U.S. energy markets are coming to the end of their latest infrastructure cycle just as the reality of tight capital markets is sinking in. Permian crude oil and natural gas takeaway constraints are being relieved by new pipeline capacity. Long-delayed LNG terminals and NGL-consuming petrochemical plants are coming online. Essentially all growth in crude, gas and NGL production volumes is being exported to global markets that — so far, at least — have been absorbing the incremental supply. But there is a chill in the air. Besides the recent bump-up in crude prices tied to last weekend’s attack on Saudi oil facilities, commodity prices have remained stubbornly low. Easy access to capital is a thing of the past. No longer can private equity count on the build-it-and-flip asset investment model. Yup, it’s another inflection point in the Shale Revolution that we’ll start exploring today. All this has huge implications for energy flows, infrastructure utilization and price relationships across all of the energy commodities.
Posts from Rusty Braziel
As exports of crude oil, natural gas and NGLs have surged, U.S. markets for these energy commodities have undergone radical transformations. Exports now dominate the supply/demand equilibrium. These markets simply would not clear at today’s production levels, much less at the volumes coming on over the next few years, if not for access to global markets. It is more important than ever to understand how the markets for crude, gas and NGLs are tied together, and how the interdependencies among the commodities will impact the future of energy supply, demand, exports and, ultimately, prices. Making sense of these energy market fundamentals is what RBN’s School of Energy is about. Warning! Today’s blog is a blatant commercial for our upcoming Houston conference. But we hope you will read on, because this time around, our curriculum includes all the topics we have always covered at School of Energy, PLUS five all-new sessions dedicated to export markets.
U.S. propane is fanning out across the planet, with export volumes now triple those of any other country. The global LPG market today is dominated by cargoes shipped from U.S. ports. Buyers from Mexico to South Korea can’t make a move without considering conditions on the Houston Ship Channel or pipeline constraints in Pennsylvania. But an interconnected market is a two-way street. U.S. propane prices are now influenced more by the weather in Europe and Asia than by the weather in Wisconsin or New Hampshire. And it’s not only propane. All NGLs are experiencing growth in U.S. export volumes, with huge implications for infrastructure, capacity constraints and, of course, prices. Today, we preview the deep dive into these issues on the agenda at RBN’s upcoming xPortCon conference.
U.S. crude oil, NGL and gas markets have entered a new era. Exports now dominate the supply/demand equilibrium. These markets simply would not clear at today’s production levels, much less at the flow rates coming over the next few years, if not for access to global markets. This year, the U.S. may export 20-25% of domestic crude production, 15% of natural gas and 40% of NGLs from gas processing, and those percentages will continue to ramp up. What will this massive shift in energy flows mean for U.S. markets, and for that matter, for the rest of the world? The best way to answer that question is to get the major players together under one roof and figure it out. That’s the plan for Energy xPortCon 2019. Warning!: Today’s blog is a blatant advertorial for our upcoming conference.
During 2018, U.S. crude oil, natural gas and NGL production hit new all-time highs almost every month. Oil production grew by a staggering 1.7 MMb/d from January to December, an increase of about 18%. NGLs soared even more: by 27%, up 1.0 MMb/d over the same 12-month period. Natural gas production zoomed skyward by 10 Bcf/d, a gain of about 13%. All this new supply came on in a price environment marked by wild swings. WTI ran up from $60/bbl to $75, then collapsed below $50. Henry Hub gas spiked to nearly $5/MMBtu, then beat a hasty retreat back to the $3/MMBtu range. Permian gas traded negative. Ethane prices blasted to the moon (62 c/gal), then crashed back to earth (below 30 c/gal). Is this the way it’s going to be? Massive production growth, extreme price volatility, widespread market uncertainty? It’s impossible to answer such a question, right? Nah. All we need to do is stick our collective RBN necks out one more time, peer into our crystal ball, and see what 2019 has in store for us.
One way or the other, all of 2018’s Top 10 blogs had something to do with infrastructure. There’s not enough. Or it’s taking too long to come online. Or there is too much being built too soon. Even the financial underpinning of U.S. energy infrastructure development — the MLP model — ran into tough sledding in 2018. Then, toward the end of the year, all of the best-laid infrastructure planning got whacked by the crude-market wild card: prices crashing below $50/bbl. We scrupulously monitor the website “hit rate” of the RBN blogs that go out to about 26,000 people each day and, at the end of each year, we look back to see what generated the most interest from you, our readers. That hit rate reveals a lot about major market trends. So, once again, we look into the rearview mirror to check out the top blogs of the year based on the number of rbnenergy.com website hits.
Right now, pipeline capacity out of the Permian is constrained, and consequently some producers have cut back on well completions, more gas is getting flared, and ethane recovery is being driven more by bottlenecks than by gas plant economics. But even with these issues, there are still 487 rigs drilling for oil in the basin (according to Baker Hughes), and all will come along with sizable quantities of natural gas. Not only does this production need to be moved out of the Permian, the volumes need to find a home — either in the domestic market or overseas. These were all issues that were considered by our speakers, panelists and RBN analysts last month at PermiCon, our industry conference designed to bridge the gap between fundamentals analysis and boots-on-the-ground market intelligence. In today’s blog, we continue our review of some of the key points discussed during the conference proceedings.
Permian oil and gas production may have slammed up against capacity constraints, but that does not mean production growth has ground to a halt. Far from it. In the past 10 weeks, Permian gas production is up another 8% — a gain of almost 700 MMcf/d. Crude production now tops 3.5 MMb/d, with incremental barrels finding their way to market via truck, rail and new pipeline capacity — soon including Plains All American’s new Sunrise project, which will move more Permian crude toward the hub in Cushing, OK. Record-setting volumes of NGLs are streaming their way out of the Permian to Mont Belvieu. This market is moving so fast that if you blink, you’ll miss something important. So to get caught up with all things Permian, last week RBN hosted PermiCon, an industry conference designed to bridge the gap between fundamentals analysis and boots-on-the-ground market intelligence. We think PermiCon accomplished that goal, and in today’s blog, we summarize a few of the key points discussed during the conference proceedings.
Y-grade, welcome to the Hotel Fractionation. You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave! OK, so that’s a bit of an overstatement. But there is no doubt that the U.S. NGL market has entered a period of disruption unlike anything seen in recent memory. Mont Belvieu fractionation capacity is, for all intents and purposes, maxed out. Production of purity NGL products is constrained to what can be fractionated, and with ethane demand ramping up alongside new petchem plants coming online, ethane prices are soaring. But that’s only a symptom of the problem. Production of y-grade — that mix of NGLs produced from gas processing plants — continues to increase in the Permian and around the country. Sooo … If you can’t fractionate any more y-grade, what happens to those incremental y-grade barrels being produced? How much can the industry sock away in underground storage caverns? Does it make economic sense to put large volumes of y-grade into storage if it will be years before it can be withdrawn? — i.e., “you can never leave.” And what happens if y-grade storage capacity fills up? Today, we begin a blog series to consider these issues and how they might impact not only NGL markets, but the markets for natural gas and crude oil as well.
It seems like everyone wants production out of the Permian these days — at least everyone who works for a pipeline company. The addition of five major greenfield crude oil pipes plus a host of expansion projects could bring Permian takeaway capacity up to 8.0 MMb/d from only 3.3 MMb/d today, with almost all of the incremental barrels destined for export markets. It’s a similar story for natural gas, with seven new pipes in the works to bring 2.0 Bcf/d each to Corpus Christi, Houston, or Louisiana, again with most of the molecules targeting exports. Not to be left behind, at least 27 new Permian gas processing plants are in development, and five new pipeline projects could bring 1.6 MMb/d of y-grade NGLs to the Gulf Coast. It’s a darned good thing that everyone in the global energy markets wants all that Permian production, right? What will this mean for the Permian and, for that matter, for the rest of the U.S. and the world? The only way to answer that question is to get the major players together under one roof and figure it out. That’s the plan for PermiCon 2018. Warning! Today’s blog is a not-so-subliminal advertorial for our upcoming conference.
There has never been anything like the 2018 Permian Basin. In just five years, oil production has tripled, gas production has doubled and NGL output is up about 2.5 times. Crude oil pipelines out of the Permian are filled to the brim and the differentials between crude in Midland and both the Gulf Coast and Cushing have blown out. It is the same for natural gas, with pipe capacity nearly maxed out and basis wide. So far, most Permian NGLs have avoided a similar traffic jam in the local market, only to run into constraints downstream. But the overall Permian market is headed for a breakout! Massive infrastructure development is coming to the basin and the takeaway capacity constraints will be history — at least for a while. What will this mean for the Permian market, and for that matter, for markets across North America and the globe? Clearly, we need to get the major players together under one roof and figure it out. And that’s just the plan for PermiCon 2018. Our goal for this unique conference is to bridge the gap between fundamentals analysis and boots-on-the-ground market intelligence. Warning! Today’s blog is an unabashed advertorial for our upcoming conference.
For 10 years prior to 2018, the differential between propane prices at the Conway, KS, hub averaged less than a nickel per gallon below Mont Belvieu. In fact, between 2013 and 2017, the price spread was only 3.5 c/gal — excluding a winter 2014 Polar Vortex aberration — which basically reflects the cost of moving barrels 700 miles north-to-south. Not this year, though. After starting 2018 at 3 c/gal, the propane price spread took off, and has averaged 18 c/gal since April, some days moving above 26 c/gal, far above the per-bbl cost of transporting propane 700 miles south to Mont Belvieu. Is it pipeline capacity constraints? In part. But there is a much more significant factor driving this differential wider, not only in the propane market, but across all five of the NGL purity products. What is this mysterious factor? To find out, read on. But here’s your first clue: the problem is not in Kansas anymore.
Three years ago, U.S. Lower-48 LNG exports were zero. Today that number is above 3.0 Bcf/d. Three years from now, U.S. exports will make up about 20% of the global LNG trade. Perhaps even more momentous, LNG exports will equal 10% of U.S. gas demand. That’s more than deliveries to the entire residential and commercial market sectors during the six summer/shoulder months each year. All of which means that U.S. LNG exports are quickly becoming a much more important factor in both domestic and international markets. The U.S. gas market is no longer an island. In fact, the long-awaited integration of the U.S. into global gas markets is upon us, with significant implications for infrastructure utilization, trade flows and of course, price. To make sense of these new market realities, it is necessary to assess the gas value chain from U.S. wellhead to global destination — in effect, to follow the molecule from the point of production, through pipeline transportation to liquefaction and export, and from the dock to destination markets. That’s exactly what we will do in the blog series we are kicking off today.
Seems like just about everything to do with energy markets is up these days. Crude oil prices are back to the levels of late 2014. Crude production hit a 10.6 MMb/d record volume last week, while lower-48 natural gas has been bouncing around an 80 Bcf/d record level. Exports of crude, gas and NGLs are at all-time highs. But all those hydrocarbon molecules must find their way from the wellhead to market, and in several high-growth regions, that is becoming increasingly problematic, as midstream infrastructure struggles to keep up. In our recent School of Energy, we examined these developments, considering their impact on production trends, domestic demand and the outlook for growth in export volumes. Did you miss it? Not a problem. We taped the whole conference, and School of Energy Online is now available in 12 hours of streaming video, along with all the Excel models, slides, and graphics that we use to tie energy markets together. Today, in this unabashed advertorial, we review some of the highlights of the conference.
There was a time many moons ago when vast quantities of natural gas from offshore Louisiana production flowed through scores of gas processing plants along the coast, then moved north and east in pipelines destined for the Northeast and Midwest. Those flow patterns have since been turned on their head, with offshore production steadily declining and the need for gas supplies for LNG exports along the coast ramping up, driving gas southward to meet that demand. That southbound gas includes Haynesville production — now back in growth mode — and a deluge of inflows from the Marcellus/Utica on reversed pipelines and new pipes. Supply in northern Louisiana will continue rising, while demand in southern Louisiana will do the same. With Henry Hub at the epicenter of this transformation, the consequences not only for Louisiana but for the entire natural gas market will be far-reaching. Today, we begin a series to examine how Louisiana natural gas flowed historically, the shifts that have already happened, the impact of more changes just ahead, and what it all means for the future of natural gas in Bayou Country.