Bankrate.comBy Chris Persaud | Bankrate.com – Fri, Mar 23, 2012 3:01 AM EDT

 

$4 gas prices got your attention? If the cost of gasoline is already back at that lofty level where you are, or is simply headed in that direction, you’re probably asking where all the gas money you’re shelling out at the pump is going.

There are a couple of ways of answering that.
Industry shows how gas price breaks down

The American Petroleum Institute, or API, has a general breakdown for you. According to the trade group’s February estimates, most of what you pay for gasoline — 71 percent — goes to refineries, to buy oil.

API says it takes one gallon of oil to make a gallon of gasoline. The price of oil is determined in commodities markets, where companies and traders buy and sell the petroleum for purposes that can include refining it into gasoline or holding it as an investment. The markets, and the prices they set, are influenced by supply-and-demand factors, such as trouble in the Middle East that could result in less oil coming from that region of the world.

After oil prices, the rest of the price of a gallon of gas comes from taxes (14 percent) and costs associated with refining, moving and selling the gasoline (15 percent), according to API.

At the time of API’s most recent study, in late February, the national average price of regular-grade gasoline was $3.58 per gallon. By the group’s estimates and percentages, about $2.54 of that price covered crude oil costs, 50 cents went to taxes, and about 54 cents went into refining, moving and retailing.
Get geeky for more exact gas cost analysis

If you want to get geekier about where your gas money is going, you can do a more exact and up-to-date calculation on your own.

Here’s how:

  • Find the price of a gallon of gas. Go online to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. For example, as of March 22, the auto club showed that a gallon of regular gasoline sold for about $3.88.
  • Find the price of a gallon of oil. Head to Bloomberg.com’s Energy & Oil Prices page. As of March 22, it showed a barrel of oil selling for about $105.46. There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil, so divide $105.46 by 42 to get $2.51 as the price of one gallon of oil. Again, a gallon of oil can be refined into one gallon of gasoline, according to API. So, about $2.51 of the March 22 price for a gallon of gas went toward the cost of the underlying oil. That works out to about 65 percent of what you paid at the pump.
  • Find the cost of taxes. The federal tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon. On top of that, there are state taxes and, depending on where you live, local gasoline and/or sales taxes, too. If taxes are typical where you are, the API estimates you’re paying 49 cents per gallon in federal, state and local gas taxes, making up 12.5 percent of the average $3.88 gas price.
  • Determine the cost of refining, transportation and retailing. The rest of the cost of gasoline goes to turning crude oil into fuel, moving it to gas stations and retail markup. Get this number by subtracting the amounts in steps 2 and 3 from the average price in step 1. In this case, that’s $3.88 minus $2.51 and minus 49 cents, which comes out to 88 cents for refining, transportation and retailing — or about 22.5 percent.

And that’s how you do the math. Keep in mind that taxes and other factors making up gas prices can differ by region, state, metro area and city. Check out our map on gasoline taxes by state to see how much of your gas money is going to federal and state taxes.

If you want more detail about your own local taxes, contact your city, county, and/or state department of revenue, department of finances, or the equivalent.

As reported by Zach Carter for Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Two economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve have published findings that indicate that Wall Street speculation is responsible for 15 percent of the increase in oil prices over the past decade, a finding with significant implications for the recent sharp rise in gas prices.

While politicians have little ability to alter the price swings of commodities like oil, regulators have both the authority and policy tools to do so. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is responsible for overseeing the financial market for oil. The 2010 Wall Street reform bill gave the CFTC new power to limit excessive speculation, but the rule will not go into effect until later this year.

According to St. Louis Fed economists Luciana Juvenal and Ivan Petrella, speculation in oil markets was the second-biggest factor behind the past decade’s price run-up, behind increased global demand for oil, which accounted for 40 percent of the increase.

“Speculation was the second-largest contributor to oil prices and accounted for about 15 percent of the rise,” the economists wrote. “The effect that speculation had on oil prices over this period coincides closely with the dramatic rise in commodity index trading — resulting in concerns voiced by policymakers.”

Commodity indexes allow speculators to bet on the price of several commodities at once, and have become very popular investment tools for both Wall Street investment companies and pension funds. Between 2004 and 2008, the total volume of trading activity in commodity indexes jumped from $13 billion to about $260 billion, according to research by Michael Masters, founder of Masters Capital Markets and the financial reform nonprofit Better Markets.

Masters and others have noted that speculation can exaggerate price swings otherwise dictated by fundamental supply-and-demand dynamics, and can also force prices to move contrary to supply-and-demand predictions. During 2008, when oil prices soared to their highest level on record, they did so during a period in which global demand was low and global supply was high — what should have been a recipe for lower prices.

The most recent Fed study concludes that economic fundamentals are still the primary determinant, saying only that speculation can “exacerbate” price swings.

“Global demand remained the primary driver of oil prices from 2000 to 2009,” Juvenal and Petrella wrote. “That said, one cannot completely dismiss a role for speculation in the run-up of oil prices of the past decade. Speculative demand can and did exacerbate the boom-bust cycle in commodity prices. Ultimately, however, fundamentals continue to account for the long-run trend in oil prices.”

Fuel prices are currently at the highest level on record for the month of March, a phenomenon upon which presidential candidates are seizing to attack President Barack Obama on the issue at campaign stops. The financial reform bill Obama signed into law in 2010 allowed the CFTC to write its new rule, designed to curb price movements influenced by excessive speculation. The rule limits the size of the bets that individual traders can make on any given commodity.

Written by Tom Zeller Jr

 For the Huffington Post

A veritable explosion in the number of natural gas wells in the United States in the late 2000’s resulted in only modest gains in production, a new study finds, suggesting that the promise of natural gas as a bountiful and economical domestic fuel source has been wildly oversold.

The findings, part of a broader analysis of natural gas published Thursday by the Post Carbon Institute, an energy and climate research organization in California, is one of a growing number of studies to undermine a natural gas catechism that has united industry, environmental groups and even the Obama White House in recent years.

It also comes on the heels of another study, published Monday, lending credence to claims that modern natural gas drilling techniques are contributing to methane contamination of drinking water wells in surrounding communities.

According to the author of Thursday’s study, David Hughes, a geoscientist and fellow at the institute, the bedrock assumptions of the natural gas revolution — that new drilling techniques have cracked open deep layers of shale and made available a 100-year supply of clean, domestic energy that could displace dirty coal and oil — are simply not true.

“The real takeaway here is scale,” Hughes said in a telephone interview. “If you look at the production estimates as the government is making them now, you’re talking about a near quadrupling of shale gas by 2035.”

The estimates come from the Energy Information Administration, which suggested in its most recent projections that shale gas would account for 45 percent of all natural gas production in the U.S. by 2035 — up from roughly 14 percent currently.

But the actual productivity profile of new, unconventional wells — often tapped at tremendous expense — is far less clear than is normally portrayed, Hughes said. Studies at existing fields, or plays, suggest that many shale wells tend to be highly productive in their first year, and then decline steeply — sometimes by as much as 80 percent or more — after that, requiring new wells to be plumbed

Indeed, while the number of active gas wells, which has nearly doubled since 1990, to half a million, has increased in the U.S, production per well has declined by nearly 50 percent over the same period, Hughes said, suggesting that as the industry converts increasingly to shale gas, more and more wells will be needed to maintain even a baseline level of production — much less to create a substantive increase.

If that’s the case, Hughes said, then those hoping that the shale gas boom might one day provide enough natural gas to replace coal for electricity generation, or oil as a transportation fuel, will be sadly disappointed. Indeed, he said, the number of new wells that would be needed to meet these goals would create a dystopian landscape of well pads and gas pipelines that few people would want to inhabit.

“If that were to happen, for those people living in Pennsylvania and New York, well, they haven’t seen anything yet,” Hughes said, referring to those states now sitting atop major shale gas deposits.

Mr. Hughes also highlighted the growing number of environmental costs that come with natural gas development. These include everything from water intensity and heavy truck traffic to the risks of localized pollution associated with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock formations and release gas.

More broadly, questions have been raised about the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas development over its lifecycle, with at least one study suggesting that it may be no better than coal.

Dan Whitten, a spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an industry lobby group, said in an e-mail message that the report was retreading old ground and amounted to a smear campaign on natural gas.

“This report is recycling the widely discredited claims of anti-drilling activists on greenhouse gas emissions,” Whitten said. “Their estimates run counter to the accepted scientific consensus and have been heavily criticized by climate scientists and others who are interested in a fact-based debate about our energy choices as a nation.”

Whitten also argued that it is now “the established scientific consensus” that the U.S. has “vast domestic supplies of natural gas that can play a growing role in meeting our country’s energy needs for generations.”

He also said that no one was seriously suggesting that coal or transportation fuel be entirely replaced by natural gas, and that such arguments amount to “unrealistic scenarios” presented by Hughes simply to be knocked down.

“Most experts in our energy debates understand and agree that it will take all kinds of energy to meet our nation’s growing future needs,” he said. “From our initial review, no new ground was broken with this report. As such, it doesn’t change the fact that the vast supplies of clean natural gas right here in North America give our country a chance to substantially improve energy security, clean our air and improve our economy.”

But while the resource is inarguably vast, Hughes is not alone in suggesting that the industry is overstating how much can be economically pulled out of the ground.

Arthur E. Berman, a geological consultant and director of Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc., also argues that natural gas is not as abundant or as inexpensive as is commonly believed.

“I do not dispute for a minute that the resource size for natural gas is huge. There’s a lot of gas in place in shales,” Berman said in a telephone interview. “The question for me is how much can be produced for a profit?”

Berman says that reserves — meaning the amount of natural gas that is actually commercially available to produce — will last only about 22 years. This is partly because shale gas plays once touted to be monstrous in size have typically contracted to core areas of production a mere fraction of the originally advertised size.

Hughes, meanwhile, cited Berman and and other analysts who also say that gas, at roughly $4 per thousand cubic feet (mcf), is too cheap for companies to recoup the costs of producing it.

From Thursday’s study:

Analysts like Arthur Berman suggest the marginal cost is about $7.50/mcf compared to a current price of about $4.00/mcf. Others, such as Kenneth Medlock (2010), suggest that the break-even price ranges from $4.25/mcf to $7.00/mcf. The Bank of America (2008) has placed the mean break-even cost at $6.64/mcf with a range of $4.20/mcf to $11.50/mcf. One thing seems certain: Shale gas, which appears to be the only hope for significantly ramping up U.S. gas production, is expensive gas, much of which is marginally economic to non-economic at today’s gas prices.

And yet, with easier-to-reach, conventional sources of gas largely depleted, the ability to pull gas from deep layers of shale rock has been touted as a game changer, and the notion was quickly embraced by a broad cross-section of social, political and business interests.

Writes Mr. Hughes:

First, the shale gas industry was motivated to hype production prospects in order to attract large amounts of needed investment capital; it did this by drilling the best sites first and extrapolating initial robust results to apply to more problematic prospective regions. The energy policy establishment, desperate to identify a new energy source to support future economic growth, accepted the industry’s hype uncritically. This in turn led Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, 60 Minutes, and many other media outlets to proclaim that shale gas would transform the energy world. Finally, several prominent environmental organizations, looking for a way to lobby for lower carbon emissions without calling for energy cutbacks, embraced shale gas as a necessary “bridge fuel” toward a renewable energy future. Each group saw in shale gas what it wanted and needed.

And at least for now, the 100-year slogan continues.

“A lot of times, things are right underneath our feet, and all we need to do is change the way we’re thinking about them,” says Erik Oswold, an ExxonMobil geologist, in an ad circulating on the online video service Hulu. “A couple decades ago, we didn’t realize just how much natural gas was trapped in rocks thousands of feet below us. Technology has made it possible to safely unlock this cleaner burning natural gas. These deposits can provide us with fuel for 100 years.”

President Obama, delivering a speech on energy policy at Georgetown University on March 30, echoed the industry’s mantra.

“Now, in terms of new sources of energy, we have a few different options,” the President said. “The first is natural gas. Recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap large reserves — perhaps a century’s worth of reserves, a hundred years worth of reserves -– in the shale under our feet.”

As reported by Bipartisan Policy Center

March 22, 2011

Media Contact:

Paul Bledsoe
Bipartisan Policy Center
(202) 637‐0400
pbledsoe@bipartisanpolicy.org

Washington, DC – A national producer—consumer Task Force convened by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and the American Clean Skies Foundation (ACSF) issued a report today finding that the growth of shale gas production “reduce[s] the susceptibility of [natural] gas markets to price instability and provide[s] an opportunity to expand the efficient use of natural gas in the United States.”

The Task Force’s 70-page report, the result of a yearlong review, calls on governments to “encourage the development of domestic natural gas resources, subject to appropriate environmental safeguards” given that the efficient use of gas has the potential to reduce harmful air emissions, enhance energy security and improve the prospects of U.S.-based energy-intensive manufacturers.

With a more stable price horizon for natural gas, the report also urges state public utility regulators and industry to consider making greater use of longer term supply contracts. “Rules that unnecessarily restrict the use of or raise the cost of long-term contract and hedging tools for managing supply risk should be avoided,” the Task Force said.

“We have a good problem,” said Task Force co-Chair, Norm Szydlowski, Bipartisan Policy Center and President and CEO of SemGroup Corporation. “Finding more natural gas provides an opportunity that is as much unparalleled as it was unexpected. Fundamental changes that have taken shape in the domestic supply and demand balance for natural gas, including an unprecedented level of available storage and import capacity, should allow markets to function more efficiently and fluidly in the future,” said Szydlowski.

“The extensive work of this diverse, expert panel identifies a small number of practical regulatory and policy measures that can provide the necessary confidence to support new investment in efficient applications of natural gas,” said Ralph Cavanagh, Senior Attorney and Co-Director of the Energy Program at Natural Resources Defense Council. “If the industry can meet high standards of environmental performance for extracting and delivering the fuel, we are looking here at very good news for America’s economy and industrial competitiveness, the environment, and our nation’s energy security.”

“The Task Force findings and recommendations reflect optimism that the robust supply horizon for natural gas presents fresh opportunities—not only to move beyond prior price volatility concerns shared by both consumers and producers, but to develop new tools for managing price uncertainty,” said Marianne Kah, Chief Economist, Planning and Strategy of ConocoPhillips. “With sound policies, the nation can capitalize on this abundant natural gas supply and convert it into intelligent energy progress.”

“With U.S. natural gas now one-fourth the price of oil on an energy equivalent basis, it is further welcome news to consumers that, with the right policies, U.S. natural gas appears poised to enter into an era of greater price stability,” said Paula Gant, Senior Vice President for Policy and Planning of the American Gas Association.

“The fact that a diverse Task Force like this could reach a consensus on these particular findings and recommendations was unexpected,” said Task Force co-Chair Gregory C. Staple, CEO of ACSF. “This consensus suggests that, although we may have a stalemate on many other energy issues, there is at least one important area – natural gas – where progress is within reach,” Staple added.

Background

Interest has grown recently in natural gas as a cleaner, low-carbon, low-cost alternative to other fossil fuels in the electric power and industrial sectors. For example, in his State of the Union address, President Obama called for a federal clean energy standard for generating electricity that could be partly satisfied by using more domestic natural gas.

The Task Force was jointly convened by the BPC and ACSF in March 2010 to examine historic causes of instability in natural gas markets and to explore potential remedies. Task Force members, listed below, represent natural gas producers and distributors, consumer groups and large industrial users, as well as independent experts, state regulatory commissions and environmental groups.

Key Task Force Findings and Recommendations:

1. Recent developments allowing for the economic extraction of natural gas from shale formations reduce the susceptibility of gas markets to price instability and provide an opportunity to expand the efficient use of natural gas in the United States.

2. Government policy at the federal, state and municipal level should encourage and facilitate the development of domestic natural gas resources, subject to appropriate environmental safeguards. Balanced fiscal and regulatory policies will enable an increased supply of natural gas to be brought to market at more stable prices. Conversely, policies that discourage the development of domestic natural gas resources, that discourage demand, or that drive or mandate inelastic demand will disrupt the supply-demand balance, with adverse effects on the stability of natural gas prices and investment decisions by energy-intensive manufacturers.

3. The efficient use of natural gas has the potential to reduce harmful air emissions, improve energy security, and increase operating rates and levels of capital investment in energy intensive industries.

4. Public and private policy makers should remove barriers to using a diverse portfolio of natural gas contracting structures and hedging options. Long-term contracts and hedging programs are valuable tools to manage natural gas price risk. Policies, including tax measures and accounting rules, that unnecessarily restrict the use or raise the costs of these risk management tools should be avoided.

5. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) should consider the merits of diversified natural gas portfolios, including hedging and longer-term natural gas contracts, building on its 2005 resolution. Specifically, NARUC should examine:

  • Whether the current focus on shorter-term contracts, first-of-the-month pricing provisions and spot market prices supports the goal of enhancing price stability for end users,
  • The pros and cons of long-term contracts for regulators, regulated utilities and their customers,
  • The regulatory risk issues associated with long-term contracts and the issues of utility commission pre-approval of long-term contracts and the look-back risk for regulated entities, and
  • State practices that limit or encourage long-term contracting.

6. As the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) implements financial reform legislation, including specifically Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Pub. L. 111-203), the CFTC should preserve the ability of natural gas end users to cost effectively utilize the derivatives markets to manage their commercial risk exposure. In addition, the CFTC should consider the potential impact of any new rulemaking on liquidity in the natural gas derivatives market, as reduced liquidity could have an adverse affect on natural gas price stability.

7. Policy makers should recognize the important role of natural gas pipeline and storage infrastructure and existing import infrastructure in promoting stable gas prices. Policies to support the development of a fully functional and safe gas transmission and storage infrastructure both now and in the future, including streamlined regulatory approval and options for market-based rates for new storage in the United States, should be continued.

Complete copies of the Task Force report along with a library of original commissioned research can be found here and here.

Sponsoring Task Force Members:

Gregory C. Staple
Task Force Co-Chair
Chief Executive Officer
American Clean Skies Foundation

Norm Szydlowski
Task Force Co-Chair
Bipartisan Policy Center;
President & CEO
SemGroup Corporation

Ken Bromfield
U.S. Commercial Director, Energy Business
The Dow Chemical Company

Carlton Buford
Lead Economist
The Williams Companies

Peter Sheffield
Vice President, Energy Policy and Government Affairs
Spectra Energy Corporation

Ralph Cavanagh
Senior Attorney and Co-Director, Energy Program
Natural Resources Defense Council

Paula Gant
Senior Vice President for Policy and Planning
American Gas Association and on behalf of the American Gas Foundation

Carl Haga
Director, Gas Services
Southern Company

Byron Harris
Director
West Virginia Consumer Advocate Division

Marianne Kah
Chief Economist, Planning and Strategy
ConocoPhillips

Todd Strauss
Senior Director, Energy Policy, Planning and Analysis
Pacific Gas & Electric Company

Additional Task Force Members:

Colette Honorable
Chairman
Arkansas Public Service Commission

Sharon Nelson
Former Chair, Board of Directors
Consumers Union

Sue Tierney
Managing Principal
Analysis Group, Inc.;
Former Assistant Secretary of Energy

Bill Wince
Vice President, Transportation and Business Development
Chesapeake Energy Marketing

Marty Zimmerman
Professor
Ross School of Business, University of Michigan;
Former Group Vice President, Corporate Affairs,
Ford Motor Company

About the American Clean Skies Foundation

The American Clean Skies Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit, supports energy independence and a clean, low-carbon environment through expanded use of natural gas, renewables and efficiency. For more information, visit www.cleanskies.org.

About the Bipartisan Policy Center

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a non-profit organization that was established in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell to develop and promote solutions that can attract public support and political momentum in order to achieve real progress. The BPC acts as an incubator for policy efforts that engage top political figures, advocates, academics and business leaders in the art of principled compromise. For more information, please visit our website.

CHRIS KAHN | 11/ 9/10 06:06 PM | AP

What’s Your Reaction?

Earns Exxon Mobil
 

NEW YORK — Pretty soon, Big Oil will be more like Big Gas.

The major oil companies are increasingly betting their futures on natural gas, with older oil fields producing less crude and newer ones either hard to reach or controlled by unfriendly nations.

They are focusing more than ever on natural gas because it burns cleaner than oil and is gaining traction as a fuel for transportation. The latest move came Tuesday, when Chevron made a $4.3 billion deal to buy up natural gas fields in the Northeast.

Earlier this year, Exxon Mobil bought XTO Energy to become America’s largest producer of natural gas. And Royal Dutch Shell expects natural gas to make up half its total global production in two years.

“If you look at most of the big developments now, they’re not about oil, it’s gas,” said Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel Gheit.

The world will continue to run on crude oil for years to come, but even with new discoveries, oil production is expected to flatten out during the next few decades, according to the latest estimates from the International Energy Association.

Far down the road, Gheit believes, Exxon and Shell will lead the energy industry into a new era where oil companies devote most of their efforts to producing natural gas. The Energy Information Administration expects worldwide natural gas production to increase 46 percent from 2007 to 2035, compared with a 30 percent increase in world production of crude and natural gas liquids.

Gas is becoming more attractive to the oil companies because it’s more accessible. While OPEC controls most of the world’s oil reserves, it controls less than half of the natural gas reserves.

In the United States and Europe, natural gas is primarily used to heat homes. About three in five American homes use it for heat. And more and more power plants are using it to generate power. Natural gas is used to generate 23 percent of electricity in the U.S., up from 16 percent a decade ago.

If the country focuses more on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in years to come, the trend should accelerate. Natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels.

Natural gas is used in small amounts for transportation in the U.S., mostly for city buses and garbage trucks. The oil industry is pressing Congress to add financial incentives for trucking and freight companies to convert their fleets.

Until recently, Big Oil watched the rise of U.S. natural gas from the sidelines, and smaller companies drilled into underground layers of shale. New techniques allowed companies to drill parallel to the ground and hit previously tough-to-reach deposits, helping them tap ever larger bounties of shale gas.

Production costs fell. Drilling rigs started popping up along America’s shale-rich regions in Appalachia, Texas and North Dakota. Experts now say the U.S. is sitting on enough natural gas to last the country for the next century.

This year, Big Oil jumped in. Exxon bought XTO for more than $30 billion, immediately making it America’s largest natural gas producer. XTO so far has helped Exxon increase its natural gas production by 50 percent.

Then Shell agreed to buy East Resources Inc. for $4.7 billion, and China’s state-owned offshore oil and gas company, CNOOC Ltd., invested $2.16 billion in oil and gas fields owned by Chesapeake Energy.

Production jumped to 1.94 trillion cubic feet in August, the highest monthly total since January 1973, according to available government data.

“Production is screaming,” said E. Russell Braziel, managing director of BENTEK Energy, which tracks natural gas prices in the U.S.

The U.S. now holds about 3.82 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in storage, about 10 percent more than the average over the past five years. And the industry keeps pumping more out of the ground.

There are challenges. The same low prices that make the assets affordable have caused some companies, namely ConocoPhillips, to pull back on production. Natural gas has dropped about 24 percent this year.

And people near shale rigs complained that groundwater supplies were contaminated by the industrial chemicals used in the drilling process. The Environmental Protection Agency is studying the possible effects on drinking water and the public health.

Still, most of the big companies continue to press ahead with multibillion-dollar acquisitions.

“When the market is weak, that’s when it’s time to act,” Argus Research analyst Phil Weiss said.

Who Hit the Switch?

December 9, 2010

We have been lucky over the pas t few years. We have been blessed with warmer than usual winter temperatures. I know; last year we had some major snowstorms but overall the winter temperatures have been warmer.

Over the last year we have seen the natural gas market prices react to these warmer temperatures. Storage numbers have been at a 5-year high and prices have continued to drop to their lowest sustaining level in the last 3 to 4 years.

Speaking with many energy analysts, they feel we may have hit the bottom and prices will slowly start inching up.

Inching up may be an understatement? Just in the last week, prices jumped over 10%. Hit with the sudden cold front the market took off.

The cost of buying natural gas on the open market is made up of 2 factors. Nymex (gas out of the ground to the banks of Louisiana) and Basis (the transportation cost for getting natural gas delivered to your local provider). These 2 factors combined give us the Index. This is the total wholesale cost to buy natural gas on the open market.

The last couple of weeks have seen the market in a holding pattern. Nymex prices were under $4.00 a decatherm ($.40 cents a therm) and it was a wait and see scenario. Should we have seen continued mild temperatures the market would have remained stable.

With the sudden switch to cold temperatures and forecast for a continued cold snap; the market did not inch up but leapt. Nymex prices open today, as of this writing, at $4.61 a decatherm. Measure this against the low opening on 10/25/10 of $3.29 a decatherm.

Prices are still low compared to where they were 2 to 3 years ago. In 2008, natural gas prices hit a high of $14 to $16 a decatherm ($1.40 to $1.60 a therm). Just last year (2009) we were looking at the average price to compare of around $10.00 a decathem ($1.00 a therm). We are now seeing fixed price positions in the low to mid $6.00 a decatherm range.

Each account is unique and priced individually, for pricing is based on demand factors. Many clients are seasonal clients and their biggest usage comes from heating their locations during the winter. Their natural gas prices would be higher than a client having a more even demand factor, for they use natural gas throughout the year (a restaurant would be a good example).

Some clients have benefited by floating the market, taking advantage of the falling prices over the last couple of years. Now may be the time to begin a discussion and review your options. There is more upside risk (chance of prices raising higher) than there is downside risk (market prices have been at a 4 year low).

You can lock the price going forward for a 1 or 2-year period, which will provide an overall savings from the average prices you have been paying over the last year or at the minimum, lock the winter month which will provide price certainty.

Should you feel this is only a temporary rise in market prices, you may choose to float the market and look for a continued flatness in pricing.

One other option to consider, should the float scenario be of interest, would be to lock the basis (transportation cost) and continue to float the nymex. Several of our clients have found success with this option in the past. This position is normally taken when they see the Nymex as being too high and feel the market will be dropping over time. In the past, if we saw basis price fall under $2.00 this was considered to be a good deal. The current basis prices are well under $2.00.

Should you like to know more about your deregulated gas options email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-857-1230

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com

Government boards regulate the utility market price.  Although, the state utility regulator is required to pass market savings onto the consumer, local providers buy natural gas on the wholesale market and bill their customers’ retail. We put our clients in a wholesale position because brokers/marketers have the flexibility to buy gas when rates are lower and pass the savings onto their clients.

Comparing and deciding among the various offers.

In the new deregulated industry, buying natural gas is like getting a home loan. You can select between:

  • Contract terms of 1 to 5 years
  • Lock in at a fixed rate for an extended period of time
  • Choose variable rates and rely on an experienced gas manager to get you the lowest price

Why switch?

Most consumers switch to brokers/marketers to save money.  Together you can determine your comfort level.

Ø    Security – if the utility price makes you feel more secure, choose an option that offers a percentage less than the utility for guaranteed savings.

Ø    Lowest Price – if you want to have a knowledgeable gas company managing your gas supply, select the variable rate and let a gas supplier manage it for you.

Ø    Fixed Price – if you think prices are going to continue to rise and you want to be sure of your bills, choose a fixed price.

Regulated rates are not fixed rates.

Each province or state has an agency that regulates utility rates. Utilities can and do apply changes to rates.  They are not allowed to offer fixed contracts. By signing up with an energy marketer you can avoid these unexpected rate changes. We competitively tender your natural gas needs to deregulated natural gas marketers.

If you choose to buy from a gas broker/ marketer, your gas service won’t change.

You will continue to receive a bill from your distributing utility authority indicating their regulated delivery charge (about half of your bill) and a gas supply charge that goes to the gas supplier. If you also have rental equipment or a service contract, these will appear on your bill, as usual.

It’s important to remember these cost splits when comparing prices. The suppliers, brokers and/or marketers are offering rates on only half of your bill. As previously stated, the distribution charge and monthly service charge is fixed.  It is strictly regulated by an Energy Board or Public Service Commission. As a result, when a promotional message claims a 10% saving, it is ONLY referring to that 10% controlled by all energy brokers.

You do the math.

To qualify in the deregulated market, your company must spend a minimum of $5,000.00/ month ($60,000.00/year) on natural gas. Half of that monthly fee ($2,500.00) is a regulated transportation and delivery charge. The remainder is the gas supply charge.

A gas marketer offering a 10% savings is offering a savings of $250.00/ month, 10% of the $2,500.00 gas supply charge. Your annual savings would be $3,000.00.

Saving is parity to how much you spend. The above example applies only to minimum qualifications.  The more you use, the more you save.

Hutchinson Business Solutions (HBS) is an independent energy management consultant. We have been providing deregulated energy solutions to our clients for over 10 years. HBS clients are saving from 10% to 20% on their natural gas supply bills.

Large market swings offer you big savings.

If you have been following market prices for natural gas, over the past couple of years, you have probably noticed the large market swings. ie: In 2008, PSEG prices ranged from $1.07 per therm in February to $1.64 per therm in July. In 2009, prices dropped and we saw $.889 cents per therm in January with a low of $.496 cents a therm in September.  With so much market fluctuation, we have been advising our clients to float their accounts, based on the market index.  In this way, our clients can save anywhere between, 8% up to 20%, depending on whom their local provider is.

Choosing to float the market index does not preclude you “locking in” on a fixed price at any time during the term of the contract. Conversely, if you choose a fixed price, you are unable to change to a float when market prices go down.

Want to learn more about opportunities to save in the deregulated natural gas market email george@hbsadvantage.com or call 856-857-1230.

Visit us on the web www.hutchinsonbusinesssolutions.com

As reported by Public Service Commission of Wisconsin

HBS has been an independent energy broker for the last 10 years. Many times we are asked why the natural gas market can be so fickle and prices vary so widely from day to day. Below is an overview I found that may help shed some light on the subject.

Let us know your thoughts?

Consumers are sometimes surprised when they open their natural gas bills. The rate that their local utility charged this month could be 25 percent higher than it was just last month. That same rate, however, could at the same time be 30 percent lower than it was last year. This leads some consumers to wonder what is going on at the utility. The fact is that natural gas price changes are driven by several different factors, some of which the utility has control over, and others it does not. Some of these costs are subject to regulatory oversight while others are not. Some of these factors change infrequently and in small increments, while others swing widely from month to month. Still others vary by the season.

What causes natural gas price changes?

What is the wellhead price?

Why is the commodity price so unstable?

What do utilities do to insulate customers from volatility?

What are interstate pipeline costs?

Are pipeline rates constant from season to season?

How does increased winter usage affect pipeline capacity costs?

Are there other reasons that a natural gas rate changes?

What are local distribution service rates? 

 What causes natural gas price changes?

Changes in natural gas prices are caused by five principal factors. Natural gas rates change when there are: 1. Changes in the unregulated wellhead or commodity price of natural gas 2. Changes in the overall level pipeline demand charges approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) 3. Changes in the period of collection of pipeline demand charges approved by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) 4. Special circumstances such as pipeline refunds 5. Changes in local distribution service rates approved by the PSC

What is the wellhead price?

The price of gas at the site of production is referred to as the commodity price or wellhead price. Of all the cost components, natural gas commodity prices are by far the most unstable and the least predictable. Figure 1 shows monthly wellhead prices of natural gas from 1999 to 2009. It is clear that these prices move around quite a bit from month to month and from year to year. Natural gas price volatility is among the highest of all commodities that are traded on major market exchanges. The price can unexpectedly double in a matter of months. It can also tumble by 50 percent just as fast.

Why is the commodity price so unstable?

The natural gas commodity price is so volatile because it is a market price, not a regulated price. Market forces reflect the underlying supply and demand situations. Since there is no regulatory oversight a sudden unexpected cold snap can send prices soaring. Conversely, an unexpected decline in the price of competing fuels, such as oil, can cause industrial customers to use much less gas than expected and the price of natural gas can decline precipitously. Figure 1 shows monthly prices. The daily prices are even more volatile.

What do utilities do to insulate customers from this volatility?

Utilities buy gas in the off-season and store it for winter use The principal method is to buy gas in the off-season and store it for winter use. The principal reason that storage services are used is because the pipeline system in our part of the country was designed so that a stored gas inventory is required if the utility is to satisfy its customers’ total demand. The resulting price hedging impact is, therefore, more of an ancillary benefit from the use of storage rather than the primary reason for using it. If gas is put in storage in the summer and withdrawn in the winter, the cost of gas charged to consumers in the winter will be a blend of the current market price and the cost incurred when buying in the summer. This blending tends to have a limiting effect on the price volatility to some extent. It is far from perfect insulation, however. When natural gas prices rise or fall dramatically, consumers will still see noticeable changes in their gas rates. Since on any given day Wisconsin gas utilities can meet only a fraction of their gas demands with supplies from storage, they are always buying relatively large amounts of gas at market prices. Therefore, even if storage services are used to their maximum capacity, market price changes always filter through to the prices paid by the ultimate consumers if no other action is taken. Utilities use financial instruments The other action than can be taken to reduce price volatility is a relatively recent development in natural gas markets. Futures, options, and swap contracts for natural gas traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange provide a means to hedge natural gas prices. Proper use of these contracts allows the utilities to lock in prices or to put ceilings on prices, for example, which limits the volatility of gas costs that flow through to consumers. The goal of using financial instruments is generally to control price volatility, not to speculate on the future direction of energy prices or not even to reduce gas costs. The utility’s cost of administering its hedging program is passed on to consumers so that, over a long period of time, a hedged gas supply portfolio will tend to produce slightly higher gas prices than if the portfolio were not hedged. The prices will, on the other hand, be more stable and more predictable. Whether the increased cost justifies the reduced volatility is a matter of personal opinion. However, more of the Wisconsin gas utilities have decided to use this approach as energy prices have become more volatile since 2000.

What are interstate pipeline costs?

Interstate pipeline costs represent the space (capacity) on the pipes, that transport natural gas. Pipeline costs are much more stable than are commodity prices. The overall level of pipeline charges changes very little from year to year. Occasionally, the FERC sets new pipeline rates that must be flowed through to consumers, but in most years the pipeline rates are fairly constant.

Are pipeline rates constant from season to season?

Generally no. The PSC requires most of the state’s gas utilities to recover more of its charges for pipeline service in the winter than in the summer. Why does the Commission do this? Increased demand in the winter, not the summer, determines whether the utility must contract for new pipeline capacity. There is plenty of space available on the pipeline in the summer so that even if everyone installs natural gas fired grills for summer barbecues, the utility simply runs more gas through its space on the pipe. So customers who increase usage in the summer cause the utility to incur commodity costs, but not pipeline capacity costs.

How does increased winter usage affect pipeline capacity costs?

The same cannot be said of customers who increase their winter usage. If numerous customers convert from, say, fuel oil to natural gas for home heating, the utility must make sure that it has enough space on the pipeline to meet the increased demand. If it does not, it will have to arrange for more space on the pipe. Who should pay for the increased pipe capacity, the customers who installed gas grills for summer usage or the customers who installed gas furnaces? Those that installed the furnaces clearly caused the need for the new capacity, so from a cost-causer / cost-payer perspective, those customers should pay for that capacity. To link cost-causer with cost-payer, the PSC requires utilities to use a seasonal pricing approach to collect pipeline costs. The concept is shown in Figure 2 below. The winter period runs from November through either March or April, depending on the utility. The important point to note is that pipeline charges increase by about $0.10 per therm on November 1. This is a hefty increase for most consumers. This means that even if commodity costs are stable from October to November, gas bills are likely to rise noticeably once October ends. Figure 2

Are there other reasons that a natural rate changes?

Natural gas rates can change due to reasons that occur irregularly. For example, in recent years several Wisconsin utilities were required to pass back to customers a refund of pipeline costs. Other utilities might be allowed to or required to pass on to consumers slight surcharges or credits based on their performance under gas cost incentive mechanisms. It is difficult to know when and if these types of costs might be incurred. In any event, they tend to be quite small relative to the commodity, interstate pipeline, and distribution service costs.

What are local distribution service rates?

These rates reflect the utility’s cost of maintaining and operating its local system for distributing natural gas to homes and business. It is surprising to many consumers that the portion of the business fully regulated by the PSC, namely the basic distribution business, is usually not the culprit when it comes to significant natural gas price changes. These costs are, like interstate pipeline rates, fairly stable from year to year. Unlike interstate pipeline rates, however, local distribution rates do not vary by season. These rates change only when the PSC has a formal rate proceeding for the utility. In most cases, these rates are not changed more frequently than once every two years.

**There are many factors that cause natural gas price changes We hope that it has been clear that there are numerous forces acting on natural gas prices. Some are market forces. Others are institutional forces such regulatory decisions by the PSC or FERC. The combination of all these determines the price that Wisconsin consumers pay for natural gas service.

The Deregulated Electricity Market will SAVE your company money…but only if YOU act.

Just as deregulating the airline industry resulted in more competition and lower airfares, and the deregulation of the telephone industry resulted in slashing service costs, the deregulation of the nation’s electric utilities will result in utility companies competing for your business with better service and lower prices. While it’s not yet truly practical for the average household to utilize this deregulated environment, the “mid-size” to “large” electricity consumers (small to large businesses) are now able to drastically cut their electricity costs through “aggregators” (companies that buy large volumes of electricity at wholesale rates on behalf of their clients).

A Brief History of
Utility Deregulation

Before deregulation, you were ‘held hostage’ by one telephone company monopoly. You had to pay the rates that they decided were ‘fair’ (though they had to receive approval from the government). The phone company owned the wires, switches, even your actual phone which you had to rent from the phone company (you were not allowed to own a phone of your choice and connect it to “their” system.

Then the phone company monopoly was broken up by the U.S. Justice Department and the FTC, and allowed the entry of competition. The competition began with long distance phone calls, and companies like MCI and Sprint set up their own switching systems and wires and leased the use of the old phone company’s lines (this latter part was mandated by government decree to insure competition). Long distance rates started dropping, first by a little, then drastically. Today a long-distance call can cost as little as a penny (sometimes even less), whereas that same phone call 30 years ago would have cost 20 or 30 cents (or more) per minute. The End Result? Consumers of telephone service now have multiple choices for service providers, and the cost of telephone services (especially long distance, but also local service) have dropped dramatically, saving consumers tens of millions of dollars.

THE SAME SITUATION IS OCCURING TODAY WITH
ANOTHER UTILITY: THE ELECTRIC COMPANY.

In the interest of providing the public with the lowest possible rates and a selection of service options, the U.S. electric utility industry is now in the process of being deregulated. This allows power plants to compete for your business, and as we all know, competition breeds savings for consumers. It also changes the electrical utility industry into two distinct types of services: The companies that transmit power from the electrical generating station to your home or business (they own the poles, transformers, wires, etc…these are called “the distributors”); and the companies who actually operate power plants (“the generators”) and feed electricity into the distributors’ power grids. Of course, some companies are both generators and distributors. Still, deregulation allows you to choose who actually generates the power you consume, and you are free to choose the company that generates electricity in the most cost-effective manner and therefore can sell it to you at the best price.

In 1978, Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act which laid the groundwork for deregulation and competition by opening wholesale power markets to nonutility producers of electricity. Congress voted to promote greater competition in the bulk power market with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) implemented the intent of the Act in 1996 with Orders 888 and 889, with the stated objective to “remove impediments to competition in wholesale trade and to bring more efficient, lower cost power to the Nation’s electricity customers.” The FERC orders required open and equal access to jurisdictional utilities’ transmission lines for all electricity producers, thus facilitating the States’ restructuring of the electric power industry to allow customers direct access to retail power generation.

As a result of the Federal and State initiatives, the electric power industry is transitioning from highly regulated, local monopolies which provided their customers with a total package of all electric services and moving towards competitive companies that provide the electricity while utilities continue to provide transmission or distribution services. States are moving away from regulations that set rates for electricity and toward oversight of an increasingly deregulated industry in which prices are determined by competitive markets. (source: United States Department of Energy)

So how do you get electricity from “Power Company A” when your existing power company is “Power Company Z”?  Envision this example: Suppose your town is served by “Power Company Z”…this is the company that owns and maintains all the wires in your town, and they also happen to have a power generating station as well. This power company also is connected via larger regional or national power grids to 3 other power generating companies (let’s call them “Generator A, B, and C”). 25% of the power users in your town buy their power from Generator A, 25% from Generator B, 25% from Generator C, and the remaining 25% continue to buy from the distributing company “Power Company Z”. If you are one of the 25% that decides to buy your power from “Generator A”, then your distributor “Power Company Z” is required to buy 25% of their overall power from Generator A, 25% from Generator B, and 25% from Generator C. That means that the actual “juice” delivered to your business at any given moment could actually be a combination of electricity from up to 4 different providers, but the end result is the same…YOU, the CONSUMER, dictates which power company provides your share of the total power distributed and used, and you pay for your energy at Power Company A’s rates.

Of course it’s entirely possible that a power distributor has no actual power generating facility, OR that everybody in their service area chooses to buy their power from a source OTHER than the distributing company. The distributing company can not be expected to maintain the poles, towers, lines, transformers, etc. for nothing. Under the new deregulated industry, you will in effect receive two bills: One to pay for the actual amount of electricity used, and another for the delivery of the energy to your business. In actuality, your monthly power bill is consolidated into one payment, but it’s easy to see how much you are paying for electricity and how much for delivery.

In the end the competition between power generating companies will lower your bill by 15 to 20%, based on the experience of electricity users in states where deregulation has already been in place for several years. In the near future this competition will also allow you to make significant social and environmental choices. You may choose, for example, to obtain your electricity from a generating company that produces electricity at a slightly lower level of savings, but uses a cleaner fuel source than another generating company. You might even choose to take a firm environmental stand of receiving very little in savings but purchasing your electricity only from a very “green” power source, such as a producer who uses hydro, solar or wind turbines to generate electricity.

In the past, you could only buy electricity from your local utility, at the rates they set. Today, you have the freedom to buy from a variety of utilities that compete on price and quality for your business.

I have been getting a lot of feedback recently from many clients. They are all saying the same thing, “ What’s going on with the energy market, seems like everyone is starting to sell energy.”

That’s a good point! Energy prices are the most competitive they have been in the last 4 to 5 years and many people are trying to jump on the bandwagon.

Hutchinson Business Solutions (HBS) has been selling both gas and electric for the last 10 years. We represent all the major providers licensed to sell energy in New Jersey and that puts us in a unique position. We do not just represent 1 company. We are an independent energy broker, able to shop both your natural gas and electric accounts to all the providers, finding you the best opportunity for savings.

You will be surprised by some of the disparity of prices we find between the various providers, although they all seem to offer a savings over the current price to compare from your local provider. What needs to be understood is that each provider may have what is known as a sweet spot ie. those markets where they are more competitive.

Electric Opportunity

 We recently presented a proposal to a client where the price to compare from PSEG was  $.1162 cents per kwh. One of our providers submitted a proposal of $.109 cents per kwh, while another one came in at $.103 cents per kwh. By shopping the account we were able to provide more value with greater savings.

 Another thing that you must be aware of, while looking at your electric price in the deregulated market, be certain that the price is fully loaded and includes all the tarrifs and Sales Tax. I have seen where a client has been given a proposal with these items left out. What might look like a better deal can in fact be deceptive for the actual price will include a 7% loss allowance and also 7% sales tax. The loss allowance and the sales tax is already included in your price to compare from the local provider. To make the proposal apples to apples this must be included.

 Should you like to know more about your opportunity for savings in the deregulated electric market email george@hbsadvantage.com  We offer a free analysis of your cost and will present a proposal of the opportunities based on your current demand and annual usage.

 Natural Gas Opportunity

 There are also opportunities available in the natural gas market. If you are currently receiving natural gas from your local provider; remember that they are purchasing natural gas wholesale and selling it to you retail. Each month the price of natural gas changes from the provider based on current market conditions. Should you have floated your account in the deregulated market over the past year buying your natural gas thru HBS, you would have saved from 10% to 20% depending on who your local provider is.

 We also offer the option to lock your price on natural gas from 1 year up to 2 years or more. Some companies prefer this option for it offers certainty as to what they will be paying over the life of the contract and protects their account from market price fluctuations.

 Should you like to know more about your opportunity for savings in the deregulated natural gas market email george@hbsadvantage.com  We offer a free analysis of your cost and will present a proposal of the opportunities based on your current demand and annual usage.

 Hutchinson Business Solutions does not charge any additional fees for our services. As stated, we are an independent energy broker and receive a small residual from our providers during the life of the contract. Therefore, all the savings fall to the bottom line.

 There are minimum usages that may qualify your account to be able to participate in the deregulated market. Normally, if you are spending on average of $2000 a month on natural gas or a minimum of $5000 a month on electric, you should be looking at the opportunities for savings in the deregulated market.