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Peak Oil

Concerns and worry about Peak Oil are overstated and irrelevant.  Many articles and books have been written on the topic and many lectures given.  Dire predictions have been made and many people have concluded that because of peaking of crude oil production, the future of the human race is bleak.

Peak Oil theory seems so intuitive.  There is a finite amount of oil contained within the crust of the earth.  As the human population increases and the global middle class expands, we have used, and continue to use, more and more crude oil.  The amount of crude oil remaining, therefore, dwindles with each passing day.  Therefore, it is inevitable that crude oil production will peak and then begin to decline.  As production declines, bad things will happen.  The price of crude oil will certainly rise dramatically, and geopolitical conflict will develop over access to the remaining pool of crude oil.  The good life that we live now will come to an end.

As intuitive as this logic is, it has a large problem.  It is flawed.

Why?  Because we live in a market economy and because technology keeps advancing.

Crude oil is but one form of energy available to the human race.  As the price of crude oil rises, exploration companies are incented to find more supply.  Shale oil reserves are developed.  Also, substitutes to crude oil become more viable.  Natural gas displaces fuel oil and also begins to be used more and more as a transportation fuel.  Renewable energy sources become more economical.  Energy markets adjust.  Alternatives are found.

Peak Oil theory focuses on the perceived inevitability of dwindling supplies of crude oil.  What the theory ignores is the possibility of declining demand for crude oil.  There are more and more indications that the demand for crude oil is slowing and will begin to decline.  The energy intensity of our economy is declining as efficiency and productivity improvements permeate our homes and industry. The world population is becoming more urban, lessening the need for gasoline as a transportation fuel.  Cars and trucks are more energy efficient.

With crude oil supplies increasing and the demand for crude oil slowing, and likely to continue to slow more, demand for crude oil will peak long before dwindling supplies of crude oil become a concern.

In the words of Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the former Saudi Arabian oil minister, “The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”[1]


[1] Fagan, Mary, “Sheikh Yamani predicts price crash as age of oil ends,” The Telegraph, June 25, 2000,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1344832/Sheikh-Yamani-predicts-price-crash-as-age-of-oil-ends.html.

Evelyn Teel contributed to this article.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

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Copyright 2015 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Three Years Ago

Just about three years ago, on April 19, 2012, the prompt-month (see Note 1) natural gas futures contract closed at $1.91 per mmBtu, a twelve year low.  On April 9, 2015, the prompt-month contract closed at $2.53 per mmBtu.

Are natural gas prices higher now, in April 2015, than they were in April 2012?

The answer is yes and no.

The current prompt-month contract is certainly higher than the prompt-month contract was three years ago.  In fact, it is 32.6% higher.

Looking at the 12 month futures-strip (see Note 2), the simple average price (see Note 3) of natural gas is 10.0% higher than it was three years ago.

The simple average price of the 24 month strip is essentially unchanged.  But, further into the future, prices are lower than they were three years ago—surprisingly so.

The 36 month strip is 4.4% lower.  The 60 month strip is 9.3% lower.

The graph below shows the full term of the futures curves at the two points in time.  The current curve is 13.4% lower.

The current prompt-month contract is certainly higher than in April 2012.  However, prices further out the futures curve have dropped significantly since.  The current futures curve does not even approach $5/mmBtu over its life.  The market expects natural gas prices to remain low for a long time.  For energy consumers with natural gas load, this market represents a golden opportunity to lock in low prices.  How long will this favorable natural gas market last?  That is the subject of another article.

Note 1 – The prompt-month contract, also known as the near-month contract, refers to the futures contract month that is closest to expiration.  For example, during April 2015, the prompt-month contact was for delivery during May 2015.

Note 2 – Futures-strip refers to futures contracts for two or more sequential delivery months.  For example, the 12-month futures strip during April 2015 spans the months of May 2015 through April 2016.

Note 3 – The simple average price of a futures-strip is just that, the simple average of all of the monthly prices in the strip.  This is as opposed to a load weighted price in which each monthly price is weighted by the amount of load an energy buyer expects to use during each of the months in the futures-strip.

Data from the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.AvalonEnergy.US, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

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Urban Oilfield

Los Angeles is an urban oilfield.  Within its limits are more than 50 oil fields, 3,000 active oil wells, and numerous tar pits (actually asphalt seeps).  During the 1920s, a quarter of the world’s crude oil production came from California, and the Los Angeles Basin was responsible for a large portion of that production.  It continues to be a major production area today.

Inglewood Oil Field

One of LA’s oil fields, the Inglewood Oil Field, is located in the Baldwin Hills area and covers a thousand acres.  Oil was first discovered in the field in 1924.  Since then, more than a thousand wells have been drilled and it has produced over 400 million barrels of oil.  According to the field’s largest operator, Freeport McMoRan Oil and Gas, the field now produces between 2.5 to 3 million barrels a year.

Crude oil in the field is trapped in a series of anticlinal structures that express themselves on the surface as hills – thus the name Baldwin Hills.  Below the surface, oil wells in the field produce from six producing horizons.  Below is a cross-section of the field.

Here’s what the Inglewood Oil Field looks like from above:

Flower Tower

Oil production facilities in the LA Basin are often hidden in plain sight.  The photos below are of Venoco’s “flower tower” production facility at 9865 Olympic Blvd., on the campus of Beverly Hills High School.  Inside is a rig that services 18 deviated wells that draw crude from the Beverly Hills Oil Field.  In exchange, the high school receives royalties that, reportedly, cover most of its teachers’ salaries.

Tar Pits

Also found within the Los Angeles Basin are numerous tar pits or, more accurately, asphalt seeps.  During the formation of the LA Basin, immense quantities of organic-rich sediment were buried that, over time, decomposed and accumulated as hydrocarbon deposits.  Liquid (crude oil) and gaseous (natural gas) hydrocarbons are lighter than interstitial formation water.  The resulting buoyancy causes these hydrocarbons to migrate upwards where a porous medium or migration path exists.

Hydrocarbons often become trapped in anticlinal structures that are overlain by a non-permeable barrier such as shale.  The Inglewood Oil Field is an example of this.  A small portion of the hydrocarbons may continue to migrate upwards, reaching the Earth’s surface along faults.  As liquid hydrocarbons migrate upwards, they lose their volatile components and slowly convert to asphalt.

When the volatile components reach the surface they dissipate into the atmosphere.  The City of Los Angeles has designated a number of “methane zones.” Structures within these zones must be properly ventilated in order to prevent the accumulation of methane.

Asphalt that reaches the surface oozes out and accumulates in low-lying areas.  Living creatures that find their way into the asphalt may become stuck and die, and they are often then preserved for future ranchers, farmers, and scientists to uncover as fossils.  Fossil finds in these asphalt seeps are common.  These seeps are the surface expression of the hydrocarbon reserves below the surface and in fact, the first oil wells in Los Angeles were drilled near asphalt seeps.  The most famous asphalt seeps are the La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Boulevard, minutes from Hollywood Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

Notes:

  • Map of oil wells from the California Department of Conservation.
  • Inglewood Oil Field cross-section from PXP investor presentation, June 2005.
  • Satellite image from Google Earth.
  • Photos taken personally.

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Copyright 2015 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Natural Gas Market Update

Over the past 12 months, natural gas prices have fallen 52%.

Looking ahead, the graphs below each look at natural gas prices in the futures market starting at two different points in time: June 24, 2014 and January 5, 2015.  The first graph extends two years into the future and the second graph five years.  The “average price” represents the simple average of all of the futures month prices in each series.  Since June, natural gas prices over the future 24 months have fallen about 26% and over the future 60 months about 19%.

Natural gas (and electricity prices) are currently attractive making this a good time to consider locking in your supply needs.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2015 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Are Crude Oil and Natural Gas Reconciling?

Crude oil prices have dropped 38% since June for two reasons.  Shale oil production in the US Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Permian basins has increased dramatically – by more than 4 million barrels per day since 2008.  At the same time, worldwide demand for crude oil has declined as a result of slowing economies in China and Europe.

Starting in January 2012, the US crude oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), bounced around $100/Bbl (dollars per barrel), rose above $105/Bbl in June this summer, and is now trading below $65/Bbl.  Natural gas prices fell below $2.00/mmBtu (dollars per million British Thermal Units) during April of 2012, rose above $6/mmBtu during the Polar Vortex during January of this year, and have since fallen below $4.00/mmBtu.

The graph below presents crude oil and natural gas prices on an energy equivalent basis in common units of $/mmBtu.  Starting in January 2012, crude oil bounced around $17/mmBtu, rose above $18/mmBtu in June this summer, and is now trading below $12/mmBtu.

We reported previously on the once wide gap between crude oil and natural gas energy equivalent prices:  Crude Oil and Natural Gas Get a Divorce and Crude Oil and Natural Gas Move To Different Hemispheres.

During April 2014, crude oil reached more than nine times the energy equivalent price of natural gas.  That ratio is now 2.8X.  The graph below shows how this ratio has fallen over the last three years.

While crude oil prices and natural gas prices exhibit little correlation, crude oil prices are highly correlated with fuel oil and diesel prices.  Implications of a declining crude oil to natural gas price ratio include:

  • As natural gas prices spike in pipeline capacity constrained markets this winter, it may be more economical to use fuel oil for power generation than natural gas.
  • The economics associated with converting residential fuel oil furnaces to natural gas become less compelling.
  • The economics associated with converting diesel or gasoline fueled vehicles to compressed natural gas or electricity will worsen, and the payback period associated with existing conversions will be extended further out in time.
  • US liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports will become less competitive in overseas markets where natural gas prices are contractually tied to crude oil prices.
  • Petrochemical facilities that can use both crude oil and natural gas as feedstock may switch more and more to crude oil.

It now appears that crude oil and natural gas may be moving back to the same hemisphere and, possibly, reconciling.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

Notes:

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Copyright 2014 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Natural Gas Market Update

The above graph looks at natural gas prices going back to January 1997.

Natural gas prices have retreated from the Polar Vortex bump and remain relatively low by historical standards.

The prices plotted above are not adjusted for inflation.  If they were in 2014 dollars, the left side of the curve would be more elevated.  In real dollars, today’s prices are lower than they appear on the graph.

Looking to the futures market, the effects of the Polar Vortex lingered into the summer over concern about whether or not there was sufficient supply of natural gas to refill storage after the dramatic drawdowns during January and February.

This is highlighted on the left side of the blue line above which plots the 36 month futures curve as of 4/29/14.  This curve is backwardated, meaning the months close in time were priced above the months further out in time.

The near dated months have since retreated as concerns about storage refill have diminished because of (a) greater natural gas production than expected, and (b) unusually mild summer weather reducing summer time electricity load and the related reduced demand for natural gas.

This is highlighted on the red line above which plots the 36 month futures curve as of 10/24/14.  The months closer in time have declined significantly with the December ’14 contract down $1.26/mmBtu or 25%.  The entire curve has declined as well, though to a lesser extent.   The futures curve is no longer backwardated.

The table above shows the simple average of the monthly prices of the 36 and 48 month forward curves as of 4/29 and 10/24.

Overall, the 36 month futures curve is down 14.7% while the 48 month curve is down 12.7%.

The graph above looks further ahead at the 60 month futures curve which indicates that the market expects prices to rise.

While the curve is upward sloping, five years into the future, natural gas is trading well below $5/mmBtu.

Summary:

Over the past six months, market sentiment has swung from concerns that natural gas supply cannot keep up with storage injections – and upcoming winter demand – to the reverse.  Now the talk is more about an oversupplied market.  While there is low correlation between crude oil and natural gas prices, the recent decline in crude oil prices has contributed to overall bearish sentiment.  Generally, the best time to go long is when the market sentiment is most negative.  We may be approaching that point for natural gas.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

Notes:

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Copyright 2014 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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In The News – Avalon Energy Services

Avalon Energy Services recently completed an electricity procurement project for KBS Capital Advisors’ One Washingtonian Center property in Gaithersburg, MD.  Marc Deluca, Regional President of KBS, noted that “Electricity markets have exhibited extreme volatility.  The folks at Avalon Energy Services have deep expertise and an unsurpassed understanding of the energy markets and how they work.  With their advice and counsel, we were able to successfully navigate our way to a very positive outcome. “

Click here for the full story.

Avalon Energy Services also recently became licensed by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to assist commercial, industrial and governmental natural gas customers in all of the natural gas distribution company service territories in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  These are:

  • Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania
  • National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation
  • PECO Energy Company
  • Peoples TWP LLC
  • Peoples Natural Gas Company, LLC
  • Peoples Natural Gas, LLC – Equitable Division
  • Philadelphia Gas Works
  • UGI Utilities, Inc.
  • UGI-Central Penn Gas
  • UGI-Penn Natural Gas
  • Valley Energy, Inc.

Avalon Energy Services is now licensed for electricity and natural gas in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.

Copyright 2014 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Capacity Factor – Part 2

In our previous article we looked at Capacity Factor and how it differs between nuclear generation and solar PV (photovoltaic).   We concluded that in order to generate the same amount of electricity as 1/3 of the capacity of the US nuclear generation fleet (33,042 MW), 154,760 MW of solar PV capacity would be required.  This is a result of the substantially different Capacity Factors of nuclear (90.9%) and solar PV (19.4%) and is summarized in the table below.

A reader asked how much solar PV capacity would be needed in order for solar PV to generate as much electricity as the entire US nuclear generation fleet.  As noted in the previous article, the current US nuclear generation fleet consists of 100 operating units with a combined capacity of 99,125 MW which, during 2013, produced 789,016,510 MWh of electricity.

In order to calculate the amount of solar PV capacity needed, we can rearrange the Capacity Factor formula we used last time as follows:

Solving for the solar PV capacity needed to supply the same amount of electricity as the US nuclear generation fleet, we arrive at the following:

Capacity (MW) = 789,016,510 MWh / (19.4% x 8,760 hours/year)

Capacity (MW) = 464,280

In summary, 464,280 MW of solar PV capacity would be needed in order for solar PV to generate as much electricity as the entire US nuclear generation fleet.  This is 365,155 MW more than the existing 99,125 MW of installed nuclear capacity and is summarized in the table below:

As noted in our previous article, solar PV, like other sources of electricity generation (nuclear, wind, coal, natural gas, geothermal, biomass, etc.) comes with a set of tradeoffs.  Each source has its own strengths and weaknesses.  The focus here is simply on Capacity Factor.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

Notes:

Data from the US Energy Information Administration

Evelyn Teel contributed to this article.

Please feel free to share this article.  If you do, please email or post the web link.  Unauthorized copying, retransmission, or republication is prohibited.

Copyright 2014 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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Capacity Factor

In a recent article in the Energy Law Journal, the authors state,

By as early as 2016, installed distributed solar PV capacity in the United States could reach thirty gigawatts (GW).  If that forecast is on track, distributed solar generation will have increased from less than one GW in 2010 to the equivalent of nearly one-third of the nuclear generating capacity in the United States in less than a decade.1

Is the comparison to “one-third of the nuclear generating capacity” meaningful?  Could the amount of solar PV (photovoltaic) generation output expected to be available as early as within two years be equivalent to one-third of today’s nuclear generation output?  The short answer to both questions is “no” and the reason is that nuclear and solar generating facilities have substantially different Capacity Factors.

What is Capacity Factor?

Capacity Factor is the ratio of the actual output of an electricity generating unit over a time period to the unit’s maximum possible output over the same time period.  This ratio expresses the extent to which a unit is, or is not, operating at full output.  A high Capacity Factor, say 80% or 90%, indicates that a generating unit is operating close to “full out,” whereas a low Capacity Factor, say 20% or 30%, indicates that a generating unit is operating well below its maximum capability.

More specifically, Capacity Factor is defined as follows:

For example, a 500 megawatt (MW) unit that generates 2,187,500 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy during the course of a year has a Capacity Factor of 50%, calculated as follows:

Capacity Factor = 2,187,500 MWh / (500 MW x 8,760 hours/year)

Capacity Factor = 50%

Why don’t generating units operate at 100% Capacity Factor?

There are many reasons.  All operating equipment must be backed off periodically for maintenance.  Mechanical failures and accidents lead to unscheduled outages.  The individual economics of each unit lead to them being called upon more or less under grid operators’ economic dispatch models.  Wind and solar units are physically constrained by how frequently the wind blows and the sun shines.

US Nuclear Generating Fleet

The current US nuclear generation fleet consists of 100 operating units with combined capacity of 99,125 MW which, during 2013, produced 789,016,510 MWh of electricity.  The overall Capacity Factor of the nuclear generating fleet is therefore:

Capacity Factor = 789,016,510 MWh / (99,125 MW x 8,760 hours/year)

Capacity Factor = 90.9%

Analysis

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that during 2013, the average Capacity Factor of solar PV in the US was 19.4%.

Over the same time period, 99,125 MW of nuclear capacity, with its 90.9% Capacity Factor, generated 789,016,510 MWh of electricity:

Going back to the opening quote, one-third of the nuclear generating capacity in the United States” is 33,042 MW, which was responsible for 263,005,503 MWh of electricity:

Given Solar PV’s much lower Capacity Factor, 33,042 MW of solar PV capacity would generate only 56,152,330 MWh of electricity, or 206,853,173 MWh (78%) less than the output of the same amount of nuclear capacity:

In order to generate an equivalent amount of electricity as 33,042 MW of nuclear capacity, substantially more solar PV capacity would be required:

In other words, in addition to the 33,042 MW of solar PV capacity projected to be online by as early as 2016, another 121,718 MW of solar PV would be required in order to generate the same amount of electricity as 1/3 the output of the nuclear generation fleet:

Is the amount of solar generation expected to come online in a decade equivalent to one-third of today’s nuclear generation capacity?  No, and the reason is that nuclear and solar generating facilities have substantially different Capacity Factors, 90.9% versus 19.4%, respectively.

This is a challenge solar PV faces.   The nuclear industry increased its capacity factor from 50% during the 1950s to what it is today through operational improvements.  The capacity factors of coal and natural gas units vary based on their individual economics and their dispatch merit.  Solar PV is bounded by the physical limits of when the sun shines.

The purpose of this article is to take a recent quote and use it as an opportunity to explain Capacity Factor.  Solar PV, like other sources of electricity generation (nuclear, wind, coal, natural gas, geothermal, biomass, etc.) comes with a set of tradeoffs.  Each source has its own strengths and weaknesses.  The article is meant simply to look at Capacity Factor.  Other tradeoffs will be the subject of future articles.

The Avalon Advantage – Visit our website at www.avalonenergy.us, call us at 888-484-8096, or email us at jmcdonnell@avalonenergy.us.

Notes: 

1Elisabeth Graffy and Steven Kihm, Does Disruptive Competition Mean a Death Spiral for Electric Utilities?, Energy Law Journal, Volume 35, No, 1, 2014.

Data from the US Energy Information Administration.

Evelyn Teel contributed to this article.

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Copyright 2014 by Avalon Energy® Services LLC

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40% Reduction and Volatility Avoided

Our recent press release was picked up by numerous news outlets.  Click here to see how it was reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch.

In summary, Avalon Energy Services, LLC and our project partner, Ameresco, successfully completed a second natural gas procurement process for the District of Columbia Department of General Services (DC DGS). Under its initial supply contract, DC DGS experienced an estimated 40 percent reduction in the price it pays for natural gas supply.  This second round allowed the District of Columbia to avoid the extreme volatility in natural gas prices that occurred during this winter’s heating season.