The natural gas futures contract for the prompt month barreled a net ~$1.00 (26%) higher in the past 12 days as the potential for prolonged production shut-ins in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida amplified already-heightened supply fears in both the U.S. and international gas markets. The blistering price action sent the CME/NYMEX Henry Hub October futures contract soaring on Wednesday to an intraday high above $5/MMBtu and a settle of $4.914/MMBtu, the highest during September trading since 2008, while the prompt December and January contracts settled above $5/MMBtu for the first time in years. Prices at European and Asian gas/LNG hubs have similarly rallied this summer to multi-year or even all-time highs. Offshore Gulf gas production has since begun to recover, slowly, after the Ida-damaged Port Fourchon in Louisiana, the base of offshore oil and gas operations, reopened over the Labor Day weekend, but the bulk of it remains offline as power outages and other operational challenges persist. The shut-ins are exacerbating an already tight market, marked by record LNG exports, lackadaisical production growth, and a growing inventory deficit compared with year-ago and five-year average levels. Those underlying fundamentals will remain a trigger point for price spikes well after Ida-related shut-ins recover. Today, we discuss where the gas market stands heading into the final months of the injection season and the implications for winter gas pricing.
Posts from Sheetal Nasta
The year-on-year gain in U.S. LNG feedgas demand has been the single biggest factor behind the soaring natural gas prices and storage shortfall this year. And there is more of that demand on the horizon. Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass Train 6 and Venture Global’s new Calcasieu Pass facility are due to start service in the first half of 2022. However, feedgas volume is likely to ramp up ahead of the new year as both projects progress through the commissioning phase and aim to export their first commissioning cargoes before the end of the year. How soon could that incremental feedgas demand show up? Getting a handle on the timing requires an understanding of how a liquefaction plant works and the various steps of the commissioning process. Today, we start a short series on what’s involved when bringing a liquefaction plant online and what that can tell us about the timing of incremental feedgas flows this fall/winter.
Northeast natural gas production in 2021 to date has averaged 34 Bcf/d, up 1.4 Bcf/d year-on-year, and the higher gas price environment currently is signaling more upside to production in the years to come. At the same time, downstream feedgas demand from LNG export facilities is at a record high and also headed higher as more liquefaction capacity is set to come online in the coming months. So, despite lower-than-normal inventory levels in the Northeast, outflows from the Appalachian basin have soared to new highs this year, and utilization of outbound pipeline capacity is up to an average 90%, a level we haven’t seen since the 2016-17 timeframe. Unlike 2016-17, when there was a slew of major pipeline projects to expand egress, now there are just two or three at most — and two of those are greenfield projects that face an uncertain future. As such, spare exit capacity is getting increasingly sparse, and Appalachian producers are bound to hit the capacity “wall” in the next two years. When will the Northeast run out of exit capacity and how bad could constraints get? Today, we provide highlights from our new Drill Down report, which brings together our latest analysis on Northeast gas takeaway capacity and flows.
It’s been a while since the Appalachian natural gas market has looked this bullish. Outright cash prices at the Eastern Gas South hub are at multi-year highs. Regional storage inventories are sitting low, setting the stage for supply shortages and still higher prices this winter. But the potential for severe takeaway constraints and basis meltdowns are lurking, and by next year, they could become regular features of the market again like they were in the 2016-17 timeframe, or worse — at least in the spring and fall when Northeast demand is lowest. Regional gas production is still being affected by maintenance and has been somewhat volatile lately as a result, but it averaged 34.5 Bcf/d in June, just 300 MMcf/d shy of the December 2020 record. What’s more, at current forward curve prices, supply output could surpass previous highs by next spring and grow by ~ 5 Bcf/d (15%) by 2023. Outbound flows set their own record highs this spring, running at over 90% of takeaway capacity, and will head higher, which means that spare exit capacity for supply needing to leave the region is shrinking. The handful of planned takeaway expansions that remain are facing environmental pushback and permitting delays, and the few that are targeting completion in the next year may not be enough. Today, we provide the highlights of the latest forecast from our new NATGAS Appalachia report.
The developers of the embattled PennEast Pipeline project this week caught a big break: over the objections of the state of New Jersey and in contradiction to a prior lower court ruling, the Supreme Court said in a 5-4 decision on Tuesday that the project could exercise eminent domain in order to seize state-owned land necessary for building its 1.1-Bcf/d Appalachia takeaway pipeline. The ruling, while not a slam dunk for the pipeline’s completion, offers a ray of hope to a project that was all but dead for the past couple of years and that many had written off. It also represents an increasingly rare victory for the frequently vilified gas industry in the Northeast. The pipeline represents more capacity and greater optionality for producers in the northeastern Pennsylvania region who currently have limited takeaway options and are facing worsening pipeline constraints even as prices and downstream demand are taking off. Today, we provide an update on the PennEast project and its implications for the Appalachian gas market.
This year has been a mixed bag for Appalachian natural gas producers. Outright prices in the region are higher than they’ve been in a few years, thanks to lower storage inventory levels and robust LNG export demand. However, regional basis (local prices vs. Henry Hub) is weaker year-on-year as higher production volumes have led to record outbound flows from Appalachia and are threatening to overwhelm existing pipeline takeaway capacity. Last month, Equitrans Midstream officially announced that the start-up of its long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project will be pushed to summer 2022 at the earliest. Then, just last week, outbound capacity took another hit as Enbridge’s Texas Eastern Transmission (TETCO) pipeline was denied regulatory approval to continue operating at its maximum allowable pressure, effectively lowering the line’s Gulf Coast-bound capacity by nearly 0.75 Bcf/d, or ~40%, for an undefined period. Today, we consider the impact of this latest development on pipeline flows, production, and pricing.
Appalachia natural gas producers hoping to get a big boost in pipeline takeaway capacity later this year were dealt some bad news recently. On May 4, Equitrans Midstream officially pushed back the in-service date for the already-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline. The 2-Bcf/d, greenfield project is the last of the major planned expansions that would add substantial capacity from the prolific Appalachia gas-producing region and help stave off severe seasonal pipeline constraints, at least in the near- to midterm. Previous guidance had it coming online late this year, but Equitrans said it is now targeting start-up in the summer of 2022, pending water and wetland crossing permit reviews. The news is far from surprising considering the numerous regulatory and legal challenges midstream projects, including MVP, have previously faced in the Northeast over the past decade or so. But the resulting uncertainty leaves Northeast producers in a tight spot. In today’s blog, we will consider the implications of the MVP delay for Appalachia’s outflows.
Outbound natural gas flows from Appalachia over the weekend hit a new record high of 17.3 Bcf/d and averaged 16.7 Bcf/d for April — an all-time high for any month. That’s despite pipeline maintenance season being well underway last month and intermittently curtailing production and outflow capacity. Utilization rates of takeaway pipelines from the region are soaring above 90%, with little more than 1 Bcf/d of spare exit capacity for outflows of surplus Northeast production. Whether that will be enough to stave off severe constraints and discounted pricing in Appalachia in what’s left of the spring season, and again in the fall will depend on how much surplus gas is left after meeting in-region consumption and storage refill requirements. What happens when seasonal demand declines occur in May and June? In today’s blog, we wrap up our analysis of current outbound capacity utilization and where that leaves the Northeast gas market this spring.
This time last year, Appalachian natural gas production was approaching a steep springtime ledge as regional prices sank below economic levels and producers responded with real-time shut-ins. This year to date, regional gas prices have averaged $0.80-$0.90/MMBtu above 2020 levels for the same period, and production has been averaging more than 1 Bcf/d above year-ago levels. If production holds steady near current levels, the year-on-year gains would just about double to ~2 Bcf/d by mid-May, which is when the bulk of the springtime curtailments first took effect in 2020. This, just as Northeast demand takes its seasonal spring plunge, which means regional outflows are poised to rise in the coming weeks, potentially to record levels. How much more can the Appalachian takeaway pipelines absorb? In today’s blog, we continue our analysis of outbound capacity utilization, this time focusing on the routes to the Midwest.
Natural gas pipeline takeaway constraints out of the Northeast worsened in 2020 despite producer cutbacks in the region as high storage levels and weaker demand led to record volumes of Appalachian gas supplies needing to find outlets in other regions last fall. This year, storage levels are lower and could absorb more of the surpluses during injection season. However, Appalachian gas production so far in 2021 has been averaging higher than last year; and, gas prices are higher year-on-year, reducing prospects for the kinds of producer curtailments we saw last year. As for the “pull” from downstream demand, LNG exports along the Gulf Coast aren’t expected to experience the slump from cargo cancellations seen last summer. In other words, Appalachia’s outbound flows are likely to be robust, setting the stage for takeaway constraints and weak prices, particularly during the spring and fall shoulder seasons. How much outbound capacity currently exists and how much room is there for growth? Today, we continue our series on the Northeast gas market with an update on Appalachia’s southbound takeaway capacity and outflows, starting with a detailed look at the gas moving to the Southeast and to the Gulf Coast.
Last year served as something of a bellwether for what’s to come for the Northeast gas market in the long term: increasing takeaway pipeline constraints and weakening gas price differentials by mid-decade. The region’s outflows surged to record highs in the fall of 2020 as production also reached fresh highs. Just a couple weeks ago, the region notched another milestone on the pipeline constraint yardstick: record outflows on some pipes and near-full utilization of southbound routes on the coldest days of winter — something we don’t normally see, as gas supply requirements in the Northeast peak with heating demand and less gas is available to flow out of the region. This time, the surge in outflows and the resulting constraints were driven more by spiking demand and gas prices downstream than by oversupply conditions at home, but the result was the same: the Northeast had by far the lowest prices in the country. This happened even as other regions recorded triple-digit, all-time high prices. Today, we examine how Appalachia outflows and takeaway capacity utilization shaped up during Winter Storm Uri.
What started out as a novel snow day for parts of Texas, replete with Facebook posts full of awestruck kids and incredulous native Texans, quickly escalated to a statewide energy crisis last week. A lot of the state’s electric generation and natural gas production capacity was iced out just when demand was highest, sending gas and electricity prices soaring and leaving millions without power for days. Frigid temperatures like the ones we saw would register as a regular winter storm in northerly parts of the U.S. and in Canada — but in Texas? A disaster. Market analysts, regulators, and observers will be unpacking the events of the past week — and the many implications — for a long time to come. We may never know the full extent of the chaos and finagling that went on among traders and schedulers behind the scenes as they tried to wrangle molecules. However, we can get some insight into the madness using gas flow data to provide a window into how the market responded and, in particular, the effect on LNG export facilities. Today, we examine the impacts of Winter Storm Uri on Gulf Coast and Texas gas movements.
If you’re reading this, it means you’ve got access to power and internet. Count yourself among the fortunate today. Rolling blackouts and brownouts across the middle of the country and in Texas, have disrupted businesses and lives. It’s been particularly brutal in the Lone Star State. Electricity and natural gas are commodities that are so basic to our way of living that it’s easy to take for granted the efforts designed to make them reliable, available, and affordable. But, boy, does it make things difficult when they don’t show up as anticipated. In today’s blog, we discuss the factors behind the supply disruptions that are wreaking havoc in these commodity markets.
Physical natural gas spot prices in the U.S. Midcontinent trading as high as $600/MMBtu, while Northeast prices barely flinch – that was the upside-down reality physical traders were contending with Friday in trading for the long weekend, with Winter Storm Uri bearing down on large swaths of the Lower 48 and spreading bitter-cold, icy weather from the Midwest and Northeast to Texas and the Deep South. The record-shattering, triple-digit spot prices, mostly all west of the Mississippi River, were indicative of some of the worst supply shortages the market has seen during the generally oversupplied Shale Era, or ever. But the East vs. West price divergence also marks the culmination of years of shifting gas supply and flow patterns that have redefined regional dynamics. The market will be digesting the various impacts of this still-unfolding event for days, but some of the effects and implications can be gleaned already from daily pipeline flows. In today’s blog we provide an early look at the market impacts of the polar plunge.
Weather is the perpetual wildcard in the natural gas market, but it’s been particularly shifty this winter, keeping market participants — and weather forecasters, for that matter — on their toes. Gas futures prices started this season at $3.30-plus/MMBtu, but then endured some of the warmest weather on record (in November and January), including a couple of polar vortex head fakes over the past month or so — weather forecasts at times in January started off much colder but ultimately reversed course. Prompt CME/NYMEX Henry Hub futures prices have seesawed as a result. Despite the weather setbacks, however, prices have held on in the $2.40-$2.70/MMBtu range through much of winter and averaged more than $0.60/MMBtu higher year-on-year in January. And, with an Arctic blast set to unfurl across the Lower 48 this week, prices last Friday topped $3/MMBtu again in intraday trading before settling in the high-$2.80s/MMBtu Friday and Monday. Today, we examine the supply-demand factors underlying the recent price action, and prospects for sustained $3/MMBtu gas prices.