With increasing production near demand regions, better connectivity from both pipeline and rail, and export volumes that can be bid away from global markets, the U.S. propane industry is in a much better position to handle a “Perfect Storm” of extreme demand events than it was in the winter of 2013-14. Nevertheless, today’s propane market brings with it a number of challenges, including greater exposure of domestic propane to global markets, more complex inter-regional supply dynamics, a more diverse supply chain, all in the context of limited domestic demand growth. In today’s blog we conclude our analysis of the U.S. propane market.
Posts from Sandy Fielden
This Wednesday (September 30, 2015) PBF Energy announced their acquisition of the 155 Mb/d ExxonMobil Torrance, CA refinery that has been out of commission since February 2015 and will not likely return to service until February 2016. This PBF purchase is their second refinery buy this year and their fifth since 2010. The sophisticated Torrance refinery has a lot of upside potential for PBF but may be constrained by California transport fuel regulations. Today we take a closer look at the deal.
The opening up of Mexico’s retail liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) market could provide significant opportunities for U.S. propane and butane producers, as well as midstream companies and exporters. If exports of U.S.- sourced LPG are to increase, though, it would help to have a more robust and efficient system than presently exists for transporting the fuel to the U.S.-Mexico border and, from there, to key LPG consumption markets within Mexico. Today, we continue our look at Mexican LPG imports with a review of existing and planned pipelines.
A question we get asked all the time these days is whether or not U.S. crude output has begun to decline yet and if so by how much? We don’t actually think the answer makes a lot of difference to the market - especially when you consider changing imports and inventory. But ever since the OPEC meeting last November (2014) failed to take action to reduce output to support oil prices - market watchers have placed a lot of emphasis on when U.S. shale producers would respond by cutting production. So regardless of the merits of the question we are all living in a marketplace where knowing the “real” state of U.S. production – and whether it is up or down – has become a big deal. To that end today we look at crude production data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The U.S. propane industry is evolving rapidly in response to increasing production and the resulting development of new market demand sectors in exports and PDH plants to make “on-purpose” propylene. Two years ago in the winter of 2013-2014 all the new production growth could not prevent a perfect storm of weather events from causing severe shortages and price distress for domestic customers in the Mid-Continent and East Coast regions. Today we describe how the propane market is now much better equipped to endure a similar spell of extreme demand.
This month the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) indicated they are leaning towards leniency in their treatment of operators that have drilled but not completed wells within the one-year time frame permitted. Instead of assuming such wells are abandoned, which would otherwise mean an expired drilling permit and about $200,000 in plugging costs, – the State plans to give operators more time. That possibility opens up a whole new underground storage option for producers struggling to make ends meet. Today we explain the NDIC plan.
Production growth, new processing infrastructure and increased use of rail are shifting traditional flow patterns in the propane industry. New production and processing is adjacent to historic centers of consumer demand in the Northeast and Mid-Continent – reducing seasonal risks of shortage. Rail distribution improves delivery flexibility. The supply chain has to be flexible enough to balance seasonal consumer demand with increased chemical processing and high export volumes. Today we describe improved regional interconnectivity.
Traditional domestic propane markets were dominated by seasonal consumer demand in the Northeast and Mid-Continent and petrochemical industry demand in the Gulf Coast region. Today domestic demand is still dominated by these two sectors although consumer use is declining slowly while new propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plants look set to boost chemical demand. Meantime the bounty of shale production has swamped domestic consumer needs – making exports by far the largest growth sector. Today we continue our deep dive review of the propane market.
Surging domestic propane production in PADD 1 (East Coast) and PADD 2 (Mid-Continent) over the past four years is unlikely to result in an increase in traditional consumer propane demand in those regions, even with today’s lower overall domestic propane prices. Most propane use in those markets is from the residential and commercial sectors, and that demand has been in a slow, steady decline for years due to competition from electricity and natural gas, efficiency improvements and the general population shift to warmer states. In fact, the only sector of the U.S. market expected to see an increase in propane demand in the next few years is for its use as a feedstock to produce petrochemicals. Most petrochemical demand has traditionally been centered at the Gulf Coast but is projected to expand on the East Coast as well. Today we detail current and projected propane demand.
Surging production of natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the prolific Northeast Marcellus/Utica, the North Dakota Bakken and the Texas Permian and Eagle Ford basins over the past four years has transformed U.S. propane supply. More than half of that growth has come from the Northeast (PADD I) and the Mid-Continent (PADD II), which is particularly significant for the propane market since those two regions make up almost 80% of U.S. consumer propane demand. That makes these two regions far more self-reliant than they were before the shale era. Today we look at RBN’s propane production outlook to 2025.
Most of the increase in U.S. propane production in recent years has come from plants processing natural gas to extract natural gas liquids (NGLs). The rich (wet) gas those plants process is either produced with crude as associated gas or from wet gas wells that target NGLs. In either case propane supplies are produced regardless of U.S. demand – and that demand is relatively static although subject to significant weather related seasonal variation. There are two important consequences of this supply/demand imbalance with important implications for the propane market. First, the U.S. can produce about twice the propane it needs, so the surplus must be exported. Second, most production growth is next door to the largest propane demand regions in the country. Today we describe the scenarios used to build our model of propane supply and demand used to analyze these developments.
Our recent analysis of Houston area crude infrastructure found new pipelines running half full as more capacity comes online and storage only half utilized as midstream operators continue to plan expansions. Add the current crude production slowdown to that equation and it could spell trouble for midstream companies. Today we ponder the fate of midstream investment in Houston crude oil infrastructure.
Even as Houston area crude oil storage – at refineries and commercial terminals – remains just half utilized according to data from Genscape, midstream operators are busy building more tanks. About 7 MMBbl of storage is under construction now and plans have been announced this year to build another 11 MMBbl. Today we detail plans to expand crude storage in the Houston area.
For the past several months shippers in Midland, TX – in the middle of the prolific Permian Basin - have been paying premiums up to $2/Bbl over the benchmark Cushing, OK trading hub price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude. That means shipping WTI from Midland to Cushing is a money losing proposition. Historically Cushing WTI has traded at a premium to Midland – usually at least covering the ~$1/Bbl pipeline tariff. Today we explain how traditional price dynamics have been turned upside down.
Close analysis of Houston area crude storage indicates it is only 52% utilized today even as regional crude inventories have reached record levels. Meeting refinery operational needs appears to be the main use of area storage – rather than speculative gains from buying today’s cheap oil to store and sell later. Today we continue our analysis of Houston area refinery infrastructure.