U.S refiners have been processing a lot of crude so far this summer and utilization rates remain high. Crude production has leveled off and is expected by the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short Term Energy Outlook to decline slightly during the second half of 2015. But the early summer market sentiment that drove crude prices up to $60/Bbl on the back of these fundamentals appears to have lost steam. Today we conclude our analysis of short term crude price prospects.
Posts from Sandy Fielden
Over 400 Mb/d of Gulf Coast condensate splitter projects could be online by the end of 2016. These splitters will compete for condensate feedstock with local refineries in the Eagle Ford able to process 475 Mb/d of light crude and condensate. Another 700 Mb/d of stabilization capacity in the Eagle Ford could be used to process condensate for export. But with low crude prices stalling production growth, splitter economics could suffer if demand exceeds supply and condensate prices increase as a result. Today we conclude our update on Gulf Coast splitters.
Production of lease condensate at the wellhead and plant condensate from processing natural gas liquids (NGLs) has increased rapidly in the Ohio Utica over the past two years. Timely investment by local refiner Marathon and infrastructure developments to ship condensate to Gulf Coast refiners have proved the primary market for Utica condensate so far. The proximity of the region to diluent pipelines to Canada has also prompted infrastructure projects. Today we describe projects to deliver condensate to Alberta.
The latest forecast from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was published a couple of weeks ago. In spite of lower crude prices CAPP continue to forecast growth in Canadian crude output to 2030 – albeit at a slower pace than previously expected. Continued growth means that takeaway constraints getting Canadian crude to market remain a key challenge – even though increased use of crude-by-rail has taken up some of the slack. Today we conclude our review of the 2015 CAPP outlook.
Prices for prompt delivery of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude as quoted on the CME/NYMEX futures exchange fell by 60% from their high over $107/Bbl in June 2014 to a low under $44/Bbl on March 17, 2015. After recovering about 37% in April and May WTI prices have remained stuck close to $60/Bbl ever since - closing yesterday (June 23, 2015) at $61.01/Bbl. With market contango narrowing, inventory levels falling, and refinery throughputs rising – why aren’t prices moving higher faster? Today we review the fundamental data.
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.
Average margins for a Gulf Coast condensate splitter have been about $5/Bbl better in 2015 than they were in 2014 but are still about $4.75/Bbl worse than an equivalent Gulf Coast 3-2-1 crack spread. The economics of condensate splitters have also yet to be tested in an environment if – as could happen later this year – crude production begins to decline. Are condensate splitters a better investment than just exporting lightly processed condensate under relaxed export regulations? Two companies considering projects seem to have reached different conclusions recently. Today we continue our update on splitter projects with a look at economics.
The latest forecast from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was published last week (June 9, 2015). This annual survey of Canadian crude production, transportation and market demand differs from many forecasts because it is based on surveys of producers and refiners rather than price projections and models. In spite of lower crude prices CAPP continue to forecast growth in Canadian crude output to 2030 – albeit at a slower pace than previously expected. Today we review CAPP’s production and North American market demand forecasts.
Over the past 4 years, billions of dollars have been committed to building new petrochemical olefin crackers for ethane and export facilities for both propane and ethane. All these projects were expected to take advantage of booming domestic natural gas liquids (NGL) production. Projected returns on these investments were based on the assumption that global crude oil prices would remain high relative to domestic NGLs – providing competitive margins for U.S. petrochemical plants and attractive arbitrage opportunities in export markets. The oil price crash in the latter half of 2014 has undermined that assumption and now threatens the economics of many of these projects. Today we preview the latest RBN Energy Drill Down Report addressing the consequences for NGL infrastructure of lower crude prices.
Two years ago production of super light crude known as condensate in the South Texas Eagle Ford was surging. Most Gulf Coast refineries did not want to process this light material and it was discounted to regular crude. The discounts led to a number of project announcements to build stand-alone condensate splitters – a kind of simple refinery that would process it into refined products. During 2014 these projects were cast into doubt by the easing of condensate export restrictions that appeared to offer a less expensive solution to the condensate challenge. More recently the possibily of declining production could also threaten splitter economics. But splitters are still being built and coming online this year and next – with two new projects announced recently. Today we review current splitter projects in the light of market developments.
Prices for non-TET propane at Mont Belvieu yesterday fell to their lowest level in 13 years at 31.0 cnts/Gal (source: OPIS). A big part of the recent price decline is to do with surging propane storage inventory. Last Wednesday’s data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed U.S. propane inventory levels increased by 3.8 MMBbl to 77MMBbl during the last week of May 2015. If storage injections increase at that rate for another couple of weeks then levels will surpass the record of 81.6 MMBbl set in October 2014. The trouble is – that record was set at the start of winter – traditionally the end of propane storage build season - but we are still only in June – with several months of storage build left. Today we discuss the growing propane surplus.
Since the start of the shale oil boom in 2011 crack spread margins for Midwest refiners have averaged about $23/Bbl. Once written off refineries on the East Coast have averaged $16/Bbl this year so far (2015) and California refiners are currently enjoying average $24/Bbl crack spreads. Refinery utilization at the Gulf Coast has averaged close to 90% for the past 4 years and 92% in the Midwest. Today we review buoyant margins and operating levels at U.S. refineries.
Yesterday (June 2, 2015) spot prices for propane at Edmonton, Alberta were assessed by OPIS at an average of -0.625 cnts/gal (-26.25 cnts/Bbl). Yes you read correctly – the price was negative – meaning that producers will PAY YOU to take their propane away in Edmonton. Prices at Edmonton have been below zero before at least twice in the past 2 weeks and they averaged just 2.4 cnts/gal during May. Propane has fallen on hard times in the U.S. as well with Mont Belvieu Gulf Coast trading hub prices reaching13 year lows under 33 cnts/gal last week (back up to 44 cnts/gal yesterday) and the ratio of propane prices to U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude hitting an all time low under 24%. Today we begin a new series on propane with a look at the Edmonton market.
The latest estimates from North Dakota show production edging up in March 2015 after a two-month decline. But the heady days are over for the moment - in the wake of lower crude prices - as even optimistic forecasts project flattened growth. Meanwhile combined rail and pipeline crude takeaway capacity out of North Dakota are already far higher than production – but new projects like the TransCanada Upland pipeline continue to be pitched to shippers. Today we describe how that could result in producers switching from existing routes.
[Note: We will not post an RBN Blog on Memorial Day - Monday May 25]
The past four years have seen a boom in U.S. refining with strong margins and increased throughput. The balance of refinery feedstock has changed from a majority of imports to a majority of domestic crude. Market inefficiencies – in the distribution system, crude quality mismatches and export restrictions have kept U.S. crude prices below international levels – bringing refiners high margins and competitive product exports. Today we look at how refiners have benefited from changing U.S. crude supplies.