Natural gas: Five trends we’re watching for 2018

Joe Massaro

If 2018 is anything like 2017 was, the natural gas industry should buckle up for another exciting ride. The past year has been centered around optimism — and there are plenty of reasons for that:

  • Construction is underway for Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant. The project will inject $6 billion into the western Pennsylvania economy and create thousands of jobs.
  • In October, AC&S President and CEO Dean Cordle said the shale gas revolution has created hundreds of thousands of new jobs, with more on the way.
  • Peoples Natural Gas President and CEO Morgan O’Brien put it much more simply: Pennsylvania’s economic future lies in natural gas.

And the optimism perseveres. As we look forward to 2018, here are five trends The Stream team will be tracking:

Natural gas drilling

Increased natural gas production from the Appalachian basin

After a downturn in production over the past few years, the natural gas industry is now producing more than ever before. Marcellus Shale production set a record in August, churning out 19.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in August, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Additionally, more drilled wells were completed in the Marcellus and Utica plays.

The EIA also expects production to continue increasing through 2018. The agency estimates U.S. dry natural gas production to average 73.4 Bcf/d, which is 5.5 Bcf/d higher than in 2017. Much of that will likely come from the Appalachian basin, which has produced more natural gas than any Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries country, as reported by Forbes. Moving more supply to domestic and international markets will be the key to unlocking new growth in 2018.

More natural gas takeaway capacity

For the past few years, the Marcellus and Utica shale supply was greater than the takeaway capacity could handle. This led to a downturn in production and lower prices.

But the industry’s fortunes turned around in 2017, when several new pipelines were approved or started construction. Among those is Energy Transfer Partners’ 713-mile Rover Pipeline, running from Canada through Michigan and northern Ohio, to wellsites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The pipeline began construction this year, and it should be in service by late winter or early spring 2018.

Another pipeline that will help increase takeaway capacity is Williams’ Transco Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The 183-mile expansion from northern to southern Pennsylvania will add 1.7 Bcf/d to the Transco pipeline. Atlantic Sunrise received approval and began construction this year. It’s scheduled to be operational by mid-2018.

Additionally, several more pipelines are still awaiting Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, including Columbia Gas Transmission’s 170-mile Mountaineer XPress in West Virginia.

Expanded natural gas workforce development

The increased activity in the upstream and midstream sectors will lead to more jobs, especially in the downstream. There is no better example of this than Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant. The western Pennsylvania facility will create 6,000 construction jobs and 600 permanent jobs.

Pennsylvania is already actively developing the workforce for these new positions. Pennsylvania College of Technology and Penn State Erie’s Behrend College offers plastics-specific programs in anticipation of more downstream opportunities. PCT and Westmoreland Community College are part of ShaleNET, a program designed to respond quickly to natural gas needs with entry-level training programs.

Expect to see more workforce development initiatives to train the skilled workers needed for these and other positions.

Nuclear, coal subsidies impacting natural gas end use

The natural gas industry could feel the ripple effects of some national energy policy decisions coming in early 2018. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan for nuclear and coal subsidies could cost up to $10.6 billion annually, according to research from Energy Innovation and the Climate Policy Initiative, which would be paid for by businesses and residents. Research found that subsidies would flow to approximately 10 companies and 90 power plants, and would turn competitive energy markets upside down in deregulated states, such as Pennsylvania.

FERC originally was to act on the the DOE proposal on Dec. 11. However, new FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre was granted a 30-day extension. Now, the date to watch is Jan. 10.

Regardless of any FERC action, the nuclear industry continues to push for subsidies at the state level in New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Developing markets for natural gas, NGLs within the Appalachian basin

The Appalachian basin might just be the Silicon Valley of U.S. infrastructure, according to an Energy in Depth report on the region’s ability to support underground storage of natural gas liquids (NGLs).

“Today, the U.S. has more underground gas storage projects than any other country,” the report states.

Building more underground NGL storage facilities would lead to more economic opportunities in the region. A report by the American Chemistry Council says adding storage hubs could help the Appalachian basin become a second center of U.S. petrochemical and plastic resin manufacturing, similar to the Gulf Coast.

Whatever happens in the natural gas industry in 2018, The Stream will be there every step of the way. Keep checking back for all the latest news and perspectives in natural gas.

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Joe Massaro

Joe Massaro is based in Bravo Group's Pittsburgh office and has deep energy industry expertise. He previously served as the field director for a Pennsylvania-based oil and gas industry grassroots PR firm.

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