It’s so ironic. New England is only a stone’s throw from the burgeoning Marcellus natural gas production area, but pipeline constraints during high-demand periods in the wintertime leave power generators in the six-state region gasping for more gas. Now, with only minimal expansions to New England’s gas pipeline network on the horizon, the region is doubling down on a long-term plan to rely on a combination of gas liquefaction, LNG storage, LNG imports and gas-to-oil fuel switching at dual-fuel power plants to help keep the heat and lights on through those inevitable cold snaps. Today, we discuss recent developments on the gas-supply front in “Patriots Nation.”
Natural gas producers in the Canadian province of Alberta have had a heck of a time in recent years. Marcellus/Utica gas production has flooded markets in eastern Canada and the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, squeezing out Alberta gas in the process. Also, Alberta gas producers’ dreams of piping gas west to the British Columbia coast for export to Asia as LNG have been thwarted. Lucky for them, though, gas demand within Alberta is on the rise, thanks to increasing use of gas in the oil sands and a decision by the province’s largest power generator to shift from coal- to gas-fired generation and renewables. Today we update gas output and consumption trends in Canada’s Energy Province.
We talk a lot here in the RBN blogosphere about the bearish market effects of the Shale Revolution, and frequently highlight the U.S. Northeast natural gas region — rapidly growing gas production from the Marcellus/Utica; oversupplied, trapped-gas conditions; and resulting regional price discounts. These dynamics are driving massive investments in pipeline reversals, expansions and new capacity to move the gas to market. Northeast producers are counting on that increase in takeaway capacity to relieve price pressure and balance the market. But all this gas moving out of the region needs a home. Fortunately, new demand is emerging, from exports (to Mexico and overseas LNG) and into the U.S. power sector. One of the big growth regions is the U.S. Southeast, where power utilities are investing heavily in building out their fleet of gas-fired generation plants and are banking on this new, unfettered access to cheap Marcellus/Utica gas supply. Today’s blog provides an update on power generation projects coming up in the southern half of the Eastern Seaboard, based on a recent report by our good friends at Natural Gas Intelligence — “Southern Exposure: Gas-Fired Generators Rising in the Southeast; But Will Northeast Gas Show Up?”
Shell Chemicals is taking steps that suggest it finally may be ready to pull the trigger on a long-debated petrochemical complex which would include an ethylene plant (steam cracker) and three polyethylene units in the heart of the “wet” Marcellus/Utica natural gas liquids production region. If the $3+ billion project advances to construction soon, it would significantly impact ethane market dynamics, not just in Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virginia but along the Gulf Coast too. And if it turns out we’re in for extended stagnation in drilling and production, the Shell cracker also may undermine plans to build additional NGL pipeline capacity out of the Marcellus/Utica—or any other cracker there. Today we discuss the likelihood of Shell proceeding with its Beaver County, PA cracker and the effects the project’s development might have.
For the first time ever, U.S. natural gas-fired power plants are routinely generating more electricity than their coal-fired counterparts, at least during the spring, summer and fall. Prior to 2015 coal held a clear lead over natural gas in power generation but last year they were neck and neck at 33% of fuel consumed for power generation according to the latest Energy Information Administration (EIA) statistics released Friday (February 26, 2016). This is partly due to tightening federal environmental rules, but another major driver is very low natural gas prices, which have been averaging below $2/MMBtu. Coal prices have been falling too as coal markets respond to stronger-than-ever competition from gas, but not enough to prevent a lot of coal-to-gas switching in the power sector. Today, we update last fall’s analysis of the death-match battle between coal and natural gas with a look at how persistently low gas prices may keep gas on top.
Natural gas has always had a yin-yang relationship with coal. When coal’s fortunes were on the rise, as they were only a few years ago, the long-term role of gas as a U.S. power plant fuel was being questioned—there simply wasn’t enough gas in the ground, some said. Now, with the shale revolution and a push to slash greenhouse gas emissions, coal is frequently portrayed in a death spiral, with gas the clear victor. But it is not that simple. Today, we examine the ongoing interplay between the electric industry’s two favorite fossil fuels, and whether coal is heading out or hanging on—and what it means for natural gas producers.