Natural Gas Slides to Near a Two-Year Low Unseasonably Warm December Helps Allay Concerns About Supply Shortage

By TIMOTHY PUKO WSJ

Updated Dec. 22, 2014 7:48 p.m. ET

Mild temperatures across the U.S. have sent natural-gas futures tumbling to their lowest level in nearly two years, more good news for consumers already reaping the benefits of a 30% decline in gasoline prices.

Natural-gas prices dropped 9% Monday, their largest decline since February. It extended a losing streak to three sessions since the government said gas stockpiles rose above year-ago levels for the first time in 2014.

Record U.S. oil-and-gas production, which has played a major role in driving the 48% decline in crude prices since June, is overwhelming tepid demand for home-heating fuels amid an unseasonably warm December.

Many investors who earlier this year placed bets on rising gas prices have had to reverse course and cover those bets, as strong production has now closed a stockpile shortage that had lingered for nearly a year.

As recently as November, colder-than-normal weather had traders expecting high demand and higher prices. But the warm spell has led to an about-face as investors recognize that there isn’t enough demand to absorb the record supply.

“The market was pricing in the chance for a cold winter,” said Greg Sharenow, a portfolio manager at Pacific Investment Management Co. But with warmer temperatures recently, “that price was unsustainable.”

Two Big Trends Will Fuel The Renewable Energy Boom For Years

This is the big picture.

Carlos Barria/Reuters
The renewable energy revolution is happening faster than many expected.
According to recent report from Citi Research, renewables will continue their market share grabs from coal and gas forSome of this can be explained by the need for cleaner energy.

“Environmental pressures on coal consumption are rising not only in Europe and North America, but also in China and other emerging markets,” according to the Citi analyst’s note. “The most significant change has been in China, where increasing regulations and the establishment of carbon markets should limit the attractiveness of coal power. Moreover, the country is aggressively pursuing an ‘everything but coal’ development plan for the power sector, with rapid growth in capacity for alternative energy sources.”

Coal power plants are increasingly being pushed into “retirement.”

Most people have been expecting natural gas to be coal’s major substitute. However, Citi’s forecast suggests that growth in natgas demand is going to be way less than previously anticipated.

Renewables should take ever-increasing amounts of market share in an environment like this, according to the report.

In the figure above, you can see that coal’s utilized capacity (measured in GW) is projected drop from 198 GW in 2011 down to 181 GW by 2020. Natural gas slightly increases from 115 GW in 2011 to 132 GW by 2020, although that number is less than previously expected (and you can see there’s a dip from 2012 to 2014). Nuclear sees no major change in either direction, starting at 90 GW and ending at 92 GW.

On the flip side, renewables in 2011 were at 50 GW and are expected to rise to 68 GW by 2020.

two reasons.

First, renewables are rapidly becoming cost-effective, and second, environmental restrictions are becoming an increasingly high hurdle.

Renewables Are Getting Cheaper

Thanks to tech advances, the cost of renewables is finally dropping to affordable levels, which is allowing them to proliferate, according to Citi.

“Costs for solar and wind energy are falling rapidly, with learning rates of around 30% for solar and 7.4% for wind,” the report states.

Wind power has already achieved cost parity with the most expensive coal power plants in Europe (slightly above $80/MWh), and by the end of the decade it’s expected to reach cost parity with the majority of plants (around $70/MWh).

Solar is still the most expensive major electricity source at the moment (around $160/MWh), but Citi is projecting that by 2020 solar will drop to wind’s current prices (slightly above $80/MWh).

“Natural gas has already eroded coal’s cost competitiveness in the US, with decreasing costs for wind, solar and ex-US natural gas to follow,” according to Citi.

Below is the global electricity cost curve.

Citi Research
Environmental Restrictions Favor Renewables

Historically there has been a correlation between economic growth and electricity demand growth. But right now we’re seeing the opposite: during a period of economic growth, electricity demand growth has been relatively flat or declined for some regions.

Some of this can be explained by the need for cleaner energy.

“Environmental pressures on coal consumption are rising not only in Europe and North America, but also in China and other emerging markets,” according to the Citi analyst’s note. “The most significant change has been in China, where increasing regulations and the establishment of carbon markets should limit the attractiveness of coal power. Moreover, the country is aggressively pursuing an ‘everything but coal’ development plan for the power sector, with rapid growth in capacity for alternative energy sources.”

Coal power plants are increasingly being pushed into “retirement.”

Most people have been expecting natural gas to be coal’s major substitute. However, Citi’s forecast suggests that growth in natgas demand is going to be way less than previously anticipated.

Renewables should take ever-increasing amounts of market share in an environment like this, according to the report.

In the figure above, you can see that coal’s utilized capacity (measured in GW) is projected drop from 198 GW in 2011 down to 181 GW by 2020. Natural gas slightly increases from 115 GW in 2011 to 132 GW by 2020, although that number is less than previously expected (and you can see there’s a dip from 2012 to 2014). Nuclear sees no major change in either direction, starting at 90 GW and ending at 92 GW.

On the flip side, renewables in 2011 were at 50 GW and are expected to rise to 68 GW by 2020.

U.S. Gas Exports Unlikely to Ease Tensions Over Ukraine

U.S. Gas Exports Unlikely to Ease Tensions Over Ukraine

Europe Will Still Rely on Russian Gas as First U.S. Shipments Are Two Years Away

By

SELINA WILLIAMS
March 18, 2014 12:50 p.m. ET
LONDON—Natural gas exports from the U.S. are unlikely to help ease the tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine as the first such shipments are about two years away, a senior executive from oil and gas company BG Group PLC said Tuesday.

The U.S. has vast supplies of cheap natural gas thanks to the fracking boom and could become one of the world’s top three exporters of liquefied natural gas by 2025, BG said. Over the past week, some U.S. politicians have urged the Obama administration to speed up oil and natural gas exports to weaken Russia’s hand over Ukraine.

Russia supplies about 30% of Europe’s gas requirements, half of which transit via Ukraine, a factor some believe has stifled European opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Federal law places heavy restrictions on U.S. companies from exporting natural gas to countries, like those in Europe, that aren’t among its free-trade partners.

Applications have already been made to export a total of over 260 million metric tons a year of LNG from the U.S. Even so BG, one of the biggest participants in the global LNG market, said it expects only about 60 million tons to 70 million tons of annual export capacity to be developed by 2025.

Andrew Walker, BG’s vice president of global LNG, said the company didn’t expect much fast-tracking of export applications unless there was a significant change in external circumstances.

BG clinched the first contract to export U.S. natural gas from the Sabine Pass, La., terminal in 2011. It expects those exports to commence in late 2015 or early 2016.

Mr. Walker said that the situation for gas prices and supplies in Europe was “fairly relaxed,” despite political tensions. The region only imported a net 35 million tons of LNG last year, the lowest level in nine years, with demand subdued due to weak economic growth, he said.

Meanwhile, global LNG supplies leveled off for a second consecutive year as new production was offset by unplanned outages, declines in output from existing plants and new projects ramping up more slowly than anticipated. This trend will keep LNG markets tight until at least the end of the decade, BG said in its annual global LNG outlook.

“We’re an industry in hiatus. Developing new supply, rather than demand is the principal challenge the industry faces,” Mr Walker said. Last year, only one in 10 new LNG projects awaiting final investment decisions was sanctioned.

Write to Selina Williams at selina.williams@wsj.com

Mexico’s President Signs Energy Overhaul Into Law

Wall Street Journal

LATIN AMERICA NEWS

Mexico’s President Signs Energy Overhaul Into Law

Legislation Ends Monopoly of State-Owned Petróleos Mexicanos

By

JUAN MONTES
Dec. 20, 2013 3:06 p.m. ET
MEXICO CITY—Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law Friday a bill that ends the monopoly of state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos in oil and gas, opening new horizons for private-sector investment in the world’s ninth-largest oil producer.

The energy bill, Mr. Peña Nieto’s wager to lift stagnant oil production and unleash economic growth, was passed by lawmakers in just 10 days. Congress gave final approval on Thursday of last week after two days of debates, and a required majority of state legislatures, 26 of the country’s 31, approved the constitutional amendment by this week.

“This year, we Mexicans have decided to overcome myths and taboos in order to take a large stride toward the future,” Mr. Peña Nieto said in a speech at the National Palace.

Mr. Peña Nieto became the first president in more than 50 years to propose and pass in Congress changes to the constitution on the subject of oil. The last one was Adolfo López Mateos in 1960, and that was to reinforce a state monopoly set up in 1938 when former President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated the oil industry and turned oil into a nationalist symbol of Mexican sovereignty.

Under the changes, Mexico’s oil market will go from being run by a single player, state-firm Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to a competitive one in which private oil and gas firms will be allowed to explore for and produce hydrocarbons. Pemex will continue to be state-owned, with preferential rights to bid for oil blocks.

The process of implementing the law kicks off immediately. Pemex has three months to choose which of its existing exploration and production areas it wants to retain for itself and demonstrate that it has the capacity to exploit them. The Energy Ministry will have up to six months to approve Pemex’s choice.

The Energy Ministry will then launch the first bidding rounds for new areas of exploration for oil and gas, mainly in deep water and shale gas, which could happen in the last quarter of next year or in 2015.

The government will be able to become a partner with private firms in these new areas through different types of contracts, including licenses and deals to share the oil production. Pemex also will be able to award the new contracts, which go beyond the restrictive service contracts that the state firm always has used to farm out exploration and production work. Private firms will also be allowed to own and operate oil refineries.

The energy overhaul also liberalizes the generation, distribution and sale of electricity, opening up the state-owned utility CFE to direct competition.

The bill amends three key articles of the Mexican constitution—25, 27 and 28—which form the legal core of the country’s nationalistic oil laws. Constitutional changes are accompanied by several temporary dispositions detailing points that secondary legislation must contain. Congress has until the end of April pass the legislation.

Write to Juan Montes at juan.montes@wsj.com

Large swathes of UK to be opened up for shale drilling

Telegraph.co.uk

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Large swathes of UK to be opened up for shale drilling, with communities where fracking takes place to receive £100,000, even if no gas is produced

A gas ring on a domestic stove powered by natural gas is seen alight on January 3. 2005, Manchester, England

A shale gas boom has transformed US energy markets, sending gas prices to record low levels Photo: Getty Images
Emily Gosden

By , Energy Editor

7:00AM GMT 10 Dec 20

large swathes of Britain will be opened up for shale gas drilling under plans due to be announced next week, with local communities promised £100,000 in benefits for every well subjected to fracking – even if no gas is produced.

Ministers are preparing to identify thousands of square miles of land across the country that they believe are rich in shale and should be explored by gas companies.

Michael Fallon, the energy minister, will say the government is “widening the search for shale” and has warned that households “right across the south” should prepare for fracking near their homes.

The identification of provisional “licensing areas” is likely to reignite controversy over fracking, the process of pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to extract gas trapped in rocks.

The Government will today attempt to smooth the way for the plans by confirming a package of benefits for local communities, including the £100,000 upfront payment for any fracking – even if the process is unsuccessful and no gas is produced.

If fracking is successful, communities will then be handed one per cent of revenues the company makes from selling gas – which could see them reap benefits of up to £10 million.

Ministers hope the benefits will help assuage fears of Conservative MPs with constituencies in the south of England who are worried at public hostility to fracking, amid concerns about the impact on the landscape and environment.

The Treasury will on Tuesday publish draft legislation to introduce tax breaks for shale gas companies – announced in the Autumn Statement last week – in an attempt to entice international gas companies to fund drilling in the UK.

“The UK is sitting on significant amounts of shale and the potential prize for energy security and investment is huge. This gives companies the huge incentive to step up the search for shale and find out what is recoverable,” Mr Fallon said.

“Recent reports have tackled public concerns about water contamination and usage, as well as confirming that the risks to public health are low. We have robust regulation in place and now is the the time to press ahead.”

The Chancellor last week said that shale gas could bring “thousands of jobs, billions of pounds of business investment, and lower energy bills”.

However, only a relatively small proportion of Britain – about 7,300 square miles – has so far been licensed for oil and gas drilling. This includes parts of Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Surrey and Sussex, where drilling for oil at Balcombe by Cuadrilla this summer caused fierce protests.

In May ministers commissioned consultants AMEC to carry out a “strategic environment assessment” of a huge area of Britain to help the Government assess which other areas are suitable to open up for drilling.

Campaign group Greenpeace, which opposes fracking, says that the areas being assessed cover some 32,000 square miles.

The plans set out this month will drastically increase the area available for potential fracking.

Oil and gas companies will then compete for rights to drill in the areas in a “licensing round” next year.

Once they have drilling rights from the government, companies would still then have to seek a further series of permits from government as well as access from landowners and planning permission before any fracking could take place.

A British Geological Survey study earlier this year revealed that shale gas trapped in the rocks under northern England and Wales alone could be enough to fuel the UK for more than 40 years. However, much of this area cannot be explored because it has not yet been licensed for drilling.

Marcellus Shale Exports Could Transform Global LNG Market

Marcellus Shale Exports Could Transform Global LNG Market

JULY 25, 2013 | 10:14 AM
BY 

The offshore loading pier at Dominion has not received a ship importing liquefied natural gas since January 2011.

LINDSAY LAZARSKI / WHYY/NEWSWORKS

The offshore loading pier at Dominion has not received a ship importing liquefied natural gas since January 2011.

In energy-hungry countries, all eyes are on Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas. In a dramatic shift from just five years ago, the U.S. is looking to export, instead of import natural gas. And if more natural gas starts getting shipped abroad, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale could help change the global market for natural gas, and lighting homes in Tokyo.

The U.S. currently has two export terminals, one in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, and the ConocoPhillips LNG export terminal in North Cook Inlet, Alaska. The U.S. Department of Energy just gave preliminary approval for ConocoPhillips to expand its Freeport, Texas import terminal to export liquefied natural gas. About 17 other export proposals now await approval by the DOE, including the Cove Point liquefied natural gas import terminal operated by Dominion Resources.

 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY/Newsworks permalink

The offshore loading platform (background) as seen from the Cove Point Lighthouse.

THE “SWEET SPOT” YIELDS A GLUT

In areas of northeast Pennsylvania, drillers say they’ve hit the “sweet spot.” In a drill rig several stories up above a Susquehanna County forest, gas workers guide a giant diamond drill bit, about the size of a basketball, as it cuts through the rock thousands of feet below. Steve MacDonald is in charge of this operation for Cabot Oil and Gas.

Cabot Oil and Gas public relations officer George Stark with a drill rig worker outside of the "dog house."

SUSAN PHILLIPS / STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA

Cabot Oil and Gas public relations officer George Stark with a drill rig worker outside of the “dog house.”

“This is what we call our dog house, this is the command center of our operations up here,” says MacDonald. “This is our driller Mr. Reed here. He shows you how fast we’re drilling, how fast we’re pumping so he understands what’s going on downhole.”

Downhole in places like this Cabot Oil and Gas well, the company has struck gold, so to speak. Cabot’s natural gasproduction volumes and profits soared in 2012, exceeding all expectations.

And because of wells like these in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation, a glut of natural gas has developed nationwide.  Domestic prices for natural gas have dropped about one-third, since July, 2008 before the shale boom really took off.

But overseas, prices are three or four times that.  So drillers here want to ship their gas abroad. The economist for the American Petroleum Institute, John Felmy says exporting Marcellus Shale gas makes sense.

“Because it’s such a vast deposit,” says Felmy, “and developing it, of course, can be used to supply other states as we’re doing now. But there’s likely to be so much of it that exporting it at a very good price would help in terms of keeping production going.”

API’s John Felmy talks to StateImpact Pennsylvania about exports.

As the price has dropped, production in some of Pennsylvania’s gas fields has tailed off.

PIPELINES LEAD TO IDLED IMPORT TERMINAL

In what some call a stroke of luck, the wells across Pennsylvania could easily be connected to an existing interstate pipeline system, which links up to a nearby import terminal.

One of seven holding tanks at Dominion's Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal.

LINDSAY LAZARSKI / WHYY/NEWSWORKS

One of seven holding tanks at Dominion’s Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal.

That import facility lies about 320 miles south of Susquehanna County, on a spit of land jutting out into the Chesapeake Bay, where large white cylindrical tanks are surrounded by a network of 32-inch pipes. The Cove Point liquefaction plant is operated by Dominion Resources. And Dominion also owns and operates a pipeline system that connects these tanks to Pennsylvania’s gas fields. It was only a couple of years ago when plans for that system were to use it for storage and transport between different markets on the East Coast. Today, the company wants to reverse the flow, transporting shale gas to their export facility in Lusby, Md.

The onshore liquefaction plant sits surrounded by a nature preserve. To get to the offshore dock, visitors have to head down into a tunnel and use a bicycle to travel beneath the water to the pier that lies out in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

Before any natural gas gets shipped overseas, it has to be cooled to minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit, the point where it becomes liquid. Export plants that liquefy the gas cost billions of dollars to build. So what they want to do at Cove Point’s idled import facility is spend the relatively bargain basement price of $4 billion converting it to an export facility.

The last time a ship docked at this pier was on New Years Day of 2011. Since then, the seagulls have moved in and made it home.  Hideaways beneath large pipes hold nests with chirping chicks. A nearby dump provides scraps of food, which the nesting birds bring back safely to this deserted pier, leaving the white-washed dock littered with chicken bones and bird poop.

Liquefied natural gas technician Ernest Ortiz monitors the process from the offshore control center.  Ortiz says he would love to start seeing ships coming to the dock. The last one to unload LNG was on New Years Day, 2011.

LINDSAY LAZARSKI / WHYY/NEWSWORKS

Liquefied natural gas technician Ernest Ortiz monitors the process from the offshore control center. Ortiz says he would love to start seeing ships coming to the dock. The last one to unload LNG was on New Years Day, 2011.

Dominion Resources spokesman Dan Donovan says this facility would make one of the best places in the U.S. to export natural gas.

“We have a world class dock and pier,” says Donovan. “We have the storage, we have a pipeline into what is now the second largest natural gas field in the world.”

Donovan’s point about the pipelines is key.

The company’s plan for their pipeline system used to be to pump imported natural gas to states like New York, New Jersey and Ohio. But their plans have changed almost overnight.

“No one saw this coming,” says Donovan.

FUKUSHIMA AND THE SHALE GAS REVERSAL

And Dominion wasn’t the only industry player surprised by Marcellus Shale production.

Wolfgang Moehler is the director of global LNG, the shorthand for liquefied natural gas, for the firm IHS Global.

“[The years] 2007, 2008, the assumption was that the U.S. would become, in the next ten years, the largest gas importers in the world,” says Moehler.

But today, that assumption has been turned on its head, thanks in part to all those productive Marcellus Shale wells, and the March, 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

Japan’s energy situation changed dramatically back in March 2011. Before the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, nuclear energy supplied a third of Japan’s needs. Where it once had 50 nuclear reactors, today the country is down to just two.

Photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter over the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, shows the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on July 9, 2013. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled plant, said the same day that the density of radioactive cesium in groundwater by the sea at the plant has soared to around 90 times higher than three days ago.

KYODO/LANDOV

Photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter over the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, shows the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday, July 9, 2013, more than two years after the meltdown. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled plant, said the same day that the density of radioactive cesium in groundwater by the sea at the plant has soared to around 90 times higher than three days previous.

Analyst Wolfgang Moehler is watching a dramatic shift in the global LNG market, partly due to increasing energy needs in developing countries like India, and the loss of nuclear energy in Japan.

“So a significant amount of that electricity production had to be substituted from fossil fuel generation,” says Moehler.

Japan was already the world’s largest importer of natural gas, but since Fukushima, the pace has increased steadily. Moehler says Japan would love to snag some of that cheaper American gas coming from Pennsylvania’s gas fields. And Pennsylvania’s gas producers would love to sell at a higher price.

He explains that importing nations like Japan are locked into long-term natural gas contracts tied to the price of oil.

“The emergence of the U.S. now as a potential exporter opened up a competition,” said Moehler. [Energy companies in countries like Japan] could also go back to their traditional producers and say well we have a different opportunity, we have to renegotiate the price. So Fukushima has a very very strong impact on Japan’s decision making in that regard.”

SHIFTING GLOBAL LNG MARKETS

Photo shows the inside of the world's largest liquefied natural gas tank in Yokohama near Tokyo, unveiled by Tokyo Gas Co. on March 13, 2013.

KYODO/LANDOV

Photo shows the inside of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas tank in Yokohama near Tokyo, unveiled by Tokyo Gas Co. on March 13, 2013. Japan’s imports of LNG hit a monthly record of 8.23 million tons in January.

But Dominion Resources still has a number of hoops to jump through before it starts piping in Marcellus gas, liquefying it, and shipping it out. IHS analyst Wolfgang Moehler says despite current contracts with neighboring countries like Australia and Indonesia, it may still be cheaper for Japanese energy companies to pay for the Cove Point conversion, and the extra transportation costs of shipping LNG through the Panama Canal to the Pacific rim. This is how good a deal Marcellus Shale gas seems to companies in Japan. Sumitomo Corporation, a Japanese trading company and its U.S. affiliate Pacific Summit Energy, has agreed to help foot the almost $4 billion bill to convert Cove Point to a natural gas export terminal. That company, along with the U.S. affiliate of India’s GAIL Ltd., have signed 20-year service agreements with Dominion to provide natural gas. Sumitomo has since announced that the exported gas would be sold to Tokyo Gas and Kansai Electric Power.

First, the U.S. Department of Energy has to approve any deals with non-free-trade countries, and determine if they’re in the public good. Dominion’s Dan Donovan says they’re pretty confident their proposal will gain approval from the DOE. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also has to weigh in. The state of Maryland has to issue about 30 different permits.

LNG EXPORT OPPONENTS

And not everyone is thrilled with LNG exports. American manufacturers don’t like the plan, because cheap natural gas has helped domestic factories become more cost-efficient.  They say exports would raise prices at home.

Listen to StateImpact’s interview with George Biltz of Dow Chemical.

On the environmental front the Sierra Club is challenging the Cove Point plan in court.

Sierra Club attorney Craig Segall says regulators should not turn a blind eye toward the impact of increased production in natural gas fields like Pennsylvania.

Cove Point Lighthouse sits within sight of the Cove Point LNG terminal.

LINDSAY LAZARSKI / WHYY/NEWSWORKS

Cove Point Lighthouse sits within sight of the Cove Point LNG terminal.

“So if that continues, you wind up making these really large national energy policy decisions,” says Segall, “not just here [in Cove Point] but cumulatively across all these terminals and never ask this serious question. This implies x percent increased methane emissions, y percent increased wastewater production, and as a result, increased wastewater capacity in the fracking states.”

Segall wants the federal government to study the larger upstream impacts.

Natural gas exports may be a good deal for drillers, their investors, and  landowners who leased their mineral rights. But Segall thinks more thought should be given to Pennsylvanians who get few of the benefits of drilling but most of the burdens.

So what would Segall say to someone living in Tokyo, facing rising energy costs?

“I think that’s absolutely the hardest question,” he told StateImpact.

Segall says renewables should be pursued. But in the meantime, he has no easy answer.

“But there’s always this question of equity,” he says. “There’s a question about how do we provide energy globally. And there’s the question about who suffers where energy is produced and who wins, upstream in Pennsylvania or anywhere along the supply chain.”

Segall also says the increased tanker traffic in the Chesapeake Bay could upset its already threatened ecosystem.

Dominion Resources says converting the Cove Point plant will create thousands of new jobs in Maryland and upstream in Pennsylvania.

The company expects the Department of Energy to make a decision on its application by the end of the year.