State Draws 20% More Natural Gas

By Published On: December 3, 2010

As temperatures dropped in California in late November, natural gas usage across the state rose, particularly around Thanksgiving time. That is according to data compiled by the California Energy Commission, a major utility, and an energy market analytics company. “California gas demand spiked over the Thanksgiving holiday, primarily because of the extreme cold weather,” said Sheetal Nasta, the California/Southwest regional expert with Denver-area Bentek Energy. “Demand was higher across the state, up 20 percent, or 1.3 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet of natural gas per day), week-on-week to an average 7.7 Bcf/d.” Temperatures in the 20s and 30s that matched or beat overnight record lows were recorded in late November across much of Southern California, from San Diego up to Ventura, according to the National Weather Service. That portion of the state accounted for the majority of the increase in gas usage, as people apparently turned up their residential heaters to counteract the chill. “About two-thirds of that additional demand was in Southern California,” Nasta said. “Total demand for California and the Southwest states was around 10 bcf/d this past week, whereas the normal for this time of year is close to 8.5 bcf/d.” In Northern California, Pacific Gas & Electric says it saw a spike in natural gas usage beginning Nov. 19. Demand jumped from an estimated 889 MMcf/d (million cubic feet per day) the day before to 1,078 MMcf/d. It then increased daily until peaking at an estimated 1,861 MMcf/d on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, a time when some people typically use gas ovens more than usual to prepare big holiday meals. In San Francisco, an overnight temperature record of 42 degrees set in 1892 was tied on Thanksgiving Day, according to the National Weather Service. On the same day, Oakland’s overnight low temperature fell to a record low of 42 degrees. Sacramento also set a record with a 30-degree temperature last week, the Weather Service said. On Sunday, Nov. 28, the most recent day for which statistics are available, natural gas usage was an estimated 1,708 MMcf/d in PG&E’s service territory, according to its data. That is about 400 MMcf/d above demand the previous week. The supply increase has been satisfied in two ways, according to Bentek Energy. “A lot of this additional demand was met with stored gas,” Nasta said. “Storage switched to withdrawal mode Nov. 1, but this was the first severe weather to actually draw large volumes of gas out of the ground. Just over 2.0 Bcf/d on average was withdrawn from storage in the past seven days, compared to just 0.1 Bcf/d the previous week.” Natural gas imports were the other way the demand was met, she said. “There was also an influx of supply from Texas, where demand for the same period was on its way down. Net flows moving west from Texas more than doubled this week from the previous week.” The California Public Utilities Commission has the authority to increase pressure on the transmission gas line that is suspected of causing the Sept. 9 San Bruno explosion. At press time, the commission president has not used that authority despite the cold weather, according to a spokesperson.

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