Due in large part to prolific shale gas development, total marketed gas production in the United States experienced its largest year-over-year volumetric increase in history in 2011, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook for February.

Total marketed production rose by an estimated 4.8 Bcf/d, or 7.8%, to 66.15 Bcf/d last year from 61.38 Bcf/d in 2010, said the EIA in its outlook, which was released Tuesday. “This strong growth was driven in large part by increases in shale gas production,” EIA said.

While the EIA said it expects gas production growth to continue in 2012 (to 67.64 Bcf/d) and 2013 (to 68.52 Bcf/d), the projected increases are expected to occur at a much lower rate than those seen in 2011 as low gas prices reduce drilling plans.

The Baker Hughes rig count fell to 745 as of Feb. 3 from a 2011 high of 936 in mid-October. But “declines in production have not accompanied declines in the rig count, partly reflecting improving drilling efficiency,” EIA said. “That fact, combined with high initial production rates from new wells, associated natural gas production from oil drilling and a backlog of uncompleted or unconnected wells contribute to EIA’s forecast of further production increases in 2012 and 2013.”

The EIA sees pipeline gross imports falling by 0.5 Bcf/d (5.5%) this year as domestic production grows and displaces Canadian sources. Liquefied natural gas imports are expected to drop by 0.3 Bcf/d in 2012. But EIA predicts that an average of about 0.7 Bcf/d will arrive at terminals in the United States in both this year and next, either to take advantage of temporarily high local prices due to cold snaps and disruptions or to fulfill long-term contract obligations.

The EIA expects natural gas consumption to average an estimated 68.5 Bcf/d this year, up 1.6 Bcf/d (2.4%) from 2011. “Consumption increases in all sectors, with the largest volume increase (1.2 Bcf/d) coming from the electric power sector. Natural gas consumption growth continues into 2013, with projected total consumption averaging 69.7 Bcf/d.”

The EIA said it expects natural gas spot prices, which averaged $2.67/MMBtu in January, to begin to recover after this winter’s inventory draw season ends and will average $3.35/MMBtu this year and $4.07/MMBtu in 2013.

Working gas inventories continue to set new seasonal record highs due to the unusually warm winter, with a total of 2,966 Bcf in storage at the end of January. The EIA expects the heating season to end with inventories of more than 2,000 Bcf at the end of March.

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