More pipe, more trains: the oil production boom in North America requires it
The Platts sixth annual Pipeline Development and Expansion Conference in Houston wrapped up last week, and the two days of presentations revealed a largely uniform message: We're building pipeline infrastructure as fast and vast as we can, and often it's still not enough to handle the burgeoning streams of crude, NGLs and natural gas.
It's a stark difference from just a couple years ago when total US crude production was entering its third decade of decline, giving Peak Oil advocates traction, and creating a narrative that the fossil-fuels industry was "left for dead."
Shale has changed everything.
So great is the turnaround that combined crude production from the United States and Canada is expected to exceed the peak production of the early 1970s and to keep the Cushing storage hub oversupplied through at least 2016, says Bentek Energy's Rusty Braziel. (Bentek is a division of Platts.)
And that's just crude. NGL production, as well as natural gas, from shale is "absolutely off the scale." Thus this need for pipelines, and related infrastructure, resulted in urgent phrases from the conference such as "scrambling to keep up" and "unexpected demand on our system" and "considerable growth on the horizon.
Eoin Treacy's view "Shale
gas is a game changer for the energy industry" has become a refrain at
Fullermoney over the last few years. Unconventional oil, particularly in Dakota's
Bakken shale adds an additional bullish dimension to the USA's energy renaissance.
Legitimate questions have been raised about the productive capacity of unconventional wells. We have always assumed that new wells will constantly be required because of the prolific initial flow rates and the quick peak production horizon. The economics of unconventional drilling are perhaps not as attractive as conventional drilling but size, security, access and proximity to important markets make unconventional wells for both oil and gas invaluable resources for the US economy.
Infrastructure development is inevitably following the discovery and exploitation of unconventional energy reserves. Pipeline and rail companies exhibited some of the most consistent chart patterns until about six months ago. They lost momentum, many broke their progressions of rising reaction lows, and sustained moves below their respective 2300-day MAs, where they have subsequently encountered resistance.
The Alerian MLP Index is largely representative of this trend. It peaked in May and has posted a progression of lower highs since. The Index bounced impressively from the early August lows but continues to range below the MA and needs to sustain a move above 360 to suggest demand is being reasserted beyond the short term. Canadian National Railway has a similar pattern as do Energy Transfer Partners and a number of others.
Despite widespread selling pressure across the sector over the last month Magellan Midstream Partners (5.14%), Enterprise Products Partners (5.85%), Western Gas Partners (4.59%), El Paso Pipeline Partners (5.36%), Eagle Rock Energy Partners (7.43%), ONEOK Partners (5.23%), MarkWest Energy Partners (5.82%) and Crosstex Energy (7.45%) all remain above their respective 200-day MAs and in relatively consistent uptrends. .