U.S. gas prices are soaring as summer heats

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5 minutes
U.S. gas prices are soaring as summer heats

Natural gasoline prices are approaching the summer air conditioned season nearly twice as high as they were a year ago.

The demand for fuel is increasing as markets reopen and as Americans dial down their thermostats for what is expected to be a hot summer. Meanwhile, U.S. producers have stuck to the skimpy drilling plans they wrote out when prices were lower, eliminating the glut which kept them depressed.

Foreign natural-gas futures ended on Friday at $3.215 per million British thermal units, up 96% from a year ago and the highest price since 2017 has settled into summer. Futures traded just higher when it was earlier in the month — and regional spot prices increased. Analysts expect prices to be even higher later in the year when it is time to fire up furnaces.

It is not just in the United States where gas is running high. The Dutch Gas Futures, a barometer for prices in western Europe, have more than doubled since February to multi-year highs over the past year, including a sharp rise since February. In Asia, chilled natural gas is fetching more than five times what it did in June, beckoning tankers filled with imported liquefied shale gas across the Pacific.

More expensive natural gas has stoked the demand in international markets for coal, with which gas competes to fuel power plants. The futures prices for thermal coal loaded at a terminal in Newcastle, Australia have more than doubled from a year ago. The benchmark price has upped over the past month to 27% and has not been so high in a year in nearly a decade.

If the rates stay higher, Americans can expect bigger utility bills. The e-learning from home class could feel a pinch in me. The pandemic who have cooled home office electronics and heated they would normally be away at work when they have been at home.

Besides being consumed to generate electricity and for hot showers and cooking, natural gas is burned in large volumes to make plastic, fertilizer, steel and cement. In gauging inflation, property prices do not consider and issue rates too because of these factors. However, rising gas prices add to the costs of producing ranaway goods at a time when there are the possibilities for more inflation.

These are the consequences of the underinvestment we've experienced in industrial gas, said Colin Fenton, chairman of investment banking at Houston's Tudor, Pickering, Holt Co. What's significant is that these prices are happening with the natural demand, more than a quarter of the market, so early in its recovery.

In December 2019, the U.S. natural-gas output peaked in November 2019. March marked the 11th straight month in which production dropped in the 48 contiguous states according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. There are now only five more rigs drilling for gas than the 92 operating as of March, according to the Oil-Solution Service Firm.

The Appalachian energy producers that control the country's gas spigots have taken a cautious approach to reopening the wells they closed last spring when prices of pandemic sank. Drillers in the Haynesville shale that straddles Texas and Louisiana have been slow to tap their reserve of wells that have been drilled but not yet fracked to start them flowing.

Gas producers had suffered for years from the prevailing prices caused by their own backers of low prices. Investors and analysts pressured producers to focus less on expanding volume and more on profitability.

The reward has been the increase of stock prices. Production share of gas producers and a half years is shortened by the fact that some of the best performers in the 'both and out of the three months below, respectively up more than 40%.

A cold start to winter threatened to leave the country's gas stored caverns filled until February when it will be liquidated. The demand for heat reached the same time that many flow-starchy wells stopped flowing.

Overseas buyers are clamoring for shale gas to restock depleted inventories after cancelling cargoes a year ago. With the opening of a new pipeline system south of the border, the demand from Mexico has increased. Drought has made up for more energy in the west U.S. and it is being used to cool homes and businesses during the heat wave that last week pushed temperatures above 100 degrees in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

All demand has meant smaller injections into the U.S. stockpiles, which usually appear in the spring and summer before winter when demand usually outstrips production. In November, U.S. gas inventories, which blemmed near all-time highs, are now 16% below the last year's levels and 4.9% less than the five-year average for this time of year.

In the past we had these demand gains, but they were all overpowered by production increases, said Kent Bayazitoglu, who tracks supplies for Baker O'Brien Inc., an energy consulting firm. Also, we don't have those anymore.

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