Growing domestic consumption of natural gas and increasing exports, both via pipelines to Mexico and liquefied natural gas to other markets, will help to boost prices next year higher than previously forecast, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Henry Hub natural gas spot prices will average $3.27/MMBtu in 2017, up from an estimated $2.49/MMBtu this year and a robust 15 cents higher than previously forecast, EIA said in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), which was released Tuesday.
EIA's projected prices have steadily increased in recent months. In October, the agency said it expected 2017 Henry Hub natural gas spot prices to average $3.07/MMBtu. EIA's 2017 natural gas price forecast stood at $2.87/MMBtu in September.
The front-month natural gas contract for delivery at Henry Hub moved increased by 60 cents/MMBtu from Nov. 1, settling at $3.51/MMBtu on Dec. 1, EIA said. NYMEX contract values for March 2017 delivery traded during the five-day period ending Dec.1 suggest a price range from $2.20/MMBtu to $5.04/MMBtu encompasses the market expectation of Henry Hub natural gas prices in March 2017 at the 95% confidence level, EIA said
"The monthly average natural gas spot price in November fell 43 cents/MMBtu from the October average," the agency said. "Both natural gas futures and spot prices declined in the first half of November as warmer-than-normal temperatures helped to push natural gas inventories to record levels. In November, U.S. population-weighted heating degree days were 21% below the previous ten-year average and U.S. natural gas inventory levels exceeded 4 Tcf during the middle of the month. The natural gas spot price, which represents very-near-term delivery, was more greatly affected by the record high inventories and fell by a larger percentage than the futures price."
Last week, EIA reported the second storage withdrawal of the young heating season. The withdrawal of 50 Bcf left 3,995 Bcf of gas in storage, 24 Bcf more than at the same time last year and 235 Bcf more than the five-year average.
"U.S. natural gas inventories were at their highest level ever at the beginning of the current heating season, but stronger gas demand this winter and increased exports are expected to reduce natural gas inventories to more normal levels by the end of winter in late March," said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.
EIA expects temperatures from December through March to average 3% warmer than normal, which would be 13% colder than the same period last year, resulting in an estimated 13% year-over-year increase in residential and commercial natural gas consumption December through March. Total natural gas consumption for the same months is forecast to be 4% higher than last winter.
"The increase in domestic consumption, combined with ongoing growth in pipeline and liquefied natural gas exports, is projected to reduce natural gas inventories to levels closer to historical averages at the end of the winter," EIA said.
Natural gas marketed production is expected to average 77.5 Bcf/d in 2016, a 1.3 Bcf/d decline from the 2015 level, which would be the first annual decline since 2005, according to the STEO. EIA expects natural gas production in 2017 to increase by an average of 2.5 Bcf/d from the 2016 level.