Production of natural gas from shale has been surprising both industry players and analysts on the upside, which clearly isn’t helpful for natural gas prices either now or into 2010.
Dozens of companies are drilling shale or other unconventional sources due to what they see as the potential for very high returns, even despite the relatively low gas prices of late.
Thus the era of ultra-cheap natural gas could be upon us, which would be bad news for gas ETFs such as United States Natural Gas (UNG). Natural gas prices are currently down over 5%.
The Barrel: One recent example of just how jaw-dropping the US shale gas story has become came from big independent Newfield Exploration. Houston-based Newfield said in a conference call this week that its production from Oklahoma’s Woodford Shale today is 308,000 Mcfe/d, versus about 240,000 Mcfe/d at June 30 — up nearly 30% in less than four months. Moreover, the company has an inventory of 28 drilled but uncompleted Woodford wells waiting to be put online by early 2010, signalling the potential to boost production still higher.
The astounding output jump prompted a comment from analysts at investment bank Wells Fargo, who in an October 22 report called Newfield’s gushing Woodford production trend “disturbing.” They noted the company’s output had “reached recent highs despite (a drilling) slowdown and deferred completions.”
But Newfield, and the Woodford field, are hardly the only purveyors of über-volumes of gas. Despite cutbacks in activity elsewhere, dozens of companies both large and small are drilling away at shale and other unconventional plays which they claim continue to offer towering economic rates of return. Their efforts have resulted in huge gas volumes flowing around the US and also recently in Canada. But with just a week left in the refill season, US gas storage bins are brimming over with the commodity. And current demand is not enough to use it all, which could continue the surplus into next year.
While prices are now teetering at the $5/Mcf level, many industry observers look at storage figures and scratch their heads. Says one: “Given the amount of gas sitting around out there, it’s a mystery why prices are so high.”