U.S. Northeast natural gas production has surged nearly 1.5 Bcf/d in the past four weeks as wells that were shut-in this spring came back to life. The supply gains have been matched by strong intraregional demand, which has posted at or near record highs on a monthly average basis in recent months. But the returning supply volumes raise the question: what happens when summer cooling demand begins to fade? Storage will only be able to absorb so much, as regional storage inventories are already well above year-ago levels and the historical average for this time of year. That leaves flows out of the region as the only other outlet for excess supply, and those may be limited as well, as pipeline issues and drastically reduced downstream demand from LNG exports have stymied outflows. So, is the Northeast gas market headed for a shoulder-season meltdown? Appalachian gas supply prices this month already have weakened relative to the national benchmark Henry Hub, and these dynamics suggest there is more tumult ahead. Today, we consider what’s in store for the Northeast gas market this fall given the latest fundamentals.
To understand the most recent gas market shifts in the U.S. Northeast — and their near-term implications — it’s worth putting them in the context of what’s transpired in the past few months.
As we discussed last month in The Waiting Game, gas prices were feeling the pressure of oversupply conditions well before COVID-19 and the oil price collapse. Appalachian producers last year already had trimmed their rig counts and capital spending budgets in response to sub-$2.00/MMBtu gas prices in the region and overall weakness in Henry Hub benchmark futures prices. Then came the mild winter that suppressed storage withdrawals and left a hefty surplus in storage compared with previous years. That was followed by the pandemic-induced stay-at-home directives and lockdowns, which disrupted gas consumption. And, by May, there was also the disruption of another major demand “sink” for domestic production, including from the Marcellus/Utica — U.S. LNG exports — as an existing global surplus of LNG combined with lockdowns abroad to slash global demand, wiping out margins for cargo liftings from U.S. ports, and leading to widespread cargo cancellations.
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