Fourth of July skyrockets were not the only fireworks earlier this week. The price of propane skyrocketed up to 112 c/gal before the holiday weekend and held at that level through Tuesday, an increase of about 21 c/gal or 23% over the past month alone. To put that in perspective, that’s the highest price for propane since April 2014, back when crude oil was over $100/bbl. Although propane came off a few cents on Wednesday in sympathy with falling crude prices, both Mont Belvieu and Conway propane prices are still almost 135% higher than this time last year. Assuming crude prices don’t fall off a cliff, how high could propane prices go? Hard to say. The propane market is experiencing unusually low inventories, relatively modest production growth, near record-high export volumes, and unconstrained dock capacity. Consequently, if we continue to see strong demand, but U.S. producers stay focused on capital discipline, thus constraining production, propane prices could be headed considerably higher this winter. Today, we continue our series of deep dives into the U.S. propane market and, in a blatant advertorial, describe how you can keep up with this rapidly moving market with RBN’s new Propane Billboard report and dataset.
Posts from Rusty Braziel
With all the hype about hydrogen you hear these days, you’d think the gas was just discovered yesterday. But, of course, it’s been around for a while — like back to the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. It does a nice job powering the sun and, when combined with oxygen, provides another building block of life on our planet: water. And that’s not all. For decades, a lot of hydrogen has been used as industrial feedstock to produce low-sulfur refined products, ammonia, methanol, and other useful stuff. However, this hydrogen production isn’t “green,” the color code for the highly exalted hydrogen produced from zero-carbon sources. No, most of the hydrogen used today goes by the drab hue of “gray” and is generally ignored by the carbon-neutral buzz that permeates the decarbonization dialogue. It shouldn’t be disregarded, though. Over 13 Bcf/d of this gray hydrogen is produced on purpose or as a byproduct each day, more than the volumetric equivalent of all Permian natural gas production. And if the carbon dioxide produced along with that hydrogen is stored permanently underground, then gray hydrogen magically becomes “blue” — almost as good as green. Today, we begin an exploration of the gray hydrogen market, and how it has the potential to impact decarbonization goals far more than green hydrogen over the next decade.
WTI crude finally closed above $70/bbl yesterday! Yup, change in energy markets is coming at us fast and furious. Whether it’s recovery from COVID, the return of Iranian supply, the changes in OPEC+ production, the majors being walloped by environmentalists, or a genuine upturn in crude prices, the big challenge is keeping up with what’s important, as it happens. That’s what we do at RBN, in our blogs, reports, conferences and webcasts. But many of our readers only know us through our daily blog, which confines us to only one topic each day. What if we had another no-cost service, where we would provide all our available info on energy news, market data, RBN analysis and just about anything that impacts oil, gas, NGLs, refined products, and renewables? Well, we’ve got that now. It’s called ClusterX Energy Market Fundamentals (EMF) channel. It’s an app for your phone or browser. It delivers to you everything our RBN team believes is important as soon as we can get the information into our databases. And all you need to get access to EMF is in today’s blog.
There’s a fresh breeze blowing through the energy patch. Oil and gas companies seem to have turned a corner and are piling on the climate change bandwagon. They’re talking green, walking green, and many are in hot pursuit of government subsidies and tax breaks that are here today, with expectations that more incentives are on the way. Carbon dioxide is their primary target — it’s by far the most prevalent greenhouse gas and technologies already exist for permanently depositing captured CO2 deep underground. In fact, the U.S. is #1 in the world at this, accounting for about 80% of all the CO2 being stored globally. But it may surprise you to learn that much of the CO2 being squirreled away for eternity isn’t captured from industrial processes or exhaust. Instead, a lot of it comes from CO2 reservoirs in Colorado and New Mexico, tapped on purpose to bring vast volumes of CO2 to the surface. Why? So that CO2 can be put right back into the ground. Sound crazy? Well, it’s not. In the blog series we begin today, we explore the rapidly evolving CO2 market and the huge opportunities that await those with the ambition to pursue them.
Today is a sad day for the world of oil tankers. Unless a miracle happens by 10 a.m. local time at the Hawaii Department of Transportation's Harbors Division, the last surviving iron-hulled, sail-driven oil tanker is headed to Davy Jones’ Locker. The once-proud, four-masted, 143-year-old windjammer will soon be scuttled by deliberately sinking her at sea off the shores of Honolulu. How could things have come to this? In today’s blog, we’ll take a trip down memory lane to explore how a spectacular, fully rigged oil tanker could have survived for so long, plying the oceans for this author’s former employer, only to be betrayed in her final years.
So far in April, there was an unexpected run-up in propane prices early in the month, followed by a 21% swoon in the past 15 days of trading. The forward curve suggests smooth sailing from now through next winter season, but that seems unlikely, given recent market developments. Propane inventories, which are supposed to be building this time of year, actually fell last week, putting stocks at 16.9 MMbbl below this point in 2020, according to EIA statistics released last week. The data also showed that weekly exports spiked to the second-highest peak of all time at 1.7 MMb/d, while production declined two out of the past three weeks. And just over the horizon, there’s the potential for a big increase in Chinese propane demand as new petrochemical plant capacity comes online over the next three years. Today, we look at how these issues are likely to shape the propane market over the next few months and suggest that you consider attending our upcoming virtual conference, where we will pose these questions to industry leaders from production, midstream, exports, and retail market segments.
It’s been over a month since the Deep Freeze swept across Texas, shutting down the power grid, curtailing natural gas supplies, and generally wreaking havoc on the state’s population and infrastructure. The petrochemical industry was hit particularly hard, with every ethylene-producing steam cracker in the state and many in nearby Louisiana forced into hard shutdowns — that is, production coming to a screeching halt with little or no preparation. The result was unit damage well beyond what typically happens with other weather-related events like hurricanes, where there is usually some ability to manage an orderly shutdown. Consequently, at least half of the industry’s capacity to produce ethylene and its by-products remains offline, a development that is ricocheting through supply chains across the economy. Today, we examine the magnitude of the damage, consider what is happening in ethylene markets — the epicenter of the turmoil — and contemplate the longer-term implications of the outages.
We started off this propane season worried about the threat to U.S. propane markets from big-time exports. With exports now exceeding total U.S. propane demand, how would propane markets respond if we ever got a really cold winter? Well, now we know. Frigid weather finally arrived in February with a vengeance. But the propane market handled it pretty well. Now, as we approach the end of propane winter and examine where the market stands with inventories, prices, and especially exports, the big question is, what happens next? Will production volumes replace depleted stocks now sitting near a five-year low, or will those barrels move overseas? Will strong global petchem demand pull supplies out of U.S. markets? And if so, what does that imply for the 2021-22 retail propane season here in the U.S. In today’s blog, we’ll begin an exploration of these issues and introduce our upcoming RBN virtual conference covering developments in the propane market scheduled for May 12. Warning! Some of today’s blog is an unabashed advertorial for the conference.
Here in Texas, the snow is melting, the power is back on, and some of us even have drinkable water. We’ll be dealing with the aftermath of the 2021 Deep Freeze for months, and talking about the insane natural gas and power prices for as long as gas and power markets exist. One thing you have not heard much about during these crazy few days is propane. And given what we’ve been through, no news is good news. Sure, it was impossible to exchange a tank at the local Quickie Mart, and there were sporadic reports of delayed propane deliveries and local shortfalls. But even up in the coldest Midwest states, there were no market meltdowns, no skyrocketing prices. Instead, propane has been the go-to fuel to keep folks warm, to get energy production moving again by defrosting wellheads and pipeline valves, and even to get restaurants back on their feet. It’s always dangerous to declare a winter victory with a few weeks left to go in the season, but today we’ll take that risk.
A blast of Arctic air plunges the Midwest and Northeast into deep freeze. Already-low propane inventories result in supply shortages in local markets. Propane transport trucks move product hundreds of miles from storage hubs to replenish regional terminals as markets scramble to meet surging propane demand. Are we talking about the nightmarish polar vortex winter of 2013-14, when regional propane inventories were sucked down dangerously low and Conway, KS, propane prices skyrocketed to almost $5.00/gal? No. We are talking about now. This is a description of what is happening today in U.S. propane country –– that belt of northern states that depend heavily on propane for heating. But this is not 2013-14. Things have changed. So in today’s blog we’ll explore how the latest polar vortex could be quite different than that weather-driven crisis seven years ago.
Things move fast in today’s propane market. Two weeks ago, Mont Belvieu propane was going for almost 95 cents/gal, up 86% from the mid-November price of only 51 c/gal. Midcontinent propane assessed in Conway, KS, spiked even higher, doubling over the same time frame to more than a dollar per gallon. But last week some air came out of the balloon, with Mont Belvieu and Conway prices pulling back to the low 80s. That didn’t last long either. This week, Mont Belvieu is back up to the high 80s c/gal. What gives? Is the market simply being bounced around by vacillating weather forecasts? Or is there more to it than that? Could it be that we are seeing symptoms of an export-driven transformation that is making propane markets behave quite different than they have in the past? Today, we’ll consider these questions and where the propane market may be headed in 2021 and beyond.
It’s been a chaotic start to the new year for propane. In the past 12 days, the Mont Belvieu price is up over 15%, closing on Tuesday at 87 cents/gallon — the highest since October 2018. The usual culprit of winter weather has something to do with it, but not just in North America. Over the past couple of weeks, frigid temperatures in Asia, along with supply cutbacks from the Saudis, have supported U.S. propane exports to those markets, further tightening the U.S. supply/demand balance. But as is often the case these days, the market has another complicating factor. Delays transiting the Panama Canal have stacked up VLGCs — the vessels carrying U.S. propane to Asia — on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the waterway, pushing up charter rates to levels not seen in years. And on top of that, new transit-scheduling rules from the Panama Canal Authority will shove VLGCs to the back of the line, potentially making it even more difficult to get through the canal without significant delays. Today, we’ll explore these developments and what they may portend for the remaining weeks of winter.
How about some good news to start the year? Over the past few weeks, ethylene margins have blasted into the stratosphere. These are good times for steam crackers, those petrochemical plants that use mostly NGL feedstocks to produce ethylene and other building-block chemicals. As you might expect, this newfound prosperity has a lot to do with ethylene’s price. In December alone, the price of ethylene was up 50%; versus April it’s up a whopping 4X, coming in yesterday at 37.5 cents per pound (c/lb). There are a whole range of factors responsible, including petchem outages due to the hurricanes, new downstream derivative units coming online, robust exports from the Enterprise Morgan’s Point dock, and, oh yes, strong demand for downstream products — everything from food packaging to construction materials. Is the spike in ethylene prices going to last? And what does it mean for NGLs, which account for more than 95% of the feedstock supply for U.S. ethylene. We’ll explore those questions and more in this blog series we begin today.
Welcome to 2021! We finally have that train wreck of a year 2020 behind us, and it’s time to look forward. At RBN, we have a long-standing tradition of doing just that in our annual Top 10 Energy Prognostications, where we lay out our expectations for the most important developments for the coming year. But how is that possible amid the chaotic market conditions still ahead? So much has changed, so many market factors have been disrupted, and so few guideposts remain unscathed, there is just no way to predict what is going to happen next, right? Nah. All we need to do is stick out our collective RBN necks one more time, peer into our crystal ball, and see what 2021 has in store.
Whew. We made it! 2020 is finally in the rear-view mirror. And with the New Year, it’s time for the annual Top 10 Energy Prognostications blog, our long-standing RBN tradition where we lay out the most important developments we see for the year ahead. Unlike many forecasters, we also look back to see how we did with our predictions the previous year. That’s right! We actually check our work. Usually we roll our look back and prognostications for the upcoming year into a single blog. But after the mayhem of 2020, and considering how that upheaval has changed the landscape for 2021, this time around we are splitting our prognostications into two pieces. Monday’s blog will look into the RBN crystal ball one more time to see what 2021 has in store for energy markets. But today we look back. Back to what we posted on January 2, 2020.