WTI

Tuesday, 03/29/2022

Just a few years ago, when the Shale Revolution had matured into the Shale Era, the world settled into a nice groove, with crude prices generally rangebound between $40 and $70/bbl. As the U.S. looked to assume OPEC+’s role and evolve into the world’s swing supplier of oil, ramping up production when prices rose and slowing it down when they fell, it seemed reasonable to expect that market-driven responses would help maintain stability. Well, things haven’t turned out that way. COVID, the emphasis on ESG, a hydrocarbon-averse administration, and Russia’s war on Ukraine combined to put “reasonable expectations” in the trash. An entirely new set of expectations is emerging, and few metrics explain it better than today’s different-as-can-be relationship between crude oil prices and the U.S. rig count, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog.

Monday, 04/19/2021

Well, it’s been 365 days since the unthinkable happened: the price of WTI at Cushing went negative last April 20, and by a solid $37.63 a barrel at that. The insanity didn’t end there, though. The pandemic that many thought would be behind us in a season or two at most had a second wave, then a third and, some say, a fourth. U.S. refinery demand for crude oil, which plummeted by more than 3 MMb/d last spring, still has only recouped only half that loss. E&Ps, who shut in thousands of wells when oil demand and prices tanked, still are only producing 11 MMb/d — 2 MMb/d less than they were pre-COVID. LNG exports took a big hit too, another victim of demand destruction. As if all that weren’t enough, a couple of months ago, just as new vaccines were providing hope that everything would soon be returning to normal, the Deep Freeze put the Texas economy on ice and slowed production and refining once again. Strange times indeed. But we’re learning from it all, right? Today is the one-year anniversary of oil price Armageddon, so we take a look back at 12 months of market madness that no one could have predicted.

Sunday, 01/17/2021

If you are looking for a way to focus on 2021 without reflecting on the last 12 months, we might have a deal for you. That’s because Permian natural gas and oil production is starting off this year at levels very close to where they finished 2019. That’s right: as far as the Permian is concerned, you can almost skip entirely over 2020 and pick up right where we left off the prior year. Well, for the most part. Oil prices are lower, rig counts have been reduced, and industry consolidation has removed some of the familiar Permian names from the stock ticker. In general, the atmosphere out in West Texas has calmed down dramatically from the headiest days of Permian growth and it’s safe to say it’s easier to grab lunch in Midland these days. Does that mean things in the basin aren’t still interesting out there? If you ask us, the answer is a resounding “No!” For starters, growth is back in the basin, even if it is at a slower pace than in 2019, and natural gas prices are stronger, with negative-price trades a thing of the past thanks to new pipelines. Even crude prices are better than some might think, with Permian barrels pricing over Cushing for many months now. The Permian in 2021 is certainly a half-empty or half-full type of market. We go for the latter in today’s blog, in which we outline our view of production growth in West Texas this year.

Thursday, 01/07/2021

If you are looking for a way to focus on 2021 without reflecting on the last 12 months, we might have a deal for you. That’s because Permian natural gas and oil production is starting off this year at levels very close to where they finished 2019. That’s right: as far as the Permian is concerned, you can almost skip entirely over 2020 and pick up right where we left off the prior year. Well, for the most part. Oil prices are lower, rig counts have been reduced, and industry consolidation has removed some of the familiar Permian names from the stock ticker. In general, the atmosphere out in West Texas has calmed down dramatically from the headiest days of Permian growth and it’s safe to say it’s easier to grab lunch in Midland these days. Does that mean things in the basin aren’t still interesting out there? If you ask us, the answer is a resounding “No!” For starters, growth is back in the basin, even if it is at a slower pace than in 2019, and natural gas prices are stronger, with negative-price trades a thing of the past thanks to new pipelines. Even crude prices are better than some might think, with Permian barrels pricing over Cushing for many months now. The Permian in 2021 is certainly a half-empty or half-full type of market. We go for the latter in today’s blog, in which we outline our view of production growth in West Texas this year.

Wednesday, 12/23/2020

Cushing. This small town in central Oklahoma is the center of the U.S. crude oil universe, with prices at the Cushing hub serving as the reference price for all of the crude produced in the U.S. — and given the role that U.S. oil has assumed on the global stage, one of the most important determinants of global crude oil pricing. Considering the hub’s significance, it’s frequently surprising to industry veterans just how misunderstood Cushing can be. Like, for example, how SHOCKED the world was when Cushing prices dropped below zero back in April. Cushing traders had seen that coming for weeks — the only surprise to them was how far the price plunged that crazy Monday morning. It’s easy to see how something as enigmatic and complex as Cushing might be misunderstood — or underestimated — if you’re not familiar with its history, its inner workings, and its many crucial roles in both the physical and financial crude oil markets. It’s also tempting to think you can get by with only a passing knowledge of Cushing and how it operates. Au contraire! Cushing really matters, and market participants ignore it at their peril. The good news is that there’s finally a combo encyclopedia and user’s manual for “The Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” Today, we examine the hub’s significance to producers, refiners, midstreamers, marketers, and traders, and discuss highlights from RBN’s new Cushing Playbook.

Tuesday, 12/08/2020

Cushing. This small town in central Oklahoma is the center of the U.S. crude oil universe, with prices at the Cushing hub serving as the reference price for all of the crude produced in the U.S. — and given the role that U.S. oil has assumed on the global stage, one of the most important determinants of global crude oil pricing. Considering the hub’s significance, it’s frequently surprising to industry veterans just how misunderstood Cushing can be. Like, for example, how SHOCKED the world was when Cushing prices dropped below zero back in April. Cushing traders had seen that coming for weeks — the only surprise to them was how far the price plunged that crazy Monday morning. It’s easy to see how something as enigmatic and complex as Cushing might be misunderstood — or underestimated — if you’re not familiar with its history, its inner workings, and its many crucial roles in both the physical and financial crude oil markets. It’s also tempting to think you can get by with only a passing knowledge of Cushing and how it operates. Au contraire! Cushing really matters, and market participants ignore it at their peril. The good news is that there’s finally a combo encyclopedia and user’s manual for “The Pipeline Crossroads of the World.” Today, we examine the hub’s significance to producers, refiners, midstreamers, marketers, and traders, and discuss highlights from RBN’s new Cushing Playbook.

Sunday, 08/09/2020

It’s only August, but the folks involved in Permian markets must feel like they’ve already packed in a full year’s worth of action. The events are well known by now, but they’re still remarkable. A crash in refining utilization, followed by massive field shut-ins, all precipitated by a novel virus and exacerbated by some unusual moves by global oil producers. The year’s not over, and the coronavirus hasn’t gone away like a miracle, but a calm has emerged in oil prices that has helped producers get their sea legs. While $40/bbl West Texas Intermediate (WTI) is a far cry from where we started 2020, it’s been just enough to get most of the shut-in crude production back online in West Texas. Today, we provide an update on the status of curtailments in the Permian Basin.

Sunday, 06/14/2020

Crude oil supply news comes in from all angles these days, bombarding the market daily with fresh information on producers’ efforts to ramp their volumes back up now that the global economic recovery is cautiously under way. Crude demand is rising, storage hasn’t burst at the seams yet, and prices have come a long, long way in just a few weeks. Permian exploration and production companies, having avoided a fleeting, longshot chance that the state of Texas might regulate West Texas oil production, are responding to higher crude oil prices as free-market participants should. The taps are quickly being turned back on, unleashing pent-up crude and associated gas volumes that, you could say, were under a sort of quarantine of their own for a while. Today, we provide an update on the status of curtailments in the Permian Basin.

Monday, 05/25/2020

Crude oil markets have been anything but dull lately. After imploding to unimaginable, negative values last month, prices have been on a tear since and are now sitting in the low $30s/bbl range. That’s not great for producers, but kind of like social distancing flattens the curve, the current price level should keep production volumes in check and stave off the worst of the potential financial distress for most Permian producers, for now. So, what has been driving the price rise? Similar to the pauses in economic and social activity that many cities have taken lately, many Permian producers have recently decided to take a wait-and-see approach on crude prices and throttle back output. Today, we provide an update on the always-dynamic Permian Basin crude oil market and how producer curtailments have materialized in May.

Monday, 05/04/2020

Well, it’s happened. The first signs of crude oil and gas production curtailments in the Permian Basin materialized over the weekend. That has followed weeks of extreme oversupply conditions, growing storage constraints and distressed pricing, all to deal with the abrupt and unprecedented loss of refinery demand for crude oil due to COVID, not just along the Gulf Coast, where the lion’s share of the U.S. refineries sit, but also more locally in West Texas. The rapidly shifting supply-demand balance, first from reduced local refining demand and now also the emerging production cuts, is adding volatility to the spreads and flows between the West Texas basin’s regional hub at Midland, and downstream hubs at Cushing and Houston. Today, we look at how the Midland market has responded to the downturn in local refining demand, and how production losses will factor into the balancing act.

Tuesday, 04/21/2020

Underlying Monday’s financially driven oil price rout are physical markets that are in extreme turmoil as they contend with severely reduced demand resulting from the COVID lockdowns and rapidly filling storage tanks. In the Permian Basin, the epicenter of U.S. shale oil, the crude benchmark price — WTI at Midland — on Monday crashed to a historical low of negative $13.13/bbl before rebounding to a positive $13.01/bbl Tuesday. The same day, prices at the Permian natural gas benchmark Waha revisited negative territory for the third time this month, with a settle of minus $4.74/MMBtu for Tuesday’s gas day. Negative supply prices aren’t new to Permian producers, at least for gas — Waha settled as low as minus-$5.75/MMBtu in early April 2019. But up until a couple months ago, oil prices were supportive enough to keep producers drilling regardless. Now, that’s all over, at least for a while. What can we expect now that negative oil prices have arrived in the Permian? Today, we’ll dissect the latest bizarre pricing event to rattle the Permian natural gas and oil markets.

Monday, 04/06/2020

The crash in global crude oil markets has meant low prices for all producers, but no place more so than in Alberta’s oil sands. Transportation, blending and quality differentials mean that benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) is priced at a significant discount to light, sweet West Texas Intermediate. With WTI prices seemingly stuck below $30/bbl, the absolute price of WCS last week tumbled to all-time lows below $5/bbl. If they persist, will WCS prices south of $10/bbl generate wide-scale production shut-ins in the oil sands? Today, we continue our series on the challenges facing Alberta’s oil sands.

Tuesday, 03/31/2020

The collapse in WTI prices in March has been a crushing blow to the Permian, the Bakken and other U.S. shale plays that produce light, sweet crude oil. But as bad as sub-$25/bbl WTI prices are — especially for producers whose balance-of-2020 volumes aren’t at least partly hedged at higher prices — consider the record-low, $5/bbl prices facing oil sands producers up north in Alberta. Western Canadian Select, the energy-rich region’s benchmark heavy-crude blend, fell below $10/bbl more than a week ago, and on Tuesday WCS closed at $5.08/bbl. Producers, who already had been dealing with major takeaway constraints, are ratcheting back their output and planned 2020 capex, and slashing the volumes they send out via rail in tank cars. Today, we begin a short blog series on the latest round of bad news hitting Western Canada’s oil patch.

Wednesday, 03/18/2020

Well, now we all know how it feels when the bottom falls out. In fact, it seems there is no bottom, with WTI crude at Cushing settling on Wednesday at $20.37/bbl, down $6.58/bbl. There is no point in belaboring the sad story here. You can read about pandemics, OPEC price wars and collapsed markets in every periodical on the planet. Likewise, there is no point in trying to predict what will happen next. Any pundit who tries to predict future prices in this environment is picking numbers out of the air at best. But at RBN, we are energy market analysts. As such, we are compelled to analyze something. And in these market conditions, there is one thing we can hang our hat on: No matter how bad things get, hope springs eternal. Thus, the market consensus is that things will be better a year from now, and even better a year after that. The implication? In a flash, crude is in steep contango, and that has repercussions for pipeline flows, regional price differentials and for storage — in production areas, at refineries, in VLCCs on the water, and especially at Cushing, OK, the king of oil storage hubs. Today, we examine one aspect of the chaos that now envelopes all aspects of energy markets.

Monday, 01/27/2020

To say that Permian crude oil quality varies is an understatement at best. In fact, there’s as much variety in the crude coming out of West Texas as there is in the arsenal of a major league pitching ace. Handling those varied crude qualities is the challenge of midstream operators, who, like batters facing down a Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez in their prime, need to do the best they can with what they’re given. With the start of spring training only a month away, we begin a series detailing the current mix of Permian crude oil qualities, how pipelines are handling them, and what it means for exports, the end destination for much of today’s incremental Permian oil production. Today, we discuss Permian crude quality variations and the steps new pipelines are taking to deal with it.