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Oil and Gas Investor

Geopolitical mechanizations, domestic supply disruptions and the energy transition are coalescing into a tight market that stands to maintain high commodity prices.

Between July 2021 and June 2022, the average monthly spot natural gas price at the Henry Hub benchmark more than doubled, rising by $3.86/MMBtu from $3.84/MMBtu in July 2021 to $7.7/MMBtu in June 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Low inventories have remained below average levels as demand growth generally has outpaced domestic production growth. Indeed, the average inflation-adjusted monthly Henry Hub spot price reached a 12-month high of $8.17/MMBtu in May 2022—the highest price since November 2008, the EIA reported in July.

A cursory look at mid-2022 inventory doesn’t explain the high spot and prompt-month pricing, said Barclays analyst Amarpreet Singh. Rather, it is the underlying supply-demand dynamics driving the unusual price points.

For example, the EIA’s working storage total of 1.9 Tcf is almost 16% below the five-year average of 2.2 Tcf but still above the 2018 average. All told, the cumulative change in working inventory is trailing the previous 10-year average by 240 Bcf year-to-date.

*Only data through the end of April 2022 is currently available.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

US Natural Gas Supply and Consumption, 2017-2022 (Bcf)

  Marketed Production Consumption
2017 Total 29,238 27,140
2018 Total 33,009 30,139
2019 Total 36,447 31,132
2020 Total 40,614 30,472
2021 Total 41,183 30,283
2022 4-month YTD* 13,949 11,745
2021 4-month YTD 13,321 11,188
2020 4-month YTD 13,917 11,289

“Two key trends to highlight are a) a slowdown in domestic supply growth due to capital discipline and plateauing unit productivity in key tight oil and gas regions and higher net exports due to the ramp up in LNG shipments; and b) significantly reduced elasticity of demand from the power generation sector due to capacity reductions and tight coal markets,” Singh said.

The EIA forecasts production this year will gain 2.6 Bcf/d from 2021. However, this still implies that net supply at year-end would be below the 2019 level, and that tightness would remain in the market.


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Takeaway constraints

Singh said it is likely that takeaway capacity constraints in the Permian Basin could bottleneck supply additions this fall; brownfield capacity additions for three of the existing pipelines in the region—Permian Highway, Gulf Coast Express and Whistler—are in the works but will not come online until the end of 2023.

Meanwhile, production growth in the largest producing region, Appalachia, is constrained by limited pipeline capacity out of the Marcellus Shale. Analysts say that market tightness is unlikely to quickly abate, keeping prices higher long term.

Credit Suisse is projecting that the gas market will likely remain tight through at least 2025.

“A major contributor to the current disruption and tightness of global gas markets is Europe’s surging demand for liquified natural gas in order to replace Russian pipeline gas,” the investment bank said.

All of which will “support prices amid slower supply growth over the coming months, in our view,” Barclays’ Singh said.

But meanwhile, U.S. extraction innovation continues to raise domestic natural gas production to new heights. Since 2001, supply has grown 80%. Between 2005—when production snagged at 18,927,095 Mcf—and the 2021 figure of 37,011,455 Mcf, growth reflects a staggering 96%.

The EIA is targeting U.S. production of dry natural gas to increase again this year—but not as much as demand. The agency in June estimated natural gas production in 2022 to average 96.5 Bcf/d, a 3% increase from 2021.

*Only data through the end of April 2022 is currently available.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Selected US Average Natural Gas Prices, 2017-2022 ($/Mcf)

  NGPL Composite Spot Price / Mont Belvieu Henry Hub Spot Price Citygate Price Electric Power Price
2017 Annual Average $6.92 $2.99 $4.16 $3.51
2018 Annual Average $8.20 $3.15 $4.23 $3.68
2019 Annual Average $5.49 $2.56 $3.81 $2.99
2020 Annual Average $4.47 $2.03 $3.43 $2.48
2021 Annual Average $9.02 $3.89 $6.11 $5.16
2022 4-month YTD* $11.72 $5.14 $5.66 $6.05
2021 4-month YTD $7.34 $3.29 $6.48 $6.52
2020 4-month YTD $3.79 $1.86 $3.17 $2.43

IEA out of step

Despite its previous rhetoric detailing the countries mired in energy poverty that desperately need natural gas as a bridge fuel to a greener economy, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) is a consistent contrarian that routinely drags down demand figures.

The agency said in 2020, global demand shrank 1.2% and fell to 3,970 Bcm—below the floor estimated in 2019 at 4 Tcm.

And while IEA had previously forecasted demand growth, the agency in July did an abrupt about face with its “Gas Market Report.” This summer, its crystal ball showed a total rise of 140 Bcm in global gas demand between 2021 and 2025—less than half its earlier estimate and a reduction from the 170 Bcm increase last year.

This contraction is a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, supply disruptions and the incumbent high prices as the leading the downward revision, according to the IEA.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

 Annual US Natural Production by Select Regions, 2017-2021 (Volume in MMcf)

  2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Colorado 1,706,364 1,847,402 1,986,916 1,990,462 1,876,335
Gulf of Mexico 1,060,452 974,863 1,015,343 789,262 769,870
Louisiana 2,139,830 2,832,404 3,212,318 3,206,163 3,383,977
New Mexico 1,299,732 1,493,082 1,769,086 1,948,168 2,327,871
North Dakota 593,998 706,552 850,826 882,443 945,452
Ohio 1,791,359 2,403,382 2,651,631 2,378,902 2,266,636
Oklahoma 2,513,897 2,875,787 3,036,052 2,786,366 2,571,834
Pennsylvania 5,453,638 6,24,832 6,896,792 7,148,295 7,692,658
Texas 7,223,841 8,041,010 9,378,489 9,336,110 9,416,660
West Virginia 1,514,278 1,771,698 2,155,214 2,592,319 2,760,429
Wyoming 1,590,059 1,637,517 1,488,854 1,306,368 1,237,709
U.S. Total 29,237, 825 33,008,867 36,446,918 36,202,446 37,011,455

“The turmoil is damaging natural gas’ reputation as a reliable and affordable energy source, casting doubts about the role it was expected to play in helping developing economies meet rising energy demand and transition away from more carbon-intensive fuels,” the agency said in a statement.

The IEA’s assessment is not a common one.

Indeed, the agency’s position is simply wrong, said energy business advisor Dallas Salazar, CEO of Atlas Consulting Ventures.

“That prognostication is just a joke,” he told Hart Energy. “I don’t have any rational explanation for why they continue to beat that drum.”

Takeaway infrastructure is lacking in some of the U.S.’s gassier plays like the Marcellus and the Utica, but the Haynesville has ample capacity for growth, Salazar said.

“The only cap on natural gas demand is the supply,” he said. “And that supply is currently capped mostly by the U.S. and how quickly can we build export facilities, which are incredibly complex and expensive infrastructure developments.”

But demand is only heightened by the world’s current events. And many parts of the world are building import facilities to transition to natural gas from coal, so the market’s tightness will concentrate, Salazar said.

“There is something to be said about the old Aubrey McLendon phrase [advising] to build the supply economy before you build the demand economy,” Salazar said. “This is the vision of McClendon coming through natural gas. It is the bridge fuel.”