The recently announced combination of DCP Midstream LLC and DCP Midstream Partners LP creates the nation’s largest natural gas processor and natural gas liquids producer at what may be a particularly opportune time. The newly formed DCP Midstream LP, operating as a master limited partnership, owns 61 gas processing plants with a combined capacity of 7.8 Bcf/d—enough to process more than 10% of current U.S. production—as well as 12 fractionation plants, 59,700 miles of gas gathering pipelines and 4,600 miles of NGL pipelines. Better yet, many of these assets serve some of the U.S.’s most prolific and promising production areas, including the Midland and Delaware basins within the Permian; the Denver-Julesburg (DJ); and the side-by-side SCOOP and STACK plays. In today’s blog, we review the combined entity’s assets and prospects for growth in what soon may be happier times for NGL processors.
As U.S. crude oil and natural gas market prices and rig counts climb, the SCOOP and STACK in central Oklahoma continue to be two of the handful of plays attracting significant increased activity and investment, both on the producer and midstream sides. Production growth from the 11-county region covering the two plays is helping to offset declines in oil and gas volumes from other parts of Oklahoma and the Midcontinent region as a whole. Today we look at historical and recent drilling activity as an indicator of potential growth.
After enduring 2015-16 it is about time for some good news, right? And that’s just what 2017 is shaping up to be—a relatively good news year for energy markets. But don’t go crazy with this. The key word in that sentence is “relatively’” —which means better than 2015-16, but if you are looking for that other “R” word (“recovery”) you won’t see it here. Crude prices will be up some, but nothing like the first few years of this decade. Natural gas and NGL prices will be stronger too. But both may have to wait still another year before seeing a real upswing in 2018. Nevertheless, 2017 is looking good for most of the energy market. Not for everyone, mind you. Many will struggle because their assets are in the wrong places, they are at the wrong end of the food chain, or they were simply unprepared for this new market reality. How will you know the difference between the winners and losers? Well of course, by looking deeply into the RBN crystal ball to see what 2017—Year of the Rooster—has in store for us. Cock-a-doodle-do!
A long-standing tradition at RBN is our annual Top 10 RBN Energy Prognostications blog, where we lay out the most important developments we see for the year ahead. Unlike so many forecasters, we also look back to see how we did with our forecasts the previous year. That’s right! We actually check our work. Usually we can get that all into a single blog. But a lot will be coming at us in 2017, so this time around we are splitting our Prognostications into two pieces. Tomorrow’s blog will look into the RBN crystal ball one more time to see what 2017 has in store for energy markets. But today we look back. Back to what we posted on January 3, 2016. Recall back in those days that crude production had not started to decline materially, West Texas Intermediate (WTI; the U.S. light-crude benchmark) was at $37/bbl, natural gas was $2.33/MMbtu in the middle of winter, Congress had just OK’ed crude exports, and weak exploration and production companies (E&Ps) were dropping like flies. Now let’s look at RBN’s Prognostications for 2016.
From the depths of despair in the first quarter when WTI crude collapsed to $26.21/bbl on February 11 and Henry Hub gas crashed to $1.64/MMbtu on March 3, we are back, sort of. Growth in the rig count has been nothing short of spectacular, up 249 or 62% from the low point in late May. Crude oil, natural gas and NGL prices have all more than doubled since the lows of Q1. Yes, 2016 has been quite a roller coaster ride for energy markets. Here in the RBN blogosphere, we’ve documented this saga every step of the way. Now at the end of the year, as we’ve done for the past five years, it is time to look back. Back over the past 12 months––to see which blogs have generated the most interest from you, our readers. We track the hit rate for each of our daily blogs, and the number of hits tells you a lot about what is going on in energy markets. So once again we look into the rearview mirror at the top blogs of 2016 based on numbers of website hits in “The 2016 Hydrocarbon Top 10 RBN Blogs”.
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 build-out of incremental natural gas takeaway capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica region has come in fits and starts, with new pipelines—as opposed to the reversal or expansion of existing pipes—proving to be the most troublesome. Energy Transfer Partners and Traverse Midstream Holdings’ long-planned 3.25-Bcf/d Rover Pipeline to southern Michigan is a case in point. The latest challenge for the $4.2 billion project is getting final federal approval in time to allow tree clearing along the pipeline’s 711-mile route to be completed before federally protected bats start roosting in early April. If that timeline’s not met, Rover’s planned completion later in 2017 may be delayed a full year, enabling Western Canadian gas producers to sell more gas to Ontario and the Upper Midwest. Today we assess what’s at stake for ETP, Traverse, and producer-shippers in the Marcellus/Utica and Western Canada.
There’s good reason to believe that the international LNG market has turned a corner, with demand and LNG prices on the rise and with a number of new LNG-import projects being planned. That would be good news for U.S. natural gas producers, who know that rising LNG exports will boost gas demand and support attractive gas prices. It also would help to validate the wisdom of building all that liquefaction/LNG export capacity now nearing completion. Today we look at recent developments in worldwide LNG demand and pricing and how they may signal the need for more LNG-producing capacity in the first half of the 2020s.
The SCOOP and STACK combo play in central Oklahoma recently has emerged as one of the most prolific and attractive shale production regions in the U.S. Like the Permian Basin (albeit on a much smaller scale), rig counts in this play have weathered the crude oil price decline better than most of the rest and, along with the Permian, are leading a rebound as prices move higher. These days, SCOOP/STACK producers are primarily targeting crude oil and condensates, but the area also is seeing a resurgence of natural gas output from associated gas. More than that, given its economics, location and ample infrastructure, gas supply from the region has the potential to be directly competitive with Marcellus/Utica supply. Today, we begin a series analyzing production trends in the SCOOP/STACK, with a focus on natural gas.
Change continues to come fast and furious to midstream MLPs, with no master limited partnership facing a bigger shift than MPLX. MPLX LP, formed in 2012 by Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC), is no stranger to transformation. In 2015, MPLX acquired MarkWest Energy Partners for $14.7 billion, a move that in one fell swoop made the merged entity the fourth-largest MLP in the U.S. In October 2016, Marathon announced an aggressive “dropdown” strategy that will provide MPLX with additional assets that will generate about $1.4 billion in annual earnings by the end of 2019. MPLX also has a significant capital investment program that allocates $2.3-$2.8 billion to build out gathering and processing infrastructure and logistics and storage facilities in Appalachia and Texas. Today, we review our latest Spotlight analysis of one of the nation’s largest MLPs.
The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub January contract settled yesterday at $3.54/MMBtu, about 30.8 cents (~10%) above where the December contract expired ($3.232) and 77.6 cents (28%) higher than where November settled ($2.764). The natural gas winter withdrawal season is officially underway—it’s a lot colder and gas demand has spiked. But this week also marks another key bullish threshold: as today’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report will likely show, the U.S. natural gas inventory has fallen below the prior year’s levels for the first time in two years (since early December 2014). That’s in sharp contrast to where the inventory started the injection season in April—more than 1,000 Bcf higher compared to April 2015. Moreover, we expect the emerging deficit to grow substantially over the next several weeks. Today we look at the supply-demand fundamentals driving this shift and what it means for the winter gas market.
The Western states continue to ramp up their renewable energy mandates—California and Oregon, for instance, plan to get at least 50% of their electricity from renewable sources, and Colorado has set a 30% requirement. Ironically, this renewable energy trend puts a spotlight on natural gas, whose at-the-ready supply will be needed to fuel the West’s increasing number of gas-fired power plants at a moment’s notice to offset the up-and-down output of solar facilities and wind farms. One way to help ensure natural gas availability is have gas storage capacity close at hand. Today we look at ongoing efforts to add tens of billions of cubic feet of natural gas storage in the Western U.S., primarily to help ensure the fueling of nearby gas-fired power plants that back up variable-output solar and wind.
Of the six interstate pipelines that account for most of the natural gas crossing the Texas/Louisiana state line, two have net flows that are westbound into Texas––something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. By the end of this decade—and maybe far sooner—Texas will be receiving more gas from Louisiana than vice versa, mostly due to planned pipeline reversals aimed at moving more Marcellus/Utica gas to Texas export markets. Today we continue our look at changing Texas gas flows, this time with a focus on the half-dozen most important pipelines at the Texas/Louisiana border.
Takeaway capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica shale producing region is about to get another significant boost. Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) expects to bring the first 200 MMcf/d of its 800-MMcf/d Zone 3 Capacity Enhancement project (Z3CE) in service any day now, and ramp up to the full 800 MMcf/d by end of the year. Moreover, the pipeline operator has hinted that it may be able to eke out incremental Zone 3 operating capacity over and above the new design capacity in the near future. The Z3CE expansion will mark the third time in as many years that REX will increase westbound takeaway capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica region. With each capacity boost, Northeast production volumes have risen to the occasion and the capacity has filled up. Today we examine this latest expansion and what it will mean for U.S. gas production.
The U.S. natural gas market in the past two years has undergone massive change, from breaking storage records and crossing long-held thresholds to flipping flow patterns and pricing relationships on their heads. This November, the market crossed yet another milestone: the U.S. became a net exporter of natural gas for the first time ever on September 1, 2016. That lasted only a few days. But net exports resumed again starting November 1 and have continued through the month, almost without interruption, with pipeline deliveries to Mexico and to the first two liquefaction “trains” at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass LNG terminal exceeding imports from Canada and LNG import terminals by an average 0.6 Bcf/d. Today, we look into what’s really driving this shift and what that tells us about the trend going forward.