Natural gas prices in the U.S. were under pressure for many years, long before the COVID crisis gripped the world and threw energy markets into flux. Shale gas production, from both crude- and gas-focused basins, has driven U.S. output to incredible levels over the last 10 years. That growth has led to persistently low U.S. gas prices across the Lower 48, with the benchmark Henry Hub being no exception. The upshot of low gas prices has been steadily increasing demand, both in the domestic market and for exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to various markets around the globe. Until recently, those international markets had often been viewed as an insatiable demand sink, but reality has set in over the past year. Prices in Europe, one of the most popular destinations for U.S. LNG, have crashed below Henry Hub, and are threatening the once-steady flow of LNG. Market participants in the U.S. and Europe now find themselves poring over the fundamental details of both markets to determine how long the price weakness will last, or if it will only get worse from here. Today, we look at the increasingly interconnected gas markets on both sides of the Atlantic.
Posts from Jason Ferguson
Crude oil markets have been anything but dull lately. After imploding to unimaginable, negative values last month, prices have been on a tear since and are now sitting in the low $30s/bbl range. That’s not great for producers, but kind of like social distancing flattens the curve, the current price level should keep production volumes in check and stave off the worst of the potential financial distress for most Permian producers, for now. So, what has been driving the price rise? Similar to the pauses in economic and social activity that many cities have taken lately, many Permian producers have recently decided to take a wait-and-see approach on crude prices and throttle back output. Today, we provide an update on the always-dynamic Permian Basin crude oil market and how producer curtailments have materialized in May.
Well, it’s happened. The first signs of crude oil and gas production curtailments in the Permian Basin materialized over the weekend. That has followed weeks of extreme oversupply conditions, growing storage constraints and distressed pricing, all to deal with the abrupt and unprecedented loss of refinery demand for crude oil due to COVID, not just along the Gulf Coast, where the lion’s share of the U.S. refineries sit, but also more locally in West Texas. The rapidly shifting supply-demand balance, first from reduced local refining demand and now also the emerging production cuts, is adding volatility to the spreads and flows between the West Texas basin’s regional hub at Midland, and downstream hubs at Cushing and Houston. Today, we look at how the Midland market has responded to the downturn in local refining demand, and how production losses will factor into the balancing act.
The market’s spotlight in recent days has been on negative prices for both Permian crude oil and natural gas, but in the shadows a powerful rally has taken place in the forward market for Permian gas at the Waha hub. Much of this month’s price weakness for gas in West Texas has been driven by pipeline maintenance. But the Waha forward curve indicates market expectations for higher prices in May, and the possibility of a summer in which Permian gas prices could be some of the strongest on a consistent basis since negative pricing first appeared in the basin back in 2018. Today, we dive into the drivers behind the rise in forward Permian gas prices.
Underlying Monday’s financially driven oil price rout are physical markets that are in extreme turmoil as they contend with severely reduced demand resulting from the COVID lockdowns and rapidly filling storage tanks. In the Permian Basin, the epicenter of U.S. shale oil, the crude benchmark price — WTI at Midland — on Monday crashed to a historical low of negative $13.13/bbl before rebounding to a positive $13.01/bbl Tuesday. The same day, prices at the Permian natural gas benchmark Waha revisited negative territory for the third time this month, with a settle of minus $4.74/MMBtu for Tuesday’s gas day. Negative supply prices aren’t new to Permian producers, at least for gas — Waha settled as low as minus-$5.75/MMBtu in early April 2019. But up until a couple months ago, oil prices were supportive enough to keep producers drilling regardless. Now, that’s all over, at least for a while. What can we expect now that negative oil prices have arrived in the Permian? Today, we’ll dissect the latest bizarre pricing event to rattle the Permian natural gas and oil markets.
Given that Permian natural gas prices are once again hovering under $0.50/MMBtu, Texas’s other gas markets get little attention these days. That doesn’t mean that major shifts in the Lone Star State’s natural gas supply and demand markets aren’t occurring outside of West Texas, however. In fact, it’s quite the contrary, particularly when it comes to the Houston Ship Channel gas market. There, major changes — new gas pipelines, pipeline reversals and new LNG trains — continue to influence flows and prices. Today, we provide an update on the latest in gas infrastructure changes along the Texas coast and their potential impacts on the region’s supply and demand balance.
When it comes to Texas natural gas markets, the Permian tends to steal the show. With its roughly 2 Bcf/d of annual production growth, constrained pipelines and absurdly cheap — sometimes even negative — pricing, it’s hard for the other gas hubs in the Lone Star State to garner much attention. However, the myopic focus on West Texas overlooks a noteworthy gas market shake-up taking place on the Texas Gulf Coast, where most of the Permian’s incremental gas production is headed and where multiple new liquefied natural gas facilities are coming online to move the new supplies into world markets. Also, new export pipelines are moving increasing volumes south of the border to Mexico. Today, we provide an update on the latest in Texas Gulf Coast gas infrastructure changes and their potential impacts on the region’s supply and demand balance.
To say that Permian crude oil quality varies is an understatement at best. In fact, there’s as much variety in the crude coming out of West Texas as there is in the arsenal of a major league pitching ace. Handling those varied crude qualities is the challenge of midstream operators, who, like batters facing down a Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez in their prime, need to do the best they can with what they’re given. With the start of spring training only a month away, we begin a series detailing the current mix of Permian crude oil qualities, how pipelines are handling them, and what it means for exports, the end destination for much of today’s incremental Permian oil production. Today, we discuss Permian crude quality variations and the steps new pipelines are taking to deal with it.
With 2020 already in full swing, some things in the Permian Basin’s oil and natural gas markets have changed dramatically since this time last year, others not so much. When it comes to crude oil, new pipelines that came online during 2019 had a huge impact on differentials: Permian barrels are now pricing very close to other regional hubs, versus massive discounts a year ago. That has enabled Permian producers to fully benefit from the recent run-up in global oil prices. On the gas side of things, the start of the new decade won’t look much different than the end of the last one. There is still way too much supply and not enough takeaway capacity. That means that regardless of what happens at Henry Hub, the U.S. benchmark for natural gas prices, Permian producers should expect dismal values for their natural gas in 2020. Today, we take a look at the year ahead for Permian producers.
It’s safe to say that Permian producers had a good Christmas. Sure, their stock prices may be off a bit and their rig counts are down. But the absolute prices they are paid for their crude oil are up by almost $20/bbl versus this time in December 2018, and the price spreads between the Permian and neighboring markets have significantly narrowed as a result. What’s driving this change? There are a variety of factors at play, but chief among them is the new pipeline infrastructure that has helped lift Permian producers’ oil price realizations. Today, we check in on the status of one of the major new pipelines that have contributed to the seismic shift in the Permian oil market this year.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another in the Permian natural gas market. Just as it appeared that prices in the West Texas basin were finally turning a corner and strengthening with the full start-up of Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast Express Pipeline (GCX) late last month, various issues have again conspired to send daily Permian cash prices back down to near zero yet again. And it’s not just the daily spot markets that have come under pressure; forward prices were also severely discounted a few days ago when Kinder Morgan announced that the in-service date of its next long-haul pipeline from the region — the Permian Highway Pipeline project — would be delayed from late 2020 to early 2021. Keeping track of the roller-coaster ride of Permian gas prices and the drivers behind the highs and lows continues to keep heads spinning. Today, we explain the latest wild moves in the Permian natural gas market.
For some time now, natural gas producers in the Permian and the Eagle Ford have been counting on rising pipeline exports to Mexico to help absorb a lot of the incremental production in their plays. Their hopes have been bolstered in the past couple of years by the build-out of a number of new pipelines from the Waha and Agua Dulce gas hubs to the U.S.-Mexico border. Gas pipeline development south of the border hasn’t kept pace, though, mostly due to regulatory and construction delays. Also, a recent dispute over tariffs on a newly completed large-diameter pipeline, extending from the southern tip of Texas to key points along Mexico’s Gulf Coast, had left the pipe sitting empty this summer. That tiff has since been resolved and gas is flowing on the new pipeline, allowing those piped southbound exports to hit a daily record high near 5.9 Bcf/d earlier this month and average above 5.5 Bcf/d this month to date. Plus, progress is being made on other planned Mexican pipes too. This all leads us to ask, is the long-promised surge in U.S. gas exports to Mexico just around the corner? Today, we look at the latest developments regarding Mexico’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure additions.
After months of severe natural gas pipeline constraints, Permian producers and shippers are reveling in the relief of new takeaway capacity. Kinder Morgan’s Gulf Coast Express (GCX) Pipeline, which began flowing initial volumes in mid-August, last week began full commercial service on its 2-Bcf/d greenfield route from the Permian to South Texas. Actual volumes on GCX are hard to come by, but all indications are that flows are ramping to near capacity. That surge in Permian outflows in recent weeks has propelled natural gas prices at the regional benchmark Waha Hub — which traded as low as $5.00/MMBtu below zero earlier this year and fell into negative territory as recently as August 8 — to nearly $2/MMBtu, levels not seen at the hub since last winter. However, with the sting from negative prices only now just fading, many in the market are wondering if this rally is here to stay or just a temporary reprieve. Today, we look at the latest developments in the Permian natural gas market.
Despite last month’s much-publicized start-up of two new crude oil pipelines from the Permian Basin to the Gulf Coast — Plains All American’s Cactus II and EPIC Crude Holding’s EPIC Pipeline — tangible evidence of how much crude is actually moving on those pipelines has been hard to come by. That’s because crude oil pipelines don’t post daily flow data, like some natural gas pipelines do, and shipper volumes are a closely held secret that often only becomes available long after the fact. However, Cactus II and EPIC both deliver into the Corpus Christi, TX, market area, where a number of export facilities have been waiting to move Permian barrels out into the global market. We’ve been keeping a close eye on Corpus-area docks and have noticed a significant increase in export volumes over the last few days — a clear indication that Permian crude on Cactus II and EPIC has broken through to the global market. Today, we detail a recent rise in Corpus Christi oil export volumes driven by new supply from the Permian Basin.
Battered by a flood of new supply and limited pipeline takeaway capacity, prices for Permian natural gas and crude oil have spent a lot of time in the valley over the past 18 months. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices at the Permian’s Midland Hub traded as much as $20/bbl less than similar quality crude in Houston last year. That’s a big oil-price haircut that producers have had to absorb while ramping up production. However, the collapse in the Permian crude oil differential was tame compared to what happened with Permian natural gas prices. Prices at the Waha Hub in West Texas traded as low as negative $5/MMBtu, a gaping $8/MMBtu discount to benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana. As bad as that all was, new pipeline takeaway capacity has arrived, and Permian prices are beginning to claw their way out of the depths. Today, we look at how new pipelines are impacting the prices received for Permian natural gas and oil.