With natural gas production growth outpacing gas-demand growth in both the U.S. and Canada, gas producers in both countries are engaged in an increasingly fierce and costly fight for market share. Until recently, there were only skirmishes. For instance, when burgeoning Marcellus/Utica shale gas supplies lowered Northeast destination prices, TransCanada cut transportation rates on its mainline to help Western Canadian suppliers compete. When Northeast supply eventually exceeded Northeast demand on an annual basis, Canadian producers and shippers redirected more gas exports to the Midwest and West markets. But now, supply congestion on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border is worsening in every border region, to the point where options to maneuver into alternative markets are shrinking. This is war, folks — competition for U.S. gas market share between Canadian and U.S. producers is about to get much stiffer and the price discounts much deeper — deep enough to eventually price some production basins out of the market. Today, we discuss highlights from RBN’s new Drill Down Report on the subject.
Posts from Housley Carr
Production of natural gas liquids in the Permian has been increasing rapidly, especially in the Delaware Basin, challenging the region’s existing NGL pipelines and other infrastructure and accelerating the development of new capacity. The Permian already had a substantial amount of NGL pipeline capacity in place before the region’s production of crude oil and associated gas took off, and more has been added since. But a number of the NGL pipes out of the Permian also move barrels from other basins, either inbound flows from the Rockies or volumes added downstream of the Permian in the Eagle Ford and Barnett shales. In addition, the vast majority of the Permian’s incremental NGL production is occurring in the Delaware, which had only a limited number of pipes and suddenly needs more. And one more thing: fast-rising ethane demand from new petrochemical plants along the Gulf Coast will reduce the share of ethane that is “rejected” into Permian natural gas. In today’s blog we discuss the NGL takeaway challenges facing producers and processors in cowboy country.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the desperate need to transport increasing volumes of crude oil out of the severely pipeline-constrained Permian is spurring midstream companies and logistic folks in the play to be as creative as humanly possible. With the price spread between the Permian wells and the Gulf Coast exceeding $15/bbl in recent days — and possibly headed for $20/bbl or more soon — there's a huge financial incentive to quickly provide more takeaway capacity, either on existing pipelines or by truck or rail. Are more trucks and drivers available? Is there an idle refined-products pipe that could be put back into service? Could drag-reducing agents be added to an existing crude pipeline to boost its throughput? How quickly could that mothballed crude-by-rail terminal be restarted? Today, we discuss frenzied efforts in the Permian to add incremental crude takeaway capacity of any sort — and pronto.
The new, larger locks along the Panama Canal have been in operation for almost two years now, enabling the passage of larger vessels between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The timing couldn’t have been better — when the expanded canal locks came online in June 2016, exports of U.S. LPG, crude oil, gasoline and diesel were about to take off, and Cheniere Energy had only recently started shipping out LNG from its Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana, with Asian markets in its sights. Hydrocarbon-related transits through the canal soared through the second half of 2016, in 2017 and so far in 2018. But the gains are mostly tied to LPG and LNG — even the expanded canal isn’t big enough for the Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) favored for Gulf Coast-to-Asia crude shipments, or for fully laden Suezmax-class vessels. And there already are indications that the canal’s capacity may not be sufficient to meet future LNG needs. Today, we consider the expanded canal’s current and future role in facilitating U.S. hydrocarbon exports.
For a month now, the number of active drilling rigs in the U.S. has topped 1,000, the first time that’s happened since the spring of 2015, when the rig count was in the midst of a frightening tailspin — it fell from more than 1,900 in November 2014 to only 400 in May 2016. What a long, strange trip it’s been, not just for the rig-count total but for gains producers have seen in drilling productivity and in crude oil and natural gas production per well. Exploration and production companies are doing far more with less, trimming costs and increasing returns in the Permian, the Marcellus/Utica and other key production basins to levels few would have thought possible a few years ago. Today, we review the key changes we’ve seen in drilling productivity, and what they mean for U.S. E&Ps and midstream companies and the rig count going forward.
Imported liquefied natural gas from the U.S. is helping Mexico address major challenges facing its gas sector. For one, LNG shipments from the Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana to Mexico’s three LNG import facilities have been filling a gas-supply gap created by delays in the country’s build-out of new pipelines to receive gas from the Permian, the Eagle Ford and other U.S. sources. Imported LNG also is playing — and will continue to play — a key role in balancing daily gas needs within Mexico, which has virtually no gas storage capacity but is planning to develop some. Today, we consider recent developments in gas pipeline capacity, gas supply, LNG imports and gas storage south of the border.
Increasing production of NGL-packed associated gas in the adjoining SCOOP, STACK and Merge plays in central Oklahoma and rising interest in the Arkoma Woodford play in the southeastern part of the state are spurring a bevy of natural gas-related infrastructure projects. New gas-gathering systems are being developed, new gas processing capacity has come online, and at least another 1.1 Bcf/d of processing capacity is under construction or will be soon. To help bring all the resulting gas and NGLs to market, new takeaway pipeline capacity out of Oklahoma is being planned too. Today, we continue our review of ongoing efforts to add gas-processing and takeaway capacity in the hottest parts of the Sooner State.
For a couple of years now, Buckeye Partners has been working to advance a controversial plan to reverse the western half of its Laurel refined-products pipeline in Pennsylvania to allow motor gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to flow east from Midwest refineries into the central part of the Keystone State. Some East Coast refineries that have relied on Laurel for 60 years to pipe their refined products as far west as Pittsburgh have been fighting Buckeye’s plan tooth and nail, arguing that it would hurt their businesses and hurt competition in western Pennsylvania gas and diesel markets — and refined-product retailers in the Pittsburgh area agree. Now, after a state administrative law judge’s recommendation that Pennsylvania regulators reject Buckeye’s plan, Buckeye has proposed an alternative: making the western half of the Laurel Pipeline bi-directional, which would allow both eastbound and westbound flows. Today, we consider the latest plan for an important refined-products pipe and how it may affect Mid-Atlantic and Midwest refineries.
The Permian is a beehive of activity on the burgeoning water midstream front — the pipelines, saltwater disposal wells and other assets being built to facilitate the delivery of water to new wells for hydraulic fracturing and the transport of “produced water” from the lease to disposal or treatment sites. But the Bakken — arguably the birthplace of the water midstream sector nearly a decade ago — is no slouch, and a model of sorts for the infrastructure build-out now under way in the Permian. The volume of water needed for Bakken well completions is up sharply in recent years; more important still, the region is generating more than 1 MMb/d of produced water, and producers and water midstreamers alike are building new takeaway pipelines and drilling new SWDs to more efficiently deal with it. Today, we discuss water- and produced-water-related infrastructure in one of the U.S.’s largest production regions.
Efforts to increase natural gas production in the Rockies are running into a brick wall — make that several brick walls. To the east, burgeoning gas production in the Marcellus/Utica region is surging into Midwest markets, pushing back on Rockies gas supplies. To the south, Permian gas production is ramping up toward 8 Bcf/d, most of it associated gas from crude-focused wells — volumes that will be produced even if gas prices plummet. To the west, Rockies gas faces an onslaught of renewables in power generation markets, where wind and solar are increasingly replacing gas fired and coal generation, especially during non-peak periods when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. To the north, Western Canadian producers facing a where-do-we-send-our-gas problem of their own are only days away from having expanded pipeline access to U.S. West Coast markets — access likely to displace some of the Rockies gas which has been flowing west. Today, we discuss highlights from a new report by our friends at Energy GPS that assesses these developments and explores their implications.
Crude oil and natural gas production in Oklahoma have fully rebounded from the declines that followed the 2014-15 collapse in oil prices and stand at 21st-century highs. While the active rig count in the state — at about 120 in recent weeks — is off 10% from its post-crash peak in mid-2017, the productivity of new wells continues to rise, as does interest in the Merge play between the SCOOP and STACK production areas in central Oklahoma and in the Arkoma Woodford play to the southeast. All that has put additional pressure on the state’s existing pipeline and gas-processing infrastructure and spurred continuing activity among midstream companies. Today, we begin a review of ongoing efforts to add incremental processing and takeaway capacity in the hottest parts of the Sooner State.
Crude oil production in the Permian Basin is coming on strong — faster than midstreamers can build pipeline takeaway capacity out of the basin. You can see the consequences in price differentials. On Friday, the spread between Midland, TX and the Magellan East Houston terminal (MEH) on the Gulf Coast hit almost $5.00/bbl, a clear sign of takeaway capacity constraints out of the Permian. We’ve seen different variations of this scenario play out in recent years, most recently last fall, just before the first oil started flowing through the new Midland-to-Sealy and Permian Express III pipelines, and it’s not good news for Permian producers. Now Permian output is again bouncing up against the capacity of takeaway pipelines and in-region refineries to deal with it. As we’ve seen in the past, that’s a warning sign for possible price-differential blowouts. Today, we discuss the fast-changing market dynamics that put Permian producers at risk for another round of depressed Midland prices.
Western Canadian Select (WCS), a heavy crude oil blend, has been selling for about $25/bbl less than West Texas Intermediate (WTI) at the Cushing, OK, hub — a hard-to-bear experience for oil sands producers that have made big investments over the past few years to ratchet up their output. And the WCS/WTI spread is unlikely to improve much any time soon. Pipeline takeaway capacity out of Alberta has not kept pace with oil sands production growth, and existing pipes are running so full that some owners have been forced to apportion access to them. Crude-by-rail (CBR) is a relief valve, but it can be costly. Worse yet, production continues to increase and the addition of new pipeline capacity is two years away — maybe more — so deep discounts for WCS are likely to stick around. Today, we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on Western Canadian crude markets.
First came the “aha moment,” the realization that the Permian’s unusually complex geology — with multiple layers packed with hydrocarbons — is a solvable puzzle, and that the financial rewards for exploration and production companies could be very attractive. Then came the highly competitive scramble to acquire acreage in the most promising parts of the Permian’s Delaware and Midland basins. Now, with many producer’s acreage largely de-risked, competition to provide needed gathering systems and processing plants is white-hot, with some midstreamers in the prolific Delaware offering to write big checks to producers up front for commitments to infrastructure that in some cases is still on the drawing boards. These pay-to-play deals are ricocheting through the Permian business development community — at least in the Delaware. Today, we discuss recent developments in producer/midstreamer relations in the nation’s most active hydrocarbon play.
U.S. crude oil exports from the Gulf Coast remain at a high level, as does interest in transporting crude to Asia and Europe in Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) capable of carrying as much as 2 million barrels (MMbbl) each. The catch is that only one Gulf port — the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) — can send out fully loaded VLCCs, and so far LOOP has loaded only one; other Gulf ports need to fill or top off the gargantuan tankers in open waters using reverse lightering. Plans are afoot to allow greater use of VLCCs, but how long will they take to implement? Today, we discuss the economic benefits of exporting crude on supertankers, the growing use of VLCCs for Gulf Coast exports and the challenges exporters face in utilizing them even more this year and next.