A number of indicators suggest that the energy slump that started in the latter half of 2014 has bottomed out, and that happy days are here again (at least for now). Who would have thought back in the good ol’ days three years ago this month—when the spot price for crude oil was north of $100/bbl and the Henry Hub natural gas price averaged $5.15/MMbtu—that Friday’s $54 crude and $2.63 gas would be seen as anything but a catastrophic meltdown. But not so. The fact is that in 2017, producers in a number of basins can make good money at these price levels. Consequently, drilling activity is coming on strong. Crude oil production is up more than 500 Mb/d since October 2016 to 9 MMb/d, a level not seen in almost a year. And gas output has also been poised to rise, if only real winter demand had kicked in this year. What’s going on? Today we discuss the fact that what we have here, folks, is a rebound unlike any we’ve seen before.
The March 2017 CME/NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas futures contract has shed nearly 60 cents/MMBtu (17%) since February 1, 2017, and the rest of the 2017 curve has been slashed by an average 40 cents (12%) in that time. On February 1, prices for all 10 remaining 2017 futures contracts (from March to December 2017) carried $3 handles. Now, all but two contracts are below $3. Weather has been the primary driver of this shift. February 2017 is set to rank as the warmest February since 1970, after January 2017 also came in as one of the warmest in 40 years. Weather forecasts are also showing the warmth extending into March. These developments are signaling a more bearish 2017 than expected. Today, we continue our supply and demand update with a look at the 2017-to-date balance.
The SCOOP and STACK plays in central Oklahoma have emerged as two of the most productive and cost-effective plays in the entire U.S. Rigs are returning, crude oil production is rising, and so is production of associated natural gas. Moreover, the RBN production economics model shows that SCOOP and STACK will continue to be attractive to drillers under all of our various price scenarios—even if crude were to slip back below $50 and natural gas goes back into the dog house, where it has been headed the past few days. Today we continue our look at the side-by-side Sooner State plays with a review of existing and planned gas processing capacity.
Anticipating renewed growth in natural gas and natural gas liquids production in the Marcellus and Utica plays, midstream companies active in the region are planning new gas processing plants and fractionators, as well as new NGL takeaway capacity and in-region NGL storage. And Shell Chemicals has made a Final Investment Decision to build a $6 billion, ethane-consuming steam cracker in western Pennsylvania by the early 2020s. In today’s blog, “Unleashed in the (North)East—New Gas Processing and Fractionation Capacity in Marcellus/Utica,” Housley Carr continues our series on on-going efforts by midstreamers and others to keep pace with NGL growth in the epicenter of U.S. gas and NGL production.
After ending 2016 on a bullish note, the U.S. natural gas market has been hammered so far in 2017 by relentlessly mild weather—January 2017 ranked as the fifth warmest in 40 years. The prompt CME/NYMEX Henry Hub futures contract, which had climbed to nearly $4.00/MMBtu by late December 2016, has come off more than $1.00 since then to settle at $2.834/MMBtu as of last Friday (February 17, 2017). With every balmy winter day that passes, the chances of sustained $3-$4 natural gas prices seem to be fading away. Nevertheless, there are still some bulls out there hanging on in hopes of a rebound. Prices are still well above year-ago levels and the underlying supply/demand balance continues to carry the implied potential for tightening if given even normal weather. In today’s blog, we provide an update of the gas supply/demand balance, starting with a recap of how we got here.
As it builds out the nation’s oil and natural gas pipeline networks to keep pace with ever-changing needs, the midstream sector has faced a number of challenges, perhaps chief among them regulatory delays exacerbated by organized environmental opposition. An oft-repeated priority of the new administration has been to make it easier to advance the development of new energy infrastructure development. That raises a few questions. How much difference will this apparent change in attitude make? Should we expect a huge surge in new pipeline projects to be approved and move forward? Today we examine major projects that have faced drawn-out approval processes and evaluate the degree to which a new administration can grease the skids for new pipelines.
South Texas—and its primary trading hub, Agua Dulce—is emerging as the fulcrum for U.S. natural gas producers and growing demand markets on the Texas Gulf Coast and across the border in Mexico. Between the Freeport and Corpus Christi LNG export projects and cross-border pipeline projects to Mexico, nearly 4.0 Bcf/d of export capacity is being developed in South Texas over the next few years. Meanwhile, U.S. producers as far north as the Marcellus/Utica are jockeying to capture this new demand. Large investments are being made to expand and reverse traditional pipeline flows across the Texas-Louisiana border to get gas all the way down to South Texas and the Texas-Mexico border. But will enough capacity be available when the demand shows up? Today, we break down the natural gas supply/demand picture in South Texas and what it will take to balance the market there as exports ramp up.
So far, relatively mild weather this winter has insulated New England natural gas consumers from pipeline capacity-related price spikes that occurred during cold snaps in previous winters. And even if another polar vortex were to happen, it’s likely the regional electric grid operator’s Winter Reliability Program to shift gas-fired generators from pipeline gas to stockpiled oil or LNG would keep the lights on. But New England’s day of reckoning is coming. The region is becoming ever-more dependent on gas-fired power, most gas pipeline projects into New England are stalled or scrapped, and New York’s recently announced plan to close two Indian Point nuclear units will only make matters worse. Today we discuss the still-widening gap between Northeast pipeline capacity and gas demand.
As natural gas exports to Mexico continue to rise and as construction proceeds on Texas liquefaction/LNG export terminals, the day is approaching when Texas will flip from being a net producing region to being (with exports) a net demand region. Fortunately, supplies from elsewhere are readily available to meet that demand—sourced from the Marcellus/Utica and moving on new and reversed pipeline capacity to the Gulf Coast. A good portion of that gas must traverse “miles and miles of Texas” to meet the burgeoning export demand at the Agua Dulce hub near Corpus Christi, a location that is emerging as a key pricing point for the South Texas gas market. But a potential problem is looming: There may not be enough pipeline capacity available to meet that demand, with important implications for South Texas prices, flows and natural gas export volumes. The average annual basis at Agua Dulce could increase to as much as a dime ($0.10/MMbtu) above Henry Hub in 2020 from its historical level $0.02/MMbtu to $0.05/MMbtu below Henry. Today we discuss these and other highlights from the fourth and final part of RBN’s Drill Down series.
When you examine the assets, contracts and other details of a midstream company using a fine-toothed comb, you can gain a fuller, more useful understanding of the firm’s value and growth prospects. With such a thorough analysis, one thing that becomes clear is that vertically integrated midstreamers—those with interconnected processing, pipeline, fractionation and storage assets—tend to do better than those whose facilities are scattered and disjointed. Why? Because by controlling the midstream value chain—all the way from wellhead to end-user—they flow product through multiple assets, filling capacity and gaining revenue each step along the way. Today we continue our review of highlights from a new East Daley Capital report that examines the inner workings of more than 20 U.S. midstream companies.
As natural gas exports to Mexico continue to rise and as construction proceeds on liquefaction/LNG export terminals in Freeport and Corpus Christi, TX, the need to transport increasing volumes of gas down the Texas Gulf Coast becomes ever more urgent. And moving gas down the coast is no easy task; the Lone Star State’s convoluted mix of interstate and intrastate pipelines were designed primarily to flow gas up the coast from South Texas and Gulf Coast production areas to the greater Houston Ship Channel area—and from there on interstate pipes to Louisiana and beyond. Today we use RBN’s Fretboard Model to discuss whether existing and planned southbound pipeline capacity will be sufficient to meet export demand.
Earlier this month, Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) achieved full in-service of its 800-MMcf/d Zone 3 Capacity Enhancement Project, boosting the line’s east-to-west takeaway capacity out of Ohio to 2.6 Bcf/d, up 45% from 1.8 Bcf/d previously. Flows since then provide early indications of how Marcellus/Utica producers and downstream markets are responding to this added ability to move gas west. In today’s blog, we continue our look at how the expansion has impacted flows, this time with a focus on the delivery side.
Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline earlier this month (on January 6, 2017) brought into service the last 350 MMcf/d of its 800-MMcf/d Zone 3 Capacity Enhancement Project, boosting the line’s east-to-west takeaway capacity out of Ohio to 2.6 Bcf/d, up 45% from 1.8 Bcf/d previously. The new, fully-subscribed capacity, designed to serve Marcellus/Utica producers, filled up almost instantaneously. But unlike previous capacity additions, Northeast production did not increase. Instead the gas came from other pipelines. This development provides an early indication of what the new capacity will mean for producers, flows and prices. In today’s blog, we delve into pipeline flow data to understand the early impacts of the new takeaway capacity.
While oil prices have risen in recent months, they are a far cry from the $100/bbl prices of two and half years ago, and there is certainly no guarantee they won’t fall back below $50. In other words, the survival of exploration and production companies continues to depend on razor-thin margins, and E&Ps must continue to pay very close attention to their capital and operating costs. Lease operating expenses—the costs incurred by an operator to keep production flowing after the initial cost of drilling and completing a well have been incurred—are a go-to cost component in assessing the financial health of E&Ps. But there’s a lot more to LOEs than meets the eye, and understanding them in detail is as important now as ever. Today we continue our series on a little-explored but important factor in assessing oil and gas production costs.
Natural gas production from the oil- and condensate-focused SCOOP/STACK combo play in Oklahoma—one of the most productive plays in the U.S. currently—grew through 2016, even as other producing areas in the state, and in the Midcontinent as a whole, declined. As one of just a handful of locations that returning rigs are targeting, the SCOOP/STACK has the potential to single-handedly offset production declines in other parts of the U.S. Midcontinent and make Oklahoma a natural gas growth state again. Moreover, the RBN production economics model shows the natural gas output from the SCOOP/STACK has the numbers and the proximity to be directly competitive with gas supply from the Marcellus/Utica. Today, we continue our SCOOP/STACK series, with a look at the production economics driving interest in this play.