There are numerous variables that influence the prices and stores of natural gas. Some of the most important of these are detailed below.
Weather and Seasonal Factors
Since over half of homes in the United States use natural gas to provide heating during the winter months, this substantial increase in demand causes a steep rise in prices in the winter, and reduces the levels in storage.
Cold weather in winter can also decrease the supply of natural gas. For example, wellheads can freeze solid when the temperature in a gas producing field falls below freezing, which can cause substantial falls in supply and increases in prices.
Curiously, since many power plants burn natural gas as a fuel, hot summer months, with the high demand for air conditioning, also cause high demand for natural gas and reduce the levels in storage.
Since natural gas is a commodity, demand is closely linked to economic growth. Economic growth has an immediate knock-on effect on prices; as a general rule, higher economic growth causes rises in price and falls in stores while lower economic growth causes falls in price and rises in stores.
The distribution of people within the United States has a major effect on prices and stores. An increasing proportion of the population live in southern and western states, which tend to have higher average temperatures. The resulting increased demand for cooling in summer further increases prices and decreases stores of natural gas at that time of year; decreased demand for heating in winter decreases prices and increases stores at that time of year in those areas.
Spectra Energy Corporation and several partners, including NextEra Energy Inc. and Duke Energy, are currently attempting to secure permission to build a new $3 billion, 516-mile natural gas pipeline across Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, with the goal of providing a superior transportation route for power generation by Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy of Florida.
The pipeline, known tentatively as the Sabal Trail project, is expected to increase the reliability of energy delivery within Florida and offer a positive impact to the economy of the states it passes through by providing jobs, increased tax revenues, and other benefits. The line will transport approximately 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
Despite the potential benefits of the project, concerns have been raised from a number of groups and individuals, with particular attention drawn to the pipeline’s route through several low-income towns. It’s been suggested that the noise of compressor stations, risk of air emissions, and potential for leaks would overburden communities already facing unusually high rates of cancer tied in part to the presence of numerous hazardous waste facilities and pollutant-generating businesses in the region.
The split on the issue extends to two federal agencies, with FERC stating that such concerns are without merit and giving a tentative all-clear - a position at odds with EPA concerns about proximity to fresh water supplies. The issue has drawn commentary from many community figures including church leaders, congressmen, and others. The public comment period on the Sabal Trail project remains open through the middle of December, giving those potentially impacted room to make their sentiments and thoughts on the project heard.
Oil companies have a definite social responsibility to provide reliable and affordable energy in a safe way that protects the environment and allows for human progress. But as the issue of social responsibility is being raised more often in the business world across all industries, it's becoming clear oil companies need to do more in and for the local communities in which they are privileged to operate.
At Walton Gas, we take our commitment to our community and our social obligations seriously, and one of the ways we demonstrate this is through our work with local charities.
Camp Twin Lakes
We are proud to support Camp Twin Lakes, which provides camp experiences for children in Georgia who are disabled, seriously ill or experiencing another life challenge. This organization offers camps in the summer and weekend retreats over all seasons at its medically-outfitted and accessible camp locations, a daycamp and its hospital “Camp-To-Go” program.
The Salvation Army
Walton Gas supports the globally recognized Salvation Army, in operation since 1856. The Salvation Army runs services and programs aimed at helping the most disadvantaged members of our community and is known for its holiday drives.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation
The Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation, one of the charities we help, works to improve and make medical services more accessible for Georgia's children and teens. From launching wellness initiatives to providing money for medical care for children, this non-profit is providing services to one of the most needed areas.
Energy isn't the biggest expense associated with a home, but keeping the house warm and the lights on can add up over time. A few simple strategies to increase the energy efficiency of your home can make a big difference in the long run, saving you a lot of money.
1. Use energy efficient appliances
Many common household appliances have been redesigned to improve their energy efficiency. Light bulbs are a common one: different types of bulbs might be a shade dimmer than standard, or get up to full brightness slowly, in the interest of conserving energy in small ways you won't notice. Anything with a display, like televisions and computers, can be run in energy efficient mode, which usually means a slightly dimmed screen, and plenty of other modern appliances can be programmed to use less energy at certain times of day.
2. Insulate your roof
Heat rises, and in cold months most of the heat in your home escapes through the roof. If you own a home, make the investment of properly insulating your roof: the up-front cost will more than pay for itself over time in the energy saved. If you're in an apartment or a condo that's not on the top floor, you can use blankets as stylish ceiling hangs that prevent losing too much heat to your upstairs neighbors. Certain types of ceiling fan are also designed to push warm air back downwards from the ceiling, preventing heat from escaping.
3. Use low-flow appliances
Usually a faucet or toilet at full pressure is much more water than you need for everyday tasks like washing dishes. Installing low-flow appliances saves money on water by reducing the flow of faucets, toilets and shower heads, usually by little enough that the only difference you notice is in your monthly water bill.
A gas leak is a common household fear: plenty of movies, TV shows and urban legends concern the family that doesn't notice a gas leak until something explodes or someone succumbs to carbon monoxide poisoning. But is the fear of natural gas justified? How safe is natural gas as a home energy source?
Natural gas is a mix of hydrocarbons. The chemical nature of a hydrocarbon means that it burns cleanly with little waste product: where coal or petroleum leaves behind ash and tar, the biggest waste product of natural gas is plain old water. That actually makes natural gas one of the safest energy sources in existence, since it doesn't leave behind anything harmful to humans when it burns.
The gas itself can be a little more dangerous. One of the gases in the hydrocarbon mixture is carbon monoxide, which is very toxic to humans and pets. Because natural gas is colorless, the only way to tell if the gas is building up is by smell, which can be hard to recognize before it has reached dangerous levels. Natural gas is also extremely flammable: the thing that makes it such an efficient fuel source means that it can ignite very quickly if there is a build up.
At the end of the day, natural gas is as safe as the piping and appliances that transport and use it. A natural gas system that undergoes regular maintenance to prevent leaks is just as safe as any other energy system. Regular maintenance and quality appliances are the key to keeping natural gas the safe, efficient and clean energy source that it should be.
Natural gas is one of the cleanest and most cost-efficient energy sources around, but, because it has not been in use as long as coal or oil, many older homes are not set up to use natural gas as their primary source of energy. Conversion can seem like a daunting process, but a few key tips can make it a very worthwhile investment:
1. Find a cost calculator
If you know your usual household energy consumption, then you can often compare directly how much you can save by switching to natural gas. Many natural gas companies have online conversion calculators, which will show you exactly how the costs of oil and gas compare over time. Knowing how much you will save can help you weigh the up-front cost of conversion against the long-term benefits for a financially sound decision.
2. Look for rebates
Because natural gas is clean, efficient, and does not pollute, many cities have clean energy bills in place to encourage people to switch to natural gas. Under these bills, you may find you qualify for a rebate that can offset the cost of your conversion. Check your local government's website or ask a nearby natural gas company for information on rebates for converting to natural gas.
3. A brand new system might save you money
It is often possible to adapt an existing oil system to handle natural gas, but don't rule out replacing your heating system with a brand new one, even if it is more expensive. Some modern natural gas systems run at up to 90% efficiency, which can make a huge difference to your energy bill over time. A brand new system might cost more than a simple adaptation, but it will probably pay for itself sooner too.
This summer, for the first time ever, natural gas surpassed coal as the number one energy source in the US. Natural gas has been gaining in popularity across the country for years, but for the first time the energy industry is really facing the possibility that natural gas could completely replace coal as the US's dominant energy source. Now the industry is wondering whether the spike in natural gas usage is just a temporary fad, or a real glimpse at the future of energy in the US.
Coal is a finite resource, which means that the end of its use has always been inevitable: it's just been a question of when. But the recent turn away from coal has much less to do with the coal one day running out than it does with coal not stacking up to natural gas in terms of cost, cleanliness and efficiency. As more homes and businesses discover that natural gas provides significant savings in energy costs, demand for gas has gone up, while demand for the more expensive coal has gone down. Natural gas is also significantly easier to collect and store than coal, with fewer risks to the workers involved, making gas not just cheaper to use but cheaper to produce, too.
The big shift, however, comes from the environmental impact. As protecting the environment climbs on the US's list of priorities, harsh strictures are being put in place to prevent the release of chemicals and other harmful byproducts into the air. Coal is a messy, inefficient fuel that produces ash, smoke and greenhouse gases, and coal plants that cannot meet regulations demanding they clean up their act are shutting down. As a clean, efficient fuel source with almost no harmful byproducts, natural gas is picking up the slack to handle America's energy needs without damaging the environment.
In only a relatively short space of time, natural gas has gone from a strange novelty to one of the dominant sources of energy in the US.
Based on the way the demand for natural gas has grown over just the last few years, experts are predicting that natural gas will continue to climb in use for at least 30 years, overtaking coal and oil as the biggest source of energy in the US. As more individuals and businesses become aware of the advantages of natural gas, particularly its money-saving efficiency, homes and offices are switching from oil-based systems to gas systems in order to save money. At the same time, energy demand is going up overall, and more and more of the new energy is produced from natural gas as coal and oil fall out of favor for being environmentally unfriendly.
Production of natural gas is speeding up not just to match the increased demand, but to overtake it. Natural gas is comparatively easy to produce and store in large quantities, so production tends to continue even though demand fluctuates seasonally. As the US produces less coal and more gas, that gas is going to become a key export product, boosting the use of natural gas worldwide. With an increasing global interest in environmentally friendly energy, at some point natural gas will give way to completely clean and renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermic. For now, though, those technologies are still developing, and in the couple of decades it will probably take before truly renewable energy technology is mature enough to handle large-scale needs, gas will continue to grow as a safe, efficient and clean source of energy in the US and worldwide.
Just like any other resource that helps provide heat and electricity, demand for natural gas goes up and down with the seasons. In hot regions, powering air conditioning during the summer months requires more gas for electricity; in cold regions, gas is a valuable resource during the winter when it can be used for heating, for generating electricity during long, dark nights, and for cooking hot food. Seasonal demand means that there are often large fluctuations in how much natural gas is needed, but fluctuating the production to match is expensive and inefficient, so storing the excess natural gas during periods of low demand means that there's plenty to go around during periods of high demand.
Most natural gas is stored underground - in fact, most natural gas is stored in the same places from which it is extracted. The kinds of porous rock that yield natural gas in the first place are pretty good places to keep natural gas when it isn't being used, so depleted underground reservoirs are treated and then re-injected with the natural gas produced by other methods. As gas is added, the pressure inside the reservoir builds up; the higher the pressure, the easier the gas is to extract again. Some of these reservoirs are salt cavern reservoirs, which make particularly good storage for natural gas because the salt is self-sealing, meaning that very little gas escapes and is wasted once it has been injected into the reservoir. Salt cavern reservoirs' structure makes them extremely strong and environmentally sound; some of the biggest reservoirs extend further underground than the height of the world's tallest skyscrapers!
If extremely high volumes of gas need to be stored, natural gas can be cooled into a liquid. Liquid natural gas is much denser than in its gaseous form, so large amounts of gas can be stored in relatively small spaces with a high energy yield. Natural gas reservoirs can be found all over the country, but most are concentrated in the north-east, where the geological landscape is perfectly suited to store large amounts of gas without harming the environment.
Natural gas can be a cost-effective option for heating a home or a business, and for cooking and running a clothes dryer.
Natural gas, which is considered an alternative, clean-burning fuel, has become popular in recent years as availability is spreading around the US. With the benefit of not being connected to the same infrastructure as electricity, natural gas often continues running when the power goes out. It's also typically much cheaper than electricity and fuels like propane.
The utility rates for natural gas vary from state to state, but the rate is typically very stable and doesn't see many price spikes.The national average price of natural gas in the United States in 2014 was almost $11 per 1,000 cubic feet for residential users, and almost $9 per 1,000 cubic feet for businesses.
Depending on the size of the home or business, conversions can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500 - or occasionally more. The conversion can include running an underground pipe from the closest existing pipeline to your home or business. If that existing infrastructure is not already at the end of a short driveway or parking lot, those costs will probably be higher. Some cooking and heating appliances may not be able to convert from electric to gas, and might need to be replaced. If a home or business was using propane or another type of fuel, there could be other costs associated with emptying and removing the storage tank. Getting service started may also require a security deposit with the utility company.
Most utility companies will give customers an estimate of how much the up-front one-time costs of conversion will be, and some provide incentives for customers to make the switch by offering rebates.