Recently in Energy markets Category

January 27, 2015

The Economist - "Let There Be Light"

In a special section of the January 17 edition of The Economist, Edward Lucas gives a broad overview of the world energy outlook and the future for renewable energy. His is an optimistic forecast for cleaner, cheaper and more plentiful energy. His article can be found online here.

First, the article provides this view of current world energy production and consumption:

economist.pngThis picture doesn't present a very optimistic view. Almost 60% of energy production is "wasted energy." Oil still provides 33% of all energy consumed, while wind supplies only 1.1%, and solar only 0.2%. And the EIA projects that global demand for energy will increase by 37% in the next 25 years.

But Lucas says things are changing. Solar electricity, and ways of storing it, are becoming cheaper and better. China invested $56 billion in renewable energy in 2013, and it installed 13 gigawatts of solar, more than its new fossil-fuel and nuclear capacity combined. Wind now provides a third of Denmark's energy supply and a fifth of Spain's. Solar is becoming competitive with traditional fossil fuels, and costs are continuing to decline.

Lucas says solar is pulling ahead of wind. In 2013, additions of solar electricity generation exceeded that in wind for the first time. The cost of solar panels has reduced by a factor of five in the past six years. EIA predicts that solar will provide 16% of world electric power by 2050.

Lucas also describes "distributed generation" - domestic fuel cells, rooftop solar generation, "net metering rules", and breakthroughs in electricity storage -- up to now the stumbling block for wind and solar generation, which is intermittent and unreliable. And he recounts breakthroughs in reducing energy consumption, including better building insulation and more efficient vehicles. Lucas mentions Austin, Texas, where "7,000 households have signed up for a scheme in which they get an $85 rebate on an internet-enabled thermostat." With those thermostats, "Austin Energy can shave 10 MW from its summer peak demand."

Lucas's five keys for the future of energy: (1) abundant energy, largely from the growth of cheap solar; (2) development of storage technologies; (3) growth of distributive energy - making consumers small producers and storers of energy; (4) intelligent use of energy - smart meters, better management of electricity distribution, smart meters, "smart grids"; and (5) new business models to finance these new energy systems.

A good read.

November 12, 2014

The Fall in Oil Prices

The news is filled with stories predicting the effect of falling oil prices on US production.  Good news for the economy, bad news for the Texas oil and gas industry. Will the rig count fall? Will companies go into bankruptcy? Only time will tell.

The answer may depend on OPEC. OPEC countries produce about one-third of the world's total oil each month. OPEC countries have about 80 percent of the world's oil reserves. Predictions of OPEC's demise are greatly exaggerated. But US production has increased to almost 9 million barrels a day, close to Saudi Arabia's production. Texas is responsible for a big part of that increase:

Texas production chart.PNG

Clearly the increased US production, combined with the predictable decline in demand and the slowdown of China's and Europe's economies, is affecting the world oil price. OPEC convenes on November 27, and pundits are guessing what it will do. On October 29, OPEC's Secretary-General Abdalla El-Badri, cautioned calm, after a conference in London: "We don't see really fundamental changes in the supply side or the demand side.  Unfortunately everyone is panicking. The press is panicking, consumers are panicking. We really should think and see how this will develop."

El-Badri has a point. Looked at over the long term, as shown below, this may be but another adjustment in world prices.

EIA gas and oil price chart.PNG

Not all OPEC countries are the same. Some countries will be squeezed by oil prices below $80:

OPEC price squeeze.PNG

So far, the falling oil price appears to have had little effect on drilling activities in Texas. The Texas Petro Index published by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers reached 312.3 in September, up 6% over last September. The Baker Hughes rig count in Texas was 902 in September, up from 837 rigs in September 2013. But the US rig count dropped by 4 rigs to 1,925 for the week ended November 7, although horizontal rigs gained 9 to 1,362.

One analyst, Gavekal Dragonomics, says that, if oil prices continue to fall, "drilling activity is likely to decline." But the negative effects on the energy sector will be outweighed by the positive effect on US consumers. Lower prices will lift net exports. And each one-cent drop in gasoline prices puts $1 billion in the pockets of consumers over a one-year period.

Dr. Harold Hunt, professor at the Texas A&M Real Estate Center, recently presented an analysis of how falling oil prices affect the Houston economy. Here is a link to the Powerpoint of his presentation: Hunt_S_TX_College_Oct__2014___.pdf  Dr. Hunt notes the declining cost of drilling in the Eagle Ford, lowering the break-even price of oil:

Well Costs - Hunt.PNG


Down-sizing of well spacing has also maximized the value of Eagle Ford acreage:

Well spacing.PNG

Dr. Hunt also notes the increased rates of initial production in the Eagle Ford, but also the increase in decline rates of those later wells:

EIA increased production rates over time.PNG


His conclusion: 80% of shale oil resources in the US can make money with oil at $50 to $80 per barrel:

Hunt break-even.PNG

Much depends on where the acreage is in the play. There are good sections and bad sections in the Eagle Ford, as in all fields. Those producers on the margins will suffer at $80 prices. And investors may be more wary of putting their money in areas with higher risk.

July 9, 2014

The Declining Cost of Solar Energy

Austin Energy, the City of Austin's municipally owned electric utility, recently announced a deal with Recurrent Energy to buy up to 150 megawatts of electricity from a solar farm to be constructed by Recurrent in West Texas, at 5 cents per kilowatt hour, guaranteed for 20 years.  Austin Energy is the nation's 8th-largest municipal utility. As reported in the Austin Chronicle, the deal means that Austin Energy could reach its goal of 200 megawatts of solar power by 2020 well ahead of schedule. Austin Energy has its own solar farm in Webberville that can generate up to 30 megawatts. Austin Energy's current plans provide for increased reliance on renewable energy sources:

Austin Energy.JPG

The cost of solar electricity has now become competitive with other fuels -- although still with support from tax credits.  Austin Energy's estimate of its fuel costs:

Wind (West Texas):                 2.6-6.1 cents/kWh

Wind (South Texas):                3.6-7.5 cents/kWh

Solar (West Texas):                 4.5-11.4 cents/kWh

Combined Cycle (Natural Gas): 6-9 cents/kWh

Solar (Local):                           9.0-21.3 cents/kWh

Coal:                                       9.2-11.4 cents/kWh

Biomass:                                10-15.4 cents/kWh

Geothermal:                            10-15.1 cents/kWh

Nuclear:                                  11.6-15.6 cents/kWh

Solar beats nuclear, coal and natural gas, even at the presently low cost of natural gas.

If Austin Energy gets 250 megawatts of solar on line, it will constitute about 10% of its total capacity. Two hundred fifty megawatts can supply electricity for about 125,000 Austin residences under normal conditions.

Austin Energy also has contracts for 850 megawatts of electricity from wind.

The availability of wind and solar power to Austin was largely made possible by the state's CREZ project, the construction of transmission lines from West Texas over the last several years to make wind and solar resources, abundant in West Texas, available to the urbanized areas around Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Houston. At a cost of $5 billion, the CREZ lines will eventually transmit more than 18,000 megawatts of power from West Texas and the Panhandle to metropolitan areas of the state.

May 23, 2014

Two New Technologies Could Change How We Use Energy

Here are two emerging technologies that could change how we might use natural gas to fuel our cars and electrify our homes and offices.

A company called Redox Power Systems is building a plant in Florida to produce The Cube, a dishwasher-sized system that generates electricity from natural gas using electro-chemical fuel cell technology. 


With almost no moving parts, The Cube can provide enough electricity to power a gas station or a small grocery store. It also generates heat that can be used to heat a home or business. It's technology was developed at the University of Maryland. The system also emits carbon dioxide, but according to a review by MIT, its emissions should be lower than those associated with power from the grid. Redox plans to complete a 25-kilowatt prototype and start selling complete systems by the end of this year.

A company named Siluria Technologies is making low-carbon gasoline from natural gas using a catalyst grown from a genetically modified virus. Siluria claims that its gasoline carries half the carbon footprint of gasoline refined from oil, and that it can produce gasoline for about $15 a barrel, not counting the price of the natural gas consumed.  According to Sliuria's website: "At commercial scale, Siluria's process will enable refiners and fuel manufacturers to produce transportation fuels that cost considerably less than today's petroleum-based fuels, while reducing overall emissions, NOx, sulfur and particulate matter. Fuels made with Siluria's processes are also compatible with existing vehicles, pipelines and other infrastructure and can be integrated into global supply chains."

February 10, 2014

Texas' Remarkable Rise in Oil Production

Here is a graph from the Energy Information Administration showing the Texas crude miracle:

EIA Texas Crude Production.JPG

Texas now produces 36% of US oil production.  The graph below is from a Reuters article, showing the resultant drop in US crude imports: 

US Crude Imports.JPG

December 12, 2013

Three Experts on the Future of the Shale Boom

In November, Texas Monthly hosted a panel discussion at Rice University's Baker Institute for public policy about the boom in shale oil development in the US. The panel members: Arthur E. Berman, a Sugar Land-based geologist; Scott W. Tinker, the director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin; and Kenneth Medlock III, an energy fellow at the Baker Institute. You can watch the panel discussion on Texas Monthly's website, here. It's worth an hour of your time. 

These guys know a lot about energy in general and oil and gas in particular. I have previously written about Arthur Berman, a "shale skeptic," who has never believed that the shale boom would last. Scott Tinker is the narrator of the documentary "Switch," an examination of the modern world's thirst for and sources of energy.  In addition to the film, Dr. Tinker has created a website,, that provides additional short videos and other resources to further explore questions surrounding energy, including carbon capture, global warming, hydraulic fracturing, and alternative energy technologies. He interviews many world experts on global energy issues.  He is to my mind one of the most even-handed and level-headed thinkers and explainers of the complex issues surrounding energy issues.

October 30, 2013

End of the Shale Boom?

I have recently seen articles predicting the end of the shale boom, coming not only from those who have consistently predicted that shale production would never amount to anything, but also from respected sources whose predictions have previously proven accurate. A recent Houston Chronicle article quotes from a paper written by Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis, and Mahmoud El-Gamal of Rice University, saying that "The most likely scenario - absent war - is for oil prices to decline significantly." A significant decline in oil prices would make many if not most wells shale wells now being drilled in the Eagle Ford and Permian areas of Texas uneconomical. Jaffe expects oil prices to decline in the next three to five years. "To hold up prices it would have to be a regime change in several countries that results in lasting civil wars with lots of infrastructure being blown up," she said.

An article in Business Week says that the break-even price for profitability in the Cline Shale play of the Permian Basin is $96 per barrell; in the Eagle Ford, it's $78/barrel, and in the Bakken, $84.  Here is one analyst's prediction of future oil prices:

Business Week graph.JPG

Falling fuel demand is a big part of the prediction.  Jaffe believes demand will fall even with continued growth in China and other emerging nations. The average fuel economy for new vehicles in the US is up 4.7 mpg since October 2007. And Americans are driving less.  Lower-priced natural gas will replace some of the oil demand.  From the Energy Information Administration:

US Crude Oil and Energy Consumption.JPG

And, as with natural gas in the latter part of the last decade, US crude oil production and resulting supply are increasing:

Crude Oil Production and Ending Stocks.JPG

EIA has begun publishing a new report, its "Drilling Productivity Report," focusing on production in the six major shale plays in the US.  The report appears to me to highlight two attributes of shale plays:  first, companies are lowering the cost of drilling and completing wells in these plays, increasing the efficiency of putting new production online; and second, the industry has to continue to drill wells to replace the rapid decline in production from these plays. Here are a couple of the EIA's charts from its recent analysis of Eagle Ford wells that illustrate these attributes:

Eagle Ford new well production per rig.JPG

This shows that fewer rigs are needed to continue the increase in production from the Eagle Ford.

On the other hand, it takes continuous drilling to replace the decline in existing production:

Eagle Ford change in oil production.JPG

The above chart tells me that, if and when oil prices decline, the growth in oil production from the Eagle Ford will quickly turn into a rapid decline, when rigs leave the play.


September 23, 2013

Energy Statistics

I subscribe to the Economist, and it recently sent its subscribers a booklet, Pocket World in Figures, that contains rankings of 198 countries in categories ranging from longest river to biggest cities to number of refugees to living standards, etc.  Here are some interesting statistics related to energy from that booklet:

Top 10 Oil Producers 2012 ('000 bbls/day)

Saudi Arabia           11,530

Russia                    10,643

U.S.                        8,905

China                       4,153

Canada                    3,741

Iran                          3,680

UAR                         3,380

Kuwait                      3,127

Iraq                           3,115

Mexico                      2,911


Top Ten Oil Consumers 2012 ('000 bbls/day)

U.S.                         18,555

China                       10,221

Japan                         4,714

India                           3,652

Russia                        3,174

Saudi Arabia                2,935

Brazil                          2,805

South Korea                2,458

Canada                       2,412

Germany                     2,358


Top 10 Natural Gas Producers 2012 (billion cubic meters)

U.S.                           681.4

Russia                        592.3

Iran                            160.5

Qatar                          157.0

Canada                       156.5

Norway                       114.9

China                          107.2

Saudi Arabia                102.8

Algeria                          81.5

Indonesia                      71.1


Top 10 Natural Gas Consumers 2012 (billion cubic meters)

U.S.                             722.1

Russia                         416.2

Iran                              156.1

China                           143.8

Japan                           116.7

Saudi Arabia                 102.8

Canada                         100.7

Mexico                           83.7

U.K.                               78.3

Germany                        75.2


In coal production, China ranked 1st (2012), with 1,825 million tonnes oil equivalent, with the U.S. a distant second at 515.9.

The U.S. ranks 30th in number of cars owned per 1,000 population (2011), behind countries such as Australia, Germany, France, Norway, Spain, and the Czech Republic.

In 2011, China produced 14,485,000 cars. Number two was Japan at 7,159,000. The U.S. ranked 6th, at 2,966,000, behind Germany, South Kora and India (3,054,000).

China ranked 1st in emissions of carbon dioxide in 2009 (7,687 million tonnes). Following it (in order): U.S. (5,267 million tonnes), India (1,979), Russia (1,574), Japan, Germany, Iran, Canada, South Korea, and South Africa.  In the rank of carbon dioxide emissions per person, U.S. ranked 10 (17.3 tonnes per person). The leader was Qatar at 44 tonnes per person, followed by Trinidad & Tobago, Kuwait, Brunei, UAR, Aruba, Bahrain, Luxembourg and Australia.

September 12, 2013

Texas Oil Production Exceeds Iran's

Texas pumped 2.575 million barrels of oil per day in June, exceeding Iran's production of 2.56 million barrels/day. Texas now ranks ahead of seven members of OPEC in oil production.

The U.S. is now the world's largest exporter of refined fuels, including gasoline and diesel. The U.S. met 87 percent of its energy needs in the first five months of 2013. This is expected to be the highest annual rate since 1986. Net imports of oil and petroleum products will fall to 5.4 million barrels a day by 2014, down from 12.5 million in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration.  It is expected that the U.S. will pump 7.75 million barrels/day by the end of the year.  West Texas Intermediate's price is now above $107/bbl.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reported that a "growing number of experts" are now saying that the increased production of oil will result in a significant decline in prices.  Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director for energy and sustainability at the University of California at Davis, recently wrote that "The most likely scenario - absent war - is for oil prices to decline significantly."  She sees a repeat of the decline in oil prices from the 1980s. If you superimpose a curve of oil prices from the 1980s over today's price curve, "we're already on the other side of the hump," said Jaffe.  The decline will be a result of rising supplies and falling fuel demand, exacerbated by higher fuel prices, less driving, less demand from emerging nations like China, the rising dollar, replacement of oil with cheaper natural gas, and OPEC's inability to cut production enough to prop up prices.  "Don't lose sight of the fact that [oil prices are] a cycle.  We get in this mania that whatever the price is it's going to be that forever."

April 29, 2013

Decoupling Oil and Gas

A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle makes a good point: we should no longer think of "oil and gas" together. Their paths have diverged, at least in the US.

The prices of oil and gas used to be roughly equivalent, based on their energy value - their Btu content. But since the shale revolution in the US, this is no longer the case. Today, gas is much cheaper than oil on an energy-equivalent basis. Today, most exploration companies have moved from gas shale plays to oil shale plays, chasing the higher oil price. But gas prices have recently risen, and wells are still being drilled profitably in the Marcellus. If gas returns to $5-6/mcf, shale gas plays will return, and gas will still be much cheaper than oil.

Second, gas is a clean-buring fuel, unlike oil or coal. US emissions of greenhouse gases have declined substantially since utilities have gradually switched from coal to gas. Vehicles powered by gas have much lower emissions than those fueled by gasoline. Gas is touted as a "bridge fuel" in the transition from hydrocarbon to renewable sources of energy, because of its lighter environmental footprint.

So why are we still using so much oil? Principally because of the transportation sector. It is expensive to convert vehicles to burn natural gas, and there is a dearth of refueling stations in the US for natural gas. If the price of natural gas remains cheap, more and more vehicles will burn it instead of gasoline.

As the public begins to better understand the differences between oil and natural gas, and as the market's confidence grows in the US supply of gas, the stability of its relatively low price, and its more benign environmental impact, gas should make inroads into the transportation industry.

January 10, 2013

Two Interesting Graphs from EIA


 The Energy Information Administration continues to produce fascinating graphs. Two recent ones are below.

 Natural gas hammered coal last year. Low natural gas prices still made electricity cheap. West Texas Intermediate Crude declined, while Brent crude increased.

graph of select commodity futures price changes, as described in the article text


Electricity generated from natural gas equaled that generated from coal for the first time in April 2012:

graph of monthly U.S. electricity generation by fuel, as described in the article text

October 29, 2012

"Energy Independence"?

We're in the crazy election season once again, and once again all candidates have promised "energy independence." Newt Gingrich promised to lower gasoline prices. President Obama takes credit for low natural gas prices. Governor Romney says we can eliminate imports of crude oil. Presidential candidates have promised energy independence ever since the oil embargo in Jimmy Carter's administration. The candidates know that, in fact, government policies have little to do with energy prices, and there is little they can do to influence those prices. It might be good to look at a little history.

First, natural gas prices are still essentially a domestic phenomenon. Although transportation of liquefied natural gas is beginning, it is still very expensive in comparison to domestic prices. And natural gas prices are still essentially a matter of domestic supply and demand. Consider these graphs:

U.S. Gas Production Graph.jpg

NG Wellhead Price Graph.jpg


Prices for natural gas spiked in the last decade; production increased; and prices declined. Supply and demand.

Unlike natural gas, crude oil is a world market, governed by world supply and demand.

U.S. Crude Production Graph.jpg

U.C. Crude Imports.jpg

World Crude Price Graph.jpg


World oil prices climbed over the last decade to reach $100/bbl at the beginning of this decade, and have remained high; U.S. production of oil increased, and U.S. imports declined. Yet prices remain high, due to global demand.

Texas has prospered as a result, increasing its crude production for the first time in decades, largely as a result of unconventional plays, principally the Eagle Ford:

Texas Crude Production Graph.jpg 

Let's hope that some sanity will return to politics and energy policy after the crazy season.


September 27, 2012

Two Interesting Graphs from EIA

As readers may know, I love graphs, and the Energy Information Administration is good at making them. Here are two particularly interesting ones.

China Energy Consumption.jpg


Iraqi production.jpg


May 23, 2012

MIT Study of Relationship Between Oil and Gas Prices

One of the remarkable aspects of the oil and gas markets over the last few years has been the rapid decline of natural gas prices despite the continuing high price of crude oil. Historically, analysists have assumed that there is a relationship between the price of the two commodities. After all, both are basically sources of stored energy, which can be measured in British Thermal Units, or Btus.  One barrel of crude oil has about the same energy as six million Btu of natural gas, so it has been assumed that one barrel of crude should have about the same value as six MMBtu of gas.  When companies report their reserves, they often use the term BOE, or "barrels of oil equivalent," meaning that they convert their gas reserves to oil barrels using this 6-to-1 ratio.  But at today's prices, the ratio on a Btu basis is closer to 12-to-1; it has been as low as 2.5-to-1 and as high as 19-to-1. So why is there now such a de-coupling of oil and gas prices? 

I recently ran across a paper published by two MIT professors titled "The Weak Tie Between Natural Gas and Oil Prices," by David J. Ramberg and John E. Parsons. You can find it here. The authors ask the question: Is there a relationship between the price of oil and the price of natural gas? If there was formerly such a relationship, has it been broken? They use historical data and analysis to answer these questions. Their conclusion:

despite large temporary deviations, natural gas prices continue to exhibit evidence of a cointegrating relationship with crude oil prices, and gas prices consistently return to a long-run relationship. However, this relationship has apparently shifted at least once over a 12-year period to a new equilibrium. There is no statistical evidence to support the claim that a relationship between the two price series has been completely severed.

However, the authors also point out that "there is an enormous amount of unexplained volatility in natural gas prices. The raw price serices for natural gas ... is approximately twice as volatile as the raw oil price series. And the relationship between oil and gas prices "does not appear to be stable through time. ... In the 1989 to 2005 period, the price of natural gas seemed to be shifting up compared to the price of oil, but in recent years this reversed."

The authors analyze the effect on natural gas prices of seasonality -- heat and cold waves and supply disruptions from hurricanes -- and the relationship between gas prices and the amount of natural gas in storage. After taking these effects into account, there is still a large unexplained volatility in natural gas prices.

Nevertheless, the authors say that their analysis shows that "when the natural gas price has been pulled away from the fundamental tie, it will predictably drift back towards it." Producers with large natural gas reserves are hoping the authors are correct.


January 26, 2012

EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2012

The Energy Information Administration has issued its annual energy projections.


Domestic crude oil production is expected to grow by more than 20 percent over the coming decade: Domestic crude oil production increased from 5.1 million barrels per day in 2007 to 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010. Over the next 10 years, continued development of tight oil combined with the development of offshore Gulf of Mexico resources are projected to push domestic crude oil production to 6.7 million barrels per day in 2020, a level not seen since 1994.

With modest economic growth, increased efficiency, growing domestic production, and continued adoption of nonpetroleum liquids, net petroleum imports make up a smaller share of total liquids consumption: U.S. dependence on imported petroleum liquids declines in the AEO2012 Reference case, primarily as a result of growth in domestic oil production of over 1 million barrels per day by 2020, an increase in biofuel use of over 1 million barrels per day crude oil equivalent by 2024, and modest growth in transportation sector demand through 2035. Net petroleum imports as a share of total U.S. liquid fuels consumed drop from 49 percent in 2010 to 38 percent in 2020 and 36 percent in 2035 in AEO2012.

U.S. production of natural gas is expected to exceed consumption early in the next decade: The United States is projected to become a net exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2016, a net pipeline exporter in 2025, and an overall net exporter of natural gas in 2021. The outlook reflects increased use of LNG in markets outside of North America, strong domestic natural gas production, reduced pipeline imports and increased pipeline exports, and relatively low natural gas prices in the United States compared to other global markets.

Use of renewable fuels and natural gas for electric power generation rises: The natural gas share of electric power generation increases from 24 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2035, and the renewables share grows from 10 percent to 16 percent over the same period. In recent years, the U.S. electric power sector's historical reliance on coal-fired power plants has begun to decline. Over the next 25 years, the projected coal share of overall electricity generation falls to 39 percent, well below the 49-percent share seen as recently as 2007, because of slow growth in electricity demand, continued competition from natural gas and renewable plants, and the need to comply with new environmental regulations.

Total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions remain below their 2005 level through 2035: Energy-related CO2 emissions grow by 3 percent from 2010 to 2035, reaching 5,806 million metric tons in 2035. They are more than 7 percent below their 2005 level in 2020 and do not return to the 2005 level of 5,996 million metric tons by the end of the projection period. Emissions per capita fall by an average of 1 percent per year from 2005 to 2035, as growth in demand for transportation fuels is moderated by higher energy prices and Federal fuel economy standards. Proposed fuel economy standards covering model years 2017 through 2025 that are not included in the Reference case would further reduce projected energy use and emissions. Electricity-related emissions are tempered by appliance and lighting efficiency standards, State renewable portfolio standard requirements, competitive natural gas prices that dampen coal use by electric generators, and implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.