Bakken crude-by-rail (CBR) volumes are down this year and pipeline shipments are increasing as production levels off in the wake of last year’s price crash. The trend is encouraged by lower price differentials between domestic and international crude as well as new pipelines coming online. Since 2012 a combination of rail and pipeline has given Bakken producers ample crude takeaway capacity but pipelines alone have not had sufficient capacity on their own. However, with production slowing down, pipeline capacity is catching up and by 2017 there should be enough pipelines to carry all North Dakota’s crude to market. Today we start a two part series asking whether pipelines can replace CBR from North Dakota.
Western Canadian Select (WCS) – the benchmark for Canadian crude sold at Hardisty in Alberta fetched just $32.29/Bbl on Friday (July 24, 2015) down 60% from $81.34/Bbl a year ago in July 2014. That year has seen big changes in the U.S. oil market with drilling rig cutbacks and declining new production rates. The challenges for Canadian producers have not changed much in the short term – with transport capacity to market still top of the list. Trouble is that every time transport congestion occurs it pushes price discounts higher and lowers producer returns. Today we discuss the relationship between Western Canadian crude production and prices.
A few years ago, water-based or “hydraulic” fracturing emerged as a viable, cost-effective technique for coaxing large volumes of natural gas and crude oil out of U.S. shale formations. Calling it a game-changer is not an overstatement. In the shadows, another approach to fracturing was being developed, one that uses a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or propane gel and appears to offer some noteworthy benefits over tried-and-true hydraulic fracking. Today, we consider the potential for niche applications (and maybe much more) for fracturing that’s based on a hydrocarbon-based gel—not water.
Waterborne crude shipments out of the Port of Corpus Christi are still growing this year – averaging 700 Mb/d as of May 2015. A veritable armada of barges and tankers has converged on South Texas to help move all that crude. A large part of the shipments are on small inland tank barges plying the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) - a 65 years old canal system that forms a vital backbone for Gulf Coast refiners. Today we describe the changing profile of barge shipments along the Gulf of Mexico.
Massive infrastructure investments in petrochemical steam crackers and export terminals for propane, butane and ethane are in the works. But the market has changed since the investment decisions for many of these facilities were made. Instead of the low ethane prices the petrochemical market is enjoying today (about 19 cents/Gal), prices could ramp up to 50 cents/Gal by 2020 as new steam crackers and ethane export facilities come online. If ethane prices increase and crude oil prices remain below $65/bbl, the feedstock cost advantage of ethane versus naphtha that the new petrochemical facilities expected likely would not materialize. Lower crude oil prices would also cap production growth of all NGLs, limiting the volumes to be exported through the new terminals. Today we review Part 2 of our Drill Down Report on NGL Infrastructure.
While Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates of crude-by-barge traffic between the Midwest and the Gulf Coast have fallen sharply in the past 18 months, shipments down the Ohio River to Texas and Louisiana refineries have increased threefold – peaking at just under 70 Mb/d in May 2015. Growing barge shipments have been accompanied by midstream investment in barge dock facilities – especially in Ohio. Today we discuss increased shipments of ultra light crude condensate to Gulf Coast refineries on the Ohio River.
In 2015 Alaskan crude has enjoyed something of a change in fortunes compared to the past few years – when shale production seemed to threaten its future. Production was up by over 50 Mb/d in the first 4 months of 2015 (according to the Energy Information Administration – EIA). The market share of Alaskan crude in West Coast refineries also crept up by 1% this year compared to 2014 at a time when crude throughput at those refineries increased. Today we discuss the changes and whether they are likely to continue.
The U.S. energy production renaissance isn’t just changing where we get our crude oil and natural gas from, it’s forcing major shifts in the domestic oil refining sector. Gulf Coast, East Coast and Midwest refineries that used to depend heavily on foreign oil are turning to domestic sources, refiners’ ability to process very light U.S. crude is being stretched, and traditional pipeline flow patterns—for crude and refined products alike--are being up-ended. Today, we continue our look at fast-changing petroleum products markets and the infrastructure that supports them.
Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that inland barge movements between the U.S. Midwest and the Gulf Coast increased 10 fold between January 2011 and October 2013 to nearly 160 Mb/d in response to soaring crude production and pipeline congestion. Since then barge traffic on the Mississippi River (the main waterway between the two regions) plunged 80% to 27 Mb/d in April 2015 – the latest month reported. Today we explain why.
The recently (re)announced Kinder Morgan Utica Marcellus Texas Pipeline (UMTP) is that company’s second iteration of a natural gas liquids (NGL) pipeline from Ohio to the Texas Gulf Coast. If built – the project would facilitate delivery of mixed NGLs (y-grade) and purity NGL products from the Utica to the Gulf Coast - where the liquids could be further processed and/or exported. Those purity products could include both plant and lease condensates. But as we discuss today - the project might currently be more attractive to NGL shippers anxious to get better prices for stranded northeast production than it is to condensate producers.
U.S refiners have been processing a lot of crude so far this summer and utilization rates remain high. Crude production has leveled off and is expected by the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short Term Energy Outlook to decline slightly during the second half of 2015. But the early summer market sentiment that drove crude prices up to $60/Bbl on the back of these fundamentals appears to have lost steam. Today we conclude our analysis of short term crude price prospects.
Big changes are coming to the markets for natural gas, NGLs and crude oil. Even though production volumes are holding their own – despite 60% fewer rigs running, the days of month-after-month record increases in production are behind us, at least for a while. But what about all that infrastructure that has been and continues to be built? Billions of dollars are going into pipelines, processing plants, petrochemical plants, terminals, storage, etc. based on a much higher production growth scenario than now looks likely. So what happens next? That issue is the theme of a new RBN conference scheduled for July 23rd in New York City called State of the Energy Markets, and is the subject of today’s blog – also an advertorial for the conference.
Over 400 Mb/d of Gulf Coast condensate splitter projects could be online by the end of 2016. These splitters will compete for condensate feedstock with local refineries in the Eagle Ford able to process 475 Mb/d of light crude and condensate. Another 700 Mb/d of stabilization capacity in the Eagle Ford could be used to process condensate for export. But with low crude prices stalling production growth, splitter economics could suffer if demand exceeds supply and condensate prices increase as a result. Today we conclude our update on Gulf Coast splitters.
Production of lease condensate at the wellhead and plant condensate from processing natural gas liquids (NGLs) has increased rapidly in the Ohio Utica over the past two years. Timely investment by local refiner Marathon and infrastructure developments to ship condensate to Gulf Coast refiners have proved the primary market for Utica condensate so far. The proximity of the region to diluent pipelines to Canada has also prompted infrastructure projects. Today we describe projects to deliver condensate to Alberta.
The latest forecast from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was published a couple of weeks ago. In spite of lower crude prices CAPP continue to forecast growth in Canadian crude output to 2030 – albeit at a slower pace than previously expected. Continued growth means that takeaway constraints getting Canadian crude to market remain a key challenge – even though increased use of crude-by-rail has taken up some of the slack. Today we conclude our review of the 2015 CAPP outlook.