Crude Oil

Tuesday, 04/14/2020

U.S. crude oil production is off its historic highs, the rig count is in free-fall, and crude inventories are rising fast, with the Cushing-to-Magellan East Houston price differential drawing oil away from the Gulf Coast and to the Oklahoma storage hub. Oh, and global demand for crude is off by more than 20%. None of this bodes well for U.S. crude exports, which have been at or near record levels the past few months. What seems to be shaping up is a fierce competition among the owners of existing export terminals to offer the most efficient, lowest-cost access to the water. Today, we continue our series with a look at Enterprise Products Partners’ Houston-area crude oil storage, pipelines and docks.

Sunday, 04/12/2020

The whirlwind of events that has transpired in the past couple of months — namely the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse of the OPEC+ coalition — has not only shaken up the energy markets, but quite literally sent it reeling in the opposite direction than where it was headed just a few months ago. The oil price decline has reverberated through the energy complex, and key indicators that drive industry decisions are veering far off from their recent course, and in many cases, also from historical norms. The world is continuing to change at a rapid pace as the industry navigates the uncertainty. Just yesterday, in an emergency meeting, OPEC announced it had reached a 23-nation agreement to cut a combined 9.7 MMb/d of crude oil production starting May 1, 2020. Today, we highlight some of the biggest moves happening in prices and price relationships in recent days and weeks as the realities of crude oil demand constraints, supply glut and low prices set in.

Tuesday, 04/07/2020

E&Ps have long been accustomed to negative investor sentiment and the depressed stock valuations that come with it. But who among them could have anticipated the first quarter’s devastating one-two punch of coronavirus-related energy demand destruction and the collapse of the OPEC+ supply-management effort that for more than three years had propped up crude oil prices? E&Ps responded by slashing their 2020 capital spending plans and touting how much of their 2020 production is hedged. But there’s no doubt about it, the E&P sector is in for particularly hard times, as evidenced by Whiting Petroleum’s Chapter 11 filing last week. A major impediment for Whiting and other already hobbled E&Ps is a cost structure that, for many, significantly exceeds the current price of oil. Today, we discuss what an examination of more than 30 E&Ps’ lifting, DD&A and other costs reveals about the companies’ ability to stay afloat in rough seas.

Monday, 04/06/2020

The crash in global crude oil markets has meant low prices for all producers, but no place more so than in Alberta’s oil sands. Transportation, blending and quality differentials mean that benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) is priced at a significant discount to light, sweet West Texas Intermediate. With WTI prices seemingly stuck below $30/bbl, the absolute price of WCS last week tumbled to all-time lows below $5/bbl. If they persist, will WCS prices south of $10/bbl generate wide-scale production shut-ins in the oil sands? Today, we continue our series on the challenges facing Alberta’s oil sands.

Sunday, 04/05/2020

Energy markets are changing faster than at any time in history. It’s hard enough just to keep up with what’s happening today, much less try to anticipate what’s ahead on the other side of COVID. But that’s exactly what we’ll be doing next week at RBN’s Virtual School of Energy. More than one-third of the curriculum is a detailed review of RBN’s hot-off-the-presses forecasts for all the essential elements of U.S. crude oil, natural gas and NGL markets, including our freshly updated outlooks for production, infrastructure utilization, exports/imports and demand. Better yet, we’ll put these forecasts in the context of our fundamental analysis and models, so you can not only understand where it looks like we’re headed today, but gain the skills to adjust your outlook on the fly as circumstances change. Although this blog is an advertorial, stick with us if you would like to know more about how the RBN crystal ball works.

Thursday, 04/02/2020

Just a few months ago, crude oil producers and marketers were wondering whether there would be enough marine terminal capacity along the Gulf Coast to handle the steadily increasing volumes of crude that would need to be exported over the next few years. Now, with WTI prices hovering around $25/bbl and producers slashing their 2020 drilling plans, expectations of rising U.S. production and exports are out the window. Instead, what may be shaping up is a fierce competition among the owners of existing storage facilities and loading docks to offer the most efficient, lowest-cost access to the water. Today, we continue our series with a look at two large Houston-area facilities: the Houston Fuel Oil Terminal and Seabrook Logistics Marine Terminal.

Tuesday, 03/31/2020

The collapse in WTI prices in March has been a crushing blow to the Permian, the Bakken and other U.S. shale plays that produce light, sweet crude oil. But as bad as sub-$25/bbl WTI prices are — especially for producers whose balance-of-2020 volumes aren’t at least partly hedged at higher prices — consider the record-low, $5/bbl prices facing oil sands producers up north in Alberta. Western Canadian Select, the energy-rich region’s benchmark heavy-crude blend, fell below $10/bbl more than a week ago, and on Tuesday WCS closed at $5.08/bbl. Producers, who already had been dealing with major takeaway constraints, are ratcheting back their output and planned 2020 capex, and slashing the volumes they send out via rail in tank cars. Today, we begin a short blog series on the latest round of bad news hitting Western Canada’s oil patch.

Sunday, 03/29/2020

Like everything else in the world, energy markets are undergoing totally unprecedented convulsions. It seems as if everything that was working before COVID-19 is now broken, and an entirely new rulebook has been thrust upon us. Of course, it is impossible to know how crude oil, natural gas and NGL markets will play out over the next few weeks, much less in the coming years. But if we make a few reasonable assumptions, extrapolate from what we know so far, and crunch through a bit of fundamental analysis, it is possible to imagine what energy markets will look like after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. One thing is for sure: things will not be anything like they were before. Where energy markets may be headed next is what we will conjure up in today’s blog.

Thursday, 03/26/2020

The collapse in crude oil prices and subsequent cuts in producers’ planned 2020 capital spending make it crystal clear that drilling activity in the Bakken will be slowing. Still, even with less drilling, it will take at least a few months for crude production in the North Dakota shale play to fall by much, and Bakken producers will continue to depend on crude gathering systems to give their wells the most efficient, cost-effective access to takeaway pipelines and crude-by-rail terminals. Longer term, it’s important to remember that sweet spots in the Bakken’s four-county core have some of the best rock outside the Permian. Today, we continue our series with a look at another leading midstreamer’s existing and planned gathering systems, as well as its joint-venture central delivery point, shuttle pipeline and crude-by-rail facility.

Tuesday, 03/24/2020

In the stormiest market environment for crude oil in many years, it’s hard to find a spot where the sailing is smooth. If even-keel conditions exist anywhere in the oil-producing world today, it might be the offshore Gulf of Mexico, where producer decisions to invest in new platforms or subsea tiebacks are based on very long-term oil-price expectations and the production, once initiated, is steady. In the second half of the 2010s, Gulf producers significantly reduced the average breakeven prices needed to justify their most promising new investments — from more than $55/bbl back in 2015 to less than $35/bbl today. Given what’s happened to crude oil prices the past few days, however, it’s logical to wonder whether any of even the best prospective Gulf of Mexico projects will be sanctioned this year. Today, we discuss how cost-cutting and efficiency improvements have made the offshore Gulf a comparatively steady, growing base of U.S. crude oil production that so far has been less vulnerable than shale output to oil-price gyrations.

Sunday, 03/22/2020

Statewide shelter-in-place orders, worldwide business shutdowns, market meltdowns, medical calamities. Much of what is going on right now is unprecedented in the modern era, and there are no guideposts to help predict what happens next to the world as we knew it. But in the boom-bust energy sector, it is déjà vu all over again. We have seen steep drops in prices, drilling activity and production enough times to have some idea about how this is likely to play out. Granted, this time around it is particularly bad, but that doesn’t change the sequence of events that we are likely to experience over the coming months and years. Today, we’ll look back at what happens to Shale-Era basins after a price collapse, focusing on the inherent lag between a major reduction in activity level and the inevitable production response.

Tuesday, 03/17/2020

Throw out your old production forecasts. Delete your pricing model spreadsheets. Push out the dates on your infrastructure project timelines. Or kill the projects all together. We’ve got a black swan on our hands here, folks. Perhaps a flock of black swans. And while we may see something like normal again in a few months, there is little doubt that it will be an entirely new normal. How do we even think through the wrenching transformations that are working through energy markets? At RBN, we don’t have any more answers than anyone else, but we do have a structured approach to market analysis supported by a set of spreadsheet models that are the core of our School of Energy, scheduled for April 14-15. We think that’s exactly the kind of approach necessary to make sense out of this volatile and chaotic market. And although we have cancelled the in-person conference, we’ve made the decision to GO VIRTUAL! Today, we explain our decision to move forward with the virtual School of Energy and discuss the new material we are incorporating into the curriculum to address today’s market realities.

Monday, 03/16/2020

With a number of U.S. producers slashing their drilling plans for 2020, crude oil production may flatten or even decline somewhat in the oil-focused basins over the next few months. Still, large volumes of crude — somewhere north or south of 3 MMb/d — will need to be exported from Gulf Coast docks for the foreseeable future to keep U.S. supply and demand in relative balance. That raises the questions of whether more export capacity will be needed, and if so, how much and when? The answers to these questions depend in large part on how much crude the existing marine facilities in Texas and Louisiana can actually handle. Today, we begin a series that details the region’s export-related infrastructure and examines its capacity to stage and load export cargoes this year and beyond.

Thursday, 03/12/2020

The crude-oil price crash of the past couple of weeks is forcing producers in every U.S. shale play to reassess their drilling-and-completion plans for the balance of 2020. Still, while the pace of activity in the Permian, the Bakken and other major plays may slow somewhat in the coming months if crude prices stay low, the vast majority of the new wells that are drilled will need to be connected to crude gathering systems — ideally ones that offer producers and shippers a high degree of destination optionality. Today, we continue our series on crude-related assets in western North Dakota with a look at another leading midstreamer’s gathering system, and its link to the Dakota Access Pipeline and a nearby refinery.

Tuesday, 03/10/2020

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.