gas processing

There’s a lot of nitrogen out there — it’s the seventh-most common element in the universe and the Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen (and only 21% oxygen). And there’s certainly nothing new about nitrogen in the production, processing and delivery of natural gas. That’s because all natural gas contains at least a little nitrogen. But lately, the nitrogen content in some U.S. natural gas has become a real headache, and it’s getting worse. There are two things going on. First, a few counties in the Permian’s Midland Basin produce gas with unusually high nitrogen content, and those same counties have been the Midland’s fastest-growing production area the past few years. Second, there’s the LNG angle. LNG is by far the fastest-growing demand sector for U.S. gas. LNG terminals here in the U.S. and buyers of U.S. LNG don’t like nitrogen one little bit. As an inert gas (meaning it does not burn), nitrogen lowers the heating value of the LNG and takes up room (lowers the effective capacity) in the terminal’s liquefaction train. Bottom line, nitrogen generally mucks up the process of liquefying, transporting and consuming LNG, which means that nitrogen is a considerably more problematic issue for LNG terminals than for most domestic gas consumers. So as the LNG sector increases as a fraction of total U.S. demand, the nitrogen issue really comes to the fore. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore why high nitrogen content in gas is happening now, why it matters and how bad it could get. 

There’s a lot of nitrogen out there — it’s the seventh-most common element in the universe and the Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen (and only 21% oxygen). And there’s certainly nothing new about nitrogen in the production, processing and delivery of natural gas. That’s because all natural gas contains at least a little nitrogen. But lately, the nitrogen content in some U.S. natural gas has become a real headache, and it’s getting worse. There are two things going on. First, a few counties in the Permian’s Midland Basin produce gas with unusually high nitrogen content, and those same counties have been the Midland’s fastest-growing production area the past few years. Second, there’s the LNG angle. LNG is by far the fastest-growing demand sector for U.S. gas. LNG terminals here in the U.S. and buyers of U.S. LNG don’t like nitrogen one little bit. As an inert gas (meaning it does not burn), nitrogen lowers the heating value of the LNG and takes up room (lowers the effective capacity) in the terminal’s liquefaction train. Bottom line, nitrogen generally mucks up the process of liquefying, transporting and consuming LNG, which means that nitrogen is a considerably more problematic issue for LNG terminals than for most domestic gas consumers. So as the LNG sector increases as a fraction of total U.S. demand, the nitrogen issue really comes to the fore. In today’s RBN blog, we’ll explore why high nitrogen content in gas is happening now, why it matters and how bad it could get.

Well, here we are. The last day of 2020. We are tempted to say “unprecedented” to describe the year. But the word is so overused — there’s been an unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented” — let’s just say it will be good riddance to have this one behind us. After all, we’ve seen a collapse in transportation fuel demand, an oil price war between major producers, negative $37/bbl crude prices, massive LNG cargo cancellations — the list goes on — all in the context of a global pandemic and much of the world committed to weaning itself off fossil fuels over the next few decades. How do you make sense of all that? How do you anticipate when it’s going to be “all right” again? Well, one thing we can do is to heed the events and trends that captured the market’s attention during all this chaos. In other words, to put a spotlight on the things that the market considers top priority — crowd-sourced market intelligence, if you will. Well, at RBN we have one way to do that. We scrupulously monitor the website hit rate of the RBN blogs that are fired off to over 30,000 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 rear-view mirror to check out the Top 10 blogs of the year based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits.

About two-thirds of all of the propane consumed in the U.S. is used as fuel — for indoor and outdoor cooking, home heating, water heaters, drying crops, and running forklifts and fleet vehicles. The other one-third is used as a feedstock for producing ethylene and other petchems. About 95% of the propane supply to meet this demand is produced and processed right here in the U.S. of A., making propane the most American fuel we’ve got. But when firing up the grill out back and watching that first propane molecule flash to life, most backyard chefs don’t think much about the long and winding road their propane has traveled. It’s actually a fascinating tale of supply-chain logistics that involves high pressures, bitter cold, wild rides up and down tall towers, storage deep underground, and, of course, trains, trucks, and tanks. We think it’s a tale that needs to be told, and that’s what we’ve been doing in this update of another Greatest Hit blog.

When you talk about energy molecules, propane takes the prize for the most versatile. In addition to its well-known uses for BBQ grills, indoor cooking, and home heating, propane is used for drying crops, as a feedstock for petrochemicals, as an engine fuel for forklifts and fleet vehicles, and in recent years, as an export product in its own right. Propane moves to market on pipelines, railcars, ships, barges, trucks — just about any form of transportation you can imagine. But exactly how any particular molecule of propane makes the journey from the instant it comes out of a well to all those market destinations can be a mystery to all but a small cadre of propane market insiders. In another in our series of updates to RBN’s greatest hit blogs, we are delving into this mystery, one step at a time, today focusing on transportation from the producing basin to storage and fractionation at the Mont Belvieu hub, and the transformation of the generic commodity to a marketable fuel.

When firing up the backyard propane grill and watching that first propane molecule flash to life, most people don’t think much about what it took to get that fuel to the cylinder they picked up at the store. But that long and winding road from the production well to the tank beneath your grill is actually a fascinating tale of supply-chain logistics involving producers, midstreamers, and propane retailers. In today’s blog, we will take that interesting and sometimes mysterious trip with a molecule of propane. We will travel over 1,000 miles, moving in and out of various facilities, purifying our product and incurring various costs each step of the way. So strap on your seat belt for a selection from our greatest blog hits, in which we track a typical propane molecule’s journey from beginning to end.

Negative Permian gas prices. Wall Street sours on all things energy. E&Ps and midstreamers forced by capital markets to tighten their belts. Infrastructure coming online just as production growth is slowing. Oil, gas and NGLs totally dependent on export markets to balance. The list goes on. Just as producers and midstreamers came to terms with a new normal for oil and gas prices, this new round of challenges hit the market in 2019. And it is going to get a lot more complicated as we enter the new decade. There is just no way to predict what is going to happen next, right? Nah. All we need to do is stick our collective RBN necks out one more time, peer into our crystal ball, and see what 2020 has in store for us.

Producers in the Bakken and the rest of North Dakota flared record volumes of natural gas in the fourth quarter of 2018 — an average of more than 520 MMcf/d, or about 20% of total production — far exceeding the state’s current 12% flaring target. What happened? For one, crude oil production in the play took off; for another, the gas-to-oil ratio at the lease continued to increase. And while some new gas processing capacity came online last year to reduce the need for flaring, the pace of the additions was too slow to keep up with the Bakken’s rising gas output. The good news is that 2019 will bring more incremental processing capacity to North Dakota than any year to date. Today, we discuss recent setbacks on the flaring-control front and the prospects for things getting better later this year.

General Partners Phillips 66 and Spectra Energy control midstream Master Limited Partnership (MLP) DCP Midstream Partners (DPM). The partnership owns midstream transportation and processing assets along the natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGL) supply chain. Similar to many MLPs its Limited Partner unit price has declined by more than 50% in the past year. Despite exposure to difficult market conditions in the Eagle Ford and East Texas, a strong performance from the NGL logistics segment is expected to propel a 20% gain in net income between 2015 and 2017. Today we review our latest spotlight analysis report on DPM.

Prices for CME/NYMEX West Texas Intermediate (WTI) have been on a rollercoaster this week – falling under $30/Bbl one minute then jumping back over $32/Bbl the next. Yesterday (February 4, 2016) WTI closed down 56 Cents at $31.72/Bbl. CME Henry Hub natural gas futures fell back under $2/MMBtu to close at $1.972 yesterday. That left the crude-to-gas ratio (WTI divided by Henry Hub) at just over 16 X – a little higher than the 15 X range we’ve been seeing this year. That is nearly half as much again as the 27X average between 2009 and 2014. The futures market implies that low ratios could continue for years – with December 2024 values implying a ratio of 13.3 X. The potential consequences of these low ratios are dramatic for the natural gas liquids (NGL) business as well as the competitiveness of U.S. natural gas in international markets.  Today we describe the implications.

ONEOK Partners (OKS) own and operate one of the largest natural gas liquid (NGL) networks in the U.S. Like most midstream Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs), OKS’ stock price has dropped by more than 50% since mid-2014.  This despite the fact that most of ONEOK’s revenues are not directly impacted by lower crude and natural gas prices. Today we introduce the first of our new Spotlight reports (a joint venture between RBN and East Daley) available exclusively to Backstage Pass subscribers- that feature deep-dive fundamental analysis of select energy players’ operating assets. The first report features ONEOK and indicates that the company has a strong portfolio of fee based business fed by some of the most attractive producing basins in the U.S., particularly the Bakken which has the potential to amplify the company’s performance both to the upside and downside.

There’s been at least some progress the last two years on Alaska’s ambitious plan to pipe huge volumes of North Slope-sourced natural gas to the state’s southern coast, supercool it into liquid form, and ship the resulting LNG to Asia. Over that same period, however, the international LNG market has been rattled by weak demand, rock-bottom prices and an impending supply glut. Alaska is itching to become a major LNG supplier by the mid-2020s, but is anyone willing to buy what it’s selling? Today, we provide an update on Alaska’s LNG plan, including a newly approved state buy-out of TransCanada’s interest in key elements of it.

In the five years since natural gas production began to take off in Appalachia, volumes in the Marcellus and Utica basins have increased by a factor of 9X.  Much of that natural gas production growth is “wet” gas containing significant volumes of NGLs. Consequently NGL production volumes have skyrocketed and midstream development has been booming.  But building all this midstream infrastructure in Appalachia does not work the way it does in other high-growth shale plays.  Making sense out of Marcellus/Utica midstream infrastructure is the subject of RBN Energy’s latest Drill Down report, “Join Together With Demand--The Who and How of Marcellus/Utica Midstream”. In today’s blog, we provide highlights of the report and discuss what’s in store for the Marcellus/Utica over the next couple of years using our new Pipeline GIS mapping system to help tie all of the assets together.

MarkWest Energy Partners is clearly the big dog in the Marcellus/Utica, with by far the largest gas processing and fractionation capacity there.

The fast-growing need for natural gas processing and fractionation capacity in the Marcellus/Utica is creating tremendous opportunities for midstream companies. But determining which assets to develop and when to develop them is complicated by the volatility of hydrocarbon markets, and by the fact that the region has only minimal NGL storage capacity. In today’s blog, we continue our in-depth review of NGL-related infrastructure in the Upper Ohio River Valley with a look at Blue Racer’s existing and planned assets there.