The U.S. government agency The Energy Information Administration (EIA) issues data on U.S. natural gas production, including shale gas, on a monthly basis with a lag of roughly two months. The latest data release was made on December 12 and covers the period up until end-September 2013.
Data is reported in billion cubic feet (bcf). Key points:
- September 2013 natural gas dry production: 1,989 bcf, minus 0.2% year-on-year
- Average monthly production for the 12 months to September 2013: 2,014 bcf, +0.8% over the same period the previous year
Since the end of 2011, the rate of production increase has rapidly decreased (click chart below for larger image).
The uptick in natural gas prices associated with the rapid deceleration in natural gas production growth has, rather surprisingly, rolled over, probably due to the increased competitiveness of coal. Prices paid by electricity utilities are back near $4 (I prefer this indicator since ‘well head’ prices are reported with a large lag). This price level is unlikely to sustain a new round of rig investment.
Much recent media attention has centred on a so-called shale-gas revolution in the United States and, in particular, the ability of shale gas to boost overall volume of natural gas production. Many claims are made with respect to the prospective expansion in shale gas production in the coming years including the following:
- Shale gas will provide a low-cost source of natural gas, and thus cheap energy, for decades to come. This, in turn, will boost the competitiveness of the U.S. economy.
- The U.S. will move toward an era of energy self-sufficiency, which will help buttress the country’s geopolitical security.
- The scale of shale gas production will be sufficient to allow the U.S. to commence natural gas exports, thus transforming energy markets outside of the U.S. such as those in Europe.
- Increased natural gas production in the U.S. will mitigate carbon emissions through displacing coal and so reduce the risk of dangerous climate change.
For these claims to be substantiated, significant year-on-year rises in U.S. natural gas production will be required over an extended period. Through tracking monthly production of natural gas, a non-specialist can confirm or refute whether large rises in natural gas production are being achieved and, therefore, whether the claims associated with a shale-gas revolution are credible. In short, the monthly numbers allow you to evaluate the hype. Monthly data are currently not showing any material increase in production.