Future May Not Be as Rosy as It Seems for Natural Gas [PODCAST]

The natural gas industry is doing quite well and the future looks bright to many observers.

“We’re at a really great moment for the natural gas industry in the U.S. Production is growing dramatically. Shale continues to provide tremendous improvements technologically, bringing the cost down and growing the production, extending access to U.S. gas. At the same time, the shift from coal to gas-fired power generation is in full swing and the U.S. is in the midst of a significant boom in LNG [liquefied natural gas] exports and is poised to see a number of approvals for the second wave of U.S. LNG projects coming up,” Alex Dewar, senior manager with the Center for Energy Impact in the Washington, D.C., office of Boston Consulting Group (BCG), said as a guest on The POWER Podcast. But the future may not be as rosy as it seems.

“There’s potential actually for a very different outcome, I think, than many expect for natural gas here in the U.S.,” Dewar said. “What we’ve noticed by looking at some of the future trends in technology and policy, and also public opinion and consumer preferences, is that there are some risks to that emerging in the not-so-far-off future.”

According to a BCG report that Dewar co-authored, titled Preparing for an Abundance of US Natural Gas, the U.S. will likely experience a peak in gas demand, with consumption growth slowing from the late 2020s and plateauing by 2030. “The U.S. gas market is likely to shift from being limited by the pace of growth in supply to being limited by the level of demand,” the report says.

“Our modeling estimates that U.S. gas consumption could be about 20% less in 2040 than the typical modeling suggests by the U.S. Energy Information Administration,” Dewar said. “There are some pretty big implications across the power sector—and the entire energy sector in the U.S.—if that in fact is what shapes up over the coming decades.”

One reason is a push toward electrification. “I think we’re going to continue to see a push towards electrification because of both the greenhouse gas and safety issue,” Tom Baker, a partner and managing director in BCG’s San Francisco office, said on the podcast. Baker was also a co-author of the report on natural gas. He suggested that gas utilities serving consumers, especially in markets like California and New York, face significant risks to their businesses going forward and should review long-term strategies.

Hear the full conversation on The POWER Podcast.

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Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).