Shrinking Natural Gas Reserves Complicate Maine's Efforts to Expand Service in State

By Fishell, Darren | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), April 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

Shrinking Natural Gas Reserves Complicate Maine's Efforts to Expand Service in State


Fishell, Darren, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


PORTLAND, Maine -- Natural gas reserves in the U.S. are at an 11- year low, which has national energy analysts concerned and sets a backdrop in Maine for a series of precedent-setting decisions about expanding pipeline capacity for the fuel used to generate heat and electricity.

Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor's energy office, said in a phone interview Monday that low reserves reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in March could add to challenges in New England, where electricity production is largely dependent on natural gas as a resource that can quickly be called upon to meet spikes in demand.

"With reserves as low as they are, it could exacerbate an already difficult situation next winter," Woodcock said. "And unfortunately, it's two separate challenges: where reserves have been depleted and our underlying issue in New England."

Energy Information Administration projections found that natural gas inventories were down 878 billion cubic feet in March from one year ago, to 822 billion cubic feet. That's about 755 billion cubic feet short of the normal range for natural gas reserves, a shortfall attributed to an abnormally cold winter that continued to drive demand for heating fuel through late March.

Reuters reported that some analysts are concerned that low prices for natural gas futures will keep suppliers from replenishing reserves before October, though the Energy Information Administration estimates that working inventories will reach close to 3.5 trillion cubic feet by October, on par with 2008 reserve levels.

The early outlook on national natural gas reserves comes as policymakers in New England and Maine are grappling with questions about expanding capacity here. Last month, the Maine Public Utilities Commission opened a docket to consider how the state should use its new power to acquire natural gas pipelines on behalf of customers, in order to reduce electricity costs.

The fuel has an impact on electricity prices because it is used to generate power. It is considered a reliable source because natural gas-fired power plants can be turned on relatively quickly. A study commissioned from the Massachusetts-based Sussex Economic Advisors, as part of the PUC case, found that power generation made up 43 percent of the demand for natural gas in New England in 2012 and 2013. …

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