The Energy Information Agency (EIA) has predicted that natural gas production in the US will continue to grow at an impressive pace. Right now output is close to 70 billion cubic feet a day and is expected to reach over 100 billion cubic feet per day by 2040. The trend is likely to continue without hitting a geologic “peak”, and along with this trend will come new marketing opportunities for America.

In an exclusive interview with Oilprice.com, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski discusses:

Natural gas

  • What’s at stake in lifting the US crude export ban
  • Whether lifting the ban is inevitable
  • Why energy-related CO2 emissions will likely climb this year
  • What we can expect from US coal output through 2014
  • Why US natural gas production will continue to grow strongly
  • Where we can expect (unexpectedly) new production to come from
  • Why Alaska just might surprise us
  • Where the biggest new shale opportunities lie
  • How production increases might come from ‘non-shale’ formations
  • The potential for Colombian shale
  • What to expect from Mexico’s reforms
  • What the Panama Canal expansion really means
  • Why we will see new marketing opportunities for the US

Interview by James Stafford of Oilprice.com

Oilprice.com: US mainstream media are heralding the debate over lifting the US crude oil export ban as potentially one of the most critical for this year. While most agree this is not likely to happen anytime soon, is it an eventuality?

Adam Sieminski: When I first took office at the EIA, I said that light sweet crude oil production was growing very rapidly, and that it would ultimately have a number of impacts on the energy infrastructure in the US; for instance, that we would see changes in things like movement of oil by rail. We would see changes in refinery configurations designed to deal with light sweet crude. The Gulf Coast refineries in the US over the past decade were upgraded to run heavy sour imports, and so there are issues with the ability of refineries in the US to handle rapid increases in light sweet crude oil production.

I noted at the time that at some point, policymakers were going to be confronted with all of these changes resulting from the enormous shift in thinking about US production growth. Five or 10 years ago, everybody thought that US oil production would just go down, and demand would always go up. Now we have in the EIA’s forecast over the next five years very strong growth in crude oil production and weak growth—if not negative trends—going on in gasoline and liquid fuels demand. This creates an interesting atmosphere.

Is lifting the crude export ban inevitable? I’m not sure that anything is inevitable. Certainly what I’ve learned in the last five years is that the inevitable declines in production and growth in demand didn’t come true.

OP: What are the congressional hurdles faced here?

Adam Sieminski: I don’t know that there’s a hurdle. That’s a question that’s going to be dealt with by policymakers. Energy policy issues generally tend to involve environmental concerns, national security concerns, and economic concerns.

The biggest hurdle that congress faces is just having good information on future trends in supply and demand, refinery configurations and pipeline and railroad transportation infrastructure.

OP: What would be the consequences of lifting this ban, for the industry, for refiners, for consumers?

Adam Sieminski: Well, that’s going to be part of the debate. I don’t have the answer to that, and I doubt that anybody at this point has the complete answer to that question. What is the economic impact? Does it increase jobs or not? What is the environmental impact of producing, moving and refining the crude oil? What are the national security implications? Is it better to keep the oil here, or to move it into global markets where it might have an ameliorating effect on volatility? There are a lot of questions, so I’m not going to try to pre-judge that debate.

OP: The EIA has noted that after two years of declining production, US coal output is expected to increase in 2014, forecast to rise almost 4%, as higher natural gas prices make coal more competitive for power generation. At the same time, there is concern about the EPA’s proposed new carbon emissions standards for power plants, which would make it impossible for new coal-fired plants to be built without the implementation of carbon capture and sequestration technology, or “clean-coal” tech. Is this a feasible strategy in your opinion?

Adam Sieminski: Well, the facts as you laid them out are certainly what the EIA is looking at. Natural gas prices have gone up, so in 2013, we already saw some recovery in coal at electric utilities. As a consequence, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions actually climbed in 2013 and probably are going to do so again in 2014 for the reasons that you stated.

Longer term, even without changes by the Environmental Protection Agency, there’ll be coal retirements, and the amount of coal being burned in the US will eventually come below the amount of electricity being generated by natural gas. So sometime after the year 2030, we will have more electricity in the US being produced from natural gas than from coal.

OP: What can we expect from US onshore natural gas production over the next two years;
over the next five years? And where will production increases offset declines?

Adam Sieminski: Well, the EIA has been pretty clear on this in our Annual Energy Outlook Reference case for 2014, which we published in mid-December. We reiterated what we said the previous year: natural gas production in the US is going to continue to grow very strongly. We are close to 70 billion cubic feet a day of output now. That number will be over 100 billion cubic feet a day by 2040. Shale gas will be easily 50% or more of production by 2040.

We also see increases in natural gas production from geologic formations that we don’t consider to be shale gas. We think that there might also be some production, believe it or not, from Alaska, because the economics ultimately will favor construction of an LNG facility in Alaska that would allow production from the associated gas in the North Slope of Alaska.

Just in the last five years, we’ve seen natural gas production in the US from shale go from about five billion cubic feet a day to nearly 30 billion cubic feet a day–a huge increase. A lot of that is coming from places like the Haynesville—and more recently the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In our view, those production trends are going to continue without the likelihood of running into a plateau from a geologic standpoint.

OP: How do you see future extraction, development and commercialization of oil and gas resources in the Americas playing out over the next 5-10 years?

Adam Sieminski: Well, the big new opportunities, I think–certainly in the US and Canada–lie in the development of shale resources. There are oil and gas shale resources in places like Argentina, Mexico, Columbia, and elsewhere across the Americas. Whether or not the very rapid development of shale resources in the US can be duplicated in a lot of other countries—even in the Americas—remains to be seen. Certainly there has been some interesting progress in developing shale resources in Canada and Argentina.

I’ve been hearing from many people that they’re quite hopeful there will

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