Posts from Rusty Braziel

Monday, 10/11/2021

For six months, European natural gas prices skyrocketed higher almost every day. The soaring prices made sense. Gas inventories in Europe were low following higher-than-normal demand last winter. Economies were recovering from COVID-19. Russia was curtailing gas deliveries. It all added up to a likely supply shortage during the winter of 2021-22. And the market did what markets do: anticipate. Even though the next winter season was months away, gas buyers went to work, stocking up on supplies like squirrels gathering nuts. The more prices increased, the more panic buying kicked in. By last Tuesday, October 5, the European TTF price was up more than 5X what it had been on May 1. Then, on Wednesday, a few comments from Vladimir Putin seemed to pop the bubble, and within a few days the Dutch TTF price was down 27%. Is everything OK now? Was the gas-price run-up all just speculative buying and short covering? Or is a supply crunch still on the horizon, and this is just the calm before the storm? In today’s RBN blog, we explore those questions.

Wednesday, 09/01/2021

Energy markets are red hot and are showing no signs of cooling off anytime soon. Natural gas prices have soared 20% to $ 4.615/MMbtu in just the last couple of weeks and could soon breach $5/MMBtu. In the NGL market, propane prices are up to $1.17/gal, the highest level for the month of September since 2011, with the possibility of shortages threatening domestic suppliers this winter. Even crude oil has continued to find support near the $70/bbl range, providing remarkable drilling and completion economics for well-positioned E&Ps. All these markets are data-intensive, and it can be a challenge to keep up with the most important developments. That’s what our ClusterX app is all about. It delivers to your phone or browser everything we believe is important as soon as the information hits RBN databases. And it is free! In today’s blog, we’ll look at some of the key capabilities of ClusterX, including a number of new features we’ve added.  Warning: Today’s blog is a blatant advertorial for ClusterX. 

Monday, 08/23/2021

The high-demand season for propane is just around the corner: crop drying, then winter heating demand.  This is when propane marketers make most of their money; so under normal circumstances it’s a happy time, when all participants across the supply chain are making last-minute preparations for the season of peak propane demand. But this year is different. There is palpable concern in the market about the level of inventories available to meet demand, and the possibility that propane could be in short supply. How could this be?  As we have covered many times in the RBN blogosphere, U.S. propane production is more than double domestic demand. So how could a shortage possibly happen? The answer is pretty simple: exports. The U.S. exports more of its propane production than it uses here at home. This year the domestic market needs more barrels, so all that needs to happen is for U.S. prices to increase enough to shut off exports, right? Wrong. Propane prices have been spiraling up all year, and August prices are higher than they’ve been since 2013. But exports are still running strong, and so far, inventories are not building fast enough. In today’s blog, we’ll look at the drivers behind this seeming market aberration and consider why the upcoming winter season looks like uncharted territory for propane marketers.

Monday, 08/02/2021

What if crude oil could be extracted from the ground, refined into gasoline and diesel, trucked to your local service station, and used in your SUV to take that next road trip, all the while resulting in LESS CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere? That would mean carbon-negative crude. Crazy talk from a relic of the fossil (fuel) generation? Not so! Carbon-negative crude is being produced today along the U.S. Gulf Coast, assuming you buy the logic of how carbon accounting works for capturing CO2 and using it for enhanced oil recovery — EOR. In today’s blog, we’ll explore what it takes to achieve carbon-negative crude, and why there is vast potential for expanding this pathway to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Wednesday, 07/07/2021

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. 

Tuesday, 06/22/2021

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.

Tuesday, 06/08/2021

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.

Tuesday, 05/25/2021

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.

Thursday, 05/20/2021

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.

Monday, 04/26/2021

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.

Sunday, 03/21/2021

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. 

Monday, 03/08/2021

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.

Monday, 02/22/2021

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.

Sunday, 02/07/2021

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.

Tuesday, 01/26/2021

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.