Crude Oil

Monday, 02/19/2018

With Western Canadian crude oil production rising, available pipeline takeaway capacity shrinking and crude-by-rail volumes rebounding, midstream companies are ramping up their efforts to get long-planned pipeline projects built. But that’s no easy task. Virtually every plan to add new takeaway capacity out of Alberta — Canada’s #1 energy-producing province — continues to face regulatory hurdles, and it remains to be seen which of the pipeline projects will be completed, and when. We can’t just throw up our hands, though, and say, “Who knows?” With pipeline constraints out of Western Canada worsening by the month and having profound negative effects on the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS), there’s real value in reviewing in some detail what these pipeline projects are up against. Today, we discuss what’s being planned on the takeaway front and where these projects stand.

Sunday, 02/11/2018

Permian crude oil production continues to march steadily upward, headed toward 3.0 MMb/d sometime in the next few months. Most of the recent growth responsible for pushing total U.S. output past 10 MMb/d has come from increases in Permian volumes. Pipeline capacity out of the super-hot play is on the ragged edge of maxing out, and a myriad of new projects to relieve capacity constraints are in the works. Why then has the price differential between Midland, TX, and the Gulf Coast dropped over the past few weeks? Why did the Brent vs. WTI/Cushing spread crater? And what does this all mean for Midland-to-Gulf Coast transport deals getting struck for $2.00/bbl or less? Today, we look at these developments, try to make sense out of the Permian/Midland crude oil market, and consider what the future might hold for West Texas barrels moving to the Gulf Coast.

Wednesday, 02/07/2018

Producers in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) are in a bind. Crude oil output in the WCSB has risen by more than 50% over the past seven years to about 4 MMb/d and is expected to increase to 5 MMb/d by the mid-2020s. But there has been only a modest expansion of refinery capacity within the region and pipeline capacity out of the WCSB, and lately takeaway constraints have had a devastating effect on the price relationship between benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI). What’s ahead for WCSB producers and WCS prices? Today, we continue our series on Western Canadian crude and bitumen markets, this time focusing on WCSB refinery capacity and existing pipelines out of the region.

Thursday, 02/01/2018

The Permian is experiencing the build-out of a wide variety of midstream infrastructure: crude oil and natural gas gathering systems, gas processing plants and crude, gas and NGL takeaway pipelines. Lately, there’s also been a rush to develop pipelines to deliver water to wells for use in hydraulic fracturing, as well as pipes to transport produced water from the lease to disposal wells and produced-water recycling plants. By installing and expanding these water and produced-water pipeline systems — some of them hundreds of miles long — Permian producers and third-party water-logistics providers are reducing the need for trucks on the Permian’s congested roads and significantly reducing per-barrel water transportation costs. Today, we continue our blog series on water-related pipeline, storage and treatment infrastructure in the Permian’s Delaware and Midland basins.

Tuesday, 01/30/2018

Crude oil production in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) has risen by more than 50% over the past seven years to about 4 MMb/d, driven by new projects and expansions in the oil sands of Alberta. And while growth has slowed since the 2014-15 downturn in crude oil prices, oil sands output is expected to continue climbing — particularly over the next year as the new, 194-Mb/d Fort Hills project ramps up toward full operation. Most forecasts put total WCSB production at near 5 MMb/d by the mid-2020s. But while Western Canadian crude oil supply has been rising, there has been only a modest expansion of pipeline capacity out of the region, and lately takeaway constraints have had a devastating effect on the price relationship between benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI). Today, we continue our series on Canadian crude and bitumen production, existing and planned pipelines, and the effects of takeaway constraints on pricing, this time focusing on the supply side of the story.

Monday, 01/22/2018

The recent collapse in the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS) versus West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and the 12-day shutdown of the Keystone Pipeline in November 2017 put the spotlight on a major issue: Alberta production is rising, pipeline takeaway capacity out of the province has not kept pace, and pipes are running so full that some owners have been forced to apportion access to them. Storage and crude-by-rail shipments have served as a cushion of sorts, absorbing shocks like the Keystone outage and the apportionments, but with more production gains expected in 2018-19, that cushion seems uncomfortably thin and unforgiving. With all this going on, we decided that it’s time for a deep-dive look at Western Canadian production, takeaway options and WCS prices — the whole kit and caboodle. Today, we begin a new series on Canadian crude and bitumen production, the infrastructure in place (and being planned) to deal with it, and the effects of takeaway constraints on pricing.

Thursday, 01/18/2018

Discussions about “peak oil” long ago shifted from when crude oil supply might reach its apex to when oil demand will peak and start to decline as the world becomes ever more energy-efficient and shifts to lower-carbon sources of energy. The date at which oil demand will stop growing is highly uncertain, and small changes in assumptions can lead to vastly different estimates. Also, there is little reason to believe that once oil demand peaks it will fall sharply — the world is likely to demand large quantities of oil for many decades to come. More importantly, the shift in paradigm from an age of perceived oil scarcity to an age of oil abundance poses major challenges for oil-producing countries as they try both to ensure that their oil is produced and consumed, and at the same time diversify their economies to prepare for a time when they can no longer rely on oil to provide their main source of revenue. Today, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and BP Group Chief Economist Spencer Dale summarize their recent report on future trends in oil supply, demand and prices.

Thursday, 01/11/2018

A number of Permian producers and their contractors are working to rein in well-completion and operating costs by developing extensive pipeline networks to efficiently deliver fresh, brackish or treated water to new wells for use in hydraulic fracturing — and deliver produced water from producing wells to treatment and disposals sites. This water-related infrastructure build-out is driven by a combination of necessity and economy, and is made possible in part by the trend among producers to assemble very large, contiguous leaseholds so they can drill longer horizontal wells. Today, we continue our series on water-related pipeline, storage and treatment infrastructure.

Wednesday, 01/10/2018

During the oil market’s downturn from mid-2014 through 2016, the Bakken Shale, primarily located in North Dakota, was at the forefront of the collapse. The Bakken rig count dropped from a high of 219 to a low of 24 as production fell by 300 Mb/d, or 24%. For many, it was time to write off the Bakken as a one-hit wonder. But as drilling productivity increased and prices rebounded, so did production. Crude oil output is again above 1.1 MMb/d and the rig count has doubled from its low point. Today, we begin a blog series on recent developments in Bakken production, well productivity and market pricing, and discuss RBN’s latest production forecast for the play.

Monday, 01/08/2018

Through the first half of the 2010s, U.S. production of field condensate — the ultra-light liquid hydrocarbon that bridges the gap between superlight crude oil and heavier natural gas liquids like natural gasoline — more than doubled, peaking at about 640 Mb/d in early 2015. As condensate production ramped up in the Eagle Ford and other plays, conde prices were discounted to move the product, markets were developed to absorb the barrels, and infrastructure was built to move the conde to those markets. Then, in a dramatic turnaround that continued into 2017, condensate production fell by more than one-third, the new markets — splitters and exports — were starved for product, and conde prices flipped from discounts to premiums. But the market is shifting yet again. Conde production is once more on the rise, with the Eagle Ford rebounding and production rising in the star of the show in crude oil markets: the Permian. Today, we discuss highlights from RBN’s new Drill Down Report on the condensate market roller-coaster.

Thursday, 01/04/2018

To complete a single two-mile horizontal well in the Permian, producers or their contractors need to bring in several hundred thousand barrels of fresh, treated or brackish water — not an easy task in dry and dusty West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. And the water challenges don’t end there. Each barrel of crude oil that emerges from a Permian well can generate even more produced water that needs to be transported and safely disposed of. With Permian production of crude and associated natural gas rising fast, the sprawling region is experiencing a rapid build-out of water pipeline networks and other infrastructure aimed at keeping pace with hydrocarbon production growth. Today, we begin a blog series on water-related pipeline, storage and treatment infrastructure in the U.S.’s fastest-growing crude oil production area.

Monday, 12/25/2017

In recent weeks, more than 750 Mb/d of new crude oil pipeline capacity out of the Permian Basin has been announced, and more project plans are likely. For Permian producers and shippers, open seasons for takeaway projects now rival Christmas and New Year’s Eve as big winter events, and companies are evaluating these projects and their implications for the basin. This is a big deal. With Permian crude production rising quickly, the pace at which new takeaway capacity is added — and the markets that the new capacity accesses — are all-important factors. Today, we discuss the dynamics of how and when this next wave of pipeline projects will affect producers, midstreamers and ultimately crude prices.

Sunday, 12/17/2017

The combination of rising condensate demand as new splitter capacity came online and falling conde supply resulted in just what you’d expect — higher conde prices. Worse yet for the companies that made throughput commitments for those new splitters, the once-favorable price differentials between conde and light-crude benchmarks West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Louisiana Light Sweet (LLS) have been turned on their heads, and a number of splitters are operating at far less than capacity. Today, we continue our look at the roller-coaster world of conde, this time focusing on conde prices and differentials, and on the forces that may change the conde market once again.

Tuesday, 12/12/2017

A number of Permian pipeline projects that would help alleviate impending takeaway constraints in the fast-growing production region have advanced in recent weeks — a clear sign that producers, shippers and midstream companies alike are paying close attention. But will these projects be enough, particularly when you consider the flood of capital spending in the Permian by exploration and production companies and the accelerated production growth that it may spur? Today, we discuss the progress midstreamers have been making on the Permian takeaway front as production of crude oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGLs) in the play ratchets up.

Monday, 12/11/2017

The sharp decline in U.S. condensate production since early 2015 and the end to the ban on U.S. crude oil exports a few months later were a one-two punch for the companies that made throughput commitments to condensate splitters and made other conde-related infrastructure investments. In what seemed like a flash, conde supply plummeted and the steep price discount to WTI and other light crude that made conde so attractive for splitting and exporting was gone. Holders of splitter capacity were paying top-dollar for what conde they could corral, and operators were forced to run their brand-new facilities at far less than capacity. And, when the general ban on crude exports was lifted in December 2015, the special status that conde had enjoyed since exports of lightly processed conde were permitted in June 2014 was a thing of the past. Today, we continue our review of a conde world in upheaval, this time with a focus on splitters and exports.