For the first time in five years, takeaway expansions are outpacing Northeast production growth. Major natural gas takeaway capacity additions on large-diameter pipes like Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners’ Rover Pipeline over the past couple of years are allowing Marcellus/Utica natural gas producers to send record amounts of gas supply to the Midwest and, indirectly, to the Gulf Coast region. At the same time, there are some small pockets of unused takeaway capacity appearing on some of the legacy routes out of the region, which means that Appalachian basis levels — prices relative to Henry Hub — have risen to the strongest levels since 2013. For downstream markets like Chicago and Dawn, ON, that’s meant a flood of gas and lower prices. In today’s blog, we continue our series on the Northeast gas market with the effects of these new dynamics on gas price relationships.
This is Part 4 in our series looking at recent shifts in U.S. Northeast natural gas flow and pricing dynamics. As we said in Part 1, Northeast gas production weighs heavily into the U.S. supply-demand balance, with nearly half of the 8 Bcf/d of total Lower-48 gas production growth this year to date coming from the Marcellus/Utica producing regions. Marcellus/Utica volumes are soaring above 29 Bcf/d currently, up from 16 Bcf/d five years ago. Since the Northeast flipped from a net demand to net supply region in 2015, the bulk of this supply growth has been squeezing out from the Northeast, facilitated by numerous pipeline capacity expansions and pushing into the Midwest and Gulf Coast destination markets for which other supply regions are also competing.
As much as Marcellus/Utica production has grown, producers until now have been constrained by takeaway capacity from the region and plagued by heavily discounted supply prices (see Living in Fast Forward Curves). However, as we discussed in Part 2, producers’ supply prices this year have improved dramatically, with the Dominion South price in Appalachia averaging $0.40/MMBtu below Henry Hub this July and August, compared with well over $1/MMBtu behind Henry in the past four years.
In Part 3, we looked at the reason behind the recent strength — easing capacity constraints, particularly as Energy Transfer’s new Ohio-to-Midwest route — Rover Pipeline — has ramped up. Rover began partial service in September 2017 with 700 MMcf/d but flows have since climbed to nearly 3 Bcf/d now, with the completion of additional mainline and supply laterals. While some of these incremental flows have come from new production, a good portion also has been redirected from other outbound pipes, effectively leaving pockets of capacity open on those other routes. As we detailed in Part 3, gas flows on Tallgrass Energy’s Rockies Express Pipeline (REX) as well as several legacy systems — Columbia Gas Transmission (CGT), Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) and Dominion Energy Transmission — have gone from running at capacity in recent years to flowing below capacity this year, even as production has surged higher.