Understanding whether propane production is up or down over the past few months is a bit more difficult than you might think, depending on which set of EIA numbers you choose to look at. The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides monthly numbers on the last day of the month lagged by about two months, and weekly numbers on Wednesdays, lagged by only five days. Both time series are closely watched by the propane market to assess the availability of supply for retail customers, petrochemical feedstock demand, and exports. Usually, these two sets of numbers move in tandem. But not always. The monthly numbers show production down by about 70 Mb/d from April to June, which is what you would expect given what was happening with crude and gas production at that point in time. Yet EIA weekly production numbers showed production increasing by about 90 Mb/d for the same period. So which way is propane production really trending? If you want to understand what’s going on, and you don’t mind delving into some deeply wonky NGL analytics, hang on for today’s blog.
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.
Crude oil inventories at Cushing have been in a free fall. After last peaking at more than 69 MMbbl in April 2017, stockpiles have decreased to less than 22 MMbbl recently, nearing all-time lows for tank utilization at the Oklahoma crude-trading hub. While we’ve seen volumes drop quickly in the past, inventories have now declined for 12 straight weeks at a staggering pace. Traders, refiners, and other market participants are starting to fret. Is this just another cyclical trend or are market factors exacerbating the impact? Today, we examine the influence of historical pricing trends on Cushing inventories and why it seems that demand factors are speeding up the drop.
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.
Last week, crude oil prices dropped below $50/bbl, in part due to continued increases in U.S. crude oil inventories, and fell further over the next few days. Then yesterday, prices perked up by $1.14 to $48.86/bbl; again one of the factors was the weekly inventory number from the Energy Information Administration which showed inventories down by a fraction of a percentage point for the week. The market seems to react spontaneously to changes in that crude-stocks statistic. Up is bearish, down is bullish. These days even a very modest decline in inventories is bullish. But serious analysis requires a more detailed, more nuanced understanding of why crude oil inventories behave as they do. Were inventories driven up by higher production or lower refinery runs? By higher imports? By lower exports? The reasons behind the inventory change are more important than the change itself. Today we continue our series on the modeling of U.S. crude oil supply and demand, and the sourcing of input data used in those calculations.
The latest sharp drop in crude oil prices, which was blamed in part on unexpected gains in already record-high U.S. inventories, is a stark reminder of the importance of understanding and routinely calculating estimates of the oil supply/demand balance. Only by keeping up with the ever-changing relationship between crude availability and crude consumption—and by anticipating shifts in that relationship—can oil traders and others whose daily success or failure depends on crude pricing trends make informed decisions. Today we begin a blog series on the modeling of U.S. crude oil supply and demand, and the sourcing of input data.
The latest Drilling Productivity Report from the EIA, released yesterday (February 13, 2017), shows that while the combined rig count in the seven major U.S. shale plays rose about 25% in the fourth quarter of 2016 versus the previous quarter, and the number of wells drilled was up 29%, well completions were up a paltry 1%, leading to an increase in the inventory of drilled-but-uncompleted wells (DUCs). Completions accelerated a bit in January 2017, but DUCs still continued to rise. That certainly seems counterintuitive. With crude oil prices stable in the low $50’s over the past few months you might think that producers would be pulling DUCs out of inventory, and in fact there have been statements to that effect in several producer investor calls. This is not just an exercise in energy fundamentals numerology. If the DUC inventory is increasing, then production will not be ramping up as fast as the growing rig count would imply. But what if, as some early signs indicate, the historical relationships are out of whack and the DUC inventory isn’t growing but rather declining? In that case, forecast models could be understating the outlook for production growth, and the market could be in for a more rapid and steeper rebound in oil and gas production than many expect. In today’s blog, we delve into the DUC inventory data and its potential upside risk to production forecasts.
Crude oil and natural gas production growth stalled in 2015 and has declined this year in some of the big shale basins. But we may be seeing a turnaround. The latest EIA Drilling Productivity Report, released on December 12, 2016, included upward revisions to its recent shale production estimates and also projects an increase in its one-month outlook for the first time in 21 months (since its March 2015 report). Today we break down the latest DPR data.
The inventory of drilled-and-uncompleted wells (DUCs) in the U.S. Lower 48 grew by nearly 1,900 between the months just before oil prices and rig counts collapsed and early 2016—a 50% increase in a roughly two-year period, according to new DUCs data in the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) September Drilling Productivity Report (DPR—See the DPR DUC report here.). Since January’s peak of nearly 5,600 DUCs, producers have been working down the national inventory of DUCs, with the DPR showing the overall count closer to 5,000 as of August (2016) ––but that is still up more than 1,300 from the December EIA’s 2013 baseline. This incremental growth in the number of “dormant” wells is key to understanding and predicting how long production can remain supported or grow in a low-rig count environment. Moreover, there are regional differences in the DUCs inventory counts and trends that provide critical insights on how various market factors are impacting drilling activity. Today, we walk through the EIA DUCs data for each of the producing regions.
At long last, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has reported an “official” estimate of the U.S. drilled-and-uncompleted well (DUC) inventory as part of its monthly Drilling Productivity Report. DUCs are a critical factor in forecasting production trends, as many of these wells are likely to be some of the first to come online as soon as prices move higher and thus have the potential to boost production quicker and easier than would otherwise be the case. However, the number of DUCs has been a difficult thing to measure, though not for lack of trying. There are, in fact, widely varying counts from many different sources circulating in the industry. Today, we begin a short series on these latest DUC counts and their potential implications.
Over the past 20-some days, U.S. natural gas prices have gone from being the lowest in more than a decade to very close to last year’s levels. The July 2016 CME/NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas futures contract on Thursday (June 23) settled at $2.698/MMBtu, up about 70 cents (36%) from where the June contract expired ($1.963/MMBtu on May 26) and also up nearly 50 cents (23%) from where the July contract started as prompt month on May 27 (at $2.169). Market buying to unwind short positions initially kick-started the rally, but since then hot weather and a boost in power demand has kept the rally going. National average temperatures have averaged nearly 8 degrees (Fahrenheit, or F) higher in June to date versus May, and in the past week they’ve climbed above the peak summer levels normally not seen until mid- to late-July. Gas consumption on a temperature-adjusted basis also soared in the first half of June, led by power burn (gas use for power generation). The combination of hot weather and higher gas usage per degree of demand has been practically made-to-order for the oversupplied gas market, and has led to record power burn in June to date. But higher prices have the potential for bearish consequences—the recent gains have catapulted natural gas prices well above prices for coal on a cost-per-MMBtu basis—making the latter fuel more economically competitive in the power generation sector. That’s welcome news for coal producers, but what will it do to natural gas demand and in turn gas prices? Today, we look at the shift in the coal-gas price relationship and the potential impact to power burn and the gas market.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Thursday (June 9) reported a surprisingly bullish 65-Bcf injection for the week ended June 3—that was 8.0 Bcf below our Natgas Billboard estimate and more than 10 Bcf below the Bloomberg industry average assessment. In response, the CME/NYMEX Henry Hub July natural gas contract screamed about 15 cents higher following the report to a settle of $2.617/MMBtu, the highest daily settle for the prompt month in nearly 9 months. Thursday’s gains extended a rally that began on May 31 (2016) just after the July contract rolled to the front of the futures curve. It’s likely the rally was initially spurred by market participants looking to cover their short positions. But in the past week, an increasingly bullish fundamental picture has emerged prompting us to raise our price outlook (in our June 10 NATGAS Billboard report). In today’s blog, we analyze the fundamentals behind rising natural gas prices.
With storage inventories soaring to record-high levels and production remaining relatively flat, the U.S. natural gas market is in dire need of record demand this summer to balance storage. All eyes are on power generation to soak up the gas storage surplus. Low gas prices and increased gas-fired generating capacity makes natural gas the go-to generation fuel this year. However, in the largest summer demand market – Texas – natural gas is facing increasing competition from wind. Wind power still provides a much smaller share of Texas’s power than natural gas, but the addition of several big wind farms in 2015 gives wind a stronger footing in the Texas market this year. Today we take a closer look at the potential impact of growing wind generating capacity on natural gas demand, particularly in Texas.
The story of crude-by-rail (CBR) in North America is that of a victory of good old U.S. ingenuity over the lack of pipeline capacity that stranded booming shale oil production in 2012. The lower cost to market of “on-ramp” rail terminals allowed surging crude production a route to (mainly) coastal refineries - igniting a building boom over 4 short years that has left 82 load terminals and 44 destination terminals operating today - many of them now underutilized. Along the way monthly lease rates for rail tank cars that reached $2,750/month at the height of the boom are down to $325/month after the bust – with many lease holders paying daily rent to park their empty cars. Today we conclude our series reviewing the state of CBR today.
Our analysis shows that about 1.7 MMb/d of crude-by-rail (CBR) unload capacity has been built out and is operating in the Gulf Coast region today. According to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data for January 2016 an average of only 142 Mb/d was shipped into the region by rail in January 2016 down from a peak of just under 450 Mb/d in 2013 and an average of 235 Mb/d in 2015. In other words, the current unload capacity represents a whopping 12 times January 2016 shipments – a massive overbuild that is continuing today as new terminals are still planned. Today we look at the fate of Gulf Coast CBR terminal unload capacity.