Before the bullish winter of 2021-22, it appeared the Northeast natural gas market was headed for familiar territory: worsening seasonal takeaway constraints and deeper, constraint-driven price discounts starting as early as this spring. Instead, the market went in the other direction the past few months. Takeaway utilization out of Appalachia has been lower year-on-year and, for the most part, Appalachian supply basin prices have followed Henry Hub higher even as that benchmark rocketed to 14-year highs. That’s not to say that constraints out of the Northeast aren’t on the horizon. But the market is now poised to escape the worst of it this year, despite the completion of the last major takeaway pipeline project in the region, Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), being pushed out another year or longer, if it crosses the finish line at all. In today’s RBN blog, we provide an update on regional fundamentals and what recent trends mean for gas production growth and pricing in the region.
Posts from Sheetal Nasta
Natural gas futures prices have rocketed to 14-year highs in the past couple of months — during the lower-demand spring months, no less — and they are now trading at 3x where they were at this time last year. The CME/NYMEX Henry Hub futures for June delivery shot up to a high of $9.40/MMBtu in intraday trading last Thursday, the highest level we’ve seen since summer 2008, before expiring at $8.908/MMBtu, nearly $6 (~200%) higher than the June 2021 expiration settlement at just under $3/MMBtu. The newly prompt July futures retreated ~17 cents Friday to about $8.73/MMBtu, but that’s still nearly triple where July futures traded last year. It’s safe to say the low fuel cost of gas-fired power generation that defined the Shale Era has evaporated. Historically, at today’s sky-high prices, gas would have given up market share to coal in the power sector. However, the coal market is battling its own supply shortage and Eastern U.S. coal prices are at record highs. What does that mean for generation fuel costs and fuel switching? In today’s RBN blog, we break down the math for comparing gas vs. coal fuel costs.
The race is heating up for building natural gas pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Permian. Associated gas production from the crude-focused basin is at record highs this month and gaining momentum, which means that without additional pipeline capacity, the Permian is headed for serious pipeline constraints — and potentially negative pricing — by late this year or early next, which would, in turn, limit crude oil production growth there. Midstreamers are jockeying for the pole position to move surplus gas from the increasingly constrained basin to LNG export markets along the Gulf Coast. One of the contenders, Matterhorn Express Pipeline (MXP), a joint venture (JV) between WhiteWater, EnLink Midstream Partners, Devon Energy and MPLX, announced its final investment decision (FID) late yesterday. In today’s RBN blog, we provide new details on the greenfield project.
Production bottlenecks and global energy security concerns stemming from the Ukraine war have flipped the script on various aspects of the U.S. energy markets. One of them is the softening of Wall Street and regulatory resistance to investment in new hydrocarbon infrastructure. That’s been particularly good news for the swarm of LNG export projects looking to move forward. It’s also improved somewhat the prospects for the embattled Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the last major greenfield project for moving natural gas out of the Northeast from the Appalachian Basin. A court vacated three of the project’s key federal authorizations earlier this year, but the project recently got a greenlight when the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) approved MVP’s amendment certificate application. Equitrans Midstream said last week that it would pursue new permits and target in-service in the second half of 2023. But the prospect of more legal challenges looms, and the question is, will it get across the finish line before severe constraints arise? In today’s RBN blog, we provide an update on the Appalachian gas market.
A tight coal market and record-high coal prices in the Eastern U.S. have suppressed gas-to-coal switching in recent months, despite the gas market also contending with a supply squeeze and gas prices trading at Shale Era highs. The coal-market constraints have contributed to record, or near-record, gas demand in the power sector, with gas gaining market share of total generation fuel demand — in spite of wind and solar increasing their share of the pie. Generation fuel dynamics were a driving factor in the tighter gas market balances this past winter and also play a role in how power grids balance cost and reliability during times of extreme customer demand, such as the record-breaking heat wave expected to hit Texas in the coming days. In today’s RBN blog, we take a look at power generation fuel economics, particularly the fuel-switching phenomenon and its underlying drivers.
Extreme blizzard conditions wreaked havoc on North Dakota energy infrastructure last weekend, taking offline as much as 60% of the state’s crude oil production and more than 80% of natural gas output, and leaving utility poles and power lines strewn across the landscape. On the gas side, the unprecedented supply loss is having a never-before-seen impact on regional and upstream flows and storage activity. It is also compounding maintenance-related production declines in other basins, leaving Lower 48 natural gas output at its lowest since early February. Moreover, the extent of the storm-related damage to local infrastructure could prolong the supply recovery. In today’s RBN blog, we break down the aftereffects of the offseason winter storm on regional gas market fundamentals.
Despite the highest natural gas futures prices in over a decade, its use for power generation in the Lower 48 has set records in recent months. This is in part by design: economics and environmental regulation have broadly favored gas-fired plants and pushed into retirement hundreds of coal-fired plants in the last decade or so, reducing price-driven fuel-switching capabilities between the two fuels. However, there’s more to it than that: a tight coal market, marked by low stockpiles, high export demand and record high prices, is limiting gas-to-coal switching even further, making gas burn for power much more inelastic to price. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at this key intersection of the gas and coal markets.
Prompt CME/NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas futures prices averaged $4.54/MMBtu this winter, up 67% from $2.73/MMBtu in the winter of 2020-21 and the highest since the winter of 2009-10. Prices have barreled even higher in recent days, despite the onset of the lower-demand shoulder season, with the May contract hitting $6.643/MMBtu on Monday, the highest since November 2008 and up more than $1 from where the April futures contract expired a couple of weeks ago. Europe’s push to reduce reliance on Russian natural gas has turned the spotlight on U.S. LNG exports and their role in driving up domestic natural gas prices. However, a closer look at the Lower 48 supply-demand balance this winter vs. last suggests that near-record domestic demand, along with tepid production growth, also played a significant role in drawing down the storage inventory and tightening the balance. Today’s RBN blog breaks down the gas supply-demand factors that shaped the withdrawal season and contributed to the current price environment.
The Biden administration said last Friday it would help ensure deliveries of an additional 15 billion cubic meters (Bcm) of LNG to the European Union (EU) market in 2022. A frenzy of media articles followed and the targeted increase was widely cited. The April CME/NYMEX Henry Hub futures contract rallied nearly 3% to $5.55/MMBtu on Friday, and the stock price for Cheniere Energy, the largest LNG producer in the U.S., jumped 5.5% the same day. But U.S. liquefaction facilities have already been running full tilt and sending record volumes to Europe. So, what does the news really mean for U.S. LNG exports and the domestic gas market? In today’s RBN blog, we put that 15 Bcm in perspective and distill the key takeaways for U.S. LNG production.
The U.S. natural gas market is one of the most transparent, liquid and efficient commodity markets in the world. Physical trading is anchored by hundreds of thousands of miles of gathering, transmission and distribution pipelines, and well over 100 distinct trading locations across North America. The dynamic physical market is matched by the equally vigorous CME/NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas futures market. Then, there are the forward basis markets — futures contracts for regional physical gas hubs. These primary pricing mechanisms play related but distinct roles in the U.S. gas market, based on when and how they are traded, their respective settlement or delivery periods, and how they are used by market participants. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at the primary pricing mechanisms driving the U.S. gas market.
The fallout from Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been multifold, with the human tragedy front and center. But it’s also reverberated across world economies as governments move to sanction Russia and corporations cut their ties with it. In a bid to minimize the impact on energy supplies and prices, the U.S. and its European allies have been grappling with how best to wean themselves from Russian crude oil and natural gas. That was relatively easy for the U.S. — the Russian import ban announced earlier this week by President Biden is likely to have only minor side effects. But the challenges for Europe are far greater due to its significant dependence on Russian supplies. If you’re stateside and trying to make sense of the market implications of all that — and trying to wrap your head around Europe’s energy infrastructure (and its approach to discussing energy volumes) — you’re not alone. In today’s RBN blog, we begin a look at what the European response could mean for the global LNG market.
If you’re going to be involved in any aspect of U.S. natural gas, it’s critically important to understand how physical, futures, and forward gas markets work and how pricing is determined. That reality was emphasized almost exactly a year ago when physical spot prices for U.S. natural gas had their most volatile and bizarre weeks ever as Winter Storm Uri sent a blast of bitter-cold, icy weather down the middle of the country, wreaking havoc on gas infrastructure just when heating demand was at its highest. Prices in the Northeast, which normally see winter spikes, barely reacted, while prices across the Midcontinent and Texas rocketed to record-shattering levels, above $1,000/MMBtu. The events of the Deep Freeze of February 2021 have since brought renewed scrutiny to the various aspects of the gas and power markets, and a need among legislators, regulators and everyone who deals with energy commodity markets to understand how gas is traded in the U.S. and how prices are set. We’re here to help. So, in today’s RBN blog, we begin a deep dive into the process, quirks and idiosyncrasies of U.S. gas pricing.
There was no shortage of drama in the U.S. natural gas market last week. The February Henry Hub CME/NYMEX contract expired in a blaze of glory after frenzied short-covering led to the largest single-day percentage gain since Henry futures began trading in the 1990s. The Northeast was bracing for a weekend “bomb cyclone,” a particularly gnarly nor’easter that brought frigid temperatures and threatened to disrupt the market just as heating demand spiked. But there was another, more subtle but still seismic event that occurred, one that is likely to reverberate well beyond the near-term horizon. Namely, the Equitrans Midstream-led, 2-Bcf/d Mountain Valley Pipeline — the only major expansion project left for increasing egress out of the Appalachian gas supply basin — lost two key federal permits, all but ensuring that the long-delayed project will miss its latest target in-service date of this summer, and potentially be held back another year, or more. In our Top 10 Prognostications for 2022 blog, #7 predicted more severe capacity constraints and weaker basis differentials for Appalachian gas producers. This is the latest indication that things could get worse — and sooner — than previously expected. In today’s RBN blog, we focus on our latest outlook for Appalachia’s gas takeaway constraints and basis pricing.
Market signals are suggesting that we’re on the cusp of another midstream revival. Higher crude oil and natural gas prices are prompting producers to ramp up output, and higher production will lead to increasing midstream constraints and cratering supply prices. We’ve seen this reel before and in past cycles, midstreamers would swoop in right about now with plans for a host of pipeline expansions to relieve bottlenecks and balance the market again. The problem is that for capacity to get built, you need producers to sign up with long-term commitments, and that’s the catch. Wall Street has drawn a hard line when it comes to capital and environmental discipline in the energy industry, and regulatory support for hydrocarbon newbuilds has waned. This is especially a problem for two major basins — the Permian and Marcellus/Utica — but is liable to affect producer behavior across the Lower 48. In today’s RBN blog, we take a closer look at how this will play out at the basin level, starting with the Permian.
The U.S. natural gas market is primed for supply growth. The Lower 48 supply-demand balance is the most bullish it has been in years. Exports are at record levels and poised to increase with additional terminal expansions on the horizon, while international prices have recently notched record highs. Henry Hub gas futures prices are at the highest in over a decade. So, producers will unleash a torrent of natural gas, triggering a midstream build-out like we’ve seen in the past, right? Not so fast. The world has changed. For additional capacity to be built, you need producers or utilities to commit to use it. But Wall Street has drawn a hard line when it comes to capital and environmental discipline in the energy industry and regulatory approvals can also be an uphill battle. Therein lies the conundrum. More midstream capacity is needed for production to grow, but it’s harder than ever for that infrastructure to get built, which means constraints for some period of time are all but a certainty. Natural gas may not be as constrained as crude oil, but it is already butting up against capacity in parts of the Permian and Marcellus/Utica. And in the crude-focused Permian, those gas constraints will also cascade to crude production. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the implications of the new world order.