Newequipment 1992 New England Winter Sunrise Thinkstock
Newequipment 1992 New England Winter Sunrise Thinkstock
Newequipment 1992 New England Winter Sunrise Thinkstock
Newequipment 1992 New England Winter Sunrise Thinkstock
Newequipment 1992 New England Winter Sunrise Thinkstock

What U.S. Region Will Have the Priciest Gas This Winter?

Nov. 2, 2016
Even though natural gas prices have plummeted across the globe, a pipeline bottleneck in New England will make it the most expensive region for heating fuel in the world this winter.

Author: Naureen S. Malik

The global glut of natural gas still hasn’t reached one corner of the U.S.

The heating fuel may surge to $20 to $25 per million British thermal units in New England this winter, the highest in the world, as pipeline bottlenecks limit supplies during frigid weather, traders including Consolidated Edison Inc.’s ConEdison Energy said. Prices have collapsed across the rest of the globe amid tepid demand growth, rising exports and a plunge in crude oil prices earlier this year. 

Competition for pipeline access into New England is poised to intensify as the power grid, already getting more than half of its supply from gas, becomes even more reliant on the fuel as coal-fired plants shut. Opposition from environmental and consumer groups threatens to delay and derail new lines, including a $3 billion Spectra Energy Corp. project.

“New England remains pipeline constrained, so if bouts of very cold weather move in this winter, you could certainly see prices spike,” Alex Tertzakian, an analyst with Energy Aspects Ltd. in London, said in an e-mail Oct. 28. “This would likely make New England briefly the world’s premium market.”

Gas deliveries on Spectra’s Algonquin line to Boston and other New England cities for January and February were valued at more than $7.60 per million British thermal units Tuesday, according to Bloomberg Fair Value prices. In spot trading Monday, Algonquin settled at $2.76, a 3-cent discount to the benchmark Henry Hub in Louisiana.

“There is going to be a lot of volatility and it’s going to be driven by the weather,” John Borruso, ConEdison Energy’s manager of natural gas trading, said in an Oct. 20 telephone interview. “The number of days you see more than $20 is under three or five days. If it’s super cold for a number of days you might start to stress the infrastructure.”

Globally, prices aren’t expected to approach those levels in major markets. Spot liquefied natural gas for Japan traded below $6 per million Btu as of Sept. 30 and the U.K. NBP benchmark is trading at about $6. Neither region has seen $20 LNG prices in the last decade, according to Bloomberg Intelligence data.

Operating conditions on the six-state grid managed by ISO New England Inc. are already “precarious” during winter periods and beyond 2019 “may become unsustainable” in extreme cold conditions, Chief Executive Officer Gordon van Welie said in late September. The grid started a winter reliability program compensating generators for stockpiling fuel oil and LNG.

Borruso and Michael Harris, chief executive officer of Unified Energy Services, see the potential for New England gas prices to spike even as Spectra prepares to put its Algonquin Incremental Project into service in November.  The project would boost Algonquin’s capacity by 342 million cubic feet, or 12 percent.

LNG Imports

The new gas flows “should help mitigate the worst price spikes” in winter and may reduce prices by $4 to $5 per million Btu, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s staff said in presentation last week.

New England will also need to keep importing liquefied natural gas this winter to meet demand. About three to four tankers per month will dock at Engie SA’s Everett terminal near Boston, Madeline Jowdy, senior director of global gas and LNG at Pira Energy Group in New York, said Oct. 28.

Boston Harbor is already seeing the most LNG tanker traffic in four years. Everett terminal has received 26 cargoes so far this year with 66 billion cubic feet of gas, Carol Churchill, a spokeswoman at the facility, said in an Oct. 25 e-mail.  Another tanker, the Gaselys, is heading for Boston, according to vessel tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The New England market -- weather permitting -- has been and will continue to be a premium world LNG market during certain times of the year,” Jowdy said. The pipeline constraints mean “LNG is required for meeting peak gas demand.”