The amount of natural gas traded in the United States increased in 2015 for the first time in four years, with overall trading volumes up 4.1% compared to 2014, according to an analysis of FERC Form 552 submissions by Cornerstone Research.

“While that increase this year wasn’t big, the fact that it reversed that downward trend is really notable,” said Greg Leonard, head of Cornerstone’s energy and commodities practice.

Despite that increase, 2015 Form 552 volume was 5.8% below its peak volume in 2011, according to a report released by Cornerstone Wednesday.

Trading activity reported in the Form 552 submissions totaled 123,829 TBtu, transacted by 680 respondents, two dozen more respondents than in 2014, Cornerstone said.

“The U.S. natural gas market remains an unconcentrated industry,” Leonard said. “The top 20 companies accounted for slightly over 43% of volume reported on Form 552 submissions. The industry continues to transact the largest portion of its transactions as next-month, index-price transactions.”

At the same time, the volume of fixed-price natural gas transactions reported to price index publishers decreased 4%.

The base of transactions used to set price indices continued to shrink in 2015 relative to the transactions that relied on the indices. The volume of transactions dependent on indices was more than 7.5 times larger than the volume of transactions potentially reported to indices last year, according to Cornerstone’s analysis. That ratio has been steadily increasing for several years, up from 3.6 in 2008.

“It’s not necessarily surprising,” Leonard told NGI. “There’s still a whole awful lot of transactions that go into the various indexes, and the fact that there are more and more transactions that use those indexes doesn’t necessarily tell you anything other than a lot of folks out in the market feel really comfortable relying on the indexes.

“You don’t have these kinds of reports for every commodity. FERC is pretty unique in going after this kind of information that it’s collecting in the 552s in the natural gas market. Their goals are to make it more transparent, as to how much trading goes on and then how much trading goes into the indexes versus how much relies on the indexes.”

Aggregate trading of natural gas contracts on the two main futures exchanges decreased for the third straight year, Cornerstone said, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. trading decreasing by 3.8% and CME Group Inc. trading increasing by 2.4% as it gained market share.

The amount of gas produced or consumed is only tangentially related to gas traded since a typical molecule of natural gas was traded through approximately 2.4 transactions from production to consumption, according to the report.

Cornerstone’s findings were in line with a recent analysis by NGI of 2015 Form 552 buyer and seller filings with FERC (see Daily GPI, June 9). Total volumes bought and sold increased for the first time in four years, reaching 125,386 TBtu, compared with 114,603 TBtu in 2014 (see Daily GPI, May 28, 2015), according to NGI‘s analysis. It was the highest single year on record since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission began publishing Form 552 data seven years ago (see Daily GPI, July 6, 2009).

NGI‘s analysis covered data taken directly from a spreadsheet located on FERC’s website, with a single exception: NGI added Energy Transfer (No. 13, with 1,979 TBtu and 1.6% market share) data, which came in too late to be added to FERC’s tally.

An NGI survey of leading natural gas marketers in North America earlier this year found a 2% decline for full-year 2015 compared to 2014 sales (see Daily GPI, March 4). Overall declines continued into 1Q2016, though several mid-level marketers, including Tenaska, were picking up speed (see Daily GPI, June 3). The NGI survey ranks marketers on sales transactions only. FERC, in its Form 552, tallies both purchases and sales.