Market signals are suggesting that we’re on the cusp of another midstream revival. Higher crude oil and natural gas prices are prompting producers to ramp up output, and higher production will lead to increasing midstream constraints and cratering supply prices. We’ve seen this reel before and in past cycles, midstreamers would swoop in right about now with plans for a host of pipeline expansions to relieve bottlenecks and balance the market again. The problem is that for capacity to get built, you need producers to sign up with long-term commitments, and that’s the catch. Wall Street has drawn a hard line when it comes to capital and environmental discipline in the energy industry, and regulatory support for hydrocarbon newbuilds has waned. This is especially a problem for two major basins — the Permian and Marcellus/Utica — but is liable to affect producer behavior across the Lower 48. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at how this will play out at the basin level, starting with the Permian.
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The U.S. natural gas market is primed for supply growth. The Lower 48 supply-demand balance is the most bullish it has been in years. Exports are at record levels and poised to increase with additional terminal expansions on the horizon, while international prices have recently notched record highs. Henry Hub gas futures prices are at the highest in over a decade. So, producers will unleash a torrent of natural gas, triggering a midstream build-out like we’ve seen in the past, right? Not so fast. The world has changed. For additional capacity to be built, you need producers or utilities to commit to use it. But Wall Street has drawn a hard line when it comes to capital and environmental discipline in the energy industry and regulatory approvals can also be an uphill battle. Therein lies the conundrum. More midstream capacity is needed for production to grow, but it’s harder than ever for that infrastructure to get built, which means constraints for some period of time are all but a certainty. Natural gas may not be as constrained as crude oil, but it is already butting up against capacity in parts of the Permian and Marcellus/Utica. And in the crude-focused Permian, those gas constraints will also cascade to crude production. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the implications of the new world order.
Henry Hub has long been the center of the universe for the Lower 48 natural gas market, but what it represents has changed dramatically since its inception, particularly over the past decade. It has gone from being a benchmark pricing location for a vibrant producing region, to being situated in the fastest-growing demand region and a key hub for wheeling feedgas supply to the proliferating LNG export facilities in Louisiana — all with little change to its infrastructure. As this occurred, the gas price at Henry has gone from being among the lowest in the country to one of the most premium. Physical volumes exchanged at the hub, which have always been dwarfed by financial trades there (and still are), have climbed in recent years and are now at the highest levels since 2008. Moreover, the inflows are concentrated on just a couple of pipelines, and those key interconnects are at risk of becoming constrained. In today’s RBN blog, we provide an update on the shifting gas flows at Henry Hub.
The U.S. natural gas market’s exposure to global gas and LNG markets has come into sharp focus in recent days. A gas supply crunch in Europe and scant LNG cargoes have roiled the international markets and kicked competition into overdrive. European natural gas and Asian LNG prices are at record highs and locked in a race to the top. The U.S. gas market has been relatively buffered from the full extent of the panic-driven premiums enveloping European and Asian markets, constrained primarily by its limited ability to help meet international demand. In other words, the U.S.’s LNG export capacity ceiling is likely the only thing reining in Henry Hub prices from following European and Asian gas/LNG prices to the moon. As explosive as Henry Hub futures are these days, if not for the capacity constraint, they would be much higher. That ceiling is about to get a little higher, however, as two liquefaction projects — Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass Train 6 and Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass — get ready to export LNG from U.S. shores this winter, amid what’s already the most bullish Lower 48 gas market in years. In today’s RBN blog, we detail the timing and demand implications of these two projects.
The natural gas futures contract for the prompt month barreled a net ~$1.00 (26%) higher in the past 12 days as the potential for prolonged production shut-ins in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida amplified already-heightened supply fears in both the U.S. and international gas markets. The blistering price action sent the CME/NYMEX Henry Hub October futures contract soaring on Wednesday to an intraday high above $5/MMBtu and a settle of $4.914/MMBtu, the highest during September trading since 2008, while the prompt December and January contracts settled above $5/MMBtu for the first time in years. Prices at European and Asian gas/LNG hubs have similarly rallied this summer to multi-year or even all-time highs. Offshore Gulf gas production has since begun to recover, slowly, after the Ida-damaged Port Fourchon in Louisiana, the base of offshore oil and gas operations, reopened over the Labor Day weekend, but the bulk of it remains offline as power outages and other operational challenges persist. The shut-ins are exacerbating an already tight market, marked by record LNG exports, lackadaisical production growth, and a growing inventory deficit compared with year-ago and five-year average levels. Those underlying fundamentals will remain a trigger point for price spikes well after Ida-related shut-ins recover. Today, we discuss where the gas market stands heading into the final months of the injection season and the implications for winter gas pricing.
The year-on-year gain in U.S. LNG feedgas demand has been the single biggest factor behind the soaring natural gas prices and storage shortfall this year. And there is more of that demand on the horizon. Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass Train 6 and Venture Global’s new Calcasieu Pass facility are due to start service in the first half of 2022. However, feedgas volume is likely to ramp up ahead of the new year as both projects progress through the commissioning phase and aim to export their first commissioning cargoes before the end of the year. How soon could that incremental feedgas demand show up? Getting a handle on the timing requires an understanding of how a liquefaction plant works and the various steps of the commissioning process. Today, we start a short series on what’s involved when bringing a liquefaction plant online and what that can tell us about the timing of incremental feedgas flows this fall/winter.
Northeast natural gas production in 2021 to date has averaged 34 Bcf/d, up 1.4 Bcf/d year-on-year, and the higher gas price environment currently is signaling more upside to production in the years to come. At the same time, downstream feedgas demand from LNG export facilities is at a record high and also headed higher as more liquefaction capacity is set to come online in the coming months. So, despite lower-than-normal inventory levels in the Northeast, outflows from the Appalachian basin have soared to new highs this year, and utilization of outbound pipeline capacity is up to an average 90%, a level we haven’t seen since the 2016-17 timeframe. Unlike 2016-17, when there was a slew of major pipeline projects to expand egress, now there are just two or three at most — and two of those are greenfield projects that face an uncertain future. As such, spare exit capacity is getting increasingly sparse, and Appalachian producers are bound to hit the capacity “wall” in the next two years. When will the Northeast run out of exit capacity and how bad could constraints get? Today, we provide highlights from our new Drill Down report, which brings together our latest analysis on Northeast gas takeaway capacity and flows.
It’s been a while since the Appalachian natural gas market has looked this bullish. Outright cash prices at the Eastern Gas South hub are at multi-year highs. Regional storage inventories are sitting low, setting the stage for supply shortages and still higher prices this winter. But the potential for severe takeaway constraints and basis meltdowns are lurking, and by next year, they could become regular features of the market again like they were in the 2016-17 timeframe, or worse — at least in the spring and fall when Northeast demand is lowest. Regional gas production is still being affected by maintenance and has been somewhat volatile lately as a result, but it averaged 34.5 Bcf/d in June, just 300 MMcf/d shy of the December 2020 record. What’s more, at current forward curve prices, supply output could surpass previous highs by next spring and grow by ~ 5 Bcf/d (15%) by 2023. Outbound flows set their own record highs this spring, running at over 90% of takeaway capacity, and will head higher, which means that spare exit capacity for supply needing to leave the region is shrinking. The handful of planned takeaway expansions that remain are facing environmental pushback and permitting delays, and the few that are targeting completion in the next year may not be enough. Today, we provide the highlights of the latest forecast from our new NATGAS Appalachia report.
The developers of the embattled PennEast Pipeline project this week caught a big break: over the objections of the state of New Jersey and in contradiction to a prior lower court ruling, the Supreme Court said in a 5-4 decision on Tuesday that the project could exercise eminent domain in order to seize state-owned land necessary for building its 1.1-Bcf/d Appalachia takeaway pipeline. The ruling, while not a slam dunk for the pipeline’s completion, offers a ray of hope to a project that was all but dead for the past couple of years and that many had written off. It also represents an increasingly rare victory for the frequently vilified gas industry in the Northeast. The pipeline represents more capacity and greater optionality for producers in the northeastern Pennsylvania region who currently have limited takeaway options and are facing worsening pipeline constraints even as prices and downstream demand are taking off. Today, we provide an update on the PennEast project and its implications for the Appalachian gas market.
This year has been a mixed bag for Appalachian natural gas producers. Outright prices in the region are higher than they’ve been in a few years, thanks to lower storage inventory levels and robust LNG export demand. However, regional basis (local prices vs. Henry Hub) is weaker year-on-year as higher production volumes have led to record outbound flows from Appalachia and are threatening to overwhelm existing pipeline takeaway capacity. Last month, Equitrans Midstream officially announced that the start-up of its long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project will be pushed to summer 2022 at the earliest. Then, just last week, outbound capacity took another hit as Enbridge’s Texas Eastern Transmission (TETCO) pipeline was denied regulatory approval to continue operating at its maximum allowable pressure, effectively lowering the line’s Gulf Coast-bound capacity by nearly 0.75 Bcf/d, or ~40%, for an undefined period. Today, we consider the impact of this latest development on pipeline flows, production, and pricing.
Appalachia natural gas producers hoping to get a big boost in pipeline takeaway capacity later this year were dealt some bad news recently. On May 4, Equitrans Midstream officially pushed back the in-service date for the already-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline. The 2-Bcf/d, greenfield project is the last of the major planned expansions that would add substantial capacity from the prolific Appalachia gas-producing region and help stave off severe seasonal pipeline constraints, at least in the near- to midterm. Previous guidance had it coming online late this year, but Equitrans said it is now targeting start-up in the summer of 2022, pending water and wetland crossing permit reviews. The news is far from surprising considering the numerous regulatory and legal challenges midstream projects, including MVP, have previously faced in the Northeast over the past decade or so. But the resulting uncertainty leaves Northeast producers in a tight spot. In today’s blog, we will consider the implications of the MVP delay for Appalachia’s outflows.
Outbound natural gas flows from Appalachia over the weekend hit a new record high of 17.3 Bcf/d and averaged 16.7 Bcf/d for April — an all-time high for any month. That’s despite pipeline maintenance season being well underway last month and intermittently curtailing production and outflow capacity. Utilization rates of takeaway pipelines from the region are soaring above 90%, with little more than 1 Bcf/d of spare exit capacity for outflows of surplus Northeast production. Whether that will be enough to stave off severe constraints and discounted pricing in Appalachia in what’s left of the spring season, and again in the fall will depend on how much surplus gas is left after meeting in-region consumption and storage refill requirements. What happens when seasonal demand declines occur in May and June? In today’s blog, we wrap up our analysis of current outbound capacity utilization and where that leaves the Northeast gas market this spring.
This time last year, Appalachian natural gas production was approaching a steep springtime ledge as regional prices sank below economic levels and producers responded with real-time shut-ins. This year to date, regional gas prices have averaged $0.80-$0.90/MMBtu above 2020 levels for the same period, and production has been averaging more than 1 Bcf/d above year-ago levels. If production holds steady near current levels, the year-on-year gains would just about double to ~2 Bcf/d by mid-May, which is when the bulk of the springtime curtailments first took effect in 2020. This, just as Northeast demand takes its seasonal spring plunge, which means regional outflows are poised to rise in the coming weeks, potentially to record levels. How much more can the Appalachian takeaway pipelines absorb? In today’s blog, we continue our analysis of outbound capacity utilization, this time focusing on the routes to the Midwest.
Natural gas pipeline takeaway constraints out of the Northeast worsened in 2020 despite producer cutbacks in the region as high storage levels and weaker demand led to record volumes of Appalachian gas supplies needing to find outlets in other regions last fall. This year, storage levels are lower and could absorb more of the surpluses during injection season. However, Appalachian gas production so far in 2021 has been averaging higher than last year; and, gas prices are higher year-on-year, reducing prospects for the kinds of producer curtailments we saw last year. As for the “pull” from downstream demand, LNG exports along the Gulf Coast aren’t expected to experience the slump from cargo cancellations seen last summer. In other words, Appalachia’s outbound flows are likely to be robust, setting the stage for takeaway constraints and weak prices, particularly during the spring and fall shoulder seasons. How much outbound capacity currently exists and how much room is there for growth? Today, we continue our series on the Northeast gas market with an update on Appalachia’s southbound takeaway capacity and outflows, starting with a detailed look at the gas moving to the Southeast and to the Gulf Coast.
Last year served as something of a bellwether for what’s to come for the Northeast gas market in the long term: increasing takeaway pipeline constraints and weakening gas price differentials by mid-decade. The region’s outflows surged to record highs in the fall of 2020 as production also reached fresh highs. Just a couple weeks ago, the region notched another milestone on the pipeline constraint yardstick: record outflows on some pipes and near-full utilization of southbound routes on the coldest days of winter — something we don’t normally see, as gas supply requirements in the Northeast peak with heating demand and less gas is available to flow out of the region. This time, the surge in outflows and the resulting constraints were driven more by spiking demand and gas prices downstream than by oversupply conditions at home, but the result was the same: the Northeast had by far the lowest prices in the country. This happened even as other regions recorded triple-digit, all-time high prices. Today, we examine how Appalachia outflows and takeaway capacity utilization shaped up during Winter Storm Uri.