Talk about whiplash! Not that long ago, the global LNG market was reeling from the effects of the pandemic: stunted demand, severe oversupply, brimming storage, and record low prices, all of which led to a squeeze on offtaker margins and mass cancellations of U.S. cargoes. Within a matter of months, however, the market has done a 180. Global supply has tightened significantly as cargoes can’t get delivered fast enough, and international LNG prices are near two-year highs. U.S. LNG exports and domestic feedgas demand are at record highs in December, for the second straight month. That’s not to say U.S. LNG producers and the domestic gas market are out of the woods. Cancellations are rearing their heads again — not because the demand isn’t there, but because of logistical constraints and a severe vessel shortage, which are injecting more uncertainty into the market. Today, we provide an update on domestic LNG exports and the immediate factors driving them.
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No one could’ve seen the energy market disruptions of 2020 coming, and most of us are ready to write off what has been one of the most challenging years the industry has seen in a long time. Yet the events of the past year will most certainly define what unfolds in the New Year and beyond. To make sense of what 2020 will mean for the post-COVID era, we retooled and refreshed our models and forecasts to tackle the hard questions facing U.S. crude oil, natural gas, and NGL markets. As it turns out, beyond the immediate chaos of the pandemic, there is a new order taking shape, and that’s what we laid out in the RBN Fall Virtual School of Energy, sharing our results and the Excel spreadsheets behind the models to get you ready for what’s coming. Some of what we expected has come to fruition, and we still think that there is a pretty good chance that the rest will unfold in the months and years ahead. If you weren’t able to join us for the live broadcast, we invite you to sit by the fire, put your feet up and dig in over the holidays. The entire 14+ hours of streaming content, plus slide decks and spreadsheets, are available online. Today’s advertorial blog provides highlights from our key findings and the overall conference curriculum.
Natural gas economic shut-ins! Shutting off a producing well on purpose, because the market won’t take the produced volume at a reasonable price. There was a time, back before gas commodity decontrol, when shut-ins were standard operating procedure, but that practice went the way of the dodo bird 40 years ago. Until earlier this year that is, when amid crushingly low prices, Appalachian producers said: enough is enough — and shut off the spigot themselves. In the months that followed, various producers have continued to see-saw their production in response to weather-related demand and regional market prices. The behavior signals that Appalachia’s shale gas producers are increasingly employing a light-switch approach in dealing with short-term weakness in demand and prices. Today, we take a closer look at the price-driven curtailments in the Northeast and potential implications for the market.
You wouldn’t know it from the $2.50-plus/MMBtu Henry Hub prompt natural gas futures prices in the past couple of months, but the U.S. gas market this injection season just barely managed to avoid a complete meltdown. Despite gas production volumes trailing year-ago levels all summer long, it wasn’t until the last month or two of the traditional injection season (April through October) that the market tightened enough to escape a major storage crunch. In reality, it took the multi-pronged effects of production cutbacks — in part from hurricane-related disruptions — higher LNG and pipeline exports, and cooler fall weather, to make that happen. Today, we review the U.S. natural gas supply/demand balance and implications for 2021.
With the rise of LNG feedgas demand in southern Louisiana, physical natural gas flows at Henry Hub have been climbing. As such, volumes moving through the U.S. benchmark pricing location are increasingly affected by swings in LNG feedgas deliveries, as well as in the gas supply flows into southern Louisiana that serve that demand. Those impacts have become particularly evident in recent months as nearby LNG export capacity utilization went from a trough this summer due to cargo cancellations, to being erratic during late summer and fall as hurricanes disrupted marine traffic and facility operations, and, in more recent days, to being at full bore at most facilities. In conjunction with brimming storage and pipeline maintenance in the area, this has meant more operational constraints and volatility in flows and pricing at the hub. Today, we continue our series on the changing dynamics in and around Henry Hub.
Since August, physical natural gas flows at Henry Hub have been at all-time highs for each respective month, and, in early October, they recorded the highest single-day flows that we’ve seen since December 2009. For decades, liquidity at the U.S. natural gas benchmark pricing location in southeastern Louisiana has been dominated by financial trades, with minimal physical exchange of gas, despite the hub boasting robust physical infrastructure and ample pipeline connectivity. That’s still the case, but physical movements of gas in the area have been on the rise due to LNG exports ramping up from the Sabine Pass and Cameron LNG facilities in southwestern Louisiana and a slew of Appalachia gas supply pipelines targeting that export demand. As more physical gas is moving through the hub, operational constraints are developing at key interconnects there. That, along with the ups and downs of LNG feedgas demand, is contributing to spot price volatility at the hub and, at times, a deeper divergence between Henry spot and futures prices. Today, we begin a short blog series on the changing gas flow dynamics in and around Henry.
2020 has been as anomalous as it can get for energy markets, but that’s especially the case for the LNG sector, which was battered by COVID-related demand destruction. U.S. export volumes, in particular, experienced wild swings this year, going from steady increases and close to 100% utilization over the past few years as new export capacity was added, to operating at barely 30% of capacity this past summer as national lockdowns decimated demand and led to historically low gas prices abroad. Contracted cargoes were canceled en masse for the first time since the U.S. began exporting in 2016, amounting to over 500 Bcf between June and September that was pushed back into the U.S. natural gas market and into storage. But these events only exaggerated what was already a growing risk; with each new train being commercialized, domestic markets are increasingly exposed to the demand swings and other fundamentals in the export markets it serves. Today, we look at how seasonal demand patterns in the U.S.’s primary destination markets could translate to increased volatility at home.
Six months on from the height of the crude oil price rout of April 2020 and the unprecedented market convulsions that followed, energy markets appear to be settling into a state of hyper-uncertainty amidst the ongoing pandemic. Crude oil prices have been downright equanimous, stabilizing near $40/bbl in recent months. Volatility has reigned in the gas market, but it has thus far managed to avoid a major collapse, and the NGLs market has dodged a complete derailment from norms, if barely. The relative calm provides the perfect opportunity to assess how COVID-era energy markets are operating and what lies ahead — which is what we’ll be doing next week at RBN’s Virtual School of Energy. There’s a new order taking shape, and we’re rolling out RBN’s freshly updated outlooks for U.S. crude oil, natural gas and NGL markets. As always, we’ll pull back the curtain on the fundamental analysis and models behind our forecasts, so you can understand how we arrived at our answers, and gain the skills and tools to adjust the assumptions as markets evolve. As you’ve gathered by now, today’s blog is an unabashed advertorial for our virtual conference, but read on if you’d like to hear more about the underlying premise behind our latest outlook.
Global LNG demand has picked up, cancellations for U.S. cargoes have subsided, at least for now, and there’s upside to U.S. cargo activity once tropical storm-related disruptions are resolved. But positive netbacks year-round are no longer a foregone conclusion for U.S. offtakers. As global oversupply conditions persist, at least on a seasonal basis, and supply competition intensifies, the economic decision to lift U.S. cargoes will be much more nuanced than it was in previous years. What do the economics for cargoes this winter and beyond look like? Today, we put the LNG economics model to work to understand what’s in store for U.S. LNG in the coming months.
U.S. natural gas production in recent days has plunged more than 3 Bcf/d. While some Gulf of Mexico offshore and Gulf Coast production is still offline from the recent tropical storms, the bulk of these declines are happening in the Northeast, where gas production has dived 2 Bcf/d in the past week or so to about 30.2 Bcf/d, the lowest level since May 2019, pipeline flow data shows. Appalachia’s gas output was already down earlier in the month, as EQT Corp. shut in some volumes starting September 1. But with storage inventories soaring near five-year highs, a combination of maintenance events and demand constraints are forcing further curtailments of Marcellus/Utica volumes near-term. Today, we provide an update of Appalachia gas supply trends using daily gas pipeline flow data.
As U.S. natural gas spot and futures prices retreated in the past week, the price of gas at Appalachia’s Dominion South hub fell as low as $0.735/MMBtu, the lowest since fall 2017, before partially rebounding yesterday to about $1.10/MMBtu, according to the NGI daily gas price index. Moreover, the forwards market indicates sub-$1/MMBtu prices are in store for October as well. The regional supply hub didn’t weaken quite as much as prices at the national benchmark Henry Hub, which collapsed in recent days on demand losses — from cooler weather, storm-related power outages, and disruptions to LNG exports — and storage levels in the Gulf Coast region that are well above average and approaching peak capacity levels. The relative support for prices in the Northeast is in part due to a second round of production shut-ins by EQT Corp., which took effect September 1. But seasonal demand declines are underway; the Dominion Energy Cove Point LNG facility in Maryland just went offline for its annual fall maintenance, placing additional pressure on already-packed storage fields and takeaway pipelines; and pipeline maintenance events are reducing outflow capacity and curtailing production. Altogether, that signals more volatility ahead. Today, we provide an update on the fundamentals driving the Northeast gas market.
The economics for U.S. LNG entered new territory this year, as price spreads to international destinations, particularly from the Gulf Coast export terminals, went from an average $4-8/MMBtu a couple of years ago to $1/MMBtu or less in 2020 to date. The tighter spreads reduced netbacks for U.S. offtakers and led to mass cargo cancellations this summer. Moreover, current futures curves show Henry Hub price spreads to Europe and Asia staying mostly in the $1-$3/MMBtu range over the next few years, suggesting that the arbitrage for U.S. LNG exports, particularly from the Gulf Coast terminals, likely will remain tighter and make commercial decisions to lift or cancel U.S. cargoes much more nuanced than they ever were before. Today, we delve into the primary cost components that factor into offtakers’ netbacks.
Just as U.S. LNG exports were beginning to recover from months of market-driven cargo cancellations, major Hurricane Laura has cut the rebound short. With Laura taking aim at the Texas-Louisiana border — the location of two large-scale LNG export terminals, including the U.S.’s largest export facility, Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass Liquefaction terminal — total feedgas flows to U.S. terminals the past two days dived to fresh lows for 2020 and the lowest since February 2019. Gas production is also way down, with offshore Gulf of Mexico production shut-ins compounding the effects of already depressed drilling and completion activity this year. But production has the potential to rebound more quickly than LNG exports, which could exacerbate the onshore demand effects of the storm; It already will bring cooler weather and drench gas demand for power generation as it moves inland over the Southeast and into the Mid-Atlantic states. Today, we look at how LNG exports are being affected by the storm and what that could mean for the overall gas market balance in the coming days.
Bakken associated gas production volume, after falling to its lowest levels in three years in early May and remaining depressed through June, has surged by 500 MMcf/d, or about 45%, in the past month and a half to 1.7 Bcf/d. However, the gains have occurred in the absence of a meaningful change in rig counts or well completion activity, which remains sluggish. Similar to the Permian, the Bakken production recovery has been almost entirely driven by existing wells returning to service after being shut in earlier this year in response to the oil price collapse. With little in the way of new drilling and completion activity, how long will it be before natural declines of existing wells begin to take a toll on Bakken output? Today, we examine prospects for continued strength in Bakken gas production volumes.
The global LNG market upheaval has wreaked havoc on U.S. LNG export demand this summer, which, in turn, has complicated operations at domestic export facilities. Gone are the days when U.S. LNG exports would move predictably, increasing with each new liquefaction train coming online and then mostly staying at or near capacity. Rather, as international LNG prices collapsed, U.S. LNG operators for the first time have had to contend with a relentless stream of cancelled cargoes and low facility utilization rates. More recently, cargo cancellations are showing signs of easing somewhat, as international price spreads are improving for fall and winter. But these recent market disruptions provide a window into the ways in which operational constraints and flexibilities will factor into LNG producers’ and offtakers’ decisions — and affect feedgas flows and capacity utilization — in a weak global market. Today, we consider some of the nuances of liquefaction operations.