The massive storm slams the East Coast of the U.S. in this satellite image released by NASA on Jan. 4. (Source: NASA)
[Editor’s note: This story was updated at 1:42 p.m. CST]
Despite a massive winter storm that dumped as much as 22 inches of snow on parts of New England and threw hurricane-strength wind gusts at the Northeast, the benchmark U.S. natural gas price has not only not spiked but has slipped.
The NYMEX Henry Hub price, which closed at $3.06 per million Btu (MMBtu) on Jan. 2, fell to $2.79—a 9.5% drop—by mid-afternoon Jan. 5. Other hubs saw sharp price declines from Jan. 3 to Jan. 4:
- Katy, Texas: down 35.4% to $4.12/MMBtu
- Waha, Texas: down 49.4% to $3.36/MMBtu
- Chicago: down 24.4% to $6.77/MMBtu
- Dominion South: down 21.3% to $4.37
These contrast with spectacular spot price increases at selected Northeast hubs, including $33.83/MMBtu on Jan. 3 in Boston and $96.04 on Jan. 4 in New York.
Cold weather assaulting much of the country set a consumption record of 150.7 billion cubic feet (Bcf) on Jan. 1, according to PointLogic estimates. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) attributes much of the record to increased usage of natural gas by the industrial and electric power sectors.
“Meeting this incremental power generation load will be one critical test over the coming days,” said consultancy ICF in an analysis.
Other demands on U.S. gas, said the EIA, are increases of pipelined exports to Mexico and higher demand from the LNG sector for shipped exports to Asia, Latin America and Europe.
The result, the EIA said, has been skyrocketing power prices in parts of the country, including more than $200 per megawatt hour (MWh) in New York City and $185 MWh in New England.
The huge price discrepancy stems from a gas pipeline network that does not reach all the way to market areas, said ICF.
“Possibly the single largest change since the Polar Vortex [in early 2014] is that a vast amount of new pipeline capacity has been placed into service since the last cold snap,” ICF’s analysis said. “However, most of this capacity is designed to move gas from the Marcellus/Utica to Midwest and Gulf Coast markets, in part to meet the sizeable increase in gas demand.”
Numerous pockets, including New England, eastern New York, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and the Carolinas are likely to be stressed, ICF said.
“We refer to this area as a ‘congestion area’ in which gas prices could be extremely high due to an extraordinarily tight supply/demand balance,” the analysts wrote. “During the Polar Vortex, gas prices rose within congestion areas, and we expect the same during the coming week.”
A new cold front following the “bombogenesis” storm is expected to bring dangerously strong wind gusts and brutally low temperatures to the region, according to AccuWeather.
But massive natural gas production from unconventional plays like the Marcellus Shale and the Permian Basin has brought some stability to the market.
“Rapid production growth that has unfolded in the second half of 2017 has limited concerns of supply shortage this winter,” Teri Viswanath, analyst at PIRA Energy Group, told the Financial Times.
This weather event is an opportunity to assess how infrastructure and markets respond to a time of stress, ICF said.
“In many respects,” the analysts said, “recent back-to-back warm winters have lulled various segments of the market into a false sense of gas supply security.”