U.S. natgas use hits record high during freeze, utilities urge conservation

A natural gas flare on an oil well pad burns as the sun sets outside Watford City, North Dakota
FILE PHOTO – A natural gas flare on an oil well pad burns as the sun sets outside Watford City, North Dakota January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

January 31, 2019

By Scott DiSavino

(Reuters) – U.S. homes and businesses used record amounts of natural gas for heating on Wednesday as an arctic freeze blanketed the eastern half of the country, prompting several utilities to urge customers to cut back on energy use.

Harsh winds brought record-low temperatures across much of the Midwest, causing at least a dozen deaths and forcing residents who pride themselves on their winter hardiness to huddle indoors.

As consumers cranked up heaters to escape the bitter cold, gas demand in the Lower 48 U.S. states jumped to a preliminary record high of 145.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) on Wednesday, according to financial data provider Refinitiv.

That tops the current all-time high of 144.6 bcfd set on Jan. 1, 2018. One billion cubic feet is enough gas to supply about five million U.S. homes for a day.

To meet soaring energy consumption during the brutal freeze, some Midwest utilities urged customers to cut back on power and gas use.

In Michigan, auto makers agreed to interrupt production schedules through Friday after local utility Consumers Energy made an emergency appeal to curtail gas use so it could manage supplies following a fire at a gas compressor station on Wednesday.

Consumers, a unit of Michigan energy company CMS Energy Corp, said on Thursday that the Ray compressor station in Macomb County was partially back in service but urged all of its 1.8 million Michigan customers to continue their conservation efforts through the end of Friday.

Elsewhere in Michigan, DTE Energy Inc asked its 2.2 million power customers to voluntarily reduce electric use to help safeguard the reliability of the regional grid.

PJM, the electric grid operator for all or parts of 13 states from New Jersey to Illinois, said there were no reliability issues and noted that power demand had already peaked on Thursday below 140,000 megawatts.

That is well below the PJM region’s all-time winter peak of 143,338 MW set on Feb. 20, 2015. One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.

At the same time the brutal cold boosts gas use for heating, it can also reduce production by freezing pipes in gathering systems in producing regions, called freeze-offs.

Gas production in the Lower 48 states was projected to fall to a four-month low of 84.9 bcfd on Thursday due primarily to freeze-offs in the Marcellus and Utica shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, according to Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by David Gregorio)

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