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EIA: Peak Storage Capacity Up 2.6% Since April 2008

Every week the Energy Information Administration (EIA) tells the gas industry roughly how much of its product is stored underground. Once a year it estimates how big the nation's gas warehouse actually is. By the latest estimate, capacity has grown due to the opening of facilities and expansions.

EIA measured peak working gas capacity and working gas design capacity. The former is based on actual peak storage volumes while the latter is based on certificated capacity and is a less conservative estimate. Peak working capacity as of April was 3,889 Bcf, an increase of 100 Bcf from a year ago, EIA said. Working design capacity was 4,313 Bcf, an increase of 177 Bcf from a year ago.

"The increase in natural gas storage capacity estimates can be attributed to the opening of new facilities, capacity expansion at existing facilities and, for demonstrated peak capacity, greater use of existing storage facilities during the past year," EIA said in the 2009 update.

Anticipation of the revised capacity estimates has been particularly strong this year as the industry has been struggling with nearly full caverns well in advance of the injection season's end. As the industry strives to find a home for robust production from gas shale plays while demand is depressed by a weak economy, it could test the outer limits of design capacities.

"However, logistical, operation and practical considerations may preclude attainment of maximum design capacities of storage fields so that a summation of design capacities is likely to exceed actual available maximum storage capacity," EIA's report said.

EIA found that the peak working capacity was equivalent to 90.2% of working design capacity across the three storage regions; however, the disparity varies by region.

For instance, in the West Region, peak capacity is only 73.3% of design capacity, "reflecting several still-active fields that have experienced a shift in their primary role from seasonal storage to other functions, such as pipeline load balancing, and fields that are being drawn down to be taken out of service," EIA noted.

In all three regions peak capacity as a percentage of design capacity decreased from 2008 to 2009, EIA said. "This is because working gas design capacity increased faster than the peak working gas capacity in each region as a result of new facilities coming online and facility expansions," EIA said. "The inclusion of new capacity affects the ratio of estimated peak working gas capacity to working gas design capacity as the incremental build of working gas in storage is on average lower than the increase that is ultimately expected to occur."

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