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Et Tu, Natty? North American NatGas Prices, Trade Follow Oil Down

The North American natural gas trade fell off the same cliff as global oil markets last winter, according to a continental market scorecard kept by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Prices fetched by Canadian gas at the U.S. border tumbled 49.5% in first quarter 2015, down to US$3.92/MMBtu from US$7.76/MMBtu in January-March 2014, DOE said.

U.S. exporters fared even worse. Prices received for U.S. sales into Canada plunged by 58.6% to US$3.81/MMBtu in first quarter 2015 from US$9.22 during the same period a year earlier.

Delivery volumes stagnated or eroded in the Canada-U.S. gas trade during the height of the 2014-2015 heating season in comparison with 2013-2014.

Southbound pipeline deliveries of Canadian production into the United States slipped by 0.9%, down to 771.6 Bcf in first quarter 2015 from 778.5 Bcf in January-March of 2014.

Northbound shipments of U.S. gas into Canada fell off by 11%, dropping to 229.5 Bcf in the first three months of this year from 257.9 Bcf in first quarter 2014.

In the smaller gas trade with Mexico, the average price of southbound U.S. exports fell by 40.7% to US$3.17/MMBtu in first quarter 2015 from US$5.35/MMBtu a year earlier.

The lone positive figure on the continental trade scorecard was a 28% increase in volumes of U.S. gas exported to Mexico, which rose to 207.7 Bcf in the first three months of this year from 162.1 Bcf in first quarter 2014.

The gain in pipeline deliveries to Mexico enabled U.S. gas merchants to record a 4.7% increase in total U.S. exports to both continental trading partner countries, up to 442.7 Bcf in first quarter 2015 from 422.9 Bcf in the same period a year earlier.

Traffic in liquefied natural gas (LNG) increased but remained small. U.S. exports remained nil. Imports more than doubled to 38.4 Bcf in first quarter 2015 from 15 Bcf a year earlier. Prices rose by 10.9% to US$8.79/MMBtu from US$7.93/MMBtu.

DOE does not attempt to forecast the future of volumes and prices on the North American market.

In Alberta, Canada's chief gas-producing jurisdiction, the chief industry watchdog agency sums up consensus views in an annual reserves report. This year's edition indicates hope for eventual improvement is surviving the current market storms.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER, formerly the Energy Resources Conservation Board) projected another year of weakness in the provincial reference price, a weighted average of all production used for calculating government royalties.

The AER predicts the provincial benchmark will average C$2.83 per gigajoule (US$2.30/MMBtu) this year, by hovering in a lean range of C$2.27-3.40/GJ (US$1.84-2.75/MMBtu).

The 2015 prices are not only suffering from a return of mild heating seasons compared to the brutal winter of 2013-2014, the period of polar vortex blizzards. The more durable shale gas revolution continues to foster a chronic surplus across the continent.

"In the near term, prices are projected to remain weak due to increasing gas supply in North America," said the AER.

"Longer term, a combination of liquefied natural gas exports and increased domestic demand is expected to contribute to a strengthening of prices. Over the [10-year] forecast period, the price of natural gas is projected to increase slowly, reaching C$5.82/GJ [US$4.70/MMBtu] in 2024."

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