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High Oil Prices Cut the Cost of Natural Gas

The two markets are working at cross-purposes
High Oil Prices Cut the Cost of Natural Gas
Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

There’s an unprecedented price gap in the energy patch. Oil has traded above $100 a barrel since February, while natural gas prices have dropped below $2 per million British thermal units—from $4.85 in June of last year. A divergence like this “has never happened before,” says Duane Grubert, an energy analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group. The last time natural gas prices were this low, in 2002, oil was at $20 a barrel.

In a departure from their traditional relationship, high oil prices are helping keep gas prices down. Natural gas producers are cutting production in hopes of bringing down supplies and therefore increasing prices. The industrywide gas rig count fell by 23 last week, to 624, the lowest in 10 years, according to driller Baker Hughes. Yet production keeps growing. It is projected to average 69.2 billion cubic feet per day in 2012, up from an average 66.2 billion cubic feet per day last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. And supplies keep growing. The EIA predicts natural gas in storage will reach a record 4.1 trillion cubic feet by October, compared with 2.5 trillion cubic feet now.