Until just a few years ago, the rise and fall of U.S. propane inventories each year was driven in large part by winter weather: the colder the temperatures in the major propane-consuming areas, the bigger the draw on stocks. Things have gotten much more complicated lately, though, thanks to a combination of rapid NGL production growth, a generally booming propane export market, and the vagaries of petchem margins. Now, to get a handle on propane stocks, you not only need to be able to forecast the weather, you also need to monitor international propane arbs and steam cracker economics — oh, and crude prices too, because they have a significant effect on NGL output and propane supply. Today, we discuss the many factors that impact propane inventories and prices in this sometimes chaotic market.
Rising natural gas liquids production in the Niobrara is increasingly straining existing pipeline capacity out of the region and has spurred midstreamers to propose various combinations of new pipelines, expansions to existing pipelines and pipeline conversions in order to ease constraints. One of the latest entrants is a joint venture of Williams and Targa Resources that would expand Rockies producers’ ability to move mixed NGLs to the Mont Belvieu, TX, hub for fractionation and marketing/export. Williams plans to build a 188-mile pipeline — Bluestem — that would extend from its Rockies-to-Conway, KS, Overland Pass Pipeline to Kingfisher County, OK. For its part, Targa will build a 110-mile extension of its new Grand Prix NGL pipeline from southern Oklahoma north into Kingfisher to connect with Bluestem. As part of the deal, Williams has also contracted substantial volumes on Grand Prix as well as at Targa’s fractionation facility at Mont Belvieu. Today, we discuss Williams and Targa’s plan.
There’s never a dull moment in the ethane market. Four new steam crackers and an expansion at an existing plant are slated to begin operating along the Gulf Coast in 2019, and a recently restarted Louisiana cracker will continue to ramp up to full capacity — together adding about 250 Mb/d of ethane demand by year’s end. You’d think there would be plenty of ethane out there for them. After all, U.S. NGL production has been on the rise, driven in part by new Permian gas processing plants and new NGL pipeline capacity to the coast. But fractionation constraints at the Mont Belvieu hub are likely to linger through 2019, raising questions about how much ethane will actually be produced and how much will need to be rejected into pipeline gas. Today, we consider the challenges facing the ethane market this year as demand increases and fracs run flat out to keep pace.
Fractionators at the Mont Belvieu hub operated at or near full capacity through the second half of 2018 as they struggled to deal with a deluge of mixed NGLs from the Permian and other key production areas. This situation — barely enough capacity to keep pace with rising demand for fractionation services — is likely to continue through 2019, even as a number of new fractionators come online. But NGL producers and the midstream sector are on the case: a slew of additional frac capacity has been announced since last fall, all of it slated to begin operation in 2020 or early 2021, and all of it backed by long-term contracts. Today, we discuss ongoing efforts to make the most of existing frac trains and to add new capacity pronto.
The U.S. midstream sector has been on a development binge the past few years, mostly in an effort to catch up — and then keep up — with production growth in the Shale Era’s two premier plays: the Marcellus/Utica in the Northeast and the Permian Basin in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. What’s sometimes overlooked, however, is that significant numbers of new pipelines, processing plants and other key assets are being built in smaller, lower-profile production areas. The Niobrara’s Denver-Julesburg and Powder River basins are cases in point. Exploration and production activity in the D-J in particular has been soaring, and the resulting gains in crude oil, natural gas and NGL output has been stressing the region’s hydrocarbon-related infrastructure, thus spurring the development of new processing plants and pipelines. Also, interest in the Powder has been renewed — production there has been rebounding after crude-production ups and downs and gas-production declines through the 2010s. Today, we discuss highlights from RBN’s new Drill Down Report on the Niobrara production region.
Energy Transfer’s Mariner East pipeline system was supposed to help resolve a growing problem for producers in the “wet” Marcellus and Utica plays — namely, the need to transport increasing volumes of LPG out of the Northeast, especially during the warmer months, when in-region demand for LPG is low. The pipeline system also was meant to spur LPG and ethane exports out of Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook marine terminal near Philadelphia. So how are things going? Well, the now five-year-old, 70-Mb/d Mariner East 1 pipeline, designed to transport ethane and propane, has been offline ever since a sinkhole exposed a part of the pipe late last month. The 275-Mb/d Mariner East 2 pipe is finally in operation and enabling a lot more LPG to move to Marcus Hook, but for now it can only run at about 60% of its capacity. And last Friday, a key Pennsylvania regulator suspended its review of outstanding water permit applications for the remaining piece of ME-2 and the parallel 250-Mb/d ME-2 Expansion project, and threw into doubt how long it might take to finish the Mariner East system and ramp it up to full capacity. Today, we begin a series on recent Mariner East developments and explain how, despite the mixed bag of Mariner East news in recent weeks, the situation is not as bad as it may seem.
U.S. crude oil, NGL and gas markets have entered a new era. Exports now dominate the supply/demand equilibrium. These markets simply would not clear at today’s production levels, much less at the flow rates coming over the next few years, if not for access to global markets. This year, the U.S. may export 20-25% of domestic crude production, 15% of natural gas and 40% of NGLs from gas processing, and those percentages will continue to ramp up. What will this massive shift in energy flows mean for U.S. markets, and for that matter, for the rest of the world? The best way to answer that question is to get the major players together under one roof and figure it out. That’s the plan for Energy xPortCon 2019. Warning!: Today’s blog is a blatant advertorial for our upcoming conference.
Well, it finally happened. After several years of assessing the possible development of a large, integrated propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant and polypropylene (PP) upgrader unit, a joint venture of Canada’s Pembina Pipeline and Kuwait’s Petrochemical Industries Co. (PIC) earlier this week announced a final investment decision (FID) for the multibillion-dollar project in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland. The new PDH/PP complex won’t come online until 2023, but when it does, it will provide yet another new outlet for Western Canadian propane, which has been selling at a significant discount in recent years. Today, we discuss Pembina and PIC’s long-awaited PDH/PP project, Inter Pipeline’s development of a similar project nearby, Western Canadian propane export plans — and what they all mean for propane prices.
The U.S. started exporting ethane by ship less than three years ago, first out of Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook terminal near Philadelphia and then from Enterprise Products Partners’ Morgan’s Point facility along the Houston Ship Channel. Good news for NGL producers, right? Well yes, sort of. Because while waterborne export volumes rose through 2016, 2017 and the first seven months of last year, they’ve been flat-to-declining ever since, with further ethane-export growth hampered primarily by a lack of international demand. That demand may soon be ratcheting up — mostly in China, but also in Europe — but it won’t happen overnight. Today, we discuss ethane export trends, the Morgan’s Point and Marcus Hook marine facilities, and plans for new ethane export capacity tied directly to new overseas ethane crackers.
During 2018, U.S. crude oil, natural gas and NGL production hit new all-time highs almost every month. Oil production grew by a staggering 1.7 MMb/d from January to December, an increase of about 18%. NGLs soared even more: by 27%, up 1.0 MMb/d over the same 12-month period. Natural gas production zoomed skyward by 10 Bcf/d, a gain of about 13%. All this new supply came on in a price environment marked by wild swings. WTI ran up from $60/bbl to $75, then collapsed below $50. Henry Hub gas spiked to nearly $5/MMBtu, then beat a hasty retreat back to the $3/MMBtu range. Permian gas traded negative. Ethane prices blasted to the moon (62 c/gal), then crashed back to earth (below 30 c/gal). Is this the way it’s going to be? Massive production growth, extreme price volatility, widespread market uncertainty? It’s impossible to answer such a question, right? Nah. All we need to do is stick our collective RBN necks out one more time, peer into our crystal ball, and see what 2019 has in store for us.
One way or the other, all of 2018’s Top 10 blogs had something to do with infrastructure. There’s not enough. Or it’s taking too long to come online. Or there is too much being built too soon. Even the financial underpinning of U.S. energy infrastructure development — the MLP model — ran into tough sledding in 2018. Then, toward the end of the year, all of the best-laid infrastructure planning got whacked by the crude-market wild card: prices crashing below $50/bbl. We scrupulously monitor the website “hit rate” of the RBN blogs that go out to about 26,000 people each day and, at the end of each year, we look back to see what generated the most interest from you, our readers. That hit rate reveals a lot about major market trends. So, once again, we look into the rearview mirror to check out the top blogs of the year based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits.
Production of natural gas liquids in the Rockies has increased by half since the end of 2012, with the bulk of the output — and those gains — coming from the greater Niobrara play in Colorado and Wyoming. As a result, a number of NGL pipelines out of the Rockies are now running full or close to it, and midstream companies are planning a mix of new pipelines, pipeline expansions and pipeline conversions with the aim of easing takeaway constraints by the latter half of 2019. But, with crude oil prices tanking and crude-focused producers reevaluating their drilling and completion plans, could the Niobrara be headed for an NGL takeaway over-build? In today’s blog, we continue our series with a look at existing and planned NGL pipes out of the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) and Powder River basins.
Crude oil takeaway constraints out of the Permian are a fresh reminder that, in the Shale Era, production gains can far outpace the ability of the midstream sector to build new pipelines. Similarly, an increasing share of the rising volumes of crude flowing through the Cushing, OK, hub wants to move to the Gulf Coast, but the existing Cushing-to-coast pipeline systems are full and midstreamers are scrambling to add more capacity. Pipeline constraints aren’t limited to crude, of course. In the Niobrara’s Denver-Julesburg Basin, rapid gains in NGL production threaten to overwhelm the pipelines carrying mixed NGLs to fractionation hubs. What can be done? In at least some cases — including all of those mentioned above — there are opportunities to convert NGL pipelines to crude service, or vice versa. Today, we look at efforts under way to repurpose existing pipes to add needed takeaway capacity pronto.
For 65 years, Enbridge’s Line 5 has been a critically important conduit for moving Western Canadian and Bakken crude oil and NGLs east across Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and into Ontario, where the now-540-Mb/d pipeline feeds Sarnia refineries and petrochemical plants. Some crude from Line 5 also can flow east from Sarnia to Montreal refineries on Line 9. But Enbridge has been under increasing pressure to shut down Line 5 over concern that a rupture under the Straits of Mackinac might cause major environmental damage. At long last, the state of Michigan and Enbridge have reached an agreement to replace the section of Line 5 under the straits by the mid-2020s, and to take steps in the interim to enhance the existing pipeline’s safety. In today’s blog, we consider the significance of the Enbridge pipeline and of the newly reached accord.
Crude oil production in the Rockies’ Niobrara region is up by more than 50% since the beginning of last year, spurred on by higher oil prices, ample oil pipeline takeaway capacity, and other positive factors. Natural gas and NGL production in the Niobrara — which includes both the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin and the Powder River Basin (PRB) — has been rising too, to the point that there’s a scramble on to develop new gathering systems, gas processing plants as well as gas and NGL pipeline capacity. A number of exploration and production companies are upbeat about the region’s prospects; so are some midstreamers. But there’s a dark cloud on the horizon — at least in Colorado, where voters will decide in a few weeks whether to significantly restrict where new wells can be drilled. Is the Niobrara poised for continued growth or not? Today, we kick off a new series on Rockies production, infrastructure and prospects.