While the future performance of natural gas liquids in 2024 isn’t a sure thing, many midstream companies saw NGL putting a high note on their end-of-year earnings.

“We have NGLs growing at a faster pace than crude oil,” said Randy Fowler, co-CEO and CFO at Enterprise Products Partners (EPD) during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Feb. 1. “We’re seeing it across our system. Storage is going to become increasingly valuable.” 

For 2023, Enterprise reported NGL fractionation volumes averaged 1.6 MMbbl/d, a record high for the company and a 16% increase compared to 2022.  The company also set records for NGL pipeline shipments, ethane exports and NGL marine terminal volumes.

NGL prices are not close to their last five-year high in March of 2022, when they hit $12.62/MMbtu, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. For all of 2023, average monthly prices stayed below $8/MMbtu and dropped to a $6.53/MMbtu daily average in November, the last month for which daily average prices are available. 

NGL prices
(Source: Bloomberg)

However, companies in the right position, such as Enterprise, were able to use their established networks to take advantage of increased volumes on their NGL pipelines and steady demand abroad.

Enterprise reported strong performance at its Enterprise Hydrocarbons Terminal in the Houston Ship Channel, even though margins on propylene remain low.

“The PDH margins have improved, but there's still a lot of overcapacity,” Tug Hanley, senior vice president for hydrocarbon marketing, said on the earnings call. “Weak margins don't lead to decreased NGL demand, because the demand is still ultimately there.”

EPD plans to continue expanding its NGL infrastructure and brought online two new Permian Basin natural gas processing plants and a 12th NGL fractionator at its facility in Chambers County, Texas, in 2023.

Williams Cos. also reported strong results through its crude and NGL segments, bringing in $92 million in the fourth quarter, topping anticipated sales of $68 million.

Williams’ executives expect transmission projects will drive additional growth in 2024 and reported that its strengthened position in the Denver-Julesburg Basin will enhance its natural gas and NGL value chain.

Other companies are looking to expand as well. Midstream company MPLX is planning on taking a much stronger position in the market, according to Rob Wilson senior director at energy infrastructure analyst firm East Daley Analytics.

“MPLX is positioning to join a small group of companies that own all parts of the NGL value chain linking Permian Basin supply growth to international demand,” Wilson wrote after MPLX’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

During the call, the company said it had acquired its partners’ remaining 40% interest in two gas processing plants in the Delaware Basin. At the end of 2023, MPLX also filed for an air permit with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for NGL fractionation and storage on the Gulf Coast. With the new facilities, MPLX may have an NGL production capacity of 150,000 bbl/d by 2025.

“East Daley believes a few midstream players are poised to link together disparate parts of the NGL value chain and try to mimic the success realized by Energy Transfer (ET), Enterprise Products (EPD) and Targa Resources (TRGP), the other three vertically-integrated behemoths in NGLs,” Wilson wrote. “MPLX is emerging as one of those players making a move.”

MPLX owns a 25% share of the BANGL pipeline, which carries NGL from the Delaware to Corpus Christi, Texas.

NGL volumes represented a more mixed bag for some midstream operators.

Plains All American reported $169 million in revenue for fourth-quarter 2023, an $18 million increase in NGL income compared to fourth-quarter 2022. However, the company’s full-year 2023 NGL EBITDA was $522 million, a 1% increase from the previous year. For 2024, the company is forecasting a reduction in its NGL segment due to lower frac spreads.

Plains All American CEO Willie Chiang said the prediction of the reduction was the result of conservative forecasting.

“If there are opportunities out there, we'll capture them, but it's very difficult to predict exactly where they happen,” Chiang said. “And again, this year's budget is based on a modest amount of market opportunities.”