December 2019 U.S. crude oil production soared 1.1 MMb/d above this time last year to 12.8 MMb/d. It’s a similar story for natural gas, with Lower-48 production climbing to 95 Bcf/d, up 6 Bcf/d over the year. That’s a little off the breakneck growth rate of 2018, but still quite healthy, even in the context of Shale Era increases. And it all happened in the face of continued infrastructure constraints, crude prices that fell from the mid-$60s/bbl in April to average $55/bbl from May through October, and gas prices that in several months were crushed to the lowest level in 20 years. It’s all too much supply to be absorbed by the U.S. domestic market. And that means more pipes to get the supply to the Gulf Coast and more export facilities to get the volumes on the water. What has all this meant for the market’s response to these developments? Well, at RBN we have a way to track that. We scrupulously monitor the website “hit rate” of the RBN blogs fired off to about 28,000 people each day and, at the end of each year, we look back to see which topics generated the most interest from you, our readers. That hit rate reveals a lot about major market trends. So, once again, we look into the rearview mirror to check out the top blogs of the year based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits.
Every week, traders far and wide watch inventories at the storage hub of Cushing, OK, for insight into the U.S. crude oil market. Cushing has long been the epicenter for crude trading in the U.S., and while that role has shifted as the Gulf Coast gains more prominence, inventories at the Oklahoma hub are still a valuable indicator for traders looking for supply and demand trends. Recently, we’ve seen Cushing stocks drop significantly, declining for 11 straight weeks since the beginning of July to their lowest levels since last Thanksgiving. Today, we review the recent drop at Cushing, and discuss how a few changes in supply and demand fundamentals, plus strong pricing motives, helped drag down stockpiles this summer.
U.S. energy markets are coming to the end of their latest infrastructure cycle just as the reality of tight capital markets is sinking in. Permian crude oil and natural gas takeaway constraints are being relieved by new pipeline capacity. Long-delayed LNG terminals and NGL-consuming petrochemical plants are coming online. Essentially all growth in crude, gas and NGL production volumes is being exported to global markets that — so far, at least — have been absorbing the incremental supply. But there is a chill in the air. Besides the recent bump-up in crude prices tied to last weekend’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, commodity prices have remained stubbornly low. Easy access to capital is a thing of the past. No longer can private equity count on the build-it-and-flip asset investment model. Yup, it’s another inflection point in the Shale Revolution that we’ll start exploring today. All this has huge implications for energy flows, infrastructure utilization and price relationships across all of the energy commodities.
Energy markets are constantly changing, but pipelines can take years to complete, and once they’re in the ground, that’s where they stay. Therefore, it’s critical for midstream companies to build as much flexibility as possible into their plans for new pipelines and other infrastructure, because you never know what the markets for crude oil, natural gas, NGLs and refined products might have in store. Energy Transfer apparently has that flexibility in mind as it’s been building out its Mariner East pipeline system across Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex (MHIC) near Philadelphia. Today, we consider recent developments regarding these key midstream assets in the Northeast and their still-evolving uses.
The margin for producing ethylene by steam-cracking ethane has been less than a dime per pound since mid-March 2018, and less than a nickel for nearly nine of the past 15-and-a-half months. In fact, for two weeks last September, the ethylene-from-ethane margin fell below zero. And yet, a joint venture of two of the world’s savviest companies — energy giant ExxonMobil and petchem behemoth Saudi Basic Industries Corp., or SABIC — recently committed to building what will be the world’s largest ethane steam cracker: a 4-billion-pounds/year facility to be constructed near Corpus Christi by 2022. Is this a case of blind optimism? No, not when you factor in the cracker’s location, the JV’s concurrent plan to construct two polyethylene plants and a monoethylene glycol plant right next door, and the co-developers’ global market reach. Today, we discuss the thinking behind ExxonMobil and SABIC’s big investment in Texas’s San Patricio County.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) announced last week (on June 26) that it was shutting down its 335-Mb/d refinery in Philadelphia, PA. This announcement came just five days after a major fire destroyed a portion of the refinery, which turned out to be the last straw for the facility that has been struggling financially for many years. Today, we consider the various market impacts that will likely follow the closure of the PES refinery, including its effect on fuel supply, where the closure leaves refinery production capacity in the region and how the refined product supply will need to adjust in response.
Permian gas marketers were likely breathing a sigh of relief earlier this month when news came that the developers behind the Whistler Pipeline had made a final investment decision (FID) to proceed with the new 2.0-Bcf/d link between the Permian and South Texas. The project provides a crucial link in the gas takeaway picture for the Permian and makes it less likely that gas pipeline capacity constraints in the future will result in the negative prices that are plaguing the present-day gas markets in West Texas. Combined with the two other Permian greenfield gas pipelines that have taken FID — Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast Express (GCX) and Permian Highway Pipeline (PHP) — there is now ~6 Bcf/d of incremental Permian supply pointed at the Texas Gulf Coast over the next two years. That’s great news for Permian producers, as well as demand centers along the coast, where tremendous growth in LNG exports is under way. Today, we detail the third natural gas pipeline being built from the Permian to the Texas Gulf Coast.
Crude oil production in the U.S. continues to rise — it currently stands at 12.4 MMb/d, up more than 1.6 MMb/d from 12 months ago, according to the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). New pipeline projects from Cushing and West Texas to the Gulf Coast are being developed to ensure there is enough flow capacity to move all those barrels from the wellhead to refineries and export docks. Which leads to two critical questions — namely, how much actual crude oil export capacity is already in place at the Gulf Coast, and how much more needs to be developed? Today, we begin a series presenting our latest analysis of crude oil export capacity in the U.S., our forecast for total export demand, and our view of what it all means for the large slate of potential projects.
Crude differentials in the Permian are getting squeezed. The spread between Midland and WTI at Cushing widened out to near $18/bbl at one point in 2018, when pipeline capacity was scarce. But that same spread averaged a discount of only $0.25/bbl in March 2019. Differentials between Midland and the more desired sales destination at the Gulf Coast are also in a vise. What gives? Production in the Permian continues to climb, but the rapid pace of growth we saw in 2018 has slowed down a bit lately, with fewer rigs in service and fewer new wells being brought on each month. More importantly, we’ve seen several new pipeline expansions and pipeline conversions come online in bits and bursts — in some cases, ahead of schedule — and this new chunk of pipeline space has compressed Midland pricing. In today’s blog, we begin a series on Permian crude takeaway capacity and differentials, with a look at the handful of new projects that have come online in the past few months and what has happened to Permian prices as a result.
Permian natural gas prices are having a rough spring. After a volatile winter that saw two periods of negative-priced trades followed by a period of relatively strong prices, values at the Permian’s major trading hubs hit the skids earlier this week just as Spring Break set in for most in the Lone Star state. Once again, pipeline maintenance and burgeoning production appear to be the main culprits, but this upheaval feels different, in our view. Clearly, the price crash has reached a new level of drama, with day-ahead spot prices at West Texas’s Waha hub now settling below zero — some days by more than $0.50/MMBtu. Gas production has raced higher too, now within striking distance of 10 Bcf/d, on the coattails of continued oil pipeline capacity expansions, but new gas pipeline takeaway capacity is an estimated six months away. What becomes of Permian gas prices in the meantime, and how much worse could already-negative prices get? Today, we discuss the drivers behind the latest price deterioration and assess what’s ahead for the Permian natural gas markets.
The U.S. frac sand market has been turned on its head. Over the past three years, demand for the sand used in hydraulic fracturing has more than doubled, dozens of new “local” sand mines have been popping up within the Permian and other fast-growing plays, and frac sand prices have fallen sharply from their 2017 highs. The big changes don’t end there. Exploration and production companies (E&Ps), who traditionally left sand procurement to the pressure pumping companies that complete their wells, are taking a more hands-on approach. And everyone is super-focused on optimizing their “last-mile” frac sand logistics — the delivery of sand by truck, plus unloading and storage of sand at the well site — with an eye toward minimizing completion costs and maximizing productivity. Today, we begin a blog series on the major upheavals rocking the frac sand world in 2019.
The market is used to crude oil spreads in the Permian Basin being volatile. Fast-paced production growth, the addition of new takeaway pipelines — and the rapid filling of those new pipes — have all impacted in-basin pricing, and we’ve seen differentials from the Permian to its downstream markets — Cushing, OK, and the Gulf Coast — widen and narrow as supply and demand fundamentals have changed. But recently, things have gotten a lot wilder. In September 2018, the Midland discount to WTI at Cushing blew out to almost $18/bbl, then narrowed to less than $6/bbl only three weeks later, thanks largely to the start-up of Plains All American’s much-ballyhooed, 350-Mb/d Sunrise Expansion. As Sunrise started to fill up, price differentials initially widened for a brief period of time. But, as we kicked off 2019, the Midland-Cushing spread quickly shrank further and then flipped, with Midland last Friday (January 25) trading at a $1/bbl premium to Cushing crude. You might wonder, how the heck did that happen? In today’s blog, we discuss how things play out when a supply glut evaporates and traders are suddenly caught in a tight market.
There’s a case to be made that midstream-sector stocks are being undervalued, in part because of the market’s stubborn adherence to an old — and now outdated — dictum that links midstream prospects to the price of crude oil. That maxim, based largely on the belief that lower prices result in declining production and pipeline volumes, has been undone by the Shale Revolution’s proven promise that, thanks to remarkable efficiency gains, production of crude, natural gas and NGLs can increase even during periods of not-so-stellar prices. Despite this new Shale Era rule, the outlook for individual midstream players can vary widely, depending on a number of factors, including their assets’ locations, their exposure to shipper-contract roll-offs and their strategies for growth. Today, we discuss key themes and findings from East Daley Capital’s newly updated “Dirty Little Secrets” report assessing the owners of U.S. pipelines, processing and storage facilities, export terminals and other midstream assets.
Mexico’s energy sector has been dealing with a fair amount of uncertainty of late. Newly installed Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to undo elements of the country’s historic energy reform program, limit imports of hydrocarbons, and focus on domestic production and refining. How much will all this affect the export of natural gas from the U.S. to Mexico? It’s too soon to know what the long-term impact might be, but for now, gas exports remain near record highs and the pipeline buildout within Mexico is proceeding. That’s not to say, however, that the infrastructure work has gone without its own set of challenges — many of those were apparent well before the recent political changes. Today, we begin a series examining the opportunities and potential pitfalls ahead this year for Mexico’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure additions.
Liquefaction capacity additions will add about 5 Bcf/d of natural gas demand in 2019, with almost all of that happening along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. The planned start-up of new liquefaction trains at the Sabine Pass, Corpus Christi, Cameron, Freeport and Elba Island projects means we can expect U.S. LNG export demand to double to nearly 9 Bcf/d by the end of the year. How fast will that new capacity and gas demand come on and how will the gas get to where it needs to be? Today, we take a closer look at the timing of the liquefaction capacity build-out and the related feedgas routes.