline systems that are "telescoped the wrong way" constraining capacity of the Texas pipeline grid, and unique regulatory considerations associated with Texas intrastate pipelines. These issues are addressed in RBN’s latest Drill Down Report, highlights of which we discuss in today’s blog.