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At the request of a major player in oil and gas pipelines, I was given a major task.
I had to estimate how much of the U.S gas and oil infrastructure needs to be replaced by 2025.
Then I needed to estimate the extent of additional connectors that would be needed to handle new domestic hydrocarbon developments.
And you thought Super Bowl Sunday was a lot of pressure.
I have done these estimates before… but something different popped up this time around.
Each time I crunched the figures, a new record amount emerged. Now while my client is in the tubular business, the sector that provides the metal needed to construct pipelines. His interest was straightforward enough – what volume is his company likely to see in the next 12 years?
Well, there are two dynamics here.
First, nearly 70% of the existing pipelines in the U.S. are more than 35 years old.
That means they will need to be replaced, and the replacement will accelerate as we proceed through the current decade.
But, it’s the second issue that could lead to huge profits…
As the domestic production base moves into the extraction of unconventional gas (shale, coal med methane, tight) and oil (shale, tight, and heavy), the industry will place greater emphasis on developing new basins. Each of these will require a full range of infrastructure investments.
And basic to all of this will be significant new networks of gathering, feeder, and trunk transit pipelines.
With the exception of gas condensate (the liquid state of between normal gaseous gas and crude), which can be moved in pipelines along with oil, these hydrocarbons have to be transported separately.
The pipelines can use the same route and be built parallel to each other, but they must still be completely separate lines.
When last I wrestled with this problem (about 18 months ago), I estimated that we should expect the combination of replacement and new pipelines to require 400,000 miles of gas and 285,000 miles of oil lines.
This time around, I am finding the totals are closer to 475,000 of gas and 320,000 of oil pipelines.
And that is without the Keystone XL, the contentious cross-border heavy oil line from Canada. I personally believe the Keystone will be built, with the U.S. State Department approving the new route later this year.
But given its controversial nature, I deleted it from consideration.
Combining gas and oil lines – an acceptable approach for determining statistics but something very dangerous in actual practice – I estimate 795,000 miles of pipeline work, or a 16% add-on in only 18 months since I last wrestled with this problem.
There is every reason to believe a further increase would be in the cards should I do this again midway through 2015 (or, in other words, after another 18 months).
These new pipeline needs will take place even with the increasing interest in other alternative and renewable sources of energy. The overall need for energy will be increasing, and that does provide the prospect for an expanding energy balance raising very different boats.
In such a scenario, the balance demanded will experience more types of energy contributing than in the past. But the center will remain today’s dominant sources, at least through 2025. Despite more selection in the market, as energy usage expands, oil and gas will be the main beneficiaries.
That sets up a new emphasis on the companies building the pipelines and the holdings that will control both the resulting network of transit outlets and the support services they require.
The former category includes engineering, design and construction. The latter is progressively coming under the control of limited partnerships, those holdings that began with ownership of oil and gas pipelines but has now moved into all other aspects in midstream applications.
Both of these are going to be providing some interesting opportunities for individual investors. Because, while the operating companies will be determining how much comes out of the ground, they are no longer builders or owners of pipelines, nor are they controlling the support structure necessary to move volume to market.
These are now the assets of a new class of energy holding, while specialty companies have taken over the construction of pipelines and related facilities. As the accelerated need for pipeline replacement and new expansions kick in, there will be profits for these companies.
And we plan to make some nice returns right along with them.
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