Natural gas should stay cheap for a long time

A natural gas well at a fracking site in Washington Township, Pa.
Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Natural gas prices are likely to stay relatively low for at least the next 20 years, with a long-term annual average price of $4 to $5 per million Btu, a study by IHS says.

The study, released in January, details an anticipated increase in demand from residential and commercial users and from exports.

Even with new demand, the quantity of U.S. gas is so vast because of unconventional drilling techniques that average Henry Hub (based in Louisiana, the delivery point for physical natural gas traded in the Nymex futures market) prices should not rise dramatically from the $4 to $5 range, though they could fluctuate.

Henry Hub prices averaged $4.24 per million British thermal units in December. They hit a high above $13 per million Btu in October 2005.

"We now have knowledge and comfort that we have an incredible resource base—technically recoverable resources of 3,000 trillion cubic feet," said Rita Beale, IHS senior director of power, gas, coal and renewables. "We have 900 tcf of gas that can be recovered for $4 or less."

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Though there could be spikes, of course, the average price should stay low, she said. There was one such spike this month, as natural gas futures surged over $6 per million Btu on cold weather and supply concerns.

Natural gas futures, for April delivery, were trading Friday just over $4.50 per million Btus on the Nymex.