Shale Gas Headed for Biggest Drop in 3 Years, Sharing Oil's Pain

Natural gas production from America’s biggest shale formations is poised to slide by the most in three years as tumbling crude oil prices force the nation’s energy explorers to cut back on drilling for both fuels.

Gas output from the top seven shale deposits will fall by 1.1 percent to 45.93 billion cubic feet a day from April, the biggest percentage decline since March 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its Drilling Productivity Report Monday. The retreat is led by the oil-rich Eagle Ford deposit in Texas and the Niobrara shale in Colorado and neighboring states, where gas is pumped as a byproduct of crude extraction.

After five years of record natural gas production, bullish traders are seeking signs that output is declining enough to boost prices from 1990s-era lows. Without a pullback in supply, the biggest gas stockpile glut in four years will expand, leaving inventories at risk of testing physical storage limits in the fall.

Production declines have accelerated each month this year as the plunge in oil and natural gas prices forces companies to reduce the number of drilling rigs to historic lows. So-called associated gas output from oil basins is dropping faster than supplies from the Marcellus, America’s biggest shale gas reservoir.

“The gas industry is ebbing and flowing with what we are seeing in the oil markets right now,” said Stephen Schork, president of the Schork Group Inc., a consulting company in Villanova, Pennsylvania. “Associated production is beginning to suffer with what we are seeing in the Eagle Ford.”

Natural gas for May delivery fell 7.8 cents, or 3.9 percent, to settle at $1.912 per million British thermal units on Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The futures are down 18 percent this year.

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