Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook projects that the United States will export more natural gas than it imports in 2017. The United States has been a net exporter for three of the past four months and is expected to continue to export more natural gas than it imports for the rest of 2017 and throughout 2018. The United States’ status as a net exporter is expected to continue past 2018 because of growing U.S. natural gas exports to Mexico, declining pipeline imports from Canada, and increasing exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The United States is currently the world's largest natural gas producer, having surpassed Russia in 2009. Natural gas production in the United States increased from 55 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2008 to 72.5 Bcf/d in 2016. Most of this natural gas—about 96% in 2016—is consumed domestically. Abundant natural gas resources and large production increases have created opportunities for U.S. natural gas exports.
With a near doubling of U.S. export pipeline capacity to Mexico by 2019, EIA expects U.S. natural gas exports to increase, though they should remain well below the available pipeline capacity. Mexico’s national energy ministry (SENER) expects to increase its natural gas use for electric power generation by almost 50% between 2016 and 2020. Mexico's domestic natural gas pipeline network is undergoing a major expansion, primarily to accommodate new natural gas pipeline imports from the United States.
In addition, supplies of natural gas out of Appalachia into the Midwestern states are likely to gradually displace some pipeline imports from Canada as well as increase U.S. pipeline exports to Canada from both Michigan and New York. Several new pipeline projects, including the Rover and Nexus Gas Transmission pipelines, are also being developed to increase takeaway capacity from the Marcellus and Utica supply regions that span parts of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia into the U.S. Gulf coast, Midwestern states, and eastern Canada.
EIA expects exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to increase. U.S. liquefaction capacity continues to expand as five new projects currently under construction—Cove Point, Cameron, Elba Island, Freeport, and Corpus Christi—come online in the next three years, increasing total U.S. liquefaction capacity from 1.4 Bcf/d at the end of 2016 to 9.5 Bcf/d by the end of 2019.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, compiled from trade press
Three liquefaction trains at Sabine Pass, Louisiana, are currently the only operational liquefaction facilities in the United States. A fourth train at Sabine Pass is undergoing commissioning and a fifth train is expected to come online in 2019. Another liquefaction project at Cove Point, in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, is scheduled to come online later this year.
Based on construction plans, EIA expects that by 2020 the United States will have the third-largest LNG export capacity in the world after Australia and Qatar. The latest Short-Term Energy Outlook forecasts that U.S. LNG exports will reach 4.6 Bcf/d by December 2018 as new liquefaction trains at Cameron, Freeport, and Elba Island come online. However, actual use of U.S. LNG export terminals will be affected by the rate of global LNG demand growth and competition from other global LNG suppliers.
Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today
Working natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states totaled 3,519 billion cubic feet (Bcf) for the week ending October 11, 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report (WNGSR). This is the first week that Lower 48 states’ working gas inventories have exceeded the previous five-year average since September 22, 2017. Weekly injections in three of the past four weeks each surpassed 100 Bcf, or about 27% more than typical injections for that time of year.
Working natural gas capacity at underground storage facilities helps market participants balance the supply and consumption of natural gas. Inventories in each of the five regions are based on varying commercial, risk management, and reliability goals.
When determining whether natural gas inventories are relatively high or low, EIA uses the average inventories for that same week in each of the previous five years. Relatively low inventories heading into winter months can put upward pressure on natural gas prices. Conversely, relatively high inventories can put downward pressure on natural gas prices.
This week’s inventory level ends a 106-week streak of lower-than-normal natural gas inventories. Natural gas inventories in the Lower 48 states entered the winter of 2017–18 lower than the previous average. Episodes of relatively cold temperatures in the winter of 2017–18—including a bomb cyclone—resulted in record withdrawals from storage, increasing the deficit to the five-year average.
In the subsequent refill season (typically April through October), sustained warmer-than-normal temperatures increased electricity demand for natural gas. Increased demand slowed natural gas storage injection activity through the summer and fall of 2018. By November 30, 2018, the deficit to the five-year average had grown to 725 Bcf. Inventories in that week were 20% lower than the previous five-year average for that time of year. Throughout the 2019 refill season, record levels of U.S. natural gas production led to relatively high injections of natural gas into storage and reduced the deficit to the previous five-year average.
The deficit was also decreased as last year’s low inventory levels are rolled into the previous five-year average. For this week in 2019, the preceding five-year average is about 124 Bcf lower than it was for the same week last year. Consequently, the gap has closed in part based on a lower five-year average.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report
The level of working natural gas inventories relative to the previous five-year average tends to be inversely correlated with natural gas prices. Front-month futures prices at the Henry Hub, the main price benchmark for natural gas in the United States, were as low as $1.67 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in early 2016. At about that same time, natural gas inventories were 874 Bcf more than the previous five-year average.
By the winter of 2018–19, natural gas front-month futures prices reached their highest level in several years. Natural gas inventories fell to 725 Bcf less than the previous five-year average on November 30, 2018. In recent weeks, increasing the Lower 48 states’ natural gas storage levels have contributed to lower natural gas futures prices.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report and front-month futures prices from New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX)
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 14 October 2019 – Brent: US$59/b; WTI: US$53/b
Headlines of the week
Amid ongoing political unrest, Ecuador has chosen to withdraw from OPEC in January 2020. Citing a need to boost oil revenues by being ‘honest about its ability to endure further cuts’, Ecuador is prioritising crude production and welcoming new oil investment (free from production constraints) as President Lenin Moreno pursues more market-friendly economic policies. But his decisions have caused unrest; the removal of fuel subsidies – which effectively double domestic fuel prices – have triggered an ongoing widespread protests after 40 years of low prices. To balance its fiscal books, Ecuador’s priorities have changed.
The departure is symbolic. Ecuador’s production amounts to some 540,000 b/d of crude oil. It has historically exceeded its allocated quota within the wider OPEC supply deal, but given its smaller volumes, does not have a major impact on OPEC’s total output. The divorce is also not acrimonious, with Ecuador promising to continue supporting OPEC’s efforts to stabilise the oil market where it can.
This isn’t the first time, or the last time, that a country will quit OPEC. Ecuador itself has already done so once, withdrawing in December 1992. Back then, Quito cited fiscal problems, balking at the high membership fee – US$2 million per year – and that it needed to prioritise increasing production over output discipline. Ecuador rejoined in October 2007. Similar circumstances over supply constraints also prompted Gabon to withdraw in January 1995, returning only in July 2016. The likelihood of Ecuador returning is high, given this history, but there are also two OPEC members that have departed seemingly permanently.
The first is Indonesia, which exited OPEC in 2008 after 46 years of membership. Chronic mismanagement of its upstream resources had led Indonesia to become a net importer of crude oil since the early 2000s and therefore unable to meet its production quota. Indonesia did rejoin OPEC briefly in January 2016 after managing to (slightly) improve its crude balance, but was forced to withdraw once again in December 2016 when OPEC began requesting more comprehensive production cuts to stabilise prices. But while Indonesia may return, Qatar is likely gone permanently. Officially, Qatar exited OPEC in January 2019 after 48 years of continuous membership to focus on natural gas production, which dwarfs its crude output. Unofficially, geopolitical tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia – which has resulted in an ongoing blockade and boycott – contributed to the split.
The exit of Ecuador will not make much material difference to OPEC’s current goal of controlling supply to stabilise prices. With Saudi production back at full capacity – and showing the willingness to turn its taps on or off to control the market – gains in Ecuador’s crude production can be offset elsewhere. What matters is optics. The exit leaves the impression that OPEC’s power is weakening, limiting its ability to influence the market by controlling supply. There are also ongoing tensions brewing within OPEC, specifically between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The continued implosion of the Venezuelan economy is also an issue. OPEC will survive the exit of Ecuador; but if Iran or Venezuela choose to go, then it will face a full-blown existential crisis.
Current OPEC membership: