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Natural Gas Prices In 2010

Author : Vernon Trollinger

Submitted : 2010-03-13 01:24:32    Word Count : 1616    Popularity:   193

Tags:   natural gas prices, gas prices, natural gas, texas electricity, energy, oil

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Natural Gas Powers Texas

According to the US Dept. of Energy, Texas produces and consumes more electricity than any other state. Over half of Texas’ energy comes from natural gas powered generation plants. Texas produces 25 of the nation’s natural gas and is the largest producer; storing and supplying natural gas via pipeline for all regions of the country. Yet while Texas has large reserves of low grade coal, most of what is burned in its coal fired plants is brought in via train from Wyoming and Montana.

So, it makes sense for Texas electric power generators to rely more on the supply of natural gas in our back yard rather than waiting for the next 10,000 tons of coal to roll in from Wyoming. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal and does not leave behind large amounts of cinder and ash that require proper disposal.

In the past, natural gas was usually uncovered when drilling for oil. Many middle eastern oil companies commonly used natural gas to push oil out from deposits in the earth and then let the gas burn off (called “flaring”). This was because there was neither large local demand for natural gas, nor a way to safely transport it overseas to markets that wanted it.

In Texas, the practice was very different. Natural gas and oil have been twin commodities that helped build Texas. Natural gas pipelines stretch in all directions from Texas and it has long been used throughout the US for heat, light, and electrical generation. So, it’s little wonder that in this country its price has long been bound to oil, a commodity in a very volatile market where prices are often shaped by world events. For this reason, power generating companies have paid more for natural gas than coal, nuclear, and wind. Because it is the most expensive and so heavily relied upon, the price of natural gas determines the price of electricity.

When the Wave Broke

Throughout 2007 and into 2008, petroleum and natural gas prices rose due to a popular tide of speculative investment. This drove resource development and innovation in natural gas technologies to bring gas reserves to market. Among these:

• The growing Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) trade is expected to increase at 6.7 percent per year until 2020. New fleets of inexpensively built ships and refineries expanded the industry worldwide. LNG now involves 15 exporting countries and 17 importing countries, including the US.

• Qatar announced its goal to develop both its Northfield natural gas reserve production (from roughly 54 billion cubic feet in 1995 to 2.7 trillion cubic feet in 2008) and its Gas to Liquids capacity. Qatar is now the world’s largest LNG exporter.

• Developments in horizontal drilling and rock fracturing techniques with high pressure water provide lower cost access to several huge deposits of natural gas trapped in common shale. These include the Marcellus shale bed and the Barnett shale in Texas (much of it under Ft. Worth) – which has been estimated at holding 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and is producing 2 billion cubic feet per day.

In July, 2008, the petroleum/natural gas price wave peaked. Gasoline surged to over $4.00 per gallon and natural gas prices to $13.69 per billion BTU (mmBTU). The cost of Texas electricity exploded.

Inundated with high fuel prices, consumers all across America cut their travel and their energy use. In the fall of 2008, the economy contracted so severely that businesses laid off workers or closed. They stopped using natural gas to heat their buildings and stopped needing electricity to power their machinery. This helped drive down the price of oil, gasoline, and natural gas. But in the case of natural gas, the big developments in LNG supply and natural gas shale brought enormous amounts of natural gas out of the ground. Ready to use, it now lay idle in pipelines, tanks, and ships at sea. With plenty of supply but no demand, the price sank further.

One year after the price peak, the DOE’s EIA reported in its weekly natural gas storage report for August, 14, 2009:

“Working gas in storage was 3,204 Billion cubic feet (Bcf) as of Friday, August 14, 2009, according to EIA estimates… Stocks were 562 Bcf higher than last year at this time and 513 Bcf above the 5 year average of 2,691 Bcf.”

By September, 2009, natural gas lost over 80 of its July 2008 value and had plummeted to $2.409 per mmBTU. Texas electric rates fell as well.

Big Supply + Little Demand = Low Price

Because of booming US domestic supply, natural gas’ price tumble has decoupled it from oil’s price. As analyst Fadel Gheit put it, “[O]il is a global commodity; gas is a regional commodity. You can have a huge discrepancy in gas prices from country to country, from continent to continent, because of a lack of adequate transportation – the means of shipping to take gas from where it’s found in abundance to where it’s needed.”

As a regional commodity now, present US domestic natural gas prices are somewhat insulated versus shocks from international problems. New shale deposits being drilled throughout the lower 48 states provide a more stable supply and stable pricing. As a result, LNG imports to the US are dropping, prompting the United Nations International Energy Agency’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, to forecast a world wide natural gas glut continuing through 2015.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, energy commodities analyst Stephen Schork painted this picture of the current natural gas supply: “We have more gas than we know what to do with in the U.S.; we have more waterborne gas floating around the world’s oceans that doesn’t have a home.”

When natural gas prices began their slide, many natural gas companies capped their wells and cut their production. The EIA recently reported in its Short Term Energy Outlook:

Total marketed natural gas production is estimated to have increased by 3.7 percent in 2009, despite a 59 percent decline in the working natural gas rig count from September 2008 to July 2009.

Even Qatar announced it will not pursue any new development in its North field reserve for another four years.

Right now, the two big drivers of US consumption are its winter and its economy. This winter, an early cold snap increased heating demands for much of the country and even caused a brief $1 price increase. Though faltering, the US economy has improved somewhat since September, 2008. Because of the slight contraction in productivity and the early cold weather, natural gas prices have risen from their September, 2009 low —but they are still 50 lower than their peak in 2008. The EIA statistic for the January 27, 2010 price at the Henry Hub in New York ($5.42 mmBTU) is 14 higher than the same date last year ($4.75).

The big new for 2010 is it’s still a natural gas buyer’s market. With storage levels still at 5 year highs, enhanced domestic production capabilities, and slow consumption growth, prices are not expected to rise dramatically through 2010. EIA projects that the natural gas spot price at the Henry Hub will increase to an average of $5.25 mmBTU in 2010, which is $1.27 more than the 2009 average of $3.98 mmBTU. Remember, this is an average price; seasonal increases will occur, especially during the summer cooling months in Texas when power demand is at its height.

For Texas electricity consumers, this means that energy prices will remain low through for the rest of the year, though there will be some fluctuation due to seasonal demand, as stated. However, one thing about the near future is certain: consumption of natural gas will increase as economic conditions improve. Businesses will need more people as they will get back to running equipment and machinery – and they will all use more energy. As consumption rises, more generators will burn natural gas to meet that need. Natural gas prices will rise. And so will the price of Texas electricity.

Long Term Solutions for the Texas Energy Consumer

The best thing an electricity consumer in Texas has right now is energy choice. If you sign on to a two year (24 month) plan now, you can lock in the current 2010 rate through 2012. Switching between now and spring when rates are low could save you hundreds of dollars over the next two years. Why? Because you can take advantage of a long term fixed energy plan that locks in the current low energy price. In the near future, the EIA projects that prices will increase in 2011, averaging $6.00 mmBTU as the existing surplus shrinks in the face of a rebounding economy. That’s a 13 increase in price. Right now, if your energy plan is locked in at .114 cent/kWh for 1500 kWh per month, you’re paying about $171/month. But in 2011 given a 13 average increase, your bill could jump to $193.23/month. That’s a difference of $22.23/month or $266.76 for the year.

To maximize your savings for these next two years, you need to act before mid April because that’s when the price begins its annual increase for summer cooling costs. To find a long term plan that will help you save the most money, go to Bounce Energy and check out their Price Protector 24 plan. Qualified customers will receive movie tickets, bill credits, companion airline tickets, price reductions and more for paying their bill on time!

Author's Resource Box

Bounce Energy is a based in Houston. Bounce Energys goal is provide more than low Texas Electricity Rates to our customers. With innovative and flexible plans, excellent customer service, and superior customer rewards, Bounce Energy offers a unique approach to Texas electricity. http://www.bounceenergy.com

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