Producers in the Bakken are making progress reducing the natural gas flaring that had put an unwelcome spotlight on the region. The fix, spurred in part by tightening regulations, is being made possible by the addition of new gas processing capacity and increased efforts to use “stranded” gas at the well-site. (A drilling slowdown associated with soft crude prices is providing an assist.) Today, we take a fresh look at what’s been happening on the flaring front in western North Dakota, where gas flares still light the nighttime sky.
Ever since crude oil prices began their precipitous fall in June 2014 market watchers have picked through the tealeaves of every OPEC statement - particularly those of Saudi Arabia - for signs of a change in policy. One widely watched signal comes every month when the Saudi’s publish differentials that determine the price customers pay for their crudes. Today we explain how Saudi pricing formulas work.
Last year was a banner year for the sand mining companies that cater to the U.S. shale drilling services industry. That’s because in 2014 well operators significantly increased the amount of sand used to complete fracturing operations in shale plays – from an average of about 5 MMlb for a single well to 15 MMlb (7,500 tons) or more.
Newfield Exploration - the largest crude oil producer in Utah’s Uinta basin - has temporarily suspended new drilling operations there in response to lower prices. Other producers in the region have reduced their drilling and capex budgets as well. The cutbacks stem in part from the extra logistics expense required to deliver and process the thick yellow and black “waxy” Uinta crudes that do not flow at room temperature.
The proposed 400 Mb/d Shell Pipeline Company Westward Ho pipeline from St. James, LA to Nederland, TX was first touted in 2011 and initially expected to be in service by Q3 2015 but is now delayed at least until the end of 2017. The project is designed to replace the Shell Ho-Ho pipeline that used to ship crude from Louisiana to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast until it was reversed in 2013. Westward Ho has struggled to attract shipper commitments to bring additional crude into the saturated Texas Gulf Coast market. Today we review the project’s rationale.
U.S. crude stocks are at their highest level in over 30 years and the contango market pricing structure continues to encourage increases in the stockpile. No one knows exactly how much storage space remains. The surplus is keeping U.S. crude prices low compared to international rivals but petroleum product prices (gasoline and diesel) are climbing higher, having bounced back from recent lows. Refining margins are sky high as bad weather and outages hamper operations. But as we describe today, the crude surplus remains a dark cloud on the horizon.
Last week (February 19, 2015) Enterprise Product Partners announced the start of line fill on their 780 Mb/d ECHO to Beaumont/Port Arthur pipeline. The new route will open access for Canadian heavy crude shippers on the recently completed Seaway Twin pipeline from Cushing to Houston to 1.5 MMb/d of refining capacity in Beaumont/Port Arthur including 0.3 MMb/d of heavy crude coker processing. These refineries were a key target of the Keystone-XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast that still awaits approval. Today we look at demand and competition for Canadian heavy crude on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Alan Greenspan coined the phrase "irrational exuberance" during his tenure as Federal Reserve chairman. He used it in a 1996 speech in reference to the excessively high prices of "dot-com" companies. He worried that assets were overvalued. Four years later, the dot-com bubble burst, confirming his concerns. Presently we are observing the last gasps of irrational exuberance in petroleum. Call it "petro-exuberance." This malady became apparent during a session on oil market issues at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Some panelists clearly had a case of irrational exuberance, an overenthusiasm no different from what we saw at the end of the dot-com and the housing crises.
Arnold Schwarzenegger said “Hasta la vista, baby” to the governor’s office in Sacramento four years ago, but his 2007 executive order establishing a low-carbon standard for transportation fuels is only now starting to have a real effect on California refineries. Some refiners say the rule aimed at reducing “life-cycle” greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation fuel sector 10% by 2020 is unrealistic and could result in refinery closings and gasoline and diesel shortages. Others say California’s goal is achievable. Today, we consider the Golden State’s low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) and what it may mean for refiners.
While producers are licking their wounds after a more than 50% oil price crash, refiners have continued to enjoy healthy margins – even in the face of the largest refinery strike since 1980. Strong refining margins, supported by an ongoing boom in refined product exports, continue to encourage high levels of refinery utilization in the Gulf Coast region – home to more than 50% of U.S. refining capacity. Today we look at how Gulf Coast refiners are faring after the oil price crash.
Can it make sense for a producer to drill a well in today’s low price environment even if the rate of return on that well is below zero? Surprisingly the answer is yes, and the issue has important implications for the impact lower prices will ultimately have on U.S. oil and gas production volumes. Factors such as lease requirements can incentivize drilling and cause production levels to continue growing, even when spot prices don’t seem to support it. As the new economics of lower oil, NGL and natural gas prices suggest that production declines are just down the road, the market’s quest to nail down when and how much production will decline has brought the role of “hold by production” (HBP) drilling into the spotlight. Questions about HBP status and its role in producers drilling strategies have been a staple in the latest round of earnings calls.Today we take a closer look at HBP drilling.
While many companies in the energy sector – particularly in the producer community – are licking their wounds and reporting lower profits and reduced capital expenditure to their stockholders this quarter, refiners have continued to thrive. Lower refined product prices have begun to increase domestic consumption of gasoline and diesel in the face of longer-term decline trends. And strong refining margins continue to encourage high levels of refinery utilization. Today we start a two-part look at how U.S. refiners are faring after the oil price crash.
Since December the first significant volume of Canadian heavy crude - an average of 240 Mb/d - has flowed to the Gulf Coast on the Seaway Twin pipeline. It’s been a rocky road to the Gulf Coast for Canadian heavy crude producers – beset with delays and congestion that they probably never envisioned when they planned their oil sands projects (including the wider political battle over Keystone – currently back in the President’s hands.) And Canadian crude that does make it to Gulf Coast refineries faces stiff competition from incumbent suppliers. Today we chart the progress of the Seaway Twin and Flanagan South pipelines and look at price competition for heavy crude at the Gulf.
A new light sweet crude oil trading market is developing in Houston at the Magellan Midstream Partners East Houston terminal – delivery point for that company’s Longhorn and BridgeTex (50/50 owned with Plains All American) pipelines delivering crude from the Permian Basin. Light sweet crude from the Permian is also known as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) the domestic U.S. benchmark crude - widely traded at Cushing, OK where it underpins the CME NYMEX futures contract. Today we review the developing market and the price relationships that underpin it.
It seems logical to maintain stockpiles of critically important commodities like crude oil, heating oil and gasoline. After all, supply can be cut off suddenly by acts of God or man, causing price spikes, cold houses and empty gas tanks. Worries about supply interruption led to the creation of a federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) and Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR) and, more recently, both federal and state reserves for motor fuels, again in the Northeast. But does the SPR as currently configured still make sense, given how much has changed in crude production and flows? Should we set up heating oil or motor fuel reserves in regions beyond the Northeast? And what about a strategic reserve for propane—an important fuel for millions of American homes and businesses? Today, we continue our look at the challenges of stockpiling hydrocarbons in a changing, unpredictable energy world.