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EIA – Short-Term Energy Outlook – Natural Gas

U.S. Consumption – EIA (Energy Information Administration of the US Government) projects that total natural gas consumption will likely decline by 2.4 percent in 2009 and remain flat in 2010. Despite low relative prices for much of the year, industrial natural gas consumption declined by 12 percent in the first 6 months of 2009 compared with the same period last year. EIA expects this year-over-year consumption decline will continue through the second half of the year for industrial users, although the trend will be less pronounced. Conversely, EIA expects natural gas use in the electric power sector will increase by 4.3 percent on a year-over-year basis during the second half of 2009 as natural gas continues to compete with coal for a share of the baseload power supply at current prices.

EIA expects natural gas consumption will increase slightly in the commercial and industrial sectors in 2010 as a result of improved economic conditions and low prices. Consumption remains relatively flat in the residential and electric power sectors next year. The anticipated addition of new coal-fired generating capacity and rising natural gas prices limits the potential for significant increases beyond the forecast 2009 level in natural gas consumption by electric generators.

U.S. Production and Imports. EIA expects total U.S. marketed natural gas production to increase by 0.9 percent in 2009 and fall by 3.5 percent in 2010. Despite a 20-percent drop in prices and a 45-percent drop in working natural gas drilling rigs since the start of the year, total natural gas production increased slightly from January to June 2009. This current production trend reflects significant improvements in horizontal drilling technology and robust productivity from shale gas discoveries in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania. While lower prices have caused a reduction in drilling activity by all rig types, according to data compiled by Smith International, working horizontal rigs have fallen by only 27 percent since the start of the year compared with a 65-percent decrease among vertically-directed rigs. Working horizontal drilling rigs now represent more than half of the active natural gas drilling fleet.

As U.S. natural gas inventories swell to record-high levels, some curtailment of production is expected. The sustained reduction in drilling activity and production curtailments are projected to result in a 5.7-percent decline in marketed production from the Lower-48 non-Gulf of Mexico (GOM) between the first and second half of the year. The projected 1.3-percent increase in Federal GOM production during the second half of 2009 over the first half results from the addition of new producing wells and continued recovery from damage sustained during last year’s hurricane season.

Projected U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports increase to about 460 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in 2009 from 350 Bcf in 2008 and rise to about 660 Bcf in 2010. Maintenance to existing LNG supply facilities and delays to new liquefaction projects, in addition to higher world oil prices during the second half of 2009, contribute to the 43-Bcf downward revision in the 2009 LNG import forecast from last month’s Outlook.

U.S. Inventories. On August 28, 2009, working natural gas in storage was 3,323 Bcf. Current inventories are now 501 Bcf above the 5-year average (2004-2008) and 489 Bcf above the level during the corresponding week last year. While weekly stocks could exceed reported end-of-month levels, EIA now expects working natural gas inventories to reach 3,840 Bcf at the end of the 2009 injection season (October 31). This would be 275 Bcf above the previous record of 3,565 Bcf reported for the end of October 2007. The working gas inventory forecast assumes weekly storage injections will average about 57 Bcf over the next 9 weeks, compared with average storage injections of about 60 Bcf per week over this period during the previous 5 years.

U.S. Prices. The Henry Hub spot price averaged $3.23 per Mcf in August, $0.25 per Mcf below the average spot price in July. Prices continue to be pushed lower as robust production adds to already high inventories. As electric power demand for air conditioning wanes, a continuation of recent natural gas supply trends could cause spot natural gas prices to fall below current projections before cooler temperatures induce higher demand for space heating. In the projections, prices rise modestly in 2010, reflecting increased economic activity and lower production levels as a result of the current drilling pullback. However, it will take some time to work off current inventory levels and enhanced production capabilities should limit significant increasesin prices throughout the forecast period. On an annual basis, the projected Henry Hub spot price averages $3.65 Mcf in 2009 and $4.78 Mcf in 2010.

via EIA – Short-Term Energy Outlook.

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