In the five years since the U.S. flipped from a net LPG importer to net LPG exporter, the vast majority of those exports have gone out from Gulf Coast marine terminals. That makes perfect sense. After all, Mont Belvieu, TX is North America’s main fractionation and storage center—most of the natural gas liquids produced in the U.S. are piped there to be fractionated into propane, butane and other “purity products.” But what’s also true is that a growing share of NGLs are produced and fractionated in the Northeast, that increasing export volumes are moving out of Sunoco Logistics Partners’ Marcus Hook, PA marine terminal, and that NGL pipeline capacity from the “wet” Marcellus and Utica production areas to Marcus Hook is about to increase significantly. Today we continue our review of the LPG export data with a look at propane and butane exports from East Coast marine terminals.
Posts from Ron Gist
Five years ago, the U.S. was a net importer of propane and butanes, those products collectively called LPG, or liquefied petroleum gasses. Back then, demand from residential, commercial, refining and chemical markets slightly exceeded supply for the products. But then came shale, and LPG production from natural gas processing more than doubled, from 0.8 Mb/d to 1.7 Mb/d. Suddenly the U.S. was a net exporter—a very big exporter at that. Last year roughly half of all LPG from U.S. gas processing plants was exported, with the vast majority shipped to overseas markets. All those exports are now having an outsized impact on pipeline flows, inventories and prices. Consequently, it is increasingly important to keep close tabs not only on export volumes but on which export terminals are handling all these volumes, and where the LPG is heading. Today we discuss the current state of the LPG export market and insights on it from RBN’s most recent NGL Voyager Report. Warning, today’s blog includes a subliminal promo for the report.
Whether or not Shell Chemicals follows through on its plan to build a $6 billion ethylene plant near Pittsburgh, PA –– and when that steam cracker comes online –– will have a significant impact on the U.S. ethane, ethylene and polyethylene markets. By consuming an estimated 90-100 Mb/d of ethane, the cracker’s operation would reduce the volume of ethane that needs to be moved out of the “wet” Marcellus/Utica production area, trim the amount of ethane available for export from marine terminals, and likely push ethane prices higher than they would otherwise be. Today, we examine what’s driving plans for the Northeast’s first cracker, and what effects the plant will have.
Lately the ethane market seems out of whack. Ethane production continues to increase even as it’s become the lowest margin (highest cost) feedstock for Gulf Coast petrochemical crackers – it’s main market. Ethane production by processing plants has been at an all-time high since June this year even as ethane prices fell to historical lows. Meanwhile, ethane inventories have fallen from their recent peak in July. How can all that make sense? Today we speculate as to what may be going on.