The economics, meanwhile, are likely to worsen before they get better. One reason is that, as producers have shifted to wet plays, a glut of NGLs has emerged and liquids prices have fallen sharply Ethane, which accounts for roughly 40% of a barrel NGLs, has lost most of its value since 2011. Some experts fear that producers could be forced to give it away in particularly congested delivery hubs if overproduction persists. As drillers are discouraged from extracting NGLs, gas volumes are also likely to be hit.
More fundamentally, US gas prices cannot be expected to stay at current levels, which are below the cost of production. For this reason, we expect a process of market-balancing to take effect. Low prices will now lead to a dip in gas production by 2013. Tighter supply will in turn stimulate price rises, encouraging a pick-up in production. This will eventually create an excess of gas that could be sold overseas.
Whether US policymakers will be keen to export much of the country's endowment of still relatively cheap gas, however, is moot. On balance, it seems likely that the US will only be shipping a fairly modest amount of LNG even in the latter years of this decade. The likes of Qatar and Australia have little reason to panic yet.
Eoin Treacy's view Veteran subscribers will be familiar with our contention that unconventional oil and gas production are game changers for the global energy sector. While the number of companies lining up to profit from the arbitrage between Henry Hub and global pricing continues to rise, this opportunity is merely a symptom of a much larger global trend.
The USA represents the beachhead for unconventional oil and gas supply. Other countries, not least China, are enviously looking on as downward pressure is exerted on energy pricing. They will inevitably seek to develop their own unconventional supply and this will change the global sector even further.
We have long defined peak oil in terms of the rising cost of marginal production. As new sources of supply are developed and new technologies implemented the economics of the sector are changing rapidly. Just as oil prices never fell back to the pre-1970s oil crisis trough, prices are unlikely to fall very much below $40 even in the most enthusiastic scenario. This decade is likely to remain a volatile one for energy prices but as new supply has more of an impact, prices should return to more reasonable levels in the next decades.
US energy independence is contingent on government policy and more oil demand being displaced by natural gas.