October 2017 Edition: Supply and Demand Outlook of the Natural Gas Market
Did you ever wonder why energy prices seem to increase or fall with the price of natural gas? Our experts will dive into natural gas supply and demand to help give you a better understanding of how these commodities tie together.
Did you ever wonder why energy prices seem to increase or fall with the price of natural gas? Like so many other commodities, such as agriculture, where product prices are affected by weather and supply and demand, so too are energy prices. As we approach winter, the demand for heating fuels, such as natural gas increases, driving fuel and energy prices up. In this edition of Customer Insights, our experts will dive into natural gas supply and demand to help give you a better understanding of how these commodities tie together.
Recently, the current state of the supply and demand balance within the natural gas market has come to the forefront in light of its relatively new status as the fuel of choice for electric generation. Due to the increase of natural gas production from various shale formations across the United States, much attention has been paid to the supply and demand balance in the market. As production initially ramped up, the general U.S. natural gas market consensus was that we were entering a “supply glut cycle” since there was insufficient demand to balance abundant supplies being produced by the now accessible U.S. shale formations. This is evident in the futures market as the average monthly NYMEX settlement price cascaded from $4.390/MMBtu in 2010, to $2.460/MMBtu by 2016.
During this period of price decline, economics shifted both domestically and globally allowing new markets for natural gas to materialize. Domestically, new natural gas-fired generation facilities were built as a result of decreased prices, making natural gas more affordable to generate. Globally, U.S. natural gas prices were also low enough to spur investment in liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities in which excess amounts can be exported to higher priced markets throughout the world.
How will natural gas supply and demand dynamics settle over the next several years?
With new natural gas markets materializing in the form of domestic gasfired electric generation load, and foreign natural gas markets accessed through an expansion in LNG export infrastructure, opinions can be made for what is driving the market – abundant suppliers or increasing demand. We’ll explore both sides next.
Is demand outpacing supply?
In its latest Short Term Energy Outlook published in September 2017, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found production up 1.4 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day in 2017 versus 2016. Additionally, EIA is expecting production to grow by another 4.4 Bcf per day in 2018. While that represents a year-over-year increase of almost 5%, production growth will have to keep pace with LNG exports which are expected to grow by more than 10 Bcf per day between now and 2025. Additionally, domestic demand increases will be driven by the retirement of baseload coal and nuclear generation facilities over the next several years. Therefore, the production side of the equation will need to maintain robust growth rates in order to keep up with new sources of demand.
Another example of demand outpacing supply comes from recent natural gas storage inventory reports. For instance, storage inventories reported by the EIA reached a record level of 4,047 Bcf for the week ending November 11, 2016.
Despite having one of the top five warmest winters in history, storage inventories were drawn down by 1,996 Bcf by March 31, 2016, only 91 Bcf less than the five year average winter storage withdrawal. In addition, storage inventories withdrew at levels comparable to five year averages. These past circumstances may lead one to believe that electric generation and LNG continue to drive inventory reductions despite warm weather conditions.
Is supply outpacing demand?
On the flip side, there is also the case to be made for supply level outpacing demand. Current production levels have set numerous records over the past several months. Daily production in the U.S. has been over 74 Bcf per day for much of the last two months, compared with daily production levels of approximately 50 Bcf per day as recently as 2008.
However, the infrastructure linking new found shale supply to consuming regions does not yet exist. While many interstate pipeline expansions have come online over the past several years, many more have been delayed due to the current regulatory environment. One such expansion project, Nexus, has finally received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), however permission to begin construction remains pending. Nexus is also currently only 50% subscribed, leaving some market analysts questioning the necessity of the expansion.
Other expansions, notably Mountain Valley Pipeline, Penn East Pipeline, and Columbia Pipeline Group’s WB Express and Mountaineer Xpress projects have not yet received FERC approvals. Many of these expansions were expected to be in service by the end of 2017. With FERC’s delay in approval, these projects will ultimately be years behind original schedule.
Another example for supplies continuing to outpace demand relates to the continued development of LNG export terminals in the U.S. A debate as to how much additional LNG capacity will actually get developed within the U.S. continues. Approximately two to three Bcf per day of natural gas demand comes from LNG. Several Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast LNG projects are under construction and expected to come online in the next few years. Beyond these, numerous other terminals representing the next wave of development are pending regulatory approval. The principal question facing this next wave of LNG infrastructure is whether these projects can produce enough volume in order to justify the significant investment required. The energy market’s volatility can create significant headwinds for capital projects requiring financial commitments over a twenty-year time frame, and LNG terminals are not exempt from this market reality.
Keep yourself informed.
While the debate continues as to which is the true market driver, abundant supplies or increasing demand, it is important for consumers to continue to have a strategy when it comes to managing energy costs. One thing that is certain with the ever increasing reliance on natural gas as an input for electric generation, fluctuations in natural gas prices will have an increasing impact on electric prices. Over the next two years, it is expected that another 27 GW of new baseload generation will be fueled by natural gas. This continuation as the fuel of choice for generation will serve to further increase the correlation between natural gas and electric prices. Therefore it will be imperative for energy users to be aware of market fundamentals affecting the supply demand balance of the natural gas industry.
Talk with your trusted AEP Energy advisor to keep up-to-date with natural gas price signals affecting energy prices. You may also want to ask AEP Energy advisor to send you AEP Energy’s weekly Energy Market Report, which provides a look at current and historical AEP – Dayton Hub energy prices versus NYMEX natural gas prices, plus much more energy insight.
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