To fire on all cylinders — especially during a period of strong high crude oil prices and rising production — the U.S. energy sector depends on midstream infrastructure networks that can efficiently handle the transportation and processing of every type of hydrocarbon that emerges from the wellhead. It’s no secret that rapid production growth in the Permian has left the red-hot West Texas play short of crude-oil pipeline capacity, and midstream companies there have also struggled to keep pace with natural gas takeaway needs too. What’s less well known is that fractionation capacity at the all-important NGL hub in Mont Belvieu, TX, is nearly maxed out, and that some Permian producers — and others — are now scrambling to find other places to send their incremental NGL barrels for fractionation into purity products. We put this issue front-and-center earlier this week in Hotel Fractionation. Today, we discuss highlights from the first of two planned Drill Down Reports on fractionators and other key assets at the nation’s largest NGL hub, and the potentially broader effects of a fractionation-capacity shortfall.
Posts from Housley Carr
The crude oil hub at Cushing, OK, has more than 90 MMbbl of tankage, 3.7 MMb/d of incoming pipeline capacity and 3.1 MMb/d of outbound pipes. That’s an impressive amount of infrastructure by any standard. The real marvel of the place, though, is the variety of important roles it plays and services it provides for a wide range of market participants — producers, midstream companies, refiners and marketers, as well as producer/marketer and refiner/marketer hybrids. To truly understand Cushing — what it does and how it works — you need to know the hub’s assets and how they fit together. Today, we continue a series on the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” with a look at the companies that own Cushing storage capacity and how that storage is put to use.
The late-August decision by Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal to overturn the Canadian government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project will delay the project’s completion to at least 2021 or 2022. And — who knows? — the unanimous ruling may ultimately lead to TMX’s undoing, despite the Canadian government’s acquisition of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline and the expansion project and its commitment to get TMX built. As producers in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) know all too well, TMX’s 590 Mb/d of incremental pipeline capacity would help to resolve ever-worsening pipeline takeaway constraints out of the Alberta oil sands and other production areas in the WCSB. These constraints are having a major economic impact every day — as evidenced by price differentials wide enough to run a locomotive through. Speaking of trains, crude-by-rail exports out of Western Canada reached a record 205 Mb/d in June, an 86% increase from the same month last year, and with WCSB production rising as new oil sands capacity comes online and with only limited relief likely on the pipeline capacity front from the Enbridge Line 3 Replacement Project in late 2019, many producers will need to depend on rail shipments of crude well into the 2020s. Today, we discuss the recent court ruling and what it means for Western Canadian producers, price spreads and the future of crude-by-rail.
Each of the “second wave” liquefaction/LNG export projects along the U.S. Gulf Coast now closing in on a Final Investment Decision (FID) believes it has an edge — that special something that will enable it to cross the finish line ahead of its competitors. Things like a prime location, access to an existing network of natural gas pipelines, lower capital costs, or going with smaller “midscale” liquefaction trains instead of traditional big ones. Some tout the experience and depth of their executive teams, while others claim that thinking outside the box is key. Time will soon tell which two or three (or four) projects advance to FID. Today, we continue our series on the next round of liquefaction/LNG export terminals “coming up” with a look at NextDecade’s plan for the Rio Grande LNG project in Brownsville, TX, which would export large volumes of Permian and Eagle Ford gas.
The race is on to be the first to reach a Final Investment Decision (FID) for the next round of U.S. liquefaction/LNG export terminals along the Gulf Coast. And like the Kentucky Derby, being first — or, at worst, second or third — is a do-or-die proposition, because only a very small number of these projects are likely to line up the multibillion-dollar commitments needed to push them over the FID line. The tried-and-true approach of LNG project financing has been to secure a stack of long-term Sales and Purchase Agreements (SPAs) from international LNG trading companies or huge overseas utilities, and that’s the tack being taken by Venture Global LNG, which is developing two projects near the Louisiana coast that, if built, would consume a total of nearly 4 Bcf/d of U.S. natural gas. Today, we continue our series on the next round of liquefaction/LNG export terminals “coming up” with a look at Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass and Plaquemines projects.
The Utica and “wet” Marcellus plays in eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania are producing increasing volumes of natural gas liquids and field condensates that need to be moved to market. In response, MPLX, a master limited partnership formed by Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC) six years ago, has been implementing a multi-part strategy to develop new or expanded pipeline takeaway capacity through the Midwest to deal specifically with the heaviest NGLs — natural gasoline and other pentanes — and with field condensates. That work is now largely done, the results have been positive, and MPLX is now undertaking the next phase of its strategy that will further expand the system’s capacity and add a new element: the ability to transport batches of two other, lighter NGLs — normal butane and isobutane — on a few of the same pipelines. Today, we discuss the next steps the company is taking to facilitate the transport of liquid hydrocarbons out of the Utica and Marcellus.
The crude oil storage and distribution hub in the small town of Cushing, OK, is a marvel. With more than 90 MMbbl of tankage, 3.7 MMb/d of incoming pipeline capacity and 3.1 MMb/d of outbound pipes, Cushing’s nickname — “Pipeline Crossroads of the World” — is spot-on, not hyperbole. However, like a lot of other U.S. energy infrastructure in the Shale Era, Cushing’s role has been in flux. Permian oil production has been surging, the ban on U.S. oil exports is a fading memory, and the Gulf Coast — not Cushing — is where most U.S. crude production wants to go, for its concentration of refineries and export docks. That is not to say that Cushing is no longer important. Far from it. Today, we begin a blog series on how Cushing’s role has been morphing and why the Sooner State trading hub still provides critical support to producers, midstream companies and refineries alike.
With global demand for LNG rising and U.S. natural gas producers needing markets for their burgeoning output, it’s not a question of whether another round of U.S. liquefaction/LNG export facilities will be built, but which developer will be first and when it will make its final investment decision (FID). Odds are that the initial FID for this “next round” of projects is only months away, but as for the specific developer and project that will lead the pack, that has yet to be determined. We do know, however, that a handful of projects appear to be making real progress, and today we consider one of them: Tellurian’s Driftwood LNG project near Lake Charles, LA.
There are common drivers behind the handful of offshore crude oil terminals now under development along the Gulf Coast, chief among them the well-founded belief that shippers would prefer putting crude on Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), which can only be fully loaded in deep water. But each of these projects also has unique nuances — its own specific rationale and characteristics. Tallgrass Energy’s plan is a case in point in that it involves a new pipeline from the crude hub in Cushing, OK, to the refinery center in St. James, LA, and to a new onshore crude storage and loading terminal a few miles down the Mississippi River, to be followed by a VLCC-ready offshore terminal capable of both exporting and importing crude. Today, we continue our review of made-for-VLCCs offshore terminals with a look at Tallgrass’s effort to deliver neat, unblended barrels directly from multiple inland plays to deep water — “shale-to-ship,” in other words.
The countdown clock to January 1, 2020 — Implementation Day for the IMO 2020 rule on low-sulfur marine fuel — is ticking, and while that date may still seem far away, it is decidedly not. The impending switch from 3.5%-sulfur fuel oil to marine fuel with sulfur content no higher than 0.5% will affect a broad swath of the energy sector worldwide, not to mention consumers of diesel and other low-sulfur distillates that will be in much higher demand by this time next year as the run-up to IMO 2020 kicks into high gear. Already, complex and simple refineries alike are evaluating changes to their crude slates and planning to add equipment that will enable them to produce more high-value distillate and less “bottom-of-the-barrel” residual fuel oil, the source of high-sulfur marine fuel. U.S. midstream companies are gearing up to export more light, sweet crude from the Permian and other shale and tight-oil plays to simple refineries that will no longer be able to get by refining heavy, sour crudes. Marine-fuel suppliers are testing various blends to see which might produce IMO 2020-compliant fuel at the lowest cost. As for ship owners, they’re preparing for topsy-turvy fuel prices in late 2019 and 2020 as this wrenching change plays out. Today, we consider key market participants’ latest thinking on the likely effects of the new rule for low-sulfur marine fuel.
Since mid-July — only a few weeks ago — four proposals have been unveiled to build offshore crude export terminals along the Gulf Coast that would be capable of fully loading Very Large Crude Carriers. That’s an extraordinary burst of interest in new infrastructure development, and a signal that (1) more export growth is on the horizon and (2) VLCCs will play a much bigger role in transporting that crude. A leading contender in the race to construct new offshore terminals is Trafigura, the Swiss-based logistics and physical-trading giant, which in recent years has become a major player in U.S. energy markets. Today, we continue our review of made-for-VLCCs offshore terminals with a look at Trafi’s plan.
Much like their heated competition to build new crude oil pipelines from the Permian to the Gulf Coast, midstream, logistics and trading companies are jockeying to construct the first new export terminal capable of fully loading Very Large Crude Carriers — Trafigura joined the fray earlier this week. While VLCCs are by far the most cost-efficient way to haul crude to Asia, their Godzilla-like physical dimensions restrict the number of land-based terminals they can use. And even those that can accommodate these seagoing behemoths can only load a VLCC part-way — “reverse lightering” out in deeper, open waters is required to fill the supertanker to the tippy top. So a handful of ambitious midstreamers are developing plans for offshore terminals out in deep water, miles from the Texas coast. Today, we continue our review of these proposals with a look at JupiterMLP’s plan for a terminal off Brownsville — and a new Permian pipeline to the city.
Rising crude oil production in Western Canada, filled-to-the-brim pipelines out of the region, and yet another blowout in the price spread between Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) are combining to spur a genuine revival in crude-by-rail (CBR) shipments from Canada to the U.S. CBR has helped out Western Canadian producers before, moving increasing volumes south through 2011-14 until new pipeline capacity came online. But this time, the number of barrels being moved out of Western Canada by rail is already moving into record territory, and — with the addition of incremental pipeline capacity still at least a year away, and maybe more — railed volumes are likely to continue rising in the months to come. Today, we discuss recent developments and what producers, shippers and railroads see coming in the months ahead.
A big push is on to mitigate and ultimately fix the Permian’s natural gas takeaway constraints, which in recent months have widened the price spread between gas at Waha and at Henry Hub to levels not seen in years. Despite the efforts to quickly add incremental capacity to existing pipelines and build greenfield pipes, however, the momentum behind Permian crude production growth — and, with it, the production of more associated gas — make a months-long blowout in the Waha basis in 2019 a good bet. Questions about the degree and duration of that basis pain and the amount of new pipeline capacity that will be needed (and how soon) can only be answered by taking a detailed look at what’s been happening and what’s being planned. Today, we discuss highlights from our new 24-page report on Permian gas takeaway constraints and their effects.
As Gulf Coast marine terminal owners consider ways to at least partially load Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) at their facilities, a handful of midstream companies also are planning offshore terminals in deep water that would allow the full loading of VLCCs via pipeline. Projects under development by Oiltanking and others for sites along the Texas coast would appear to have at least two legs up on the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP. For one, they’d have more direct access to the Permian, Eagle Ford and other crudes flowing to coastal Texas. For another, the new terminals would be focused on crude exports — no double-duty for them. Today, we begin a review of the projects vying to be the first LOOP-like project in the deep waters off the Lone Star State.