Enbridge is taking a serious look at converting its Southern Lights pipeline, which currently transports diluent northwest from Illinois to Alberta, to a 150-Mb/d crude oil pipe that would flow southeast. The potential reversal of Southern Lights is made possible by the facts that Western Canadian production of natural gasoline and condensate — two leading diluents — has been rising fast, and that demand for piped-in diluent from the Lower 48 is on the wane. Alberta producers could sure use more crude pipeline capacity out of the region — and getting crude down to the U.S. Midwest would give them good access to a variety of markets. With Western Canadian diluent production increasing fast, maybe Kinder Morgan’s Cochin Pipeline, another diluent carrier, could also be flipped to crude service later on. Today, we consider how Southern Lights’ conversion/reversal might help.
Posts from Housley Carr
Producers in the Bakken and the rest of North Dakota flared record volumes of natural gas in the fourth quarter of 2018 — an average of more than 520 MMcf/d, or about 20% of total production — far exceeding the state’s current 12% flaring target. What happened? For one, crude oil production in the play took off; for another, the gas-to-oil ratio at the lease continued to increase. And while some new gas processing capacity came online last year to reduce the need for flaring, the pace of the additions was too slow to keep up with the Bakken’s rising gas output. The good news is that 2019 will bring more incremental processing capacity to North Dakota than any year to date. Today, we discuss recent setbacks on the flaring-control front and the prospects for things getting better later this year.
Fractionators at the Mont Belvieu hub operated at or near full capacity through the second half of 2018 as they struggled to deal with a deluge of mixed NGLs from the Permian and other key production areas. This situation — barely enough capacity to keep pace with rising demand for fractionation services — is likely to continue through 2019, even as a number of new fractionators come online. But NGL producers and the midstream sector are on the case: a slew of additional frac capacity has been announced since last fall, all of it slated to begin operation in 2020 or early 2021, and all of it backed by long-term contracts. Today, we discuss ongoing efforts to make the most of existing frac trains and to add new capacity pronto.
By mid-year, Enbridge plans to initiate an open season for long-term, firm capacity on its existing 2.8-MMb/d Mainline crude system from Western Canada to the U.S. Midwest starting in mid-2021. Securing a sure way for Western Canadian heavy-crude producers to export crude from the Alberta oil-sands region — combined with additional southbound pipeline capacity from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, would give Texas and Louisiana refineries an alternative to using overseas imports and would boost crude volumes being shipped from existing and planned export terminals. Today, we conclude our series on the pipeline’s contracting plans with a look at the impact of a straight-shot, joint-tariff pipe as well as joint pipe-barge transportation solutions from the oil sands to the Gulf Coast.
The forward curve for natural gas supports 2019 production growth that is likely to far outpace expected gains in gas demand. This impending supply/demand imbalance suggests that gas prices will be pressured lower. Lower gas prices will boost demand, but there are real limits to how much demand can rise in the short term. What will really be needed to balance the market is for producers in at least a few plays — the Marcellus and Utica among them — to rethink and rework their 2019 production plans. Which raises the questions, how much will production growth need to be cut, and where will the bulk of the pruning occur? Today, we continue our review of key themes and findings in East Daley Capital’s newly updated “Dirty Little Secrets” report on the midstream sector.
The U.S. midstream sector has been on a development binge the past few years, mostly in an effort to catch up — and then keep up — with production growth in the Shale Era’s two premier plays: the Marcellus/Utica in the Northeast and the Permian Basin in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. What’s sometimes overlooked, however, is that significant numbers of new pipelines, processing plants and other key assets are being built in smaller, lower-profile production areas. The Niobrara’s Denver-Julesburg and Powder River basins are cases in point. Exploration and production activity in the D-J in particular has been soaring, and the resulting gains in crude oil, natural gas and NGL output has been stressing the region’s hydrocarbon-related infrastructure, thus spurring the development of new processing plants and pipelines. Also, interest in the Powder has been renewed — production there has been rebounding after crude-production ups and downs and gas-production declines through the 2010s. Today, we discuss highlights from RBN’s new Drill Down Report on the Niobrara production region.
Enbridge’s 2.8-MMb/d Mainline system from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest has been running close to full, as have the other crude oil pipelines out of Western Canada. The Mainline is a unicorn among these pipes, however, in that none of its capacity — zilch — is under long-term contract. Instead, under Enbridge’s almost nine-year-old Competitive Tolling Settlement (CTS), shippers each month submit nominations stating the volumes of crude they would like to transport the following month on various elements of the Mainline system, then hope they get what they need when the available capacity is divvied up. In an effort to give producers and refiners the pipeline-capacity certainty they say they want — and to optimize the efficiency of the Mainline’s operation — Enbridge has been working with shippers on a CTS-replacement plan that would commit as much as 90% of the capacity on the pipeline system to shippers who enter into long-term contracts. Today, we continue this blog series with a look at how the prospective “priority access” capacity-allocation system is shaping up, how it might affect planned pipeline projects, and how it may facilitate the transport of a lot more crude from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Energy Transfer’s Mariner East pipeline system was supposed to help resolve a growing problem for producers in the “wet” Marcellus and Utica plays — namely, the need to transport increasing volumes of LPG out of the Northeast, especially during the warmer months, when in-region demand for LPG is low. The pipeline system also was meant to spur LPG and ethane exports out of Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook marine terminal near Philadelphia. So how are things going? Well, the now five-year-old, 70-Mb/d Mariner East 1 pipeline, designed to transport ethane and propane, has been offline ever since a sinkhole exposed a part of the pipe late last month. The 275-Mb/d Mariner East 2 pipe is finally in operation and enabling a lot more LPG to move to Marcus Hook, but for now it can only run at about 60% of its capacity. And last Friday, a key Pennsylvania regulator suspended its review of outstanding water permit applications for the remaining piece of ME-2 and the parallel 250-Mb/d ME-2 Expansion project, and threw into doubt how long it might take to finish the Mariner East system and ramp it up to full capacity. Today, we begin a series on recent Mariner East developments and explain how, despite the mixed bag of Mariner East news in recent weeks, the situation is not as bad as it may seem.
The recently mandated reduction in Alberta crude oil production has helped to ease takeaway constraints out of Western Canada, but only temporarily. Worse yet, it’s unclear how long it will take to add new takeaway capacity from challenged projects like the Trans Mountain Expansion Project or Keystone XL. In the midst of all this trouble and uncertainty, Enbridge is pursuing a potentially controversial plan to revamp how it allocates space — and charges for service — on its 2.8-MMb/d Mainline system, the primary conduit for heavy and light crudes from Western Canada to U.S. crude hubs and refineries. Today, we begin a series on the company’s push to shift to a system that would allocate most of the space on its multi-pipe Mainline system to shippers that sign long-term contracts.
Well, it finally happened. After several years of assessing the possible development of a large, integrated propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant and polypropylene (PP) upgrader unit, a joint venture of Canada’s Pembina Pipeline and Kuwait’s Petrochemical Industries Co. (PIC) earlier this week announced a final investment decision (FID) for the multibillion-dollar project in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland. The new PDH/PP complex won’t come online until 2023, but when it does, it will provide yet another new outlet for Western Canadian propane, which has been selling at a significant discount in recent years. Today, we discuss Pembina and PIC’s long-awaited PDH/PP project, Inter Pipeline’s development of a similar project nearby, Western Canadian propane export plans — and what they all mean for propane prices.
The U.S. started exporting ethane by ship less than three years ago, first out of Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook terminal near Philadelphia and then from Enterprise Products Partners’ Morgan’s Point facility along the Houston Ship Channel. Good news for NGL producers, right? Well yes, sort of. Because while waterborne export volumes rose through 2016, 2017 and the first seven months of last year, they’ve been flat-to-declining ever since, with further ethane-export growth hampered primarily by a lack of international demand. That demand may soon be ratcheting up — mostly in China, but also in Europe — but it won’t happen overnight. Today, we discuss ethane export trends, the Morgan’s Point and Marcus Hook marine facilities, and plans for new ethane export capacity tied directly to new overseas ethane crackers.
Imagine a crude oil hub with all this: a central location near the Gulf Coast; pipeline, waterborne and rail access to a wide range of imported and domestic crude; tens of millions of barrels of storage capacity; direct connections by pipe to nearly a dozen major refineries; and the ability to load “neat” or blended barrels of oil onto Aframax-class vessels for export. You’ve conjured up the hub in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, which is fast-becoming an even more significant market player, with even broader access to U.S. and Canadian crude supplies and, very likely, direct outbound links to one or more export terminals capable of fully loading VLCCs. Today, we continue our series on St. James with a look at its storage assets and at the pipes that flow into and out of the hub.
There’s a case to be made that midstream-sector stocks are being undervalued, in part because of the market’s stubborn adherence to an old — and now outdated — dictum that links midstream prospects to the price of crude oil. That maxim, based largely on the belief that lower prices result in declining production and pipeline volumes, has been undone by the Shale Revolution’s proven promise that, thanks to remarkable efficiency gains, production of crude, natural gas and NGLs can increase even during periods of not-so-stellar prices. Despite this new Shale Era rule, the outlook for individual midstream players can vary widely, depending on a number of factors, including their assets’ locations, their exposure to shipper-contract roll-offs and their strategies for growth. Today, we discuss key themes and findings from East Daley Capital’s newly updated “Dirty Little Secrets” report assessing the owners of U.S. pipelines, processing and storage facilities, export terminals and other midstream assets.
Throughout the middle and latter parts of the 2010s, crude oil production growth in major U.S. basins and in Western Canada — not to mention the end to the ban on most U.S. crude exports in December 2015 — has caused noteworthy shifts in crude flow patterns, stressed existing pipeline infrastructure, and highlighted the importance of crude storage and distribution hubs. A common theme through all this has been that more and more crude needs to find its way to the Gulf Coast, with its bounty of refineries and export docks. To that end, lately, there’s been a slew of new pipeline and export-terminal projects announced that are tied to the St. James crude trading hub, which is located in Louisiana, about 60 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Today, we begin a series on St. James and why it’s becoming an even bigger player in crude markets.
LPG export terminals along the Gulf Coast account for more than nine of every 10 barrels of propane and normal butane that are shipped from the U.S. to foreign buyers. That makes perfect sense, given the terminals’ proximity to major NGL production areas like the Permian, the Eagle Ford and SCOOP/STACK, and to the world-class fractionation hub in Mont Belvieu, TX. But, increasingly, LPG terminals on the East and West coasts, are growing in significance. On the Atlantic side, Marcus Hook, near Philadelphia, is enabling more and more volumes of Marcellus/Utica-sourced propane and butane to reach overseas markets. And, as we discuss in today’s blog, West Coast exports are on the rise as well, with Petrogas’s Ferndale terminal in Washington state providing a straight shot across the Pacific to Asia for propane and butane fractionated in Western Canada, plus a good bit more LPG export capacity under development in British Columbia.