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EIA lowers short-term projections for US gas production, demand

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The US Energy Information Administration on Tuesday lowered its projections for natural gas production for the current quarter and the next one, as well as for the full-year 2016, predicting the annual output average would show a decline for the first time since 2015, before rebounding in 2017.

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Lower projections for US gas demand accompanied the tempered production estimates.

The agency's November Short-Term Energy Outlook scaled back its gas production projections for the fourth quarter of 2016, first quarter of 2017, as well as the annual average this year and next.

"US annual natural gas production is expected to decline in 2016 for the first time in 11 years, but then increase in 2017 as drilling activity picks up and new pipelines connect supplies to demand centers," EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski said in a statement accompanying the outlook.

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EIA's outlook lowered its fourth-quarter 2016 production estimate by 990 MMcf/d to 76.44 Bcf/d, and scaled back the first-quarter 2017 estimate by 1.3 Bcf/d to 78.11 Bcf/d.

It also trimmed its full-year 2016 projection by 180 MMcf/d to 77.33 Bcf/d, some 1.4 Bcf/d below the 2015 average, in the first decline since 2005, the outlook said. As activity picks up starting in November and continuing next year, however, EIA projects production in 2017 will rise by an average of 2.9 Bcf/d from 2016 levels.

On the demand side, EIA lowered its estimate for US gas consumption in the fourth quarter by 1.51 Bcf/d to 76.9 Bcf/d and its estimate for the first quarter of 2017 by 430 MMcf/d to 92.26 Bcf/d. The agency said demand for US gas for the full year is expected to average 75.66 Bcf/d -- 310 MMcf/d below last month's estimate -- compared with 74.81 Bcf/d in 2015.

The agency continued to project rising gas prices over the next year, amid growing consumption, pipeline exports to Mexico and LNG exports. The November outlook projected Henry Hub spot gas prices would rise from an average of $2.50/MMBtu in 2016 to $3.12/MMBtu in 2017.

It lowered its projection for fourth-quarter Henry Hub spot gas prices by 5 cents to $2.99/MMBtu and its first-quarter 2017 estimate by 4 cents to $3.25/MMBtu. EIA's 2017 estimate, however, rose 5 cents to $3.12/MMBtu.

Reflecting on price declines in Henry Hub prices in October, the outlook said: "Warmer-than-normal temperatures in the [US] during October led to lower-than-expected heating degree days, putting downward pressure on natural gas demand and prices."

But it said the lower demand did not translate into added storage builds, noting that working gas storage rose by 71 Bcf/week in October, compared with a five-year average of 79 Bcf/week for the month.

Also, the price difference between the November and January gas futures contracts hit 40 cents/MMBtu, the highest level in October since 2012, EIA said. The wider spread likely reflects the difference between current warmer-than-normal temperatures and expectations for colder temperatures during the winter, in contrast to comparisons last year, EIA said.

"EIA is currently forecasting about 21% of US natural gas consumption in December, January, and February to be drawn from inventories, slightly higher than the five-year average," it said.

Continuing to monitor shifting shares of power generation, the agency lowered its projection of the slice of the US utility-scale generation pie from gas to an average of 34% this year, compared with 35% in last month's outlook, but kept the share from coal at 30%. In 2017, it also lowered the projected share from gas to 33% from 34% estimated last month, but it kept coal's share constant at 31% of the mix.

Overall, it estimated that generation from utility-scale plants will reach 11.2 TWh in 2016, 0.2% above 2015 levels.

--Maya Weber, maya.weber@spglobal.com

--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, keiron.greenhalgh@spglobal.com