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US ethane supply gains seen trailing demand growth

  • Market: LPG, Petrochemicals
  • 23/05/24

Export and domestic demand growth for US ethane is expected to outpace US supply growth by as much as 72,000 b/d by 2026, according to a recent forecast from consultancy East Daley Analytics.

A surplus of US ethane production, bolstered by gains in natural gas drilling and production to meet growing demand for electricity generation and LNG exports, has led to increasing investments in additional ethane export terminal capacity to provide other outlets for the petrochemical feedstock.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed US ethane production from natural gas processing rose to a record 2.78mn b/d in October of 2023 and fell to 2.69mn b/d in February, the latest data the agency has available. Those volumes don't take into account ethane that is rejected into the gas stream at processing plants during periods of restrained capacity or when natural gas prices spike on weather-related outages, incentivizing lower ethane recovery.

Mont Belvieu, Texas, EPC ethane's premium relative to its natural gas fuel value at Waha reached a peak of 50.31¢/USG on 6 May, a 16-month high, and has averaged 26.08¢/USG in May so far, according to Argus data. As ethane margins versus natural gas rise, ethane extraction at natural gas processing plants becomes even more profitable, pushing ethane recovery rates higher.

Yet East Daley's forecasts suggest projects to absorb this additional feedstock may quickly outpace production.

The consultancy projects US ethane production will rise by 283,000 b/d by 2026, driven mostly by gains in natural gas production in the Permian and Marcellus basins.

Increased gas takeaway capacity from the completion of maintenance on Kinder Morgan's Permian Highway pipeline (PHP), the Gulf Coast Express (GCX) pipeline, and the Transwestern pipeline at the end of this month, will allow for higher levels of ethane rejection, according to Rob Wilson, East Daley's vice president of analytics, limiting potential gains in ethane production from the additional gas.

Further gas capacity restrictions in the Permian are expected to be mitigated when the 2.5 Bcf/d Matterhorn Express pipeline — which runs from the Waha, Texas, gas hub to Katy, Texas, on the Gulf coast — comes online in the third quarter of this year.

Domestic demand for ethane is projected to rise by 129,000 b/d by 2026 with the addition of Chevron Phillips Chemical's joint venture with QatarEnergy to construct a 2mn t/yr ethane cracker on the Texas Gulf coast that is scheduled to come online in 2026. That joint venture will consume 118,000 b/d of ethane when at full capacity, but will operate at 50pc of capacity when first on line in 2026, according to East Daley.

Increased US ethane cracking will come on top of a 231,000 b/d increase in ethane exports by 2026, driven by demand from Chinese crackers and burgeoning demand from Indian crackers, according to the consultancy. Ethane export expansions at Energy Transfer's Marcus Hook terminal in Pennsylvania and Enterprise Products Partners' new flexible LPG and ethane terminal at Beaumont, Texas, are expected to be complete by 2025 and 2026, respectively.

Combined, these projects add another 360,000 b/d of ethane demand by 2026, outstripping expected supply growth by an estimated 72,000 b/d, according to East Daley's forecast.

By Abby Downing-Beaver


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Q&A: Petredec pushes LPG to drive Africa clean cooking

Q&A: Petredec pushes LPG to drive Africa clean cooking

London, 16 July (Argus) — LPG trading company and shipowner Petredec was recently unveiled as one of the founding members of the World Liquid Gas Association's (WLGA) Cooking For Life Africa Task Force (CFLA), following the in May. The company was one of the early international entrants to the sub-Saharan African LPG market and continues to pursue opportunities in the region. Argus' Oliver Binks spoke with Petredec's head of downstream, James Bullen, about the company's plans to help expand LPG's use across Africa: Why did Petredec join the CFLA? The task force is a direct response to the IEA's call to action following its summit in Paris in May. The IEA's ambition is to end cooking fuel poverty by making cleaner fuels accessible to all, thereby saving lives. The WLGA created the task force to focus on LPG's role in addressing this challenge. Although the problem itself is acknowledged to be surmountable, and not even particularly costly — in relative terms — the WLGA believes that LPG can largely solve the issue of clean cooking in Africa now. This is a belief that we not only share, but also through our work on the ground in Africa, fully understand first-hand. LPG is well-suited to developing markets, such as those being highlighted as particularly problematic within Africa by the IEA. We believe that LPG's inherent benefits of being accessible, easy to deploy, well-understood and affordable make it the unparalleled choice for meeting the IEA's objectives. What projects are the company involved in within the region? Our strategy onshore has been to invest in markets where LPG is established and understood but market growth is in some way hindered. This is typically owing to a lack of investment in infrastructure, especially import infrastructure. We base our investment decisions on long-term opportunities for LPG and how we can alleviate these bottlenecks to facilitate growth. Affordability is a significant barrier to fuel switching, so being able to import the cheapest possible product is a fundamental pillar of any investment plan we develop. And central to this is the necessity to select locations where the largest LPG carriers, VLGCs, can be accommodated to discharge cargoes. Big ships mean better freight economics, which means cheaper import prices and more affordable LPG for the consumer. We have not announced the specific details of our new investments and are not in a position to do so yet, but the type of projects will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with our record. We have invested more than $200m in the past decade on medium to large-scale LPG infrastructure and it's fair to assume we will do more of the same. What are the challenges to developing infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa? While working in each developing market has its own specific challenges, there are often common issues to navigate when large-scale infrastructure projects are under development. These include planning and permitting , environmental adherence and acceptance and navigating local bureaucracy, which can be multi-layered and onerous. Delays are common and projects such as designing and constructing import terminals, distribution systems and break-bulk hubs are complicated and time-consuming. The key to overcoming these is consistency, perseverance, patience and commitment. Projects run late, budgets require amendments and remits change, but good opportunities are often difficult by nature. Keeping the end goal in sight and taking a long-term view are key. What specific infrastructure in the supply chain needs the most investment? Different regions and markets have different needs. Some countries have focused on one specific type of infrastructure investment while ignoring other key elements. Other countries are in need of modernisation across their entire supply chains. A problem we frequently come across is outdated and insufficient infrastructure stifling market growth. While market participants' intentions to support the growth of LPG might be there, their efforts can be in vain if they are working with 50-year-old-plus import terminals with inadequate capacity to meet market demands, or an antiquated cylinder filling and distribution system. How much LPG does Petredec supply to sub-Saharan Africa, and where does it source it from? Petredec has supplied LPG to Africa since the 1980s, first in north Africa and then elsewhere around the coast of the continent. Annual quantities vary with supply contracts, but for many years now we have supplied significant volumes to South Africa, which we then distribute via road tankers across the southern part of the continent. From our import hub in Richards Bay, South Africa, our local subsidiary, Petregaz, transports LPG to nine countries across the region, often more than 2,000km in each direction. We have always used our global trading, supply and shipping system to ensure that the most appropriate product is supplied to each market. This means as arbitrage opportunities open and close, product can originate from a number of locations, but for South Africa, we typically utilise our large offtake positions in the US Gulf to supply the market. What other clean cooking options do Africans have apart from LPG, and why not pursue these over LPG? We aren't aware of any alternatives as compelling as LPG when considered holistically as a "through the transition" energy option for developing markets. The IEA itself, in the report A Vision for Clean Cooking Access for All, identifies LPG as the primary solution to deliver clean cooking access, representing nearly half of the households gaining access by 2030. That is not to say that LPG is the answer to every problem in every market. During the summit, we encountered new cooking stoves powered by solar energy and recycled pellets, both intriguing but reliant on electric power as a back-up fuel or for flame acceleration. Where we are talking about markets with limited access to electricity, neither of these are practical. The summit also highlighted a number of biofuels, some of which appear interesting, but developments are very early and at this point unproven. We do not believe that LPG's ready availability, low-cost set-up and easy scale-up can be bettered by any current alternative. Which countries are the company focusing on for LPG market expansion across the region? We are focused on expanding operations in our existing markets and new territories. We already deliver LPG to nine sub-Saharan African countries by road so fully understand the importance of multi-modal logistics. But we are keen to improve supply chain operations and are examining opportunities to utilise alternative forms of transport and enhance existing logistics in order to improve productivity and, most importantly, lower costs. Reduced logistic costs means cheaper deliveries resulting in improved affordability, which is crucial as we and our partners strive for market growth. What are the company's objectives in terms of inland African LPG distribution this year? The current project focus, particularly in South Africa, is on further optimisation of the supply chain to better serve our customers. Having acquired one of South Africa's largest dedicated LPG road logistics operators in 2023, we have now fully integrated that business into our operations and have set about further expanding the freight aspect of our offering. We expect to announce further developments in due course that will improve that level in terms of speed, cost and reliability. Targeting new usage opportunities for LPG is also a key current focus, as we look to leverage the strong foundations we have laid since commissioning the Richards Bay terminal in 2020. Acute shortages of alternative energy options and an ongoing electricity crisis in South Africa have thrust LPG into the limelight as a viable substitute for power generation. We are engaged with several industrial and commercial businesses looking for energy security that are, for the first time, considering using LPG. The company divested its Reunion business in 2023. Why and what lessons were learnt? The business ran profitably throughout our 14 years of ownership, and together with our local partner, we had gradually managed to grow our market share and overall volumes. However, with our investment focus in the region shifting from the southern Indian Ocean to continental Africa, Petregaz Reunion had become somewhat isolated in our longer-term strategic growth plan. With their own growth strategy focusing on market consolidation and integrating operations, the business was a natural fit for Vivo Energy and a transaction suited all parties. Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

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