Betting On The Coming Boom in Natural Gas Prices

From Money Morning

By Dr. Kent Moors

As I write this from Pittsburgh, the temperature has reached the single digits. This is not a big deal for some of you elsewhere – like the Plains States or New England – but it does serve as a reminder of what season this actually is.

There is also something else happening this morning.

Natural gas prices are moving up.

There is still some way to go before these prices reach the $4 plus level (still the perceived breakeven point for a number of producers). Still, after testing the low $3 range earlier in the month, the temperatures in the East are certainly bringing gas back into perspective.

Natural gas usage remains sensitive to temperatures and weather conditions during the winter. Last year’s unusually warm temperatures depressed gas prices more than usual.

That was because the amount of gas extractions was much above anticipated levels. The combination of lower demand and higher supply translated into a downward price pressures.

But we are in a different environment for gas production than we were a few years ago.

Until 2005, the assumption was that the U.S. would need to import more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to compensate for accelerating declines in conventional domestic production.

LNG overcomes the primary problem faced by natural gas users. Available supply is traditionally limited to where pipelines are running. LNG, on the other hand, cools gas to a liquid, allowing it to be transported by tankers almost anywhere by water, regasified at an import terminal, and then injected into the local pipeline network.

By the middle of last decade, estimates of how much domestic gas need would have to be imported via LNG were as much as 15% and as soon as 2020.

But the ability to exploit unconventional deposits (shale and tight gas, coal bed methane) has dramatically changed the equation.

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