The Utica and Marcellus shale plays have such bullish futures that they could reverse the traditional south-to-north and west-to-east pipeline flows of natural gas, says a new project from Bentek Energy in Houston. Such a phenomenon would be driven by increased production in the Utica and Marcellus plays in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and soaring demand for natural gas in the Southeast over the next 10 years. As a result, Bentek says, the Northeast would switch from the nation’s largest demand region for natural gas to a net supply region. The report says the Utica and Marcellus plays will account for more than one-third of the increase in U.S. natural gas production through 2013 while nearly half of the increase in demand for gas will come from the Southeast.
Bentek analyst Rick Notarianni shared some of the production projections in the report, which is available only by buying it from Bentek, a unit of Platts, the energy and petrochemical information and pricing company. Notarianni said the Marcellus and Utica plays now provide about 18 percent of the nation’s 64 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. It’s expected to account for around 25 percent of the projected 77 Bcf/d in 2023. The vast majority of that gas will come initially from the established Marcellus play in north-central and southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia, Notarianni said. “We expect the Utica to grow substantially in the back half of the decade,” he told me. “The problem now is with (pipeline and processing) infrastructure in Ohio. It just does not exist … to move product from the well head to where someone can actually use it.”
Notarianni said rise in demand for natural gas in the Southeast will be driven by that region’s high use of electricity generated by gas-burning power plants, growth in petrochemicals and other industries, and development of facilities along the Gulf Coast that will export liquid natural gas. Some of that is already having an effect on pipeline development in the Utica and Marcellus. Williams Companies Inc. (NYSE:WMB) of Tulsa, Okla., and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP (NYSE:BWP) of Houston have formed a joint venture to build a transportation system to move natural gas liquids from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to processing and storage facilities in Louisiana. Notarianni also said increased production in the Utica and Marcellus plays means the Northeast will no longer need to import natural gas from western states and Canada. In fact, some of those pipelines are expected to start moving Utica and Marcellus gas to Chicago, Michigan and other markets to the west.