The 262 billion cubic foot (Bcf) withdrawal from storage reported today placed Lower 48 natural gas storage levels at 1,923 Bcf, which continues the recent trend of storage levels falling below the 5-year range. During this heating season (November 1, 2013-March 31, 2014), cold weather has driven record-high cumulative withdrawals in each storage region of the Lower 48 states.
As a result, earlier in 2014, working gas levels in the Lower 48 states fell below the minimum storage level for the same week in the previous 5-years for the first time since EIA started reporting the statistic in 2004.
While storage levels for the remainder of the heating season are uncertain, the application of withdrawal rates based on the 5-year average (2009-13), as well as withdrawal rates based on history, provides a range of potential outcomes. The winters of 2011-12 and 2012-13 show historically low and high rates of withdrawal, respectively, because of mild winter weather during 2011-12 and colder-than-normal weather at the end of the 2012-13 heating season. For the Lower 48 states this year, these potential outcomes suggest working gas could reach between 905 Bcf in the high withdrawal case and 1,475 Bcf in the low withdrawal case, by the end of the heating season. In all but the fastest withdrawal scenario, storage levels return to the 5-year range by the end of the heating season.
Lower 48 declines in working gas this winter have been driven primarily by large withdrawals in the East region. Since October 31, 2013, net withdrawals from storage in the East totaled 1,053 Bcf, exceeding the previous record-high of 1,051 Bcf reported over the same period during the 2002-03 heating season.
In contrast to the rest of the Lower 48 states, working gas storage levels in the East started out the heating season below the previous 5-year (2008-12) range. The rapid rate of withdrawals so far this heating season has increased the deficit relative to the 5-year range. Working gas levels in the East appear poised to end the heating season below the 5-year minimum for the region of 570 Bcf.
Working gas levels in both the West and Producing regions, in contrast to the East, have remained within their respective 5-year ranges, despite record-high withdrawals since October 31, 2013. In most of the future scenarios considered for these regions, working gas levels remain within their respective 5-year ranges. However, the high-withdrawal case in the Producing region results in working gas levels falling below the previous 5-year range. This potential outcome is driven by continued withdrawals at the nonsalt storage facilities, which primarily include depleted fields, in the Producing region. Compared with salt dome facilities, nonsalt storage facilities have less operational flexibility in cycling working gas levels. Generally, gas stored in depleted fields is injected (summer) and withdrawn (winter) once a year. Salt dome storage provides many injection/withdrawal cycles during a year.