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Permian Basin, other associated gas plays lead US production to 16-month low

Highlights

Output hits 85.5 Bcf/d, down 9% from record high

At 357, US rig count has fallen 57% from annual peak

Permian, SCOOP/STACK, Bakken lead output decline

New York — US natural gas production is hovering near a 16-month low in late May as historically weak commodity prices prompt many operators to slow drilling activity and curtail output at marginal wells.

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On May 20, US output tumbled to 85.5 Bcf/d, down more than 9% from its record high at 94.3 Bcf/d in November, modeled data from S&P Global Platts Analytics shows.

The recent and precipitous drop in US production, which has fallen about 6.5 Bcf/d over the past five weeks, tracks similarly steep declines in crude prices and active oil-directed drilling rigs.

In May, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude prices have averaged just $26.77/b, keeping internal rates of return in negative territory for many US producers, S&P Global Platts data shows.

On Thursday, the US rig count declined for an eleventh consecutive week, falling by 12 to 357, according to data published by Enverus DrillingInfo. Since January, the US rig count has fallen by nearly 485, or about 57%.

While the Permian Basin accounts from nearly half of that decline, other oil-weighted plays have also seen steep reductions, including the Bakken, Denver-Julesburg, Eagle Ford and the SCOOP/STACK, which together account for 155 rigs lost since late January.

By comparison, the largest dry gas plays – including the Marcellus, Utica and Haynesville – have lost a combined total of just 25 rigs as many operators hold the line on drilling amid recent strength in forward gas prices.

ASSOCIATED vs. DRY PLAYS

Recent rig cuts and well curtailments in West Texas have seen the Permian Basin lead the decline in US gas production. Over the past two weeks, associated output has averaged 10.6 Bcf/d, down 1.2 Bcf/d compared to the March average. More recently, Permian gas production has slipped below 10 Bcf/d.

Over the same comparison period, SCOOP/STACK production has declined by some 760 MMcf/d, closely followed by the Bakken with a 620 MMcf/d contraction. Output from the Denver-Julesburg is down by over 370 MMcf/d. Eagle Ford production has eked out a modest gain over that period.

Until late May, US dry gas plays had seen recent production gains across the board, led by the Haynesville, which is still trending about 600 MMcf/d above its March average. While the Utica also remains up about 100 MMcf/d since March, output from the Marcellus has fallen over that period, owing mainly to recent production curtailments by the US' largest gas producer, EQT.

On May 16, EQT said it would curtail production at certain of its Pennsylvania and Ohio wells in response to low gas prices. A recent SEC filing by the company's midstream spinoff, EQM, shows that the curtailments total about 1.4 Bcf/d and will continue through at least the end of June.

OUTLOOK

A recent forecast from Platts Analytics shows US gas production continuing to decline modestly in the weeks ahead, falling to around 84 Bcf/d next month. Beginning in July, higher gas prices are expected to lift output from the Marcellus and the Haynesville, partially offsetting declines from the associated plays.

Over the balance of 2020, the forecast shows US gas production potentially averaging into the upper 88 Bcf/d range.

After trading into the low $3s/MMBtu earlier this month, winter 2020-21 gas prices have since eased amid waning bullishness over the recent contraction in supply – which could be increasingly offset by pushback on US LNG cargoes and pipeline exports.

On May 21, the Henry Hub January 2021 contact settled at $2.94/MMBtu, down from a recent high at $3.15/MMBtu, S&P Global Platts' most recently published M2MS data shows.