The Year of Natural Gas?
01/27/2010 12:00 pm EST
Elliott Gue, editor of the Energy Strategist, says natural gas prices are firming and more people are looking at it as a possible near-term solution to climate change concerns.
This could be the year when the consensus on renewable energy begins to break down in favor of simpler and cheaper interim solutions. Specifically, I expect natural gas and nuclear power to garner much more attention this year as so-called bridge fuels.
Although renewable energies have a certain cachet as high-tech solutions to the world's energy problems, they're also impractical in the near term. On the other hand, gas and nuclear are proven, economical technologies.
Rapid production growth from unconventional natural gas plays has obviated the need for the US to import large quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to meet domestic demand. LNG is a super-cooled version of natural gas. [It] frees gas from the pipeline grid’s constraints.
If you turn natural gas into a liquid, it can be loaded onto tankers and transported anywhere in the world. Gas reserves once considered stranded and useless can now be exploited.
In recent weeks, near-record low temperatures across much of North America have been an important support for natural gas prices. The cold weather has increased demand for heating fuel, driving higher-than-normal drawdowns in natural gas inventories.
Just three months ago, natural gas traders fretted that the US might exhaust its storage capacity; many pundits assumed that US gas inventories would remain glutted for the foreseeable future.
The US natural gas market is now just one cold week away from below-average inventories. With weeks of winter weather ahead of us, it’s not at all unreasonable to expect gas inventories will end the heating season in March near average levels. Rising natural gas prices internationally are making LNG deals more attractive, as buyers can lock in long-term supply at attractive rates.
Dresser-Rand Group (NYSE: DRC) manufactures and provides parts and maintenance for compressors and turbines. Turbines and compressors have myriad uses at all stages of the energy business, but the LNG industry is one of Dresser’s top end markets.
The company was awarded a contract for a floating LNG unit offshore Nigeria. Building a large onshore LNG liquefaction facility is expensive and requires easy access to large gas reserves to make such a project worthwhile. Floating LNG equipment is relatively easy to relocate and allows producers to exploit smaller gas fields that wouldn’t be economic using traditional onshore developments.
And because compressors are used in every LNG facility—whether onshore or offshore—Dresser’s leading market position should enable it to garner substantial business from the 60 LNG projects planned worldwide.
Australia is emerging as a powerhouse in the LNG industry with mega-projects such as Gorgon and the Northwest Shelf. The nation benefits from its well-established energy industry and infrastructure, loads of well-capitalized players and good relations with foreign producers and technology providers. Australia also benefits from its large resources of stranded gas and geographic proximity to the fastest-growing developing markets in the world. (Dresser-Rand provides equipment for drilling platforms offshore Australia—Editor.) Buy DRC under $36. [It closed above $30.50 Tuesday—Editor.]