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Long-term natural gas supplies should meet growing demand in coming decades, study finds

Sudden price spikes have led to speculation that the United States is facing a critical shortage of natural gas. But a new study by Stanford University's Energy Modeling Forum (EMF) concludes that gas supplies are likely to meet growing demand in coming decades, if policy-makers are able to strike a balance between environmental protection and the need for new energy sources.

"Recent volatile natural gas prices do not foreshadow a pending, long-term crisis in future natural gas supplies," said Hillard Huntington, EMF's executive director and co-author of the study. "Industry will respond with more investment, and demand will respond to higher prices - provided that market participants are given the opportunity."

According to Huntington, the study is unique because it compared the results from seven different expert modeling teams on multiple market scenarios. The results were reviewed and evaluated by a working group of 45 experts from various universities, government agencies and corporations.

Wild prices

In its report, the EMF working group noted that the current uncertainty in the natural gas market is based on wild fluctuations in gas prices during the past three years. For example, the price of gas jumped from about $3 per million British thermal units (Btu) in January 2000 to nearly $8 per million Btu a year later. By January 2002, the price had plunged to about $2, then tripled to more than $6 in January 2003. The price has since dropped to about $5.

"Prices spiked in both 2001 and earlier this year when short-term seasonal bursts in natural gas consumption outstripped the industry's current capacity to deliver natural gas in the winter months," the authors wrote.

According to the report, future price spikes could be prevented by constructing more gas storage facilities, building up inventories and implementing longer-term contracts. The result would be greater price stability, which in tu
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Contact: Mark Shwartz
mshwartz@stanford.edu
650-723-9296
Stanford University
18-Sep-2003


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