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Booming NatGas Picture Not Without Risk, Industry Analyst Says

The shale boom does not come without risks, but it is presenting some major potential economic benefits for the United States if the industry and the nation can negotiate the "riskier parts of commercial commodity management," according to ConocoPhillips Marketing Analysis Director Jim Duncan, who spoke at the LDC MidContinent Gas Forum in Chicago Monday.

While U.S. natural gas producers still "aren't even trying hard," the good news story in the industry is that even coming out of one of the coldest winters in recent history, the gas suppliers "have yet to not supply," said Duncan. The industry continues to set new records in daily gas production he said, with most of the increases coming from supplies associated with oil and dry gas drilling being held back considerably.

There will continue to be risks related to weather and price volatility, but low-cost sustainable supplies of natural gas are providing substantial U.S. economic benefits in new jobs, domestic economic growth, and added government revenues, Duncan said. He cited projections for an added 1.1 million jobs in the industry by 2030, bringing the industry totals to near 10 million; 8% of the U.S. gross domestic product, or $1.2 trillion coming from gas by 2030; and $800 billion in added cumulative government revenues from gas by 2030.

Among the new risks that arise in this bullish environment, Duncan said there is the problem of the nation's gas transportation system. He described it as "woefully inadequate for meeting high demand for long periods of time." Some of the unknowns or risks surrounding this include liquefied natural exports, power generation demand growth and price volatility, Duncan said.

He cited price differences in Southern California last winter compared to the previous winter, where the utilities were losing baseload supplies in their transmission system because of eastern demand diverting supplies normally going west. So as a result of having to rely on more spot supplies, the price spreads were $3.47/Mcf-$19.80/Mcf last winter, compared to a more typical $3.35-4.15/Mcf the same period in 2013.

"The reality is that we are still going to have volatility," Duncan said. "And all the indicators are telling us that the opportunity for managing [price volatility and other] risks is now."

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