Going Underground: A Focus on Natural Gas Storage

Author: Doug Allen, Account Manager, U.S. Energy Services

U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that collects and analyzes energy-related data and statistics.  The EIA was created in the 1970’s to provide lawmakers, industry and the public with unbiased and independent energy related information for the purpose of promoting sound policy, ensuring efficient markets, and helping the public understand energy and its relationship to the economy and the environment.

Each week the EIA releases data on the levels of natural gas in storage in the United States.  This closely watched indicator can have a significant impact on the natural gas prices, often moving the market sharply within moments of the release.   Since the U.S. must rely on natural gas from storage to meet winter demand, reports that show levels that are lower than anticipated or that might portend insufficient storage levels in the future tend to push prices higher.   If the expectations are that storage levels may become too high, and thus create a natural gas glut, the market may have a more bearish price reaction.

Natural gas is primarily stored underground in depleted oil and gas fields, natural aquifers converted to storage facilities and salt caverns.  There are about 400 underground facilities currently in use with a cumulative working gas capacity of 4.659 tcf (trillion cubic feet).   The total U.S. consumption of natural gas was about 27.47 tcf in 2015.

nt-gas-storage-facilities

While 126 operating entities own these facilities, the actual storage capacity is contracted to many customers.  Data from the EIA website shows us that the 20% of all storage operators manage nearly 70% of the storage in the lower 48 states.  Most of these are interstate pipelines and utility companies.  A deeper dive into the index of the pipeline customers shows that they contract out most of their storage to natural gas and electric utility companies.  Ultimately, utilities control the bulk of U.S. natural gas storage.

storage-facility-operators

To collect the data for the Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report, storage companies that are “statistically selected by the EIA from a listing of all underground natural gas storage operators in the United States” must complete and submit a form detailing their natural gas storage levels.  The EIA estimates the total natural gas storage level based on this sample.

The EIA’s Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report is released each Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Eastern and can be found at this website: http://ir.eia.gov/ngs/ngs.html.  The website also includes historical data, reporting methodologies and any changes to the report release schedule for holidays.   The Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report is a key component of the EIA’s Natural Gas Weekly Update.

Sources: http://www.eia.gov/

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