Mexico is expected to see record imports of piped natural gas from the United States this summer as the economy recovers from the impacts of the coronavirus.

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Energy Aspects analysts forecast cross-border flows from the United States to Mexico this summer would average 6.3 Bcf/d, up 800 MMcf/d year/year, as demand rebounds on Mexico’s national pipeline system Sistrangas and domestic production stagnates.

“The states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas. which account for 32%, or around 3.3 Bcf/d, of demand on Sistrangas. have lifted all lockdown measures from March 29, with all normal activities allowed and schools reopening,” Energy Aspects said. “Mexican domestic gas production also continues to underperform, further supporting the need for pipeline imports to backfill demand.”

Mexican national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) reported declines in overall natural gas output and in dry natural gas output from its processing centers in February.

Dry gas production averaged 2.08 Bcf/d for the month, down from 2.18 Bcf/d in January and 2.19 Bcf/d in February 2020. Mexico’s total natural gas production meanwhile averaged 3.8 Bcf/d in February, compared with 3.84 Bcf/d in February 2020, according to the latest figures from upstream regulator Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos (CNH).

Pemex supplied 3.6 Bcf/d of the total, versus 3.61 Bcf/d in the year-ago month. Pemex consumes a portion of its gas production, explaining the discrepancy between total output and the amount produced from its processing centers.

Last year, Mexican natural gas demand was hit hard by the economic impacts of the coronavirus, falling substantially between April and July, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Gas consumption in Mexico averaged 8.2 Bcf/d during the period, down 5% or 500 MMcf/d from the same span in 2019, EIA said.

The Energy Aspects analysts expect peak summer exports from the United States to Mexico this year to average 6.4-6.6 Bcf/d. Their summer outlook is 0.1 Bcf/d lower than a projection last month following EIA data that showed flows were lower than indicated by daily data.

“We have previously highlighted this and pegged the discrepancy at 0.2-0.3 Bcf/d, but EIA pipeline exports to Mexico undercut daily flow data by as much as 0.5 Bcf/d in November-December 2020,” Energy Aspects said.

Wood Mackenzie’s Ricardo Falcón, natural gas analyst, told NGI’s Mexico GPI that his firm is more bullish on upcoming summer demand and imports from the United States.

In its latest projection, Wood Mackenzie forecasts U.S.-to-Mexico pipeline exports to average 6.7 Bcf/d during peak summer, roughly 200 MMcf/d above the average range provided by Energy Aspects.

“Mexican dry gas output’s underperformance, especially since mid-February, has certainly contributed to sustained U.S.-to-Mexico piped exports,” Falcón said.

He said since the mid-February Texas winter storm that sent natural gas prices skyrocketing, leading the Sistrangas and some private pipelines in Mexico to declare critical alerts, imports from the United States have rebounded to average 5.8 Bcf/d.

As is typical, natural gas demand in Mexico dropped at the start of April because of lower economic activity around Semana Santa, or Easter week, along with planned maintenance rounds at different pipes along the border. “But a new rebound is likely as we move forward into the hot season,” he said.

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said it expects Mexico’s economy to grow by 5% this year, after contracting 8% in 2020. New infrastructure has also come online since last year, improving the overall pipeline supply picture.

Fermaca’s Waha-to-Guadalajara pipeline was completed last October and Waha volumes are now displacing Mexico’s liquified natural gas imports at its Manzanillo terminal.

Waha gas should also see greater access in the Mexico market with the February commercial startup of Grupo Carso’s 472 MMcf/d Samalayuca-Sásabe pipeline. Energy Aspects analysts, however, expect the pipeline “will be mostly underutilized because of a lack of connections to new sources of demand.”