NGLs

Way back in 2018-19, U.S. NGL production was rising fast, new ethane-only steam crackers were coming online along the Gulf Coast, and new fractionation capacity wasn’t being added quickly enough — the capacity shortfall sent the NGL market into near-panic. Fast forward to now: NGL production is still rising but domestic demand is flat, resulting in an NGL-exports surge and a race to develop new export capacity. And fractionation capacity in Mont Belvieu and elsewhere? The market learned its lesson five years ago and, to avert another capacity crunch, midstream companies have been adding new fractionators at an almost frenetic pace. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the ongoing fractionation-capacity buildout — and the need to quickly expand NGL export terminals. 

The demand for ethane by Alberta’s petrochemical industry has experienced a slow expansion in the past 20 or so years. However, that demand is likely to increase sharply by the end of the decade now that Dow Chemical has sanctioned a major expansion at its operations in Fort Saskatchewan, AB, that will more than double the site’s ethane requirements. As we discuss in today’s RBN blog, this will call for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to increasing Alberta’s access to ethane supplies from numerous sources. 

After a roughly three-year wait for a critical state permit, Enbridge’s Great Lakes Tunnel and Pipe Replacement project for its Line 5 pipeline across the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan has taken a step forward. The Army Corps of Engineers’ permits for the tunnel project would seem to be the only major obstacle standing in the way of construction, but there may well be more challenges ahead. Like a few other oil and gas projects — namely, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) — Line 5 has become entangled in controversy, including local opposition worried that a spill would irreparably damage their surroundings and spoil the state’s natural resources. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the Line 5 project, its next steps, and the opposition it continues to encounter. 

A year ago, as New Year’s Day approached, we were looking ahead into very uncertain market conditions, having lived through a pandemic, crazy weather events, collapsing and then soaring prices, and Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine. Our job was once again to peer into the RBN crystal ball to see what the upcoming year had in store for energy markets. We’ll do that again in our next blog. But another part of that tradition is to look back to see how we did with our forecasts for the previous year. That’s right! We actually check our work. And that’s exactly what we’ll do today: review our prognostications for 2023. 

Crude oil, natural gas and NGL production roared back in 2023. All three energy commodity groups hit record volumes, which means one thing: more infrastructure is needed. That means gathering systems, pipelines, processing plants, refinery units, fractionators, storage facilities and, above all, export dock capacity. That’s because most of the incremental production is headed overseas — U.S. energy exports are on the rise! If 2023’s dominant story line was production growth, exports and (especially) the need for new infrastructure, you can bet our blogs on those topics garnered more than their share of interest from RBN’s subscribers. Today we dive into our Top 10 blogs to uncover the hottest topics in 2023 energy markets. 

Since the start of the Shale Revolution 15 years ago, U.S. NGL production has increased by an extraordinary 260% to more than 6.5 MMb/d. And it’s not just NGL production that’s up sharply. So are exports of NGL purity products, especially LPG (propane and normal butane) and ethane. All that growth — and the growth that’s still to come — wouldn’t be possible without a seemingly non-stop expansion of NGL-related infrastructure. Everything from gas processing plants and NGL pipelines to salt-dome storage, fractionators and export docks. And much of that infrastructure is in the hands of just a few large midstream companies that over the years have developed “well-to-water” NGL networks that enable their owners to collect multiple fees along the NGL value chain. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on NGL networks. 

Gulf Coast LPG export capacity is tight again, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better — terminal capacity to load more barrels of propane and butane simply has not kept up with production gains. A number of new LPG dock expansions and greenfield projects are in the works, but they are 18 months or so away. In the meantime, production keeps rising, inventories are high, and it’s very unlikely we will see enough cold weather to balance the propane market. Bottom line: 2024 is shaping up to be a tough year for propane and butane prices. In today’s RBN blog, we examine what has been happening with exports, the looming dock capacity constraints, and the projects that will eventually relieve the imbalance. 

It’s the 10-year anniversary of a polar vortex winter that’s seared into the memories of every propaner who lived through it. Shortages. High prices. Government inquiries. Sure, there were difficulties during that winter in the markets for natural gas and fuel oil too, but it was particularly bad for propane. It seemed like a perfect storm hit the propane market right where it hurt the most — in the heart of propane country: the Upper Midwest and the Northeast. A lot has changed since then, but it’s important to look back at what went wrong, what’s been done to make a repeat of that chaotic winter far less likely, and what those events still mean for the propane market today. 

Since the start of the Shale Revolution 15 years ago, U.S. NGL production has increased by an extraordinary 260% to more than 6.5 MMb/d. And it’s not just NGL production that’s up sharply. So are exports of NGL purity products, especially LPG (propane and normal butane) and ethane. All that growth — and the growth that’s still to come — wouldn’t be possible without a seemingly non-stop expansion of NGL-related infrastructure. Everything from gas processing plants and NGL pipelines to salt-dome storage, fractionators and export docks. And much of that infrastructure is in the hands of just a few large midstream companies that over the years have developed “well-to-water” NGL networks that enable their owners to collect multiple fees along the NGL value chain. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on NGL networks. 

U.S. Gulf Coast LPG exports are sky-high, averaging just under 2 MMb/d in October, with nearly two-thirds of those volumes bound for Asia — a straight-shot trip once a Very Large Gas Carrier (VLGC) has passed through the Panama Canal. But an unprecedented dry spell has left the canal’s operators — and LPG shippers — in a real bind. The century-old maritime shortcut, which was expanded just a few years ago to accommodate more and larger vessels, uses massive amounts of fresh water, and to help conserve what’s left in the system’s main reservoir, the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) is ratcheting down how many ships can pass through each day. Worse yet, VLGCs are a low priority compared to other, larger vessels that pay higher tolls. That means that far fewer Asia-bound LPG ships will be using the Panama Canal for who knows how long. Instead, many shippers will need to make far longer, more costly trips through the Suez Canal or around the southern tip of Africa. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss what LPG shippers in particular are up against.

Crude-oil-focused production growth in the Permian is generating increasing volumes of associated gas that need to be processed and mixed NGLs that need to be piped to Mont Belvieu, fractionated and exported. All that suggests the need for still more infrastructure — processing plants, NGL pipelines, fractionators and export facilities — and Enterprise Products Partners, a top-tier NGL midstreamer, recently laid out a multibillion-dollar plan to help Permian producers keep pace. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the new set of projects Enterprise has in the works. 

Well, thanks to you all, we reached another important milestone this week: 40,000 subscribers to RBN’s daily blog. We are quite proud of the achievement. That’s a lot of folks taking time out of their busy day to read a couple thousand words about what’s happening with oil, gas, NGLs and renewables — all in the context of a rock & roll song. We couldn’t have done it without you. Today, after posting a total of about 3,000 blogs over nearly 12 years, we pull back the curtain on the RBN blogosphere and discuss how and why it all happens — and how you help shape what we blog about. 

Phillips 66 is probably best known for its fleet of complex refineries, but the Houston-based company also is involved in marketing, chemicals and midstream services. In fact, P66 is one of only a handful of midstreamers offering the full range of “well-to-market” or “well-to-water” NGL services — everything from associated-gas gathering systems and gas processing to NGL pipelines, storage, fractionators and export facilities. And P66’s standing among NGL midstream providers has only been enhanced by the recent doubling of its ownership interest in DCP Midstream. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our series on major NGL networks with a look at P66’s NGL-related assets, most of which run from the Rockies, West Texas and South Texas to the NGL hubs in Mont Belvieu and Old Ocean, TX. 

Merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activity in Canada’s oil and gas sector has accelerated this year compared to 2022. With crude oil prices generally strengthening over the course of 2023, it should come as no surprise that the focus of much of this activity has been crude oil- and NGL-producing companies and assets. As we discuss in today’s RBN blog, several large deals have been announced and many have already closed, including a complex arrangement involving Suncor and production ownership in the oil sands that only recently concluded after six months of uncertainty, with more deals expected before the year is over.

U.S. natural gas producers had a rough start to 2023, with spot prices dipping to just above $2.15/MMBtu this past spring. But optimism was abundant in midyear earnings calls on expectations that demand will eventually soar, driven largely by a near-doubling of U.S. LNG export capacity by the end of the decade. A  key question, however, is whether E&Ps have built the inventories of proved reserves to support future production increases to meet that demand. In today’s RBN blog, we analyze the crucial issue of reserve replacement by the major U.S. Gas-Weighted E&Ps.