Most Popular Blogs of 2023

Just a couple of years ago, TC Energy finally threw in the towel on its long-planned, long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline project, which would have substantially increased the flow of Western Canadian heavy crude to Gulf Coast refineries and export docks. It was a bitter loss. Since then, however, two other companies headquartered north of the 49th parallel have assumed leading roles in the U.S. crude oil market or, more specifically, crude exports. First, Enbridge acquired the U.S.’s #1 oil export terminal — now called the Enbridge Ingleside Energy Center (EIEC) — and related assets for US$3 billion and then, on August 1, Gibson Energy announced that it had closed on the US$1.1 billion purchase of the nearby South Texas Gateway (STG), which is #2 in crude export volumes. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the increasing role of Canada-based midstream companies along the South Texas coast.

Back in the early 2000s, the outlook for energy security in the U.S. was bleak. Domestic oil production had been on a steady decline since 1985 and gas production was also well off its apex in the 1970s. M. King Hubbert’s concept of peak oil ignited fears of eventual energy scarcity. Given fossil fuels’ ubiquity underlying our entire Western economic and industrial structure, it’s no wonder that folks were concerned. But then the Shale Revolution changed everything. It’s often been said that necessity is the mother of invention and, after many trials and with considerable ingenuity, U.S. producers learned to wring massive volumes of previously trapped hydrocarbons from shale and gave the U.S. energy industry a new lease on life. But there are still limits on how much crude oil, natural gas and NGLs can be economically produced — and concerns lately that the best of the U.S.’s shale resources may have already been exploited. In today’s RBN blog, we examine crude oil and gas reserves: how they are estimated and what they tell us about the longevity of U.S. production.

Global crude oil markets are undergoing a profound transformation. But it is mostly out of sight, out of mind for all but the most actively involved players in the physical markets. On the surface, it’s a simple change in the Dated Brent delivery mechanism: Starting May 2023, cargoes of Midland-spec WTI — we’ll shorten that to “Midland” for the sake of clarity and simplicity — could be offered into the Brent Complex for delivery the following month. This change has been in the works for years. Production of North Sea crudes that heretofore have been the exclusive members of the Brent club has been on the decline for decades. Allowing the delivery of Midland crude into Brent is intended to increase the liquidity of the physical Brent market, thereby retaining Brent’s status as the world’s preeminent crude marker, serving as the price basis for two-thirds or more of physical crude oil traded in the global market. So far, the new trading and delivery process has been working well. Perhaps too well. For the past two months, delivered Midland has set the price of Brent about 85% of the time. The number of cargoes moving into the Brent delivery “chain” process has skyrocketed, and most of those cargoes are Midland. Is this just an opening surge of players trying their hand in a new market, or does it mean that the Brent benchmark price is becoming no more than freight-adjusted Midland? In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore this question, and what it could mean for both global and domestic crude markets.

Three new LNG export projects have reached a final investment decision (FID) in the past year or so — Venture Global’s Plaquemines LNG, Cheniere’s Corpus Christi Stage III expansion, and, most recently, Sempra’s Port Arthur LNG. What do these projects have in common? They are all being developed by companies that are already exporting North American LNG. These companies are arguably the “Big Three” of U.S. LNG, with Cheniere the reigning king, at least for now. Not only do they all have at least one operating terminal and at least one under construction, but all three have multiple pre-FID projects under development, including some that are decently close to FID. With their proven track records and deep balance sheets, being one of the big guys is a definite advantage when it comes to getting a project across the finish line. With a total of 43.5 MMtpa (5.8 Bcf/d) of capacity currently under construction and more than 100 MMtpa (13.4 Bcf/d) under development by these three, is there even room for anybody else? In today’s blog, we look at the pre-FID projects under development by the Big Three, starting with Sempra.

The headwinds facing producers in the Permian, the Eagle Ford and other shale plays are trimming the valuations of oil and gas assets and making it easier for deep-pocketed acquirers and private-equity-backed sellers to reach deals. For proof, look no further than the ongoing frenzy of M&A activity in South and West Texas, where large and medium-size E&Ps alike continue to gobble up smaller producers with complementary assets. Their goals are one and the same: increase scale, improve efficiency, cut costs and build inventory in highly productive plays with easy access to Gulf Coast refineries, fractionation plants, and export docks for oil, LNG and NGLs. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the most significant deals in the Lone Star State so far this spring and what they mean for the acquiring companies.

It would be an understatement to say we’re sensing a trend here. Over the past couple of years, there’s been an absolute frenzy of producer M&A activity in the Permian, much of it involving big E&Ps getting bigger and private equity cashing in on assets they’ve been developing since the 2010s. The latest multibillion-dollar deal involves Ovintiv, whose recently announced plan to acquire the Midland Basin assets of three EnCap Investments-backed producers will nearly double Ovintiv’s oil and condensate output in West Texas, lower its per-barrel production costs, and add more than 1,000 well locations to its inventory. Oh, and via a separate but related deal, Ovintiv will exit the Bakken by selling its assets there to another EnCap affiliate. In today’s RBN blog, we look at what the M&A artist formerly known as Encana is up to.

If you think, as we do, that (1) U.S. crude oil production is likely to increase by 1.5 to 2 MMb/d over the next five years, (2) almost all those barrels will be light-sweet crude that needs to be exported, and (3) exporters will overwhelmingly favor the marine terminals that can accommodate Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), it would be hard to ignore the game-changing impacts that Enterprise Products Partners’ planned Sea Port Oil Terminal could have. SPOT, which could be completed as soon as 2026, will have robust pipeline connections from the Permian and other shale plays and be capable of fully loading a 2-MMbbl VLCC in one day, enough to handle virtually all the incremental exports we’re likely to see over the next five years. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the fast-increasing role of VLCCs in U.S. crude oil exports and the potentially seismic impacts of the SPOT project.

The Permian natural gas pipeline build-out is entering a new era. With numerous LNG terminals set to expand exports along the U.S. Gulf Coast through the end of this decade, the need to link Permian gas supply to those facilities has never been greater. While there have been three greenfield pipelines built out of the Permian in the last five years, with a fourth on the way in 2024, each has ended in the same general area west of Houston or farther south near Corpus Christi. However, market needs are shifting, with most of the next wave of LNG export capacity to be added east of Houston, closer to Beaumont and in southeastern Louisiana, and those facilities want access to Permian gas. As a result, we weren’t surprised this month when two new proposals to directly link gas from West Texas markets to those export terminals were announced. If built, Targa Resources’ Apex and WhiteWater Midstream’s Blackfin projects could significantly alter Texas gas markets and how Permian supplies move to their final destination. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the latest developments in Texas gas pipeline infrastructure.

The numbers don’t add up. Literally. The most closely watched energy statistics in the world have a problem, and it’s been getting worse over the past two years. We’re talking about EIA’s U.S. crude oil supply, demand and inventory balances, which are published each week and then trued up about 60 days later in monthly data. The problem is that the balances don’t balance. EIA uses a plug number alternatively called “adjustment” or “unaccounted for” to force supply and demand to equate. That would not be an issue if the plug number was small and flipped frequently from positive to negative, likely due to timing inconsistencies with the input data. But that’s not the case. The number is mostly positive, meaning more demand than supply. And the difference can be mammoth: last week it was 2.3 MMb/d, or 18.4% of U.S. crude production. It seems like barrels are somehow materializing out of nowhere. But now we know where, because EIA just finished a 90-day study of the crude imbalance that reveals the sources of the problem and what it is going to take to fix it. In today’s RBN blog, we will delve into what has been causing the problem, what it means for interpreting EIA statistics, and what EIA is doing to address the issues. 

New England’s aggressive effort to decarbonize is a tangled web. Over the past several years, the six-state region has replaced oil- and coal-fired power plants with natural gas-fired ones but most proposals to build new gas pipeline capacity have been rejected. It’s also made ambitious plans to add renewables — especially solar and offshore wind — to its power generation mix but many of the largest, most impactful projects have been delayed or canceled. And now there’s a big push to electrify space heating and transportation, which will significantly increase power demand, especially during the winter months, when New England’s electric grid is already skating on thin ice. In today’s RBN blog, we examine the region’s looming power supply challenges and how its energy transition plans may affect natural gas, LNG, heating oil and propane markets.

LNG exports will be the biggest driver of demand growth for the Lower 48 natural gas market over the next five years. After a year of oversupply in 2023, export capacity additions will help to balance the market and support gas prices in 2024 as the glut spills over into next year. Beyond 2024, higher export volumes will lead to tighter balances and price spikes. As supply struggles to keep up with new export capacity, the timing of pipeline expansions will be critical for balancing the market. The bulk of new LNG export projects are sited along a small stretch of the Texas-Louisiana coastline and more pipeline capacity will be needed to move incremental feedgas into this area and across the “last mile” to the facilities. In today’s RBN blog, we begin a series delving into the planned pipeline expansions lining up to serve LNG demand along the Gulf Coast.

Over the next couple of years — and the next couple of decades — global supply/demand dynamics in refined products markets will be driven by two critically important factors. The first is the understandable reluctance of refiners to expand capacity in the face of climate policy and ESG headwinds. The second is a growing gap between policymakers’ aggressive energy-transition goals and the global pivot to a renewed focus on energy security brought about by the Russia-Ukraine war and worries about China’s global ambitions. These factors, which will fuel the prospects for constrained supply and higher-for-longer demand, have far-reaching implications, not only for refinery owners but also for E&Ps, midstreamers, exporters, energy industry investors and policymakers, all of whom need to gain a clearer understanding of what’s just ahead — and what’s over the horizon, just out of sight. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss key findings in “Future of Fuels,” a new, in-depth report by RBN’s Refined Fuels Analytics practice on everything you need to know about U.S. and global supply and demand for gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and biofuels over the short-, medium- and long-term.

The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures price has fallen precipitously in recent months and 2023 has the potential to be one of the most bearish in recent history. But longer term, the stage is set for tighter balances, price spikes and increased volatility. After a slowdown in 2022-23, LNG export capacity additions will come fast and furious over the next several years. As they do, they will outpace production growth, which will increasingly depend on pipeline and other midstream expansions. In other words, 2023 will be the last aftershock of Shale Era surpluses. We got a taste of what that could look like in 2022, but just how out-of-whack could the gas market get? In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the supply and demand trends that will shape the gas market over the next five years.

“Top-tier rock, massive scale, and ever-improving efficiency” — that’s the mantra of the largest publicly held E&Ps in the Permian, many of which have only added to their heft during the pandemic/post-pandemic era by acquiring complementary production and midstream assets from private equity funds and old-time oil-and-gas families. Yes, it’s either/or time in the U.S.’s leading oil and gas basin: Either you get bigger, high-grade the acreage you control and supercharge your free cash flow (and your stock buybacks and dividends) or you accept your fate as an also-ran or, if you’re lucky, an acquisition target. Just last week, Matador Resources announced a $1.6 billion deal to acquire Advance Energy Partners, which will boost Matador’s Delaware Basin output by 25% and give it a foothold in the Permian’s big-boy league. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss this and other recent asset acquisitions in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico and what they say about the Permian’s future.

The Lower 48 natural gas market has had the most bearish start to a new year in a long time. Production has been at record highs, an exceptionally warm start to January suppressed demand, and LNG exports have been hobbled since last June when Freeport LNG went offline. The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub February gas futures contract slid to an 18-month low of $2.94/MMBtu last Thursday and expired Friday at $3.109/MMBtu, down 54% from where the prompt contract closed just two months earlier. The March contract extended the slide Monday to a 20-month low of $2.677/MMBtu. Freeport’s eventual return will restore existing export capacity, but there’s no new LNG export capacity due online this year — for the first time since 2016. After one of the tightest gas markets of the last decade in 2022, the stage is set for one of the most oversupplied markets we’ve seen in years. But the bulls out there can take solace: 2023 will also mark the final throes of the kind of oversupply conditions that defined the Shale Era as we know it. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss how we got here and RBN’s outlook for natural gas supply and demand.