Case For Exporting Marcellus Shale Gas

Q&A: Industry Economist Makes the Case for Exports

JUNE 18, 2013 | 3:26 PM
BY 

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tanks and a membrane-type tanker are seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Futtsu Thermal Power Station in Futtsu, east of Tokyo February 20, 2013. Japan's imports of LNG hit a monthly record of 8.23 million tonnes in January, on an increased need for fuel to generate electricity after the nuclear sector was hit by the Fukushima crisis.

ISSEI KATO / REUTERS/LANDOV

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tanks and a membrane-type tanker are seen at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Futtsu Thermal Power Station in Futtsu, east of Tokyo February 20, 2013. Japan’s imports of LNG hit a monthly record of 8.23 million tonnes in January, on an increased need for fuel to generate electricity after the nuclear sector was hit by the Fukushima crisis.

The nation’s new energy secretary Ernest Moniz spoke at an energy conference Monday, where he told the audience that applications for new natural gas export facilities would be decided upon by the end of the year. Gas producers want to sell their fuel overseas where it fetches a higher price. But before it gets shipped abroad, it has to be converted to its liquid form known as LNG – or liquefied natural gas. Building those facilities is expensive. The closest proposed LNG export terminal to the Marcellus Shale deposit is in Cove Point, Maryland. That could cost more than $3 billion dollars to convert from its former role as a natural gas import terminal. But domestic manufacturers and those who say U.S. security depends on keeping the fossil fuel stateside are pushing back. Environmentalists worry that exports will stimulate more production in states like Pennsylvania, where activists have been pushing to implement a drilling moratorium. StateImpact spoke to the chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, John Felmy, about the future uses of natural gas, and the export issues.

A: Felmy: Well, Marcellus Shale could play a tremendous opportunity in terms of exports, because it’s such a vast deposit. Developing it can of course be used to supply other states, as we are doing now. But there is likely to be so much of it, that exporting it at a very good price would help in terms of keeping production going.

Q:  Phillips: Right now we have the price of natural gas at about $4 per million btu [British Thermal Units] here domestically. And what are we seeing oversees?

A: Felmy: Well in Europe, it’s about $12 per million BTU. But in Asia, it’s as much as $17 or $18 because of the challenges that Japan faces with the Fukushima plants.

Q: Phillips: And I know that the industry is getting a lot of push back from manufacturers who are concerned that if you start exporting natural gas the price for them is going to be too high. And what they have been saying the low price in natural gas has allowed them to come back to the US, and that they are seeing a manufacturing renaissance, because of natural gas prices being so low.

A: Felmy: I think there is enough to go around because all indications are, as the economists would say, is that the supply curve is really flat. In other words, when you have an increase in demand from exports you don’t kind of have a sharp increase in price. And if you look at the drilling data, you see that it tends to support that conclusion.

Q: Phillips: And why is that?

A: Felmy: It is because it is a huge resource, and the industry has been so creative at improving technology, such that we have gotten so much more gas from areas that we’ve never dreamed of. Where ten years ago we were talking about building all these LNG import terminals, and you had all these terminals built and so that was the consensus and everyone from Alan Greenspan on down.

Q: Phillips: The price of natural gas has gone up and down and up and down. And when you think about how much it costs to build an export facility, The Dominion proposal at Cove Point, Maryland is about $3.4 billion dollars, how do you manage that risk? It seems like a pretty risky thing.

A: Felmy: Lets let the market work. Lets not have government intervention. It’s the investors who are going to be taking the risk and things could change, but right now the U.S. is so far ahead of other countries, even though many other countries have huge deposits of shale gas, that we are going to have that opportunity for quite a while.

And so, if you look at the major competition internationally, right now it’s Australia and their costs have increased significantly. And if you look at the deposits in other areas like China, Argentina, and Russia they are large, but because of issues of rule of law, and ownership of the resource, because in most countries except for the United States, the government owns that gas. Here in the US private individuals can [own that gas]. Such factors are reasons why we are ahead and why we are likely to stay ahead.

Q: Phillips: So talk to me about the end user here, how feasible is it that we are going to be seeing cars run on natural gas?

A: Felmy: Well, only 3% of natural gas supply is being used in cars right now. It’s primarily fleets, busses, things like that. So you can expand the car fleet with natural gas, but it is very expensive.  So, it’s about $8,000 to convert car, at that level of expense the car will expire before you get your money back.

But for heavy duty trucks and fleets of cabs, that is a very viable option. We are also going to see a lot of growth in electric power generation. And because of emission restrictions we are already seeing a huge shift from coal to natural gas. We’re incidentally seeing a shift from nuclear to natural gas. For example, there’s a [nuclear] plant out in California, the San Onofre, they decided not to restart. Well, the only other alternative to supply that electricity is with natural gas.

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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.

Coal at Risk as Global Lenders Drop Financing

Coal at Risk as Global Lenders Drop Financing on Climate

By Mark Drajem – Aug 6, 2013 10:56 AM ET

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

An employee stands in front of stockpiles of coal inside a storage yard at the Joban Joint Power Co. coal-fired power station in Iwaki City, Japan.

The world’s richest nations, moving to combat global warming, are cutting government support for new coal-burning power plants in developing countries, dealing a blow to the world’s dominant source of electricity.

Obama Unveils Climate Plan Focused on Power Plants 48:10

June 25 (Bloomberg) — U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about his plan to address climate change. Obama, speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, proposed a sweeping plan that sets goals to reduce carbon emissions and bolster renewable energy while also preparing the country for the impacts of a warming planet. (Source: Bloomberg)

Enlarge image Coal at Risk as Global Lenders Drop Financing on Climate

A coal-fired power station stands in the distance behind a disused coal dredger in the town center in Morwell, Australia, on July 25, 2013. Photographer: Carla

Gottgens/Bloomberg

First it was President Barack Obama pledging in June that the government would no longer finance overseas coal plants through the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Next it was the World Bank, then the European Investment Bank, dropping support for coal projects. Those banks have pumped more than $10 billion into such initiatives in the past five years.

“Drawing back means there is less capital for these projects,” Richard Caperton, managing director for energy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said in an interview. “I don’t expect private capital to move in and fill the void, either, because there is a real risk that these plants will be turned off early.”

Demand for coal in developing nations has taken on increasing importance as the combination of stricter environmental regulations in the U.S., increasing deployment of subsidized renewable resources and a drop in the price of natural gas have pushed utilities to shutter coal plants.

Among the three government-backed lenders, the World Bank has provided $6.26 billion for coal-related projects over the past five years, according to data from Oil Change International. The Ex-Im bank provided more than $1.4 billion to two coal projects, one in South Africa and another in India.

Curb Investments

While the pull back is unlikely to have a direct impact on China, the world’s top user of coal, it could curb construction of new plants in countries such as South Africa and Vietnam and dampen new export markets for coal mined in the U.S., Indonesia or Australia by companies such as Peabody Energy Corp. (BTU) and Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (ANR)

“We’ve never seen a cascading sentiment that coal is not acceptable like we’re seeing happen right now,” Justin Guay, the head of the Sierra Club’s international climate program, said in an interview. “It’s a snowball running downhill.”

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club are fighting coal plants and coal mines, because coal releases the most carbon dioxide per unit of energy of any major fuel source. Scientists say carbon emissions are to blame for warming Earth’s temperatures, increasing the number and severity of storms and melting polar ice.

Supporters of the fuel source say it’s a low-cost way for poor nations to provide light, refrigeration and air conditioning to their people.

‘Our Backs’

The move by lenders against coal turns “our backs on millions without electricity and chooses not to help them achieve a better standard of living,” said Nancy Gravatt, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association in Washington, which represents producers such as Alpha and

Arch Coal Inc. (ACI)

Analysts are divided about long-term global coal demand.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, in a July 25 report, projected world coal use would increase by a third — to more than 200 quadrillion British thermal units a year — by 2040 as developing nations boost its use.

The cut-back in the financing isn’t causing a reassessment of that outlook, said Greg Adams, the team leader for coal at EIA. “The capacity that is going to be affected is going to be limited,” he said.

Gregory Boyce, chief executive officer of Peabody, the largest U.S. coal producer, noted that German and Japanese coal use is climbing as they cut nuclear-power generation.

China, India

“China and India imports have risen year-to-date and are on a pace to increase 15 percent this year to new record levels as the trends to urbanize, industrialize and electrify continue,” Boyce said in a conference call with analysts on July 23.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. offers a less buoyant outlook.

“We believe that thermal coal’s current position atop the fuel mix for global power generation will be gradually eroded,” Christian Lelong, an analyst at Goldman Sachs in Australia, said in a report on July 24. “Most thermal coal growth projects will struggle to earn a positive return.”

Coal is now used to generate 40 percent of the world’s electricity, and its use has grown more than 50 percent in the past decade, according to EIA. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest producer of coal, after China, followed by India, Australia and Indonesia. China is the world’s top importer of coal as well, followed by Japan, according to the World Coal Association.

1,200 Plants

According to an analysis by the World Resources Institute in Washington, 1,200 coal-fired plants are proposed globally, with more than three-quarters of those planned for India and China alone. If all are built, which WRI says is unlikely, that would add more than 80 percent to existing capacity.

China can finance its projects on its own, and India has only relied on export financing in a few cases. As a result, the recent changes are likely to impact other nations in Africa and Asia, which don’t have the same access to credit. Each group said in some instances it would still finance coal, and activists are worried about those exceptions.

“The implementation of all three of those initiatives is yet to be fleshed out,” Doug Norlen, the policy director of Pacific Environment, which is fighting these kinds of fossil-fuel projects, said in an interview. “These will be huge steps, if properly implemented.”

That implementation is still an open question.

Project Rejected

For example, as part of Obama’s climate action plan released on June 25, the U.S. pledged to end support of foreign coal-fired power plants, unless they are in the poorest nations or have expensive carbon-capture technology. The U.S. Export-Import Bank is only now developing the procedures to implement that policy, and its board will consider those changes in the coming weeks. The lender shot down a bid to finance a coal plant in Vietnam, its only pending application for coal, just three weeks after Obama’s announcement.

Norlen’s group and other environmentalists filed a lawsuit against the Export-Import Bank last week to try to block its financing of coal exports. That support is separate from the policy change Obama announced.

The European Investment Bank set an emission performance standard that would prevent lending to new coal-fired plants unless they also burn biomass. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is also under pressure to limit support.

Japan Support

Even after the World Bank said it would help nations transition from coal to natural gas or renewables, it’s still considering support for a coal project in Kosovo.

There’s also the possibility that other lenders, especially export-credit agencies from Japan or China, could step in and replace the World Bank, U.S. and Europe. Japan’s Bank for International Cooperation, its export financing body, has provided more than $10 billion in financing for overseas coal projects, more than any other individual nation, according to the WRI report.

And now China, which wants to export coal-plant technology, may ramp up support as well, said Ailun Yang, the author of the WRI report.

“It is a real concern” that “some of the funding gap for coal-fired plants would simply be filled by the Chinese banks,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net