Prospects for Canada's natural gas producers continue to deteriorate as continued strength in U.S. production results in weaker demand for Canadian gas and low prices, according to The Conference Board of Canada's latest Canadian Industrial Outlook: Gas Extraction.
"North America's regional natural gas market has changed greatly over the last decade. Rising U.S. shale production has increasingly squeezed Canadian natural gas out of some U.S. markets," said Carlos A. Murillo, Economist, The Conference Board of Canada. "And not only is the U.S. market moving toward self-sufficiency, but the U.S. gas industry is also beating Canadian competitors in the race to enter global liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets."
U.S. natural gas production increased by 40 per cent in the last decade, mainly due to rapid increases in U.S. shale gas output. In the meantime, total Canadian production stagnated. Today's U.S. shale production is about three times greater than total Canadian production. With U.S. shale gas production displacing imports of Canadian gas, Canadian exports are now 25 per cent lower than they were 10 years ago.
North American natural gas demand is expected to remain relatively flat over the forecast and Canadian exports to the U.S. could continue to decline over the next five years. Although natural gas use in Canada's electricity generation and industrial sectors will increase, these gains will not be enough to offset a potential decline in exports. "The need for Canadian gas in North America will continue to fall over the forecast. Unless a large domestic LNG export facility is built, Canadian production levels will continue to fall in the coming years", explained Murillo.
But it is not all bad news for Canada's industry. The rapid buildup of US LNG export capacity in the coming years, and the associated contractual obligations, indicate that export increases will outpace production gains south of the border. This creates an opportunity for Canadian gas to help fill some regional demand in the United States. Moreover, some Canadian producers are signing contracts to export gas as LNG via the United States indicating that, while LNG export facilities in the US are competing head on with Canadian projects, they may also provide a new marketing outlet.
TransCanada's recent success in securing long-term commitments for its mainline is another positive development for the industry. "Key to this deal is that Western Canadian gas may manage to hold on to, and possibly increase, its market share in Central Canada and the northern United States. Since our current outlook doesn't incorporate the impact of this deal, it shows the potential effects on Canada's industry from failing to reach such necessary consensus between shippers and pipeline owners." added Carlos.
Last year, above average temperatures helped drive natural gas inventories well above historical norms. Combined storage levels in Canada and the U.S. in 2016 were close to 20 per cent higher than their five-year average. This, in turn, sent prices to their lowest levels in nearly two decades. However, prices are expected to recover, as rising U.S. exports and increased industrial domestic demand help push prices higher starting this year. Canadian (AECO) prices are forecast to rise from $3.13 per million British thermal unit (MMBtu) in 2017 to $3.82 by 2021.
On the financial side, the industry will remain in survival mode in the coming years. While industry revenues are expected to increase over the forecast, this is due mainly to higher prices rather than greater production volumes. Furthermore, although industry losses are beginning to narrow, it will take until late in 2018 for the industry to return to profitability. Following pre-tax losses of $7.6 billion in 2016, Canadian natural gas producers can expect losses to narrow down to $2.8 billion this year.
SOURCE: Conference Board of Canada
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