Energy market analysts and participants in the US often view summer as the real test for capacity, demand and supply; driving season and air conditioning are two of the most pressing drivers of energy market fundamentals, and a large hurricane or blackout can change the entire industry’s year overnight.
But winter heating demand can also strain the system, particularly for natural gas used to heat many homes and increasingly used to power others. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, charged with monitoring US energy markets and operations, is facing down a particularly stressful winter season this year: A widespread blackout in the Southwestern US last winter served as a bleak reminder of the potential for cold-weather disaster.
In the attached presentation from FERC’s Office of Enforcement, a case is made for less worry on the part of regulators. The natural gas markets are well-supplied as shale drilling continues apace, storage levels are high and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting normal winter temperatures.
Threats remain, particularly as pipelines designed for simple south-to-north movements find their operations made more complex by shale gas development in new states that have not traditionally been energy suppliers. (Read more about Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom and the potential for development of the Utica Shale in Ohio).
Increased demand for natural gas to fuel power plants is also complicating matters. “We can expect localized pipeline constraints in the Northeast during extreme cold weather periods, as growing gas power generation adds to peak gas demand for space heating,” the FERC assessment says.