Pandemic to increase heating costs, natural gas use this winter

Nov 02, 2020 12:00 PM

Paul Takahashi, Houston Chronicle l November 2, 2020

Natural gas use is expected to rise this winter as more people stay at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Residential natural gas consumption from October to March is forecast to average 21.1 billion cubic feet per day, a 5 percent increase compared with last winter, according to the Energy Information Administration. The federal agency attributed the higher predicted use to forecasts for colder temperatures this winter as well as changes in consumer behavior because of the pandemic.

“EIA expects work-from-home and virtual schooling policies to affect winter residential consumption because, with more people at home during the day, residential space heating demand will increase compared with last winter,” the agency said on Monday. 

The forecast will be a boon to shale gas producers during the pandemic, which has depressed gas prices. The average retail price for residential natural gas this winter is expected to average $9.55 per thousand cubic feet, down 2 percent from last winter, according to the EIA.

But the bump in natural gas use is expected to offset the lower gas prices. The EIA forecasts that average household heating expenditure for homes will rise to $572 this winter, a 6 percent increase compared with last winter. Half of U.S. homes use natural gas for heating.

The forecast comes as energy companies set new natural gas production records in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico. Associated gas output, referring to natural gas extracted as a byproduct of crude production, in the Permian is estimated at 16.84 billion cubic feet per day, about 70 million cubic feet per day higher than the previous record in March, before the pandemic hit, according to Rystad, a Norwegian energy research firm.