Frac Spread: Ethane, Propane Wrestle For Market Share

NGL prices continue to slump, but the plunge in natural gas results in improved margins.

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(Source: HartEnergy.com, Shutterstock)

The price of Mont Belvieu, Texas, ethane continued its slide last week to its lowest point since mid-August, which is 27.5% below the fourth-quarter high of nearly 19 cents per gallon (gal) in the first week of November. Complicating matters is increased competition from propane as a feedstock.

But the benchmark Henry Hub price of natural gas has nosedived as well in that time, bolstering ethane’s margin. On Nov. 5, the gas price was $2.86 per million British thermal units (MMBtu)—on Jan. 21 it had fallen below $1.90/MMBtu, a 34% plunge that resulted in the margin improving last week and re-entering positive territory.

Ethane’s price decline has been aggravated by bloated inventory on the Gulf Coast, in spite of ramp-ups of the Formosa and Shintech crackers. But propane, another NGL under market siege, is vying for market share.

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Joseph Markman

Joseph Markman, senior editor for Hart Energy, covers markets and provides data analysis for all Hart Energy editorial products.