The February 2021 polar vortex will be one for the natural gas record books in the U.S. and Canada — and the month isn’t even over yet! Though no stranger to frigid weather, Canada’s natural gas market has felt the impacts of this month’s extreme cold on both sides of the border. Its own prices, demand, and storage withdrawals have reached multi-year or all-time records as gas buyers have jockeyed for molecules from anywhere they can get them. Gas exports to the U.S. have reached highs not seen for more than a decade, adding emphasis to what has been an emerging turnaround story for Canadian gas into the U.S. market. To top things off, the latest gas market records might be a preview of what is to come in the next few years as Canada’s structural demand for natural gas continues to increase, regardless of how cold it is. Today, we describe all the latest Canadian gas market action and what might be in store for next winter.
Long established as an oil-producing region, Western Canada has also become a major producer of refined products. With enough oil available to serve the nine refineries in the region, there is no need to import crude oil, making Western Canada one of the few parts of the world where the refineries are completely self-sufficient regarding oil supply. The region is also noteworthy in that, like the U.S. Gulf Coast, its refining capacity and gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel output is vastly greater than its own demand, resulting in a large surplus of refined fuels that can be sent across Canada and exported to the U.S. Today, we look westward, focusing on the nine refineries located in the Canadian West.
Canada may be the land of backyard hockey, lacrosse, and loonies, but Canadians have many similarities to folks in the U.S. The same holds true for Canada’s refining sector, which like its American counterpart has been adjusting to big changes in domestic crude oil production, a declining need for imported oil, and, most recently, a period of severe refined-product demand destruction caused by the pandemic. What Canadian refiners lack, though, is the attention they deserve. After all, nearly 2 MMb/d of crude oil flows through their 17 refineries. And, by the way, they now turn to U.S. producers for virtually all their oil imports — a far cry from where things stood before the Shale Era. Today, we kick off a three-part series that examines Canada’s refining sector in greater detail.
Canada’s natural gas market has been a source of tremendous interest to us at RBN. Last year, demand for gas in Alberta’s oil sands sector plummeted, inventories experienced record highs, yet prices remained remarkably healthy. But how can we know all that? From a data perspective, Canada’s natural gas landscape can be confusing and frustrating. Different units of measure and currencies, limited or no data coverage for important fundamental components, and numerous statistical agencies that organize and report the data in different ways just create further complications. But this data still needs to be tracked given the impact that Canadian gas production, demand, and storage levels can have on the U.S. market — and vice versa. Having all that vital Canadian gas data in one convenient package, along with some great analysis, sure would make life easier. Today, we discuss recent developments on the Canadian gas data front and why Canadian NATGAS Billboard would be a worthy addition to your analytic needs. Warning! Today’s blog is a blatant advertorial for an RBN product.
Canadian natural gas storage levels finished the most recent injection season at a record high. With what has been a fairly mild start to the heating season so far in North America, you might be tempted to think that Canadian storage levels would have been slow to draw down. On the contrary: so far, gas is being withdrawn from storage more quickly than might be expected from the winter weather alone, partly because of structural developments that have been emerging in the Canadian market. And these changes will help to draw storage levels down closer to historical averages by the end of the current heating season in March 2021. Today, we consider these structural changes and what the current heating season might have in store for the Canadian gas market.
PADDs 4 and 5 — the Rockies and the West Coast regions, respectively — are each outliers in the U.S. refining sector. Refineries in the Rockies, for example, are generally far smaller than those in other PADDs and, due to pipeline flows, source their crude oil from either Western Canada, the Bakken, or in-region production, including the Niobrara and Utah’s Uinta Basin. West Coast refineries, in turn, have no crude oil pipeline links with U.S. points to the east, and depend on a mix of imported crude from Canada, Latin America, and the Middle East, as well as domestic oil from California, Alaska, and rail receipts. Today, we conclude a series on region-by-region crude oil imports and refinery crude slates with a look at PADDs 4 and 5.
Fifteen years ago, just before the dawn of the Shale Era, more than 1.8 MMb/d of Gulf Coast and imported crude oil was being piped and barged north from PADD 3 to refineries in the Midwest. By 2019, those northbound flows had fallen by half, to less than 930 Mb/d, and in the first nine months of this year they averaged only 550 Mb/d. Refineries in PADD 2, many now equipped with cokers and other hardware that enables them to break down heavy, sour crude into valuable refined products, have replaced those barrels — and more — with piped- and railed-in imports of favorably priced crude from Western Canada, including a lot of dilbit and railbit from Alberta’s oil sands. Today, we discuss the evolution of feedstock supply to the Midwest refinery sector.
Ten years ago, East Coast refineries imported virtually all of the crude oil they needed — 60% from OPEC, 21% from Canada, and 19% from other non-OPEC countries. Only five years later, in 2015, the tables had turned. PADD 1 refinery demand for crude remained unchanged at 1.1 MMb/d, but only 14% of the oil refined there came from OPEC, 23% from Canada, and 21% from other non-OPEC countries — the other 42% was either railed in from the Bakken or shipped in from the Eagle Ford and Permian. But the changes didn’t end there. Imports rebounded sharply in 2016 and 2017, when new pipelines were built out of those basins that pulled barrels away from PADD 1 and into more competitive refining markets. In the fall of 2020, imports are falling back again but for a different reason — with COVID-19 demand destruction and other woes, East Coast refinery demand for oil is down by almost half, with more cuts on the way. Today, we continue a series on U.S. oil imports with a look at the East Coast.
In many parts of the world, the shift away from coal-fired to natural gas-fired generation and renewables has been gaining momentum in an attempt to curtail the output of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. The Canadian province of Alberta kicked off such an initiative in 2016 to eliminate all of its coal-fired power generation sources and replace these with either gas-fired plants, wind farms, or solar by 2030. In the past two years, the province’s major electric utilities and independent power producers (IPPs) have been accelerating these plans, such that the complete phase-out of coal will be accomplished many years in advance of the original deadline. Today, we consider this transition and highlight what should be a pivotal year for Alberta’s use of natural gas in power generation.
Canada’s energy sector has been hit hard by the recent oil price collapse that was initially set off by the now-ended Saudi Arabia-Russia price war and made much worse by the demand-destroying effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The impacts on Canada’s crude oil and natural gas sectors have been both dramatic and nuanced. For example, oil supply cutbacks have been rapid and substantial, while there has been virtually zero impact on natural gas supplies. Oil demand has been similarly affected, with refined product demand seeing a large swoon, while natural gas demand has suffered only a modest pullback. And for Canada’s energy exports, these have experienced some jolting swings in a matter of weeks, putting the whole sector under pressure to adapt where possible. Today, we highlight some of the recent market disruptions and their implications.
The Canadian natural gas market has exited the most recent heating season in reasonable shape. Storage withdrawals were below average thanks to mild winter temperatures, but overall storage levels at the end of the season were not too far out of line with the five-year average thanks to below-average storage levels in the west more than offsetting above-average storage levels in the east. However, Canadian gas storage may be facing a most unusual test this coming summer as storage injection activity will be influenced by reduced gas demand in the U.S. due to COVID-19 disruptions, as well as the potential for similar pandemic-driven weakness in homegrown demand, especially in Alberta’s gas-intensive oil sands. How the various pushes and pulls on gas flows play out this summer could very well determine if Canadian gas storage might test capacity limits this injection season. Today, we consider this possibility.
It’s a new world, folks. The Saudis and Russians, who until a few days ago had been trying to prop up crude oil prices through supply management, are now engaged in an all-out war for market share. Crude oil prices are sharply lower. Three weeks ago, West Texas Intermediate was selling for $53/bbl and Western Canadian Select for $37/bbl; yesterday, they were selling for $34/bbl and $22/bbl, respectively. And things may get worse. All this has profound implications for North American production, but the effects on production in U.S. shale plays versus the Canadian oil sands will be very different. Today, we explain how the oil sands provide steady-as-she-goes baseload supply through pricing peaks and valleys while U.S. shale plays serve as a global swing supplier.
The development of Appalachia’s Marcellus and Utica shales has flipped regional natural gas prices in the U.S. Northeast from their long-time premiums to Henry Hub, to trading at a significant discount and, in the process, reversed inbound gas flows, including from Eastern Canada. But there is an exception: from an entry point at the northern edge of New York, the Iroquois Gas Transmission pipeline is still importing Canadian gas supply nearly year-round to help meet local demand, despite its proximity to Marcellus/Utica production via other Northeast pipelines. This has kept prices along the Iroquois pipeline system at a premium to the other points in the region. And with the new, 1,100-MW Cricket Valley Energy Center power plant due online this spring, Iroquois prices are likely to strengthen. Today, we examine the dynamics driving Iroquois prices and gas flows.
After more than a year of reduced natural gas flows, inspections and integrity checks, Enbridge's Westcoast Energy/BC Pipeline system in British Columbia returned its T-South segment to normal operating pressure, effective December 1, ending 13 months of restricted exports of Western Canadian gas supplies to the U.S. Pacific Northwest gas market. The outage and the resulting reduction in export flows out of Western Canada had prolonged effects on local and downstream gas flows and prices, including a run-up in prices at the Sumas, WA, border crossing point to an all-time U.S. record high of $200/MMBtu last winter. Today, we provide an update on Westcoast flows and their downstream impacts.
Propane stockpiled in Canada has often been a mid-winter godsend for propane consumers in the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains states. If supplies in PADD 2 ever got tight due to unusually cold weather, greater-than-normal crop-drying demand and/or kinks in the U.S. supply chain, the higher prices spurred by the shortfall would incent more Canadian propane to be piped, railed or trucked south. This winter may be different, though. A new propane export terminal in British Columbia and steady-as-she-goes exports from the U.S.’s northern neighbor to PADDs 2 and 5 have left Canadian propane inventories nearly one-third lower than a year ago, and propane in the Edmonton, AB, hub is selling at a far-from-typical premium to propane at Conway, KS, and Mont Belvieu, TX. Today, we explain why a supply-demand imbalance in the U.S. heartland this winter might be harder to fix.