Steam Crackers

Tuesday, 02/14/2017

Natural gas production in the Marcellus and Utica plays is projected to rise by 30% or more by 2022 under all of RBN’s forecast scenarios, and production of Northeast natural gas liquids is expected to increase even more quickly. Midstream companies are responding to this next phase of gas/NGL growth with plans for still more gas-processing plants, fractionators, NGL storage facilities, and NGL takeaway capacity––pipeline, rail, ship and barge. Also, Shell Chemicals continues to advance plans for an ethane-consuming steam cracker in Beaver County, PA, and another petrochemical company may soon decide to build a cracker in Ohio. Today we begin a new series on the latest push by midstreamers to keep pace with NGL growth in the epicenter of U.S. gas and NGL production.

Sunday, 01/22/2017

Every day, about 1.8 million barrels of NGLs, naphtha and other ethylene plant feedstocks are “cracked” to make both ethylene and an array of petrochemical byproducts. And every day, decisions are made for each steam cracker on which feedstock—or mix of them—would provide the plant’s owner with the highest margins. Within each petchem company, these decisions are optimized by staffs of analysts and technicians using sophisticated and complex mathematical models that consider every nuance of a specific ethylene plants’ physical capabilities. Fortunately for us mere mortals, it is possible to approximate these complex feedstock selection calculations for a “typical” flexible cracker using a relatively simple spreadsheet model. Today we continue our series on how the raw materials for ethylene plants are picked with an overview of RBN’s feedstock selection model, a review of feedstock margin trends, and an explanation of how the model also can be used to indicate future NGL and naphtha prices and to assess the prospects for various industry players.

Tuesday, 12/27/2016

The Shale Revolution has had a profound impact on U.S. NGL markets by vastly increasing production and by lowering NGL prices relative to the prices of crude oil and natural gas. That has been good news for the nation’s steam crackers, the petrochemical plants that have enjoyed low NGL feedstock prices since 2012. But NGL markets are in for some big changes as new U.S. steam crackers coming online over the next two years will be competing for supply with export markets, raising the specter of higher NGL prices—a good thing for NGL producers, but not so for petrochemical companies. How this plays out will be determined by the feedstock supply decisions petrochemical producers make as NGL prices respond to rapidly increasing demand. Today we begin a series on how steam cracker operators determine day-by-day which feedstocks are the most economic, and on the factors driving the value of ethylene feedstock prices.

Thursday, 11/10/2016

Production of natural gas liquids in the Northeast has been rising sharply for several years now, challenging the ability of NGL producers and midstream companies to deal with it all. Lately, though, drilling in “wet” gas parts of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays has slowed, mostly because prices for NGLs have sagged due to lower crude prices and the high cost of takeaway capacity, thereby reducing the incentive to drill for the wet gas responsible for NGL production growth. However, it is quite possible that total NGL production growth could continue for some period of time as more ethane is extracted from wet gas instead of being “rejected”. Meanwhile, new NGL pipeline capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica has been coming online, providing a relief valve of sorts. Today we begin a blog series on recent developments regarding Northeast NGL production, takeaway capacity and pricing.

Monday, 09/19/2016

The ratio of NGL-to-crude oil prices looks like it will be rebounding, and over the next two or three years could rise to levels not seen since the Shale Revolution brought down NGL prices at the end of 2012, a signal that all of the new NGL-consuming petrochemical cracker projects now under construction may not be as lucrative as their developers had once hoped. Several factors are driving the ratio’s rise: increasing U.S. demand for NGLs; more exports; stubbornly low crude oil prices and a lower trajectory of NGL production growth. Today, we examine the historical relationship between NGL and crude oil prices and the reasons why that ratio may be headed back above 50%.

Sunday, 07/31/2016

This week the first Gulf Coast ethane export cargo will depart Morgan’s Point, Enterprise Products Partners’ new export terminal on the Houston Ship Channel.  This is a history-making event for at least three reasons.  First, it inaugurates ethane exports from the Gulf Coast, only five months after the first-ever U.S. overseas ethane exports out of Sunoco Logistics’ Marcus Hook, PA, terminal.  Second, it launches a battle for Mont Belvieu ethane, to be fought between ethane exporters and new ethane-only steam crackers (ethylene plants) that will be coming online along the Texas/Louisiana coast over the next couple of years.  And third, Morgan’s Point is not just another export terminal.  It is a location steeped in Texas history, known in the 1830s as New Washington, with an important role in the Battle of San Jacinto – decisive battle of the Texas Revolution -- and legend has it, inextricably tied to the Texas anthem “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”   In today’s blog we examine the upcoming fight between ethane exporters and U.S. crackers.

Monday, 06/27/2016

Canadian ethylene plants have been receiving U.S.-sourced ethane by pipeline for two and a half years now, and waterborne ethane exports from Marcus Hook, PA to Norway started earlier in 2016. Soon the real fun will begin, when Enterprise Products Partners initiates (and quickly ramps up) ethane exports from a new, 200 Mb/d terminal on the Houston Ship Channel at Morgan’s Point.  The destinations of the ships leaving Morgan’s Point are likely to be places like India, Brazil, Europe, and maybe even Mexico.  Today, we consider the imminent bump-up in U.S. ethane export capacity, the international markets ethane will be headed to in the near-term, and the longer-term question about how much ethane exports can grow.

Tuesday, 05/03/2016

Shell Chemicals is taking steps that suggest it finally may be ready to pull the trigger on a long-debated petrochemical complex which would include an ethylene plant (steam cracker) and three polyethylene units in the heart of the “wet” Marcellus/Utica natural gas liquids production region. If the $3+ billion project advances to construction soon, it would significantly impact ethane market dynamics, not just in Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virginia but along the Gulf Coast too. And if it turns out we’re in for extended stagnation in drilling and production, the Shell cracker also may undermine plans to build additional NGL pipeline capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica—or any other cracker there.  Today we discuss the likelihood of Shell proceeding with its Beaver County, PA cracker and the effects the project’s development might have.

Thursday, 06/18/2015

If it persists, the oil price crash may have undermined many of the assumptions behind massive infrastructure investments in steam cracker plants and export facilities for natural gas liquids (NGLs). These projects expected to take advantage of booming domestic NGL production and low NGL prices relative to crude. Yet take-or-pay commitments and committed investment in plant infrastructure means they may be exposed to  poor returns if crude prices remain low. Today we detail analysis in the latest RBN Energy Drill Down Report to develop NGL supply, demand and pricing scenarios.

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