Energy operators were cautiously optimistic during their recent quarterly conference calls that Lower 48 natural gas activity would improve in anticipation of increasing LNG demand, but the startup of more export projects is not yet a certainty, according to some analysts.

Evercore ISI’s James West, senior managing director, said the U.S. gas rig count jumped sharply in 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Last year, there was a new reality. 

“The gas rig count dipped with gas prices in the second half of 2023 and is unlikely to recover until we see pricing improve,” West told NGI. “This will likely unfold in the second half of 2024 as we get closer to the finalization of LNG export terminal construction.” 

West cautioned, though, about hanging too much importance on...