At the halfway point through the injection season, working natural gas inventories for the Lower 48 states as of July 15 were about 7.4% below the level for the same period last year due to more nuclear outages and increased air conditioning use resulting from warmer-than-normal weather, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said. In a separate report, the EIA said that coal is losing its generation market share to natural gas.

The EIA estimates that 2.6 Tcf has been injected so far during the injection season, which began on April 1 and will run through Oct. 31, compared to 2.9 Tcf for the same period in 2010 and the five-year average of about 2.7 Tcf.

Despite the shortfall, the EIA projects that end-of-season gas inventories will be 3,819 Bcf, or just 28 Bcf less than last year’s all-time record. “Based on inventory levels as of July 15, this projected end-of-season level implies a net average injection of 74.5 Bcf per week, or 10.6 Bcf/d for the remainder of the year,” the agency said.

In both the East and West regions, the current volume of working natural gas in storage is trailing last year’s volume: 8.5% to 1.3 Tcf and 20.1% to approximately 400 Bcf, respectively. During the same period last year, nearly 1.5 Tcf of working gas had been injected in the East region, and 500 Bcf had been injected in the West region, according to the EIA. Storage injections in the Producing region have increased by about 0.4% to 1 Tcf so far this year, the EIA said.

Relative to the five-year average (2006-2010), current inventories in the East and West regions are 8.3% and 6.7% lower, respectively, whereas the Producing region stocks are 9.3% higher.

Separately, the EIA last Wednesday reported that the share of electricity generated by coal during the first three months of this year was the lowest level for a first quarter in more than 30 years, with natural gas and other energy sources picking up market share.

The decline in the share of coal-fired generation was offset by increased generation fueled by other energy sources, particularly natural gas, the EIA said. The U.S. electric power sector generated about 440 terawatt hours (TWh) using coal during the first quarter of this year, which is 26.5 TWh less than the amount generated by coal during the comparable period in 2010.

The amount of coal-fired generation in the first quarter accounted for 46% of total generation, which is 3% less than the same period last year and 6% less than the comparable period in 2008, the EIA said.

In the eastern United States, the spot price of coal has risen steadily for nearly two years, while gas prices have remained comparatively low, making gas a more attractive fuel for generation, the agency noted.

This disparity in fuel costs has contributed to the decline in coal’s share even in the Midwest Census Region, where coal has historically been the dominant fuel used in the power sector, the EIA said. In the first quarter, coal’s share of generation in the Midwest fell to 66.9% from 70.5%, while the region’s fuel share for natural gas gained two percentage points, it said.

In the South Census Region, coal’s share of generation also fell: to 47.7% in the first quarter from 54.5% during the first quarter of 2008, according to the EIA. The Northeast and West Census Regions are much less dependent on coal. Their first quarter coal shares were 24.9% and 29%, respectively, a drop of 8% in the Northeast and 2.6% in the West from the same period in 2008, the agency said.

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