Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - Year of the Yawn

I had greater expectations for the Alaska Gas Pipeline in 2011. To recap -

  1. The open season process was expected to yield announcements of precedent agreements for long term commitments to ship gas.  The agreements may or may not have been reached, but no public announcement was forthcoming.  Chances are any agreements reached are so heavily conditioned that they represent no commitment to do anything in the here and now. 
  2. In 2011 I expected a viable shipper for a 7 MMTPA Valdez LNG plant to step forward.  What actually happened was that Governor Parnell voiced support for a tidewater LNG project. The Governor's comments had the unintended consequences of delaying submission of resource reports by the Alaska Pipeline Project (TransCanada and ExxonMobil).
  3. 2011 Started with two Alaska Gas Pipeline projects - The APP (TransCanada & Exxon Mobil) working to the scope as defined by the Alaska Gas Inducement Act (AGIA) and The Denali Project (ConocoPhillips & BP).  I had an expectation that the projects would merge in 2011.  Instead Denali folded in May citing "open season efforts have not resulted in the customer commitments necessary to continue work on its Alaska North Slope gas pipeline project".  

What's next? - for starters spot Henry Hub gas closed the year at $2.97/MMBTU (see chart for 2011 natural gas prices).   That's astonishing and sobering to any proponent of an Alaskan Gas Pipeline.  Gas that cheap in December is partially due to a mild lower 48 winter but mainly a function of  the glut of shale gas. The 200 day average price is right at $4/MMBTU - essentially the low profit range to drill and produce a shale gas well.

In 2012 the North American gas markets will have little appetite for Alaskan Gas.  Billions will be spent to build Gulf of Mexico LNG export capacity and preliminary studies will be launched to look into the viability of at least one lower 48 Gas to Liquids (GTL) plant.  Anti-fracking stories will continue with little effect on the continued development of lower 48 shale gas resources. The annual average price of 2012 gas may fall within the $3.50 - $5.00/MMBTU range. No new nuclear power will come on line in 2012, but a few gas fired plants will come on line to replace aging coal plants.

Throughout 2012 Alaskans will come to grips with the increasing unattractiveness of Alaskan Gas.  The best comment this year came from Steve Kirchhoff, Vice President – Americas, ExxonMobil Gas and Power Marketing Company in a presentation to the Resource Development Council of Alaska in this video. In this presentation Kirchoff states that "You can't dabble at LNG"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shale Gas Apocalypse* - Ending?

What would it take to end the shale gas apocalypse* ?  Maybe a ton of new laws constraining shale gas development and destroying thousands of good paying jobs, or maybe.....Monetize and export shale gas as LNG, and convert shale gas to liquid fuels.

I favor LNG exports and gas-to-liquids (GTL) for three reasons - Jobs building LNG export plants, Jobs building GTL plants and Jobs building the Alaska Gas Pipeline.

It's one thing for this lonely blog to promote the idea but the industry is beginning to take advantage of abundant, cheap shale gas.

Today we have news that LNG company Cheniere is planning a second LNG export plant  near Corpus Christi Texas (Rigzone Link) (Marketwatch Link) RigZone quote:

Cheniere Energy announced Friday that its wholly owned subsidiary, Corpus Christi Liquefaction is developing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal at one of Cheniere's existing sites that was previously permitted for a regasification terminal. The LNG export terminal site is located in San Patricio County, Texas , and it is anticipated that the terminal would be primarily supplied by reserves from the Eagle Ford Shale, located approximately sixty miles northwest of Corpus Christi . The proposed liquefaction project ("Corpus Christi Project") is being designed for up to three trains capable of producing in aggregate up to 13.5 million tonnes per annum (mtpa).

The combined export volume of the Cheniere export  projects will equal about 4 BCFD which is about 88% of the capacity of the Alaska Gas Pipeline.  What's great about the LNG export terminals and GTL plants is that they represent new demand.  The scale of these projects is large enough to move markets and increase the gas price, hopefully into a long term stable range that will promote the Alaska Gas Pipeline.

*(my term for super low natural gas prices caused by lower 48 shale gas production)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rep. Mike Chenault, Comments on Gas Line

No really news or hope from Rep. Mike Chenault, Speaker of the House of Representatives: (LINK to video).

Skip forward to the 13:40 mark for talk about gas lines.  Glimmer of hope: Donlin Creek.  Favorite quote:"Gotta have a buyer, Gotta have a Seller".

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Gulf Coast LNG Sold

Cheniere Energy Partners has signed another deal to export LNG from Sabine Pass - this time to the Indian utility company Gail, (LINK) and quote:

State-owned gas utility GAIL India today said it has signed an agreement to buy 3.5 million tonnes a year of LNG for 20 years from a US firm to meet India's growing energy needs.
"GAIL has signed a Sales and Purchase Agreement (SPA) for supply of LNG over 20 years with Sabine Pass Liquefaction, LLC, a subsidiary of Cheniere Energy Partners, LP, USA for supply of 3.5 million tonnes per annum of LNG," the company said in a press statement here.  
Supplies may start as early as 2016."Under the SPA, GAIL will pay Sabine Liquefaction as per contractual provisions on a Henry Hub (US gas benchmark) basis after transfer of custody on FOB. LNG will be loaded onto GAIL's vessels," it said.The SPA has a term of 20 years commencing upon the date of first commercial delivery, and an extension option of up to 10 years.
It's interesting to note that the price of LNG under this agreement is indexed to Henry Hub vs. WTI or Brent crude.  That indicates that the buyer believes in long term low Henry Hub prices and sought to de-link their gas price from crude.  For Cheniere, indexing to Henry hub allows them to operate the plant and collect a predictable margin regardless of variations in the crude market.

Of course this is all very interesting for Alaskans.  First - Exporting lower 48 shale gas as LNG is a good thing because it builds support and stabilizes demand for L48 gas.  Second - it shows that long term LNG deals are possible, but the terms of the agreements have to be smart and fair to both parties. Third - I'm interested to see announcements of LNG export deals vs. announcements of new combined cycle power plants.  The export market may beat domestic power producers to the punch.

Friday, December 9, 2011

ConocoPhillips - LNG Makes Sense for Stranded Gas

ConocoPhillips is busy around the world with new LNG projects.  According to this article (LINK) Australia is first in ConocoPhillips mind but they are looking at potential projects in the US and Canada.  Quotes:

ConocoPhillips is studying North America's potential to export natural gas, but it isn't high on its priority list and any rush to build terminals on the U.S. coast could face opposition from Washington, Al Hirshberg, the company's Senior Vice President, Planning and Strategy, said Thursday.
"I just don't see it," Hirshberg said. "Five years from now Queensland will be a major spot on the map, as well as Western Australia in terms of LNG export, and the U.S. Gulf coast won't be, that's my prediction." 
"Canada's a little different," he told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview. "The gas in Canada is stranded, it really doesn't have access to a market so spending the money to liquefy it and get it ready for export is going to make long-term sense."
Similar logic may apply to stranded Alaskan Gas.  Probably not, but exportation of other gas plays helps build price stability which in turn helps the prospects of the Alaska Gas Pipeline.

Shell, Shale, and GTL

Cheap shale gas in the lower 48 is attracting the attention of LNG exporters (LINK) and now Shell is looking at building a large Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) plant in the United States. (LINK). Quote (link and highlights added):

By JAMES HERRON  Royal Dutch Shell is in the early stages of planning projects to turn natural gas into fuels like diesel in the US, of similar scale to its huge project in Qatar, Andy Brown, executive vice president of Shell, said in Qatar Monday.  "We are looking for places where gas is cheap and [oil] products are expensive," he said at a press briefing at the World Petroleum Congress in Doha, Qatar. "Clearly the US is something we're looking at."  Shell is only interested in large-scale projects similar to the $18 billion Pearl gas-to-liquids plant it has developed in Qatar, Brown said. The first phase of Pearl GTL is now producing at close to full capacity and the second phase started over the weekend, he said.
 What can an $18 billion investment yield?  According to the Shell website Pearl converts 320,000 BOE of gas into:
  • - 140 kboe/d of gas-to-liquids products (2 trains)
  • - 120 kboe/d of natural gas liquids and ethane
At today's prices I estimate that's equal to about $8.5 billion in gross annual product revenue.  The 1.8 BCFD of gas feed stock  would cost about $2.5 Billion leaving a gross margin of  $6 Billion.  Assume operation, maintenance and utility cost of $1 Billion and a Pearl type GTL plant will yield $5 billion annually EBIT.  After taxes the rate of return is in the attractive range.  I assume the capital cost in the lower 48 will be higher than Qatar, so the rate of return is probably in the 12% to 15% range.

How does this relate to an Alaskan Gas Pipeline?  First don't get your hopes up for Shell to build a world scale GTL plant in Alaska - construction cost are much higher than the lower 48 and the pipeline infrastructure is already in place on the Gulf Coast.  A lower 48 GTL plant of this scale does help Alaska - it soaks up 1.8 BCFD of gas, roughly 40% of the 4.5 BCFD capacity of the Alaskan Gas Pipeline.  Keep in mind GTL is expensive, but outfits like Shell can buy gas at $3.5/MMBTU and sell liquid products at $16/MMBTU.  There's also the possibility that more lower 48 GTL plants will be built and the gas demand could easily exceed the volume of the Alaska Gas Pipeline.

Ultimately sponging up cheap lower 48 shale gas with GTL plants and LNG export plants will help create demand for Alaska's gas.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

NovaGold - LNG Imports

NovaGold has completed the updated feasibility study for the Donlin Creek project.  It's good reading and looks like a great project if it gets funded.  Alaska Gas angle - The project will build a 300 mile 12" diameter gas line to transport gas from the Anchorage area. The project will depend on gas from IMPORTED LNG. (LINK) and quote:

Natural gas will be delivered to site by a 500-kilometer-long, 12-inch-diameter pipeline. It will serve as the energy source for on-site power generation. This natural gas pipeline is a lower-cost alternative to the previously considered barging of diesel fuel. Operating costs include importing liquefied natural gas ("LNG") by ship to Anchorage and total delivery costs to site which includes ship based regasification of the LNG and delivery from Anchorage to the Donlin Gold project via the pipeline. There may be an opportunity in the future to source natural gas from within Alaska
I read this as LNG gas plus a small pipeline is the baseline cost that doesn't depend on other projects.  They can always switch to Alaskan gas when and if that becomes available.  If the project goes forward it would make a great anchor customer for some of the proposed Alaskan gas pipeline projects.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gas Off-Take Study Available on line

Gas Off-Take Study by engineering firm Black and Veatch is available on line (LINK).

Additional presentations are available on the Alaska Gas Pipeline Project Office website (LINK)