Alberta natural gas storage, one of the largest regional storage hubs in North America, is experiencing one of its slowest cumulative storage injection rates in years and could be headed to a 13-year low for storage levels by the end of the current injection season. That may seem ominous for the chilly Alberta and Canadian winter heating season, not to mention gas exports to the U.S. So far, though, winter gas forward prices for the Western Canadian gas price benchmark of AECO have registered a relatively modest market response, staying in line with last winter’s average spot price. Today, we take a closer look at the market’s apparent lack of concern over low Alberta gas storage.
The options for moving Western Canada’s natural gas supply out of the region are limited. This situation has become more acute in the past few years with the upswing in associated gas production from specific areas within the sprawling region, meaning that not all the takeaway pipelines are created equal in terms of being able to move this incremental gas supply to downstream markets. One pipeline system — TC Energy’s mammoth Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL) network — is ideally located to help out, given that big parts of it run through the fastest-growing production areas. But it’s been running full and is increasingly constrained. Will the planned expansions to the NGTL system be enough? Today, we continue our series on the Western Canadian natural gas market with a look at TC Energy’s NGTL network, the largest and most geographically advantaged of the pipeline systems in the region.
Canadian natural gas production — over 95% of which originates in Alberta and British Columbia — has averaged about 16 Bcf/d in 2018 and 2019 year-to-date, and this past January, it topped 16.7 Bcf/d, just shy of the peaks last seen in the mid-2000s. Production has stayed strong even as prices at AECO, the gas benchmark hub, have plummeted to historical lows in the face of relentless competition from U.S. gas supplies, slower demand growth locally, and pipeline takeaway constraints. Under these conditions, producers’ future growth prospects will come down to access to local and export demand, and that means there needs to be adequate pipeline capacity to reach those destination markets. Today, we continue our analysis of existing and potential pipeline takeaway capacity and utilization out of the region, this time with a focus on the Alliance Pipeline system.
The rise in unconventional natural gas supplies in Western Canada has forced the region to again confront a dilemma that it faced in the 1990s and early 2000s: not enough export pipeline capacity to move all that gas to market. Although demand for natural gas has been growing in Alberta’s oil sands and power generation markets, it has not kept pace with provincial gas supply growth, leading to oversupply conditions and historically low gas prices. The need to export more of the gas to other parts of Canada and the U.S. is driving some pipeline expansions in the region. The question is, will they be enough? Today, we provide an update on the utilization of existing export routes, as well as the prospects (or lack thereof) for takeaway expansions, starting with Westcoast Energy Pipeline.
Growing natural gas supplies in Western Canada have been pressuring gas prices and export pipelines in the region, but there are signs that at least some of that supply-growth pressure is being offset by rising gas demand. Though the region is pegged as primarily a winter gas market — where local demand only rises when the temperature falls into the winter extremes — non-weather-related demand for natural gas has been growing in Western Canada and looks to have further upside in the years ahead. Today, we delve into Alberta and British Columbia’s gas demand trends and their potential to help balance the region’s oversupply conditions.
Once consigned to a flat or declining profile, natural gas production in Western Canada has been increasing steadily since 2012, to the extent that it has now begun to stretch the ability of the existing pipeline network to the breaking point. Most striking is that this expansion in production has been taking place in an era of declining natural gas prices and weakening basis for Western Canada’s primary natural price marker, AECO, and rising and relentless competition from U.S. gas supplies in several of Canada’s key domestic and export markets. If the pricing, pipe egress and export situation has become so dire, why are producers still drilling for and pumping out even more natural gas? Today, we address this question in the second part of our series investigating Western Canada’s natural gas supply and demand balance.
Offer any energy commodity at a low-enough price and buyers will surface, as long as there’s a way to get that liquid or gas from where it’s being sold to where it’s being used or put on a boat for export. That’s been the recent experience of the butane market in Western Canada, where a perfect storm of events last fall caused butane prices in Edmonton, AB, to freefall to near zero. But things have turned around, at least for now. Today, we take a look at the dramatic recovery of the Edmonton butane market and what might lie ahead.
Enbridge’s long-running effort to revamp how it allocates space — and charges for service — on its 2.9-MMb/d Mainline crude oil pipeline system is about to enter a new and important phase. On July 15, the Calgary, AB-based midstream giant plans to initiate an open season for shippers interested in locking up long-term capacity on the Mainline, which serves as the primary conduit for heavy and light crude from Western Canada to U.S. crude hubs and refineries. If all goes well, shippers will know by late in the year how much space they will have on the system starting in mid-2021, assuming Enbridge’s plan is approved by regulators. This is a huge change. The Mainline isn’t just the largest crude pipeline system out of Western Canada, it’s also the only major line whose service is currently 100% “uncommitted” — that is, the Mainline has no capacity under long-term contracts with shippers. Today, we discuss the latest on the midstreamer’s Mainline tolling plan.
As Western Canadian natural gas production has been recovering off lows from a few years ago and pushing higher, one of the by-products of this recovery has been steadily rising production of natural gasoline, an NGL “purity product’ also known as plant condensate. Condensate production has been growing so much that Pembina Pipeline Corp. — a leading transporter of natural gasoline in the region — has been undertaking another round of expansions to its Peace Pipeline system to move more of the product to the Alberta oil sands. There, condensate is used as a diluent to allow the transportation of viscous bitumen to far-away markets via pipelines or rail. Today, we take a closer look at Pembina’s effort to expand the Peace Pipeline.
The AltaGas/Royal Vopak Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal in the Port of Prince Rupert, BC, is poised to receive and load its first Very Large Gas Carrier (VLGC) any day now, a milestone that will make it Western Canada’s first LPG export facility and only the second such terminal in the greater Pacific Northwest region. With a capacity of 40 Mb/d, the facility is likely to provide a healthy boost to Western Canadian propane exports in 2019, easing oversupply conditions in the region while also providing producers with enhanced access to overseas markets, particularly in Asia. Today, we take a closer look at the new Prince Rupert facility and what it means for the Western Canadian propane market.
While it’s widely known that Canada’s natural gas prices and exports have been under increasing pressure from rising gas supplies in the U.S., forcing an ever-deeper discount for AECO — Canada’s primary gas price benchmark — versus U.S. benchmark gas prices, a homegrown development is making the situation worse. Growing unconventional gas supplies from the Montney and related plays in Western Canada are bumping up against insufficient pipeline takeaway capacity from this producing region. Will Canadian gas markets be able to adapt to all of these growing supplies on both sides of the border or simply wither away as U.S. supplies take more and more market share? Today, we kick off a multi-part series examining the highly complex problems facing Western Canadian gas producers.
What a deal! Take as much butane as you want — all for the low, low price of less than 10 cents/gallon (c/gal). That was the situation in Edmonton, AB, last November and the price stayed dirt cheap until a few days ago. Given a decline in demand for butane in crude blending, along with growing NGL production, the NGL processing and storage hub in Western Canada was awash in butane as winter approached. It remains flush with product today — and the price for Alberta butane is still low. How did this happen, and how will it play out over the next few months? Today, we examine the factors that led the Edmonton NGL market to see a price fall to near zero c/gal for the second time this decade.
Natural gas spot prices at Sumas, WA, on Friday went as high as $200/MMBtu, a record price not only for the Pacific Northwest spot gas market, but for the U.S. That level surpassed even the highest price seen in the premium Northeast market in the pre-Shale Era. Other Western prices also rose Friday but not to anywhere near Sumas, with intraday highs at the other hubs mostly staying below $10/MMBtu. This is just the latest instance of turmoil in the Pacific Northwest gas market since last fall, when a rupture on Enbridge’s Westcoast Energy/BC Pipeline system (on October 9) disrupted Canadian gas exports to Washington State at the Sumas border crossing point. Ongoing testing on the Westcoast system and the resulting capacity reductions for deliveries to Sumas, along with reduced deliverability at the region’s largest storage facility, Jackson Prairie, over the past month have made the Pacific Northwest more of a demand “island” than ever, especially as those issues coincide with this week’s polar-vortex weather. Sumas prices for today’s flows re-entered the stratosphere, averaging just under $16/MMBtu, but remained the highest price in the country. Today, we review the market conditions contributing to the sky-high prices.
Crude-by-rail (CBR) has been a saving grace for many Canadian oil producers. With extremely limited pipeline takeaway capacity, rail options from Western Canada to multiple markets in the U.S. have acted as a relief valve for prices — there for producers when they need it, in the background when they don’t. In 2018, we saw a major resurgence in CBR activity from our neighbors to the north, with volumes reaching an all-time high of 330 Mb/d just this past November. But just as quickly as CBR seemed ready for takeoff, the rug got pulled out from underneath those midstream rail providers and traders who had lined up deals and railcars to take advantage of wide price spreads. When Alberta’s provincial government announced its 325-Mb/d production curtailment beginning at the start of 2019, many midstream/marketing and integrated oil companies bemoaned what it could potentially do to market opportunities. And they were spot-on. Wide price differentials for Canadian crudes to WTI disappeared quickly and eliminated most, if not all, of the economic incentive to move crude via rail, and even by pipeline. In today’s blog, we recap the recent move away from crude-by-rail by some of Canada’s largest CBR players, and discuss the risks of long-term CBR commitments in volatile times.
The recently mandated reduction in Alberta crude oil production has helped to ease takeaway constraints out of Western Canada, but only temporarily. Worse yet, it’s unclear how long it will take to add new takeaway capacity from challenged projects like the Trans Mountain Expansion Project or Keystone XL. In the midst of all this trouble and uncertainty, Enbridge is pursuing a potentially controversial plan to revamp how it allocates space — and charges for service — on its 2.8-MMb/d Mainline system, the primary conduit for heavy and light crudes from Western Canada to U.S. crude hubs and refineries. Today, we begin a series on the company’s push to shift to a system that would allocate most of the space on its multi-pipe Mainline system to shippers that sign long-term contracts.