The usual suspects — BP plc, ConocoPhillips, Sempra Energy, Coral and Chevron — once again led NGI‘s Top 20 List of North American natural gas marketers for 1Q2006. But a closer look at the numbers and recent headlines reveal an evolving cast of characters. Sempra tumbled from its long-held second spot, ConocoPhillips, Coral and Louis Dreyfus showed strong sequential gains, and big-time U.S. gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp. edged into the rankings.

Overall, NGI‘s top 20 gas marketers reported selling 108.19 Bcf/d, a 2% increase from the 105.79 Bcf/d reported in 1Q2005. But the numbers are, of course, open to interpretation. NGI compiled data using reports from the companies themselves or from filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). However, there are, of course, some large gas marketers that prefer to fly under the radar and which have not submitted their sales information. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, for instance, are reputed to have $1 billion-plus energy trading operations, but they are not included in the survey.

Still, the data indicate a healthy overall marketplace for energy traders. BP, which only submits year-end North American gas sales figures to NGI, appeared to once again lead the charge, reporting U.S.-only gas production of 24.85 Bcf/d in 1Q2006 — a 6% decline from the 26.48 Bcf/d reported in 1Q2005. (BP supplies data at year-end for U.S. and Canadian sales; NGI uses SEC filings to compile quarterly data.)

Source: Quarterly financial reports with theSecurities and Exchange Commission, or if necessary, statements signedby company officials and provided to NGI.

*Total excludes Constellation because no number wasprovided for 1Q2005. Companies providing data directly to NGI includedConocoPhillips, Coral, Cinergy, Tenaska, Louis Dreyfus, UBS, MerrillLynch and Constellation. BP’s figure is for U.S. natural gas production,not natural gas sales. BP does not issue quarterly data for its NorthAmerican gas sales.

ConocoPhillips, meanwhile, edged out Sempra for second place, showing 15% growth in sales from a year ago, up to 13 Bcf/d from 11.3 in 1Q2005. Sempra, the largest U.S. natural gas utility and one of the few nonproducers in the top 10, had held the second-place spot in the NGI rankings since 3Q2004. Sempra reported a 3% gain from a year earlier, to 12.60 Bcf/d from 12.2. But its profile may be changing. Just last month, Sempra CEO Donald Felsinger announced Sempra is considering a spin-off or sale of its commodities-trading unit in order to become more attractive to investors (see Daily GPI, May 19).

Coral, Shell’s trading arm, continued its solid and steady climb, with physical gas sales up 7% from a year ago to 11.6 Bcf/d from 10.8. Chevron, however, showed the biggest overall gain in gas sales from a year ago, jumping 50% to 7.5 Bcf/d from 4.99. Some of the gains by Chevron were attributed to its acquisition of Unocal Corp. in August 2005.

Louis Dreyfus, which has quietly strengthened its physical gas sales business quarter-by-quarter, reported a 39% jump from a year ago to 5 Bcf/d from 3.61 — without any flashy acquisitions or mergers. And even though it is a lot smaller than many of the North American gas marketers, Chesapeake Energy Corp. moved into NGI‘s survey by muscling up its sales 32% from a year ago, to 1.24 Bcf/d from 0.94 Bcf.

There also were sales declines and survey changes, which were tied to mergers, acquisition sales, and in one case, a bankruptcy filing.

Cinergy, which completed its merger with Duke Energy in April, reported a 15% decline in North American gas sales for the quarter. But the decline was not a big surprise to those watching the headlines. Cinergy began to scale back its wholesale gas trading operations last year after betting on lower prices and losing (see Daily GPI, July 29, 2005). Last September, Duke also decided to wind down its wholesale power trading operations (see Daily GPI, Sept. 14, 2005). And in May, the combined company announced a plan to sell off Cinergy Marketing and Trading LP and Cinergy Canada Inc. (see Daily GPI, May 15). No buyer has yet been named.

Others reporting a drop in gas sales for the quarter were El Paso, down 23%, Oneok, down 22%; Nexen, 16%; Williams, 12%; Devon, 10%; ExxonMobil, 8%; and Merrill Lynch, 3%.

One of NGI‘s perennial survey participants, Calpine Corp., failed to make it this time after filing for bankruptcy last year (see Daily GPI, Dec. 22, 2005). Calpine’s energy trading venture with Bear Stearns fell apart, but Bear Stearns has begun a new trading operation based in Houston called Bear Energy LP, which is expected to soon make an impact in the market (see Daily GPI, April 12).

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