North Dakota

Sunday, 03/05/2017

A number of the Bakken’s leading producers are talking up the shale play’s prospects for crude oil production gains in 2017—and especially in 2018—but we are still waiting on numbers that would prove that the play has truly turned a corner. What is crystal clear, though, is that the Bakken’s biggest takeaway project ever, the 470-Mb/d Dakota Access Pipeline to Illinois, is finally nearing completion and operation after a very public delay. When DAPL comes online this spring, it will further reduce crude-by-rail volumes out of the Bakken and should help to increase the odds that production in the play will begin to rebound in earnest. Today we update production and takeaway capacity in the nation’s third-largest crude-focused shale play.

Sunday, 08/14/2016

The 450-Mb/d Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has broken away from the pack of out-of-the-Bakken crude takeaway projects. On August 2, Enbridge Inc., through its master limited partnership Enbridge Energy Partners, agreed to take a large stake in DAPL from Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Sunoco Logistics Partners (SXL), a move that suggests Enbridge’s own 225-Mb/d Sandpiper Pipeline may drop out of the race soon. Joining Enbridge in the $2 billion deal is Marathon Petroleum, its former joint venture partner and anchor shipper on Sandpiper. Today, we consider these recent developments in the long-running effort to transport North Dakota crude oil to market more efficiently.

Tuesday, 03/22/2016

Most of the crude by rail  (CBR) shipments to 4 refineries in Washington State are ex-North Dakota from where rail freight costs are over $10/Bbl. Bakken crude from North Dakota competes at Washington refineries with Alaska North Slope (ANS) shipped down from Valdez, AK. Back in 2012 ANS prices were more than $20/Bbl higher than Bakken crude – easily covering the rail cost. In 2016 so far the ANS premium to Bakken has averaged well below the $10/Bbl freight cost making CBR shipments uneconomic. But as we discuss today - Northwest refiners are still shipping significant volumes of crude from North Dakota.

Sunday, 03/13/2016

If East Coast refiners bought their crude at the wellhead in North Dakota during February 2016 they would have paid average prices of about $4.90/Bbl below U.S. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at Cushing, OK – which works out at about $26.25/Bbl (price estimates from Genscape). If they shipped that crude by rail to refineries in Philadelphia, PA on the East Coast they would have paid about $14/Bbl rail freight - meaning the delivered cost of crude would be $26.25 + $14 or $40.25/Bbl. Alternatively they could have simply imported Bakken equivalent light sweet crude priced close to international benchmark Brent for an average $34/Bbl – saving a minimum of $6.25/Bbl. Today we describe how these economics have had a detrimental impact on crude-by-rail (CBR) shipments to the East Coast.

Tuesday, 03/08/2016

For the past, year many shale oil producers have defied the expectations of many and kept output at or near to record levels in the face of falling oil prices and much tougher economics. Improvements in productivity, cost cutting and a concentration on “sweet spot” wells that generate high initial production (IP) rates have all helped cash strapped producers survive. But with oil prices so far in 2016 stuck in the $35/Bbl and lower range and with the worldwide crude storage glut still weighing on the market – producers are finally pulling back. Today we look at how increased pressure on North Dakota producers is putting the brakes on Bakken crude production.

Monday, 02/08/2016

Crude prices are hovering around $30/Bbl making crude–by-rail (CBR) transport an expensive option for hard pressed producers looking to conserve cash – especially where pipeline alternatives are available. The crude price differentials that once justified shipping inland crude to coastal destinations by rail have all but disappeared. In November, 2015 pipeline shipments exceeded rail out of North Dakota for the first time since 2011 and by 2017 available pipeline capacity out of the region should exceed producer’s needs. In the circumstances, rail shipments would appear to be living on borrowed time but as we describe today - some North Dakota rail shipments are continuing in spite of the poor economics.

Tuesday, 02/02/2016

With crude prices below $30/Bbl and the price spread between U.S. domestic crude benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and international equivalent Brent trading in a very narrow range – the economics of moving Crude-by-Rail (CBR) rarely make sense any more.  Rail shipments are down across all regions and railroads are reporting sharply lower revenues from CBR shipments.  Today we start a new series revisiting the regions where CBR traffic boomed a couple of years back and contemplating its future value to shippers and refiners.

Tuesday, 12/01/2015

The 20 Mb/d Dakota Prairie refinery commenced operation on May 4, 2015 – becoming the first brand new U.S. crude processing plant to startup in nearly 40 years. The rationale behind this refinery and plans for others like it was surging demand for diesel driven by the shale oil boom in North Dakota. However the market conditions that prompted interest in building refineries in the Bakken region have changed considerably in the past year and led to an unprofitable first quarter for Dakota Prairie. Today we explain why the new refinery made sense at one time and what has changed in the past year.

Wednesday, 10/28/2015

Delays to the Enbridge Sandpiper project bringing greater volumes of Bakken crude onto the Enbridge Mainline system at Superior, WS threaten to limit the supply of crude to feed refineries in Quebec when Enbridge’s Line 9B reversal project comes online in November 2015. The market impact could push crude prices higher in North Dakota. Today we discuss the crude supply picture and possible impact when Line 9B opens up.

Monday, 10/05/2015

Crude oil producers in the Bakken region responded to the oil price collapse with drilling cutbacks and a laser-like focus on sweet-spot areas with high initial production rates. It turns out those oil sweet spots also produce a lot of associated natural gas. But there’s not enough infrastructure in place to deal with the extra gas, and that’s slowing North Dakota’s efforts to reduce flaring (burning gas that can’t be utilized for various reasons). Today, we consider the multiple, domino-like effects that low oil prices are having on one of the U.S.’s most important tight oil plays.

Tuesday, 09/08/2015

Most of the increase in U.S. propane production in recent years has come from plants processing natural gas to extract natural gas liquids (NGLs). The rich (wet) gas those plants process is either produced with crude as associated gas or from wet gas wells that target NGLs. In either case propane supplies are produced regardless of U.S. demand – and that demand is relatively static although subject to significant weather related seasonal variation. There are two important consequences of this supply/demand imbalance with important implications for the propane market.  First, the U.S. can produce about twice the propane it needs, so the surplus must be exported.  Second, most production growth is next door to the largest propane demand regions in the country. Today we describe the scenarios used to build our model of propane supply and demand used to analyze these developments.

Sunday, 08/09/2015

Crude by rail (CBR) shipments from North Dakota to West Coast destinations peaked in January 2015 at 170 Mb/d – falling since then to average 140 Mb/d in 2015, January through May. The vast majority of these shipments have moved to four refineries in Washington State – providing a cheaper alternative to the Alaska North Slope (ANS) crude staple these refineries have run for decades. There is big potential to expand CBR shipments to West Coast Ports and to California but building the infrastructure has proven painstakingly slow. Today we discuss the long term fate of West Coast CBR.

Monday, 05/25/2015

The latest estimates from North Dakota show production edging up in March 2015 after a two-month decline. But the heady days are over for the moment - in the wake of lower crude prices - as even optimistic forecasts project flattened growth. Meanwhile combined rail and pipeline crude takeaway capacity out of North Dakota are already far higher than production – but new projects like the TransCanada Upland pipeline continue to be pitched to shippers. Today we describe how that could result in producers switching from existing routes.

Sunday, 05/17/2015

Crude oil production is expected to be slowing down in U.S. shale basins in the wake of lower oil prices and drastic cuts in the number of working rigs. Most forecasts for future growth are far more conservative now. Yet new midstream pipeline projects continue to emerge. The latest proposal in the Bakken would add a minimum of 220 Mb/d of takeaway capacity sometime after 2018. At that point, between rail and pipeline, North Dakota takeaway capacity will be more than double RBN’s Growth Scenario production forecast – suggesting new pipelines will need to attract defectors from existing routes to market. Today we examine the rationale behind the proposed TransCanada Upland pipeline.

Tuesday, 02/03/2015

The combination of crashing crude prices and freight costs for long distance transport to refinery markets is tightening pressure on Bakken crude producer break-even economics. There is plenty of more expensive rail transportation capacity and not enough cheaper pipeline capacity to carry all production to market. For the moment producers appear to be sticking to favored markets on the East and West Coasts that can only be reached by rail. New pipeline capacity is two years away. Today we review the big shifts in North Dakota crude transport options.