Posts from David Braziel

Wednesday, 06/22/2022

In film and television, the “boxed crook” trope is where a condemned person is sought as a last-ditch effort to pull off some impossible mission or overcome a formidable opponent. In return, the convict is typically offered amnesty or other consideration by the operatives in charge. Millennials will probably think of the recent Suicide Squad movies. For Generation X, The Rock starring Sean Connery was a great example. And for the boomers, it was The Dirty Dozen. Our current situation in the U.S. energy sector may not be quite as thrilling as those movies but the same plot elements exist. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss the predicament faced by industry and political leaders and begin to sort out the various proposals to put a lid on prices and restore energy security.

Monday, 03/14/2022

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued two new statements of policy February 17 regarding the certification of new pipelines and the assessment of greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts. Together, the two updates reflect a more meticulous regulatory environment and a stricter adherence to policies that midstreamers must comply with in an effort to avoid lengthy and expensive court challenges that have become more commonplace recently. The guidelines will affect most new projects within FERC jurisdiction and, among those, some of the biggest impacts will be felt in the U.S.’s rapidly expanding LNG sector — the terminals themselves and the pipelines that deliver feedgas to them. That could be cause for concern as Russia’s war on Ukraine has exacerbated an already precarious gas situation in Europe and a global LNG supply crunch. In today’s RBN blog, we explain the impact of FERC’s latest guidance on pipeline certification and GHG policy with regard to the LNG sector.

Sunday, 03/13/2022

The world is in desperate need of more crude oil right now and anybody with barrels is scouring every nook and cranny for any additional volume that can be brought to market. Some of that may come from increased production, but the oil patch is a long-cycle industry, just coming off one of the most severe bust periods ever, and it will take time to get all the various national oil companies, majors, and independents rowing in the same direction again. For now, part of the answer will be to drain what we can from storage — after all, a major purpose of storing crude inventories is to serve as a shock absorber for short-term market disruptions. To that end, the U.S. is coordinating with other nations to release strategic reserve volumes to help stymie the global impact of avoiding Russian commodities. Outside of reserves held for strategic purposes though, commercial inventories have already been dwindling as escalating global crude prices have been signaling the market to sell as much as possible. Stored volumes at Cushing — the U.S.’s largest commercial tank farm and home to the pricing benchmark WTI — have been freefalling for months, which raises the question, how much more (if any) can come out of Cushing? In today’s RBN blog, we update one of our Greatest Hits blogs to calculate how much crude oil is actually available at Cushing.

Thursday, 03/10/2022

Russia’s war on Ukraine turbocharged global crude oil prices and spurred price volatility the likes of which we haven’t seen since COVID hit two years ago. The price of WTI at the Cushing hub in Oklahoma — the delivery point for CME/NYMEX futures contracts — has gone nuts, and the forward curve is indicating the steepest backwardation ever. In other words, the market is telling traders in all-caps, “SELL, SELL, SELL! Sell any crude you can get your hands on. It’s going to be worth far less in the future.” So anyone with barrels in storage there for non-operational reasons is pulling them out, and fast! In today’s RBN blog, we look at the recent spike in global crude oil prices and what it means for inventories at the U.S.’s most liquid oil hub.

Tuesday, 03/01/2022

It ain’t easy being a midstreamer lately. Well, it’s probably never been easy, but these days trying to get a pipeline project to the finish line might feel a bit like Sisyphus from Greek mythology, forever pushing a boulder up a hill, filled with obstacles and setbacks. That hill has leaned ever-steeper in the past several years as turnover among FERC’s commissioners delayed project reviews, courts reversed a number of FERC approvals, and public opposition to pipeline projects increasingly delayed progress, even resulting in cancelations. And two weeks ago, the approval process was made tougher still when FERC announced new statements of policy regarding project certifications and greenhouse gas impact assessments. The proposed changes have caused a lot of anxiety among midstream companies, although in many ways FERC just declared as policy what was already happening on a case-by-case basis. But midstreamers shouldn’t panic. In today’s RBN blog, we explain the commission’s new guidance and how much impact it will really have.

Monday, 02/14/2022

In the early days of the Shale Revolution, merger-and-acquisition activity in the midstream sector was happening at a frenetic pace. That frenzy peaked with crude oil prices in 2014, then petered out over the next five years before hitting bottom in COVID-impacted 2020, when abysmal demand and commodity pricing hampered prospects for the production and transportation of oil, natural gas and NGLs. In those dark days, it seemed the only deals getting done were for bulk orders of hand sanitizer and toilet paper from Amazon. Now, with energy prices soaring and energy companies regaining some of their pre-pandemic luster, the pace of deal-making in the oil patch in 2022 looks poised to maintain the momentum that carried through the end of 2021. But buying or marketing midstream assets isn’t nearly as simple as ordering through your Amazon Prime account. Considerable effort is put into the strategy of selling and the diligence of purchasing and, for the uninitiated, the process can be daunting. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our series on midstream dealmaking with a look at what to expect in a sales process.

Monday, 01/31/2022

Any time there’s a step-change in technology, it presents intrepid industrialists with tremendous opportunities. Just looking at U.S. history, this has played out many times, with railroads, oil, automobiles, computers, and the internet being a few obvious examples. The Shale Revolution provided significant opportunities of its own, not just for the savviest producers but for midstreamers who jumped at the chance to develop the pipelines, gas processing plants, fractionators, and other infrastructure that was desperately needed to transport and process rapidly growing volumes of crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs. Master limited partnerships (MLPs) led the way, boosted by their advantaged access to capital, but they got an important assist from private-equity-backed developers, who were willing to take big risks in the hope of creating successful businesses. In today’s RBN blog, we continue our look at midstream dealmaking — and midstreamers’ prospective role in the coming lower-carbon economy — this time with a focus on the private equity (PE) side.

Monday, 01/24/2022

The Shale Revolution created an unprecedented need for midstream infrastructure of every sort — gathering systems, processing plants, storage hubs, takeaway pipelines, fractionators, export terminals, and more — all with the aim of connecting new hydrocarbon supply to demand. Throughout the 2010s, the scope and urgency of this midstream build-out opened up tremendous opportunities for the master limited partnerships, private-equity-backed developers, and other entities with the management skills, financial wherewithal, and dexterity to make these massive projects happen. Now, much of the Shale Era’s required new infrastructure is in place — and COVID and ESG have slowed new-project development to a crawl — putting many MLPs in a bind and leaving private equity firms to wonder where they should invest their money next. Well, there may be an even better set of new opportunities on the horizon — all related to the coming energy transition — and, as it turns out, midstream developers with hydrocarbon experience are uniquely positioned to lead the way. In today’s RBN blog, we discuss how the project-development model that drove the midstream sector’s growth over the past decade is poised for potentially lucrative re-use in the 2020s and beyond.

Wednesday, 09/29/2021

With the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow just over a month away, it’s natural to reflect on the progress achieved since the Paris Agreement (signed at COP 21), which is approaching its sixth anniversary. In the past half decade, the world has taken tremendous strides toward decarbonization – not only in rhetoric, but in real and substantial investment. Green hydrogen and carbon capture are among the notable solutions many are pursuing to that end. But perhaps no green business has been in the spotlight as much recently as renewable diesel. Low-carbon fuel standards have spurred a lucrative renewable diesel market that refiners are lining up to access, with units being built and planned across North America. The nationwide buildout is being underwritten by the states that have enacted policies to induce low-carbon solutions, and while the Golden State is paramount among them, Californians are not alone. The largess being generated by those policies is so substantial that it will have an impact on and may incubate other low-carbon technologies that can be paired with renewable diesel to create even lower-carbon fuel sources and capture more of the credits that are ultimately driving the economics of the energy transition. In today’s RBN blog, we identify key manufacturing centers for low-carbon fuel supply growth, the at-times lengthy route the fuels may take to LCFS markets, and the economic incentive structure that justifies all those costs.

Thursday, 08/12/2021

A couple of weeks ago, Shell announced a large-scale carbon capture and sequestration initiative at its Scotford refinery complex near Edmonton, AB. It’s one of the largest recent efforts to marry hydrogen production with CCS — an increasingly popular solution informally referred to as “blue” hydrogen. Shell is not alone. Across North America, the idea of capturing carbon dioxide to clean up our collective act is quickly gaining momentum and support. Whether we’re talking about refineries, ammonia plants, steam crackers, ethanol plants, or any other carbon-generating industrial process, capturing the CO2 — making the process “blue” — is seen by many as a way to make significant progress toward climate goals without over-burdening governments or consumers with the sky-high costs associated with some of the more technically challenging energy transition technologies. Today, we discuss the energy industry’s embrace of carbon capture solutions and how it could shape our energy future.

Sunday, 04/25/2021

Prior to COVID, crude oil and natural gas production in the U.S. had been on a tear, surging in tandem in the years following the 2014-15 price meltdown. But then the pandemic decimated domestic demand, crushing prices. Predictably, producers cut back production, particularly in crude-focused basins, and it was widely expected that associated gas from those regions would suffer in proportion. But that didn’t happen. Gas volumes have dropped somewhat, but not nearly to the extent that crude did. Said another way, the ratio of gas production to oil production has risen — and that’s been true at both the total U.S. level and in the primary unconventional basins for oil production. In today’s blog, we will look at the factors driving the trend of higher gas-to-oil ratios.

Sunday, 03/07/2021

Over the past quarter-century, through a combination of greenfield development and acquisitions, Energy Transfer (ET) has built out integrated networks of midstream assets that add value — and generate profits — as they move crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs from the wellhead to end-users. A couple of weeks ago, ET took another big step in its expansion strategy, announcing its plan to buy Enable Midstream in a $7.2 billion, all-equity deal expected to close in mid-2021. The assets to be acquired will augment the synergies ET has already achieved, particularly regarding NGL flows into its Mont Belvieu fractionation and export facilities as well as flows of natural gas through Louisiana’s central gas corridor to LNG and industrial demand on the Gulf Coast. Today, we examine how the Enable Midstream acquisition may help propel ET forward.

Sunday, 12/20/2020

It’s been a wild and woolly December in the U.S. propane market. The Mont Belvieu propane price is up by almost 40%, blasting past 70 c/gal on Friday — a level not seen since February 2019, when WTI at Cushing was trading at $57/bbl, $8/bbl above where that price sits today. Is it simply cold weather goosing demand? Sure, that’s one factor. But it’s really all about exports. Just as 2020 cold weather finally arrived in U.S. propane country, exports hit the highest levels ever recorded. December Gulf Coast export volumes — 92% of the U.S. total — are up 21% over last month, and 39% above December 2019. So both international and domestic demand are pulling hard on supplies at the same time. No wonder propane prices are soaring. We started this series on winter 2020-21 supply/demand in late November by suggesting that there could be a few gotchas still out there that were not being reflected in the forward propane market. Well, we’ve now seen one of those gotchas. But there’s a lot of winter left to go — in fact, the official start of winter is this morning! Today, we review what’s happened so far in propane markets, and what could be coming next.

Sunday, 11/29/2020

Amid all the turmoil and negative news in energy markets this year, U.S. propane has been the exception, turning in a stellar performance. Even with exports up almost 10% in November from the same period last year, averaging 1.3 MMb/d for the month, inventories remain in good shape at 92.6 MMbbl, or about 5% above stocks in November 2019. Part of the reason has been strong production numbers, which are down only 5% since January, and up a whopping 14% since May. Weather has been another contributor to robust stock levels, with November 2020 coming in as one of the warmest on record. But winter is just arriving. And with export volumes now greater than total U.S. winter consumption, market dynamics have shifted. It now takes more inventory in the ground throughout the winter to support the combination of U.S. demand and exports. But how much more inventory is enough? And how should we factor in the potential for further increases in exports? At the same time, the market is still facing the possibility of another round of declining production due to COVID-related drilling cutbacks. This blog series is about making sense of what’s going on in the propane market today, and what may be coming up in the months ahead. 

Monday, 11/23/2020

Like everything else in 2020, the propane market has been exceedingly difficult to navigate. So far this year, we’ve seen Mont Belvieu propane prices down to 24 cents/gallon (c/gal) and up to 57 cents. Exports continue to increase, but stocks seem to be reasonably healthy, partly thanks to November so far being one of the warmest on record. Propane production was projected to dip in the fourth quarter but has held up pretty well. During the spring there was considerable concern about the possibility of a tight supply-demand situation this winter, but so far, market conditions seem relatively benign. Does that mean we are in the clear for winter 2020-21? Unfortunately, there may be a few gotchas still out there. As always, a lot depends on the weather. But there are other factors at work that could surprise us because some of the statistics we’ve relied on in the past to gauge what’s ahead are not what they used to be. In today’s blog, we begin a series looking at those factors.