Oil and Gas

Goldman: Natural Gas Crunch Possible This Winter

Izabella Kaminska,|special to CNBC.com

U.S. natural gas inventories could be at seriously low levels at the start of winter this year, if current rates of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports remain at record lows, a Goldman Sachs report said Wednesday.

The year is already two months into the summer re-fill season when producers traditionally stock up on cheap gas volumes to sell on more profitably in winter, but so far storage facilities have gone unused as prices remain high.

More so, ongoing weakness in US natural gas prices compared with prices in the rest of the world is providing no incentive for LNG cargoes to be directed to the US, leaving imports at record-low levels.

"The US still needs to increase LNG imports and incentivize some fuel switching away from natural gas towards residual fuel oil to bring nat gas inventories to full levels by end of October," the report said.

To achieve higher imports the bank says Nymex natural gas futures futures, currently trading at 28-month highs of more than $11.10 per million British thermal units, will need to rise further to close the gap with international gas prices and the rest of the oil complex in coming months.

If prices fail to rise, it will be hard for U.S. natural gas inventories to reach full levels by the end of the summer, the report said. And U.S. supply could come under pressure if this winter is as severe as 2007, the coldest in 7 years.

Goldman raised its US domestic production outlook for the year by 300 million cubic feet per day, but adds any increase will be offset by an increase in expected U.S. pipeline exports, keeping the supply balance tight.