It looks like Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas drillers can breathe a sigh of relief this year if forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU) hit their mark. The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be milder than last year's and may be one of the least active seasons in decades, according to their study this week.
The 2014 hurricane season was a calm one, producing a total of eight named storms, including six hurricanes, two of them major (Category 3 or higher) and offering a relatively minor threat to North American energy interests (see Daily GPI, Nov. 26, 2014). But 2015 could be even quieter, with an El Nino event in the Pacific "of at least moderate strength" this summer and fall, and "quite cool" water in the tropical and subtropical Atlantic, combining to limit tropical storm activity.
"We anticipate that the 2015 Atlantic basin hurricane season will be one of the least active seasons since the middle of the 20th century," the CSU forecast team said. In their first forecast of the year, the forecasters said they expect a total of 7 named storms, including three hurricanes, only one of them major, to form in the Atlantic this year.
The 1981-2010 seasonal average was 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
"We anticipate a below-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the United States coastline and in the Caribbean."
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
Last year, a combination of atmospheric conditions acted to suppress hurricane formation, including very strong vertical wind shear, increased atmospheric stability, stronger sinking motion and drier air across the tropical Atlantic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center. Forecasters, including CSU and NOAA, had been prescient in their 2014 hurricane forecasts (see Daily GPI, May 22, 2014, June 3, 2014).
Increased natural gas production from U.S. shale plays in recent years has lessened the potential impact of Gulf hurricanes on prices and supply (see Daily GPI, Sept. 18, 2013). Total marketed natural gas production out of the Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) has been on the decline since 1997, when it was 14.05 Bcf/d, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. By 2014 that number had tumbled to 3.37 Bcf/d, and EIA estimates that it will continue to decline to 3.17 Bcf/d this year and 2.97 Bcf/d in 2016.
In a recent webinar, NGI’s Patrick Rau, director of strategy and research, said there has been a large swing as to where gas is produced in the United States (see Daily GPI, April 8). The GOM in the 1990s represented around 25% of total U.S. gas production; today it's about 5%, he said. Appalachian gas output grew from less than 6% of domestic production in 2006 to more than 20% in 2014. A replay of the 45-minute webinar is available at www.naturalgasintel.com/webinar.