A little over a year ago, we discussed the rapidly expanding third-party shipper market for crude oil in West Texas. At the time, crude at Midland was trading at nearly a $15/bbl discount to Gulf Coast markets. Pipeline space out of the Permian was hard to come by and extremely valuable, and everybody and their brother — literally, in some cases — were forming a limited liability corporation and trying to secure space as a walk-up, “lottery” shipper. A lot of people made a lot of money, but now, just over a year later, much of that lottery opportunity has dried up. Nowadays, these same folks are looking for new opportunities, or going back to old strategies, only to find that being a third-party shipper today is more expensive and more burdensome. In today’s blog, we recap how lottery shippers made buckets of money in late 2018 and early 2019, only to see their target of opportunity dry up due to midstream investment.
As a most eventful decade for the U.S. energy industry draws to a close and 2020 looms, it’s a perfect time to consider what’s ahead for the midstream sector — and, more important from an investor’s standpoint, for the individual companies within it. The last few years have driven home the point that while all midstreamers are impacted to some degree by what happens on a macro-level, the relative success of each company is tied to the myriad decisions its leaders make over time regarding which basins and hubs to focus on and which assets to build, expand, acquire or divest. Assessing these micro-level assets and the contributions they each make to a company’s bottom line requires particularly deep analysis. Today, we discuss key themes and findings from East Daley Capital’s newly issued 2020 Midstream Guidance Outlook.
In 2019, there has been a significant shift in crude oil and natural gas markets. Prices have remained stubbornly low, even when faced with the risk of significant turmoil like the Saudi drone attacks. Investors are far less forgiving, and energy-related equity values continue to lag most other sectors, despite most companies returning more of their earnings to shareholders. Oil and gas producers are focused on their sweetest of sweet spots, wringing every crumb of financial return from their investments. The risk-return equation has changed. All this makes now a good time to examine the strategies and tactics necessary for survival in this challenging phase of the Shale Era. That is especially true for the players who seem to be doing everything right, because some of the worst management mistakes can occur when performance is good.
The doubling of crude oil production in the Denver-Julesburg Basin over the past 18 months spurred a rapid build-out of crude gathering systems and other infrastructure. Unlike the sprawling Permian Basin, with its numerous centers of drilling and production activity in parts of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the vast majority of the D-J Basin’s incremental crude output has come from Weld County, CO. Understandably, Weld County also is where most of the D-J’s crude gathering systems are located, and where most of the gathering system expansions are being planned and built. Today, we continue a series on existing and planned pipeline networks to move D-J crude from the lease to regional hubs and takeaway pipes.
Crude oil production in the Permian grew steadily through the 2010s and now tops 4.5 MMb/d — five times what it was at the start of the decade. Production in the Bakken and the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin sagged when crude prices plummeted in 2014-15, but both regions chugged their way back, with output setting new records every month or two in 2018-19. SCOOP and STACK are another story. Only a year or two ago, many producers and others were talking up the neighboring crude-focused plays in central Oklahoma as the next big thing, maybe even a Sooner State Permian. But while SCOOP/STACK production increased through 2018, it’s been flat or falling ever since, and most producers there have been slashing their drilling activity. Today, we look at recent developments in the once-hot region.
As new crude oil pipeline capacity to the Gulf Coast comes online, a growing disconnect is developing between the surplus crude volumes available for export and the actual export capacity at coastal terminals, particularly projects that would accommodate the more economical and efficient Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC). This is especially true in the Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX, area, where the relatively shallow depth of the Sabine Neches Waterway limits vessels to Aframax-class ships or partially loaded Suezmax tankers. If planned pipeline expansions into the BPA region over the next two years are completed, over 1 MMb/d of additional crude exports would need to leave BPA terminals to balance the market. Today, we look at current and future export capacity out of BPA.
In February 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), the national oil company of Venezuela, which halted imports of Venezuelan crude oil into the U.S. Since then, refineries that relied on Venezuelan crude have had to backfill their import requirement with alternative sources of oil. This adjustment has had ramifications not only on the refiners that processed Venezuelan crude, but also on the entire U.S. Gulf Coast crude oil market. Today, we discuss the quality adjustments made to the U.S. crude oil diet.
They are unsung heroes, the guys and gals who get in early, stay late, and are usually working odd hours on the weekends. They resolve issues before they arise, solve complex problems when they do pop up, and are always working the phones to get the next hot piece of intel. No, we’re not talking about the new cast from Season 2 of “Jack Ryan,” and no, it’s not the kids from “Stranger Things.” The keyboard warriors we’re referring to are crude oil schedulers. They’re at the forefront of the daily logistics taking place at truck injection points, gathering systems, and takeaway pipelines from Western Canada down to the Gulf Coast (and around the rest of the world as well). As more and more new pipelines get built out in places like West Texas, it’s important to revisit the basics of how crude oil moves and the role that crude schedulers play. Today, we bring it back to the roots of crude oil operations and shine some light on an underappreciated group of crude oil operators.
Crude oil production in the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin has nearly doubled since January 2016 — only the Permian has outpaced the D-J’s growth rate over the same period — and production there now averages about 640 Mb/d. The D-J has just about everything producers want, including an unusually intense concentration of hydrocarbons within four geologic layers, or “benches,” only a few thousand feet below the surface, low per-well drilling costs, and direct pipeline access to the crude hub in Cushing, OK. Production growth in the D-J has spurred a rapid build-out of crude gathering systems and other infrastructure, especially in Colorado’s Weld County, the epicenter of D-J activity, which is located a short drive northeast of Denver. Today, we begin a series on existing and planned pipeline networks to move D-J crude from the lease to regional hubs and takeaway pipes.
Like the proverbial dog who finally catches the truck he’s been chasing, only to wonder what to do next, midstreamers at long last have brought on enough crude oil pipeline capacity to move Permian barrels to the Gulf Coast. In fact, right now there appears to be more than enough pipeline space, with several pipes flowing less than their capacity. What midstream companies now face is a race to the bottom as their pipelines compete with each other to attract barrels by offering service to Gulf Coast markets at the lowest price — resulting in transportation rate compression. Today, we begin a blog series on the tug-of-war for barrels and its effect on prices.
Crude-by-rail has saved the day for Alberta producers before, and it’s about to again. The talk of the Western Canadian province the past few days has been the Alberta government’s October 31 announcement that it will allow incremental crude oil production beyond the province’s 3.8-MMb/d cap — if that crude is transported to market by rail. Within hours of the government’s statement, a trio of major producers indicated that they now expect to ramp up their Alberta output by a total of more than 100 Mb/d over the next few months, with a good bit of the gain occurring by year’s end. Production increases from others are likely to follow, as are parallel plans to load that crude into tank cars and rail it to market. But can Alberta producers really thrive without more pipeline capacity? Today, we review recent developments in “Canada’s Energy Province” and what they mean for producers and Alberta crude prices.
In our blogs and at our 2019 School of Energy a couple of weeks ago, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the ins and outs and pros and cons of a multitude of proposed crude oil export terminals. What we’ve come to believe is that, with U.S. production growth appearing to slow and market players fearful of overbuilding, many of these multibillion-dollar greenfield projects are unlikely to advance to financing and construction. Odds are that the midstream sector instead will focus on ways to add new capacity to existing terminals, even if that means still relying on reverse lightering in the Gulf of Mexico to fully load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs). In today’s blog, we discuss why producers, traders and midstreamers alike may be pulling back from investments in big, expensive export projects, and what it could mean down the road.
To hear proponents of Uinta Basin waxy crude oil tell it, all that’s keeping the hydrocarbon-packed region in northeastern Utah from significantly increasing production in the 2020s is a better way to transport their shoe-polish-like crude to Gulf Coast refineries than trucking to existing transloading facilities. And now, they think they’ve finally found it. If all goes to plan, by early 2023 a new, 85-mile short-line railroad will be in place to move at least two 110-car unit trains of waxy crude a day from the epicenter of Uinta Basin production to interconnections with two long-haul rail lines. That would give producers significantly enhanced access to markets far beyond the five Salt Lake City-area refineries to which they now truck some 90% of their output. Today, we conclude our series on the Uinta Basin with a look at the proposed Uinta Basin Railway crude-by-rail project and what it would mean for the play’s producers, as well as for Gulf Coast refiners.
Every so often, there’s talk that the crude oil hub in Cushing, OK, isn’t as important as it used to be. Don’t believe it. Want proof that Cushing is alive and well? Consider the growing list of pipeline projects into and out of the hub that have been coming online or advancing to final investment decisions, as well as the efforts to push Cushing’s storage capacity toward the 100-MMbbl mark. Midstream companies have committed to building more than 800 Mb/d of new pipeline capacity from Cushing to other hubs and to refineries, and another 1.6 MMb/d of capacity is in the pre-FID development stage. Today, we conclude a mini-series on recent developments at the Oklahoma oil hub with a look at storage expansions, new Cushing players, and outbound pipeline projects.
Each and every production region in the U.S. has its own unique geology, geography and hydrocarbon assets, but few, if any, are more unusual than the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah. Physically isolated from all refining centers except Salt Lake City, the region boasts enormous reserves of waxy crude oil that’s been made accessible at a very low cost per barrel via horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. While Uinta Basin crude looks, smells and feels like shoe polish, it has many characteristics that refiners want, including medium-to-high API gravity and very low sulfur, acid and metal content. There are two snags to expanding production, though: waxy crude poses major transport challenges, and Salt Lake City refineries can only use so much of the stuff. So if Uinta Basin producers want to increase production by much, they’ll need to develop cost-effective ways to move large volumes of their waxy crude to faraway markets like the Gulf and West coasts. Today, we continue a series on the prospects for expanding waxy-oil output with a review of Uinta Basin producers and their customers in the close-by “City of the Saints.”