NGL

Way back in 2012, the U.S. flipped from being a net LPG importer to a net exporter. Since then, exports by ship have skyrocketed, up from 0.3 MMb/d in 2013 to more than 1.1 MMb/d at year-end 2018, an astronomical compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30%. The vast majority of waterborne exports was out of a handful of LPG terminals along the Gulf Coast. These facilities — plus Ferndale in the Pacific Northwest and Marcus Hook near Philadelphia — so far have managed to handle the increasing flow of LPG, but with U.S. NGL production still rising, it looks like new export capacity is needed — and is on the way. All the while, imports of LPG, almost all from Canada, have remained relatively flat, averaging only 130 Mb/d in the 2013-18 period. Today, we begin a series on existing and planned LPG export capacity along the Gulf, West and East coasts — and what’s driving the build-out of these assets.

Two months ago, NGL prices and market differentials were soaring, in large part due to fractionation capacity constraints on the Gulf Coast at Mont Belvieu. The constraints have not eased, yet the same prices and differentials have come crashing down from those lofty levels. Why has this happened, you ask, and how long will it last? There are a lot of factors contributing, but two of the most significant are seasonal NGL demand shifts and what’s going on with crude oil. Today, we examine the recent swings in NGL prices and market differentials and what may be around the next corner for these markets.

The Pacific Northwest will never be a Houston or even a Marcus Hook when it comes to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) export volumes, but the region — British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon — is finally poised to get a second marine terminal dedicated to loading propane and butane, the two LPG family members. When AltaGas and Royal Vopak’s planned 40-Mb/d LPG export terminal on BC’s Ridley Island comes online in the first quarter of 2019, it will join Petrogas’s 30-Mb/d terminal in Ferndale, WA, in offering time-saving, straight-shot LPG deliveries to Asia, which has emerged as a leading destination for North American-sourced propane and butane. Other LPG export terminals in the Pacific Northwest have been proposed. Today we begin a blog series on propane and butane exports from Ferndale and the prospects for regional export growth.

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.

The availability of vast amounts of ethane from the nearby “wet” Marcellus and Utica plays is spurring a petrochemical rejuvenation in Sarnia, ON. Two years ago NOVA Chemicals stopped using naphtha as a feedstock at its 1.8 billion pound/year ethylene plant in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley and now relies on a combination of ethane, propane and butane. Next year the company is planning to complete the plant’s conversion to 100% ethane and is considering the possibility of building a big polyethylene plant nearby. Today, we continue our comprehensive review of southwestern Ontario’s NGL, petchem and refining infrastructure, including Sarnia’s NGL fractionation, storage and end-use markets.  

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) is the nation’s second-largest master limited partnership (MLP), with a market capitalization of $19.6 billion, $39.7 billion in 2015 revenue and $8 billion in 2015 capital investments. ETP’s general partner is Energy Transfer Equity (ETE), whose once-promising merger deal with Williams bit the dust in June. ETP’s extensive holdings include several major interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines, midstream natural gas services, and natural gas liquids (NGL) pipelines and services; it also holds approximately 27.5% of the limited partner interests and all of the general partner interest in Sunoco Logistics Partners (SXL). With ETP’s size, its huge portfolio of midstream assets, and its high-profile general partner, the MLP was an obvious choice for our Spotlight Report series.  Today we summarize Part Two of our ETP Spotlight Report, which focuses on the company’s Midstream and Liquids segments.

The U.S. Northeast now produces all the propane and butane it needs on an annual basis (Energy Information Administration - EIA PADD 1 plus Utica production from Ohio), but the seasonal nature of the region’s demand—and a dearth of in-region storage—means a lot of the natural gas liquid (NGL) production needs to be railed to storage facilities elsewhere during the warmer months, then be moved back in to meet wintertime needs. This propane/butane back-and-forth raises costs and reduces producer netbacks. Surely there is a better way. Today, we continue our review of NGL storage (or the lack thereof) in the Northeast, and how proposed NGL storage facilities in the region might help.

Every day, the “wet” Marcellus and Utica shale plays are producing significant volumes of ethane, all of which needs to be moved out of regional plants, fractionators and de-ethanizers immediately, either by “rejection” into natural gas or on pipelines to the Gulf Coast, Ontario, or to an export terminal in Marcus Hook, PA. A leading midstream company—MPLX’s MarkWest subsidiary—has developed an ingenious, integrated approach for handling much of that ethane (and dealing with any disruptions), but its ethane-management system is not a regional cure-all, and the likely development of an ethylene plant in the heart of the Marcellus/Utica would only increase the region’s ethane-handling needs. Today, we continue our examination of natural gas liquids (NGL) storage needs in the Northeast with a look at how nearby ethane storage might help midstream companies that are not integral parts of MarkWest’s “ethane loop.”

Ever-increasing production of natural gas liquids (NGLs) in the U.S. Northeast is highlighting—and exacerbating—what has always been a challenge for the region: a serious lack of nearby NGL storage capacity. In the years before NGL production took off in the “wet” Marcellus and Utica shale plays, this storage shortfall mainly affected propane and butane, with their very seasonal demand; the lack of Northeast NGL storage required a huge wintertime influx of propane and additional butane that had been stockpiled elsewhere. More recently, with Northeast NGL production booming, propane and butane barrels need to be moved out of the region by rail during the non-winter months and be railed back when the weather turns colder and motor gasoline blending limits are higher—killing producer netbacks in the process. Add to that a new (and equally vexing) challenge: dealing with the vast quantities of ethane being produced in the wet Marcellus/Utica. There is currently no in-region demand for ethane and (unlike propane and butane) you can’t just load surplus purity ethane onto rail cars. Today, we begin a series on the need for more NGL storage in the Northeast, and the pros and cons of a specific proposed storage project.

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP is the nation’s second-largest master limited partnership (MLP), with a market capitalization of $16.6 billion, $39.7 billion in 2015 revenue and $8 billion in 2015 capital investments, and a general partner—Energy Transfer Equity (ETE)—whose once-promising merger deal with Williams Cos. has turned ugly and may well be doomed. ETP’s extensive holdings include several major interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines, midstream natural gas services, and natural gas liquids (NGL) pipelines and services; it also holds approximately 27.5% of the limited partner interests and all of the general partner interest in Sunoco Logistics Partners (SXL). With ETP’s size, its huge portfolio of midstream assets, and its high-profile general partner, the MLP was an obvious choice for our new Spotlight Report. Today, we provide the highlights of the report, which is available to RBN Backstage Pass subscribers.

Fueled by soaring domestic production of natural gas liquids (NGLs) like propane and butane, U.S. liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) export volumes the past three years have rocketed to the top, surpassing exports by the old Big Three of LPG: United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Algeria. But that rise in LPG exports may be ending, and the share of exports made from Gulf Coast docks may be in for a decline. More propane and butane will be pulled from the Marcellus and Utica to the docks at Marcus Hook, PA, and demand for propane on the Gulf Coast—from new propane dehydrogenation plants and flexible steam crackers—will be climbing. That suggests that less LPG may need to be exported from the Gulf Coast to keep the market in balance. In today’s blog we continue our look at the soon-to-open Panama Canal expansion with an updated examination of U.S. LPG export terminals along the Gulf Coast.

After a series of construction setbacks, the Panama Canal expansion is finally expected to come online by mid-2016. The wider, deeper canal locks will enable any LPG ship (up through Very Large Gas Carriers, or VLGCs) on the planet to take the time- and money-saving short-cut, and also will accommodate all but a few of the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessels. That can only help U.S. liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and LNG exporters, who for competitive reasons need the low transportation costs to Pacific Basin markets that shipping in super-bulk will provide. Today we discuss how the expansion project may boost exports of hydrocarbons from the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Prices headed up!!  That’s something that you haven’t heard much lately.   But big changes are just over the horizon for NGLs as new petrochemical plants and export projects come online.   These projects will encounter a market environment far different than what was expected when they were being planned.  Instead of an oversupplied market driving NGLs lower relative to crude oil and natural gas, the projects will confront a tight market, with NGL prices higher relative to the other hydrocarbons. In today’s blog we explain why what must go up must come down, and vice versa.

General Partners Phillips 66 and Spectra Energy control midstream Master Limited Partnership (MLP) DCP Midstream Partners (DPM). The partnership owns midstream transportation and processing assets along the natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGL) supply chain. Similar to many MLPs its Limited Partner unit price has declined by more than 50% in the past year. Despite exposure to difficult market conditions in the Eagle Ford and East Texas, a strong performance from the NGL logistics segment is expected to propel a 20% gain in net income between 2015 and 2017. Today we review our latest spotlight analysis report on DPM.

ONEOK Partners (OKS) own and operate one of the largest natural gas liquid (NGL) networks in the U.S. Like most midstream Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs), OKS’ stock price has dropped by more than 50% since mid-2014.  This despite the fact that most of ONEOK’s revenues are not directly impacted by lower crude and natural gas prices. Today we introduce the first of our new Spotlight reports (a joint venture between RBN and East Daley) available exclusively to Backstage Pass subscribers- that feature deep-dive fundamental analysis of select energy players’ operating assets. The first report features ONEOK and indicates that the company has a strong portfolio of fee based business fed by some of the most attractive producing basins in the U.S., particularly the Bakken which has the potential to amplify the company’s performance both to the upside and downside.