Natural Gas Production

Sunday, 04/14/2019

It’s said that everything is bigger and better in Texas, and when it comes to the magnitude of negative natural gas prices, the Lone Star State recently captured the crown by a wide margin. By now, you’ve probably heard that Permian spot gas prices plumbed new depths in the past couple of weeks, falling as low as $9/MMBtu below zero in intraday trading and easily setting the record for the “biggest” negative absolute price ever recorded in U.S. gas markets. Certainly, that was bad news for many of the Permian producers selling gas into the day-ahead market. But every market has its losers and winners, and negative prices were likely “better” — dare we say much better — for those buying gas in the Permian. Today, we look at some of the players that are benefitting from negative Permian natural gas prices.

Wednesday, 03/27/2019

Permian natural gas prices are having a rough spring. After a volatile winter that saw two periods of negative-priced trades followed by a period of relatively strong prices, values at the Permian’s major trading hubs hit the skids earlier this week just as Spring Break set in for most in the Lone Star state. Once again, pipeline maintenance and burgeoning production appear to be the main culprits, but this upheaval feels different, in our view. Clearly, the price crash has reached a new level of drama, with day-ahead spot prices at West Texas’s Waha hub now settling below zero — some days by more than $0.50/MMBtu. Gas production has raced higher too, now within striking distance of 10 Bcf/d, on the coattails of continued oil pipeline capacity expansions, but new gas pipeline takeaway capacity is an estimated six months away. What becomes of Permian gas prices in the meantime, and how much worse could already-negative prices get? Today, we discuss the drivers behind the latest price deterioration and assess what’s ahead for the Permian natural gas markets.

Thursday, 03/07/2019

The Mexican market is critically important to Permian producers. Rising gas demand south of the border — along with expected gains in LNG exports from new liquefaction/export facilities along the Gulf Coast — are key to their plans to significantly increase production of crude oil, which brings with it large volumes of associated gas. All that gas needs a market, and nearby Mexico is a natural. For a number of years now, Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad has been working to implement a plan to add dozens of new gas-fired power plants and to support the development of new gas pipelines to transport gas to them from the U.S. The new pipelines have been coming online at a slower-than-planned pace. But what pipeline capacity has been added across the border from West Texas is already changing Mexico’s gas market. The El Encino Hub in Northwest Mexico is one such area where there are signs of a shifting supply-demand balance. Today, we continue a blog series on key gas pipeline developments down Mexico way and the implications for gas flows, this time delving into the dynamics at the El Encino Hub.

Tuesday, 03/05/2019

The forward curve for natural gas supports 2019 production growth that is likely to far outpace expected gains in gas demand. This impending supply/demand imbalance suggests that gas prices will be pressured lower. Lower gas prices will boost demand, but there are real limits to how much demand can rise in the short term. What will really be needed to balance the market is for producers in at least a few plays — the Marcellus and Utica among them — to rethink and rework their 2019 production plans. Which raises the questions, how much will production growth need to be cut, and where will the bulk of the pruning occur? Today, we continue our review of key themes and findings in East Daley Capital’s newly updated “Dirty Little Secrets” report on the midstream sector.

Wednesday, 02/20/2019

Once the “riverboat gamblers” of U.S. industry, executives at exploration and production companies got religion after the brutal oil price crash in late 2014 and adopted a far more conservative approach to investment based on their new 11th commandment: “Thou shalt live within cash flow.” So it’s no surprise that early 2019 guidance issued by more than half of the 45 major E&Ps we track shows them cutting back capital investment in response to last fall’s decline in oil prices from a more optimistic scenario a year ago. Nearly three-quarters of the 26 companies reporting their 2019 guidance are reducing exploration and development outlays, while only three of the remainder are budgeting increases greater than 10%. What is surprising is that these forecasts include solid production growth virtually across the board, especially for E&Ps that focus on crude oil. Today, we look at how a representative group of U.S. E&Ps are dealing with lower crude prices.

Wednesday, 01/30/2019

While Permian natural gas pipeline announcements came fast and furious last year, it had been relatively quiet on that front the past few weeks. Leave it to the folks at WhiteWater Midstream to break the lull, which is exactly what they did with the recent announcement of a binding open season for a new interstate pipeline in the heart of the Delaware Basin. Named Steady Eddy, the pipeline would originate in an underserved corner of the Permian and provide access to the Waha Hub, where a number of planned greenfield pipelines leaving the Permian will begin. Today, we look at the details of WhiteWater’s proposed Steady Eddy pipeline project.

Sunday, 01/27/2019

Mexico’s energy sector has been dealing with a fair amount of uncertainty of late. Newly installed Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to undo elements of the country’s historic energy reform program, limit imports of hydrocarbons, and focus on domestic production and refining. How much will all this affect the export of natural gas from the U.S. to Mexico? It’s too soon to know what the long-term impact might be, but for now, gas exports remain near record highs and the pipeline buildout within Mexico is proceeding. That’s not to say, however, that the infrastructure work has gone without its own set of challenges — many of those were apparent well before the recent political changes. Today, we begin a series examining the opportunities and potential pitfalls ahead this year for Mexico’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure additions.

Tuesday, 11/27/2018

Crude oil and natural gas production in the Bakken are at all-time highs, as are the volumes of gas being processed in and transported out of the play. The bad news is that for the past few months, the volumes of Bakken gas being flared are also at record levels, and producers as a whole have been exceeding the state of North Dakota’s goal on the percentage of gas that is flared at the lease rather than captured, processed and piped away. State regulators last week stood by their flaring goals, but in an effort to ease the squeeze they gave producers a lot more flexibility in what gas is counted — and not counted — when the flaring calculations are made. Today, we update gas production, processing and flaring in what’s been one of the nation’s hottest production regions.

Monday, 11/26/2018

Permian natural gas markets felt a cold shiver this week, but not a meteorologically induced one of the types running through other regional markets. Gas marketers braced as prices for Permian natural gas skidded toward a new threshold: zero! That’s not basis, but absolute price, a long-anticipated possibility that became reality on Monday. The cause is very likely driven, in our view, by continued associated gas production growth poured into a region that won’t see new greenfield pipeline capacity for at least 10 months. What happens next isn’t clear, but expect Permian gas market participants to be a little excitable or jittery over the next few months. Today, we review this latest complication for Permian natural gas markets.

Wednesday, 10/10/2018

Anyone who’s shopped for a home is well-aware of the relationship between location and valuation. The same holds true for oil and gas producers accumulating a portfolio of real estate underlain by the most promising oil and gas formations. Recently, the most desirable neighborhood has been the Permian Basin, which has seen more than $70 billion in M&A transactions since mid-2016. While the entire U.S. E&P sector has returned to profitability, Permian players have generated the highest production growth, the best margins, and the most substantial profits and cash flows. There’s a catch, though: production growth in the Permian has led to serious takeaway constraints. Today, we discuss how the impact of these constraints is reflected in a company-by-company analysis of quarterly results.

Thursday, 10/04/2018

The U.S. exploration and production sector has reaped many benefits from its transformation to large-scale, manufacturing-style exploitation of premier resource plays, generating record oil and gas production while slashing production and reserve replacement costs by 50%. While increased efficiency and rising output have moved the industry solidly into the black after three years of losses, profit growth stalled in the second quarter 2018 despite a $5/bbl increase in oil prices to about $68/bbl. The cause is largely beyond the control of the producers: constraints on getting the increased output to markets. In certain producing regions, most notably the Permian Basin, production growth has far outpaced expansions to the infrastructure required to process and transport it. Today, we explain why these constraints are critical to assessing the outlook for industry profitability and cash flow over at least the next two to four quarters.

Monday, 09/24/2018

U.S. exploration and production companies (E&Ps) are generating such substantial output growth that the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates their increase in 2018 liquids production could equal the entire growth in global demand. Remarkably, they’re accomplishing this with half the capital investment of 2014. The driver has been a shift to a manufacturing mode that has transformed the E&P industry as dramatically as Henry Ford’s moving assembly line changed the automobile industry in 1913. Geophysical and technological innovations, such as multi-well pad drilling, have allowed the industry to double output per well bore at half the previous cost. With oil prices and margins rising, you’d think the E&P industry, which historically has invested like “there’s never too much of a good thing,” would be pouring every available dollar into drilling more and more wells. But that isn’t the case. Instead, mid-year 2018 guidance shows that producers have adopted the long-term investment strategies usually associated with integrated oil majors, plotting incremental increases in investment to methodically accelerate production growth to 2020 and beyond.

Wednesday, 09/19/2018

It’s no secret by now that Permian natural gas pipelines have been running near full the last few months, jam-packed like Southern California traffic while trying to whisk away copious volumes of mostly associated natural gas to markets north, south, west and east of the basin. Despite every major artery running near capacity this summer, Permian prices had so far managed to avoid falling below the dreaded $1.00/MMBtu threshold, a precipice that historically defines a gas producing basin as definitively oversupplied. That all changed yesterday, as word came in that Southern California Gas Company, one of the largest recipients of Permian gas, has nearly filled its gas storage caverns and will soon need far less gas hitting its borders. That’s particularly bad news for the Permian, which has few other options if it needs to reduce the supply that is currently flowing west out of the basin to California. A large unplanned outage for maintenance was also announced on one of the pipelines leaving the Permian and heading north to the Midcontinent. As a result, the SoCalGas news and maintenance combined to put a huge dent in Permian gas prices, some of which plunged as low as 50 cents in Wednesday’s trading. Today, we detail this most recent development and the implications for Permian gas takeaway.

Thursday, 08/30/2018

In the first half of 2018, the U.S. E&P sector continued to reap the benefits of its dramatic evolution from decades of “boom or bust” exploration to large-scale, manufacturing-style exploitation of premier resource plays. Upstream companies halved their break-evens and reserve replacement costs through technological innovation, financial discipline, and ruthless portfolio paring, which allowed them to generate record domestic oil production in 2018 on half the capital outlays expended in 2014. As a result, the 44 E&Ps we track reported $21 billion in pre-tax operating profits in the first half of 2018, up from $6.2 billion in the first six months of 2017, and over $50 billion in operating cash flow, up from $39 billion a year ago. Most notably, these companies are on pace to garner an astonishing $30 billion in free cash flow. Today, we discuss the ongoing effort by leading E&Ps to maintain financial discipline in a period of strong oil and gas prices.

Sunday, 08/05/2018

Constructing greenfield pipelines is never easy — just ask any midstream developer you know — but building them across the breadth of Texas comes with its own unique challenges. There’s distance, for starters, and today’s massive associated gas growth in the Permian Basin is occurring more than 400 miles from the closest demand along the Gulf Coast. That makes the pipelines relatively expensive at somewhere near $2 billion a copy. Integrating Permian supply with Gulf Coast demand also requires a big network of pipelines along the coast, as the demand is spread out from Louisiana to Mexico. Few midstream companies have such a network. Kinder Morgan does, one reason why, in our view, the Gulf Coast Express project was the first — and to-date the only — greenfield project from the Permian to proceed with a final investment decision. In the race to be the next Permian natural gas relief valve pipeline, the same hurdles will have to be overcome. On Friday, news came that a group of four companies is planning the Whistler Pipeline, and a closer look at the project reveals it may be capable of meeting the challenges needed to make it a serious player in the Permian pipeline race. Today, we look at the details of the latest Permian natural gas pipeline project.