The United States becoming a net exporter of natural gas is an idea that seemed virtually impossible just a few years ago. The increase in domestic natural gas production has been dramatic, thanks to technological developments that have made previously untapped resources suddenly viable. Due to new 'fracking' technologies, the vast ocean of natural gas the United States is currently sitting on may hold the keys to our national energy independence.
Sitting on a '100-year' supply
That's how Continental Resource, (NYSE:CLR) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Harold Hamm describes the amount of available natural gas in the United States. Not only is the U.S. gifted with a huge amount of gas, but prices are now becoming favorable for the industry. As demand continues to rise, the supply glut that had kept prices down for most of the year is starting to wane. For example, due to severe weather conditions across the United States this winter, natural gas recently hit $4.40, representing a six-month high.
The positive underlying fundamentals of natural gas production are rippling through the industry. Exporting natural gas would serve as an additional tailwind for many companies, including Continental Resources, whose production is ramping up. Continental's total production hit a record 141,900 barrels of oil equivalents per day in the third quarter, thanks in large part to its natural gas production soaring 34% year over year.
Emerging economies lead in global demand
The rally in natural gas may still have legs, because industry data indicate demand is finally catching up to supply. Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that supplies of natural gas fell by 285 billion cubic feet for the week ended December 13. This was a far higher decline than expected. Plus, global demand for natural gas is expected to keep rising, particularly in the emerging markets.
This would make ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) finally look good for the massive natural gas investments it's made over the past few years, including its $41 billion purchase of XTO Energy that has yet to pay off. ExxonMobil now has huge gas operations, particularly in the Piceance Basin. That project holds more than 45 trillion cubic feet of recoverable reserves over its expected life. ExxonMobil realized lower down-times and project ramp-ups in the third quarter, meaning future production growth is likely.
Natural gas liquids represent a key consideration for potential importers as well. Consider that Japan and South Korea are major importers of liquid natural gas. Should the U.S. become a major liquids exporter, Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) could be a major winner. That's because Chesapeake is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the United States, and has significantly increased its liquids production in recent months.
One of Chesapeake's strategic priorities is to increase its liquids production. Third-quarter operating cash flow rose 22% year over year, thanks in large part to 31% production growth of natural gas liquids. Specifically, the company's Utica and Marcellus shale plays represent its key areas. Production at Utica and Marcellus increased 91% and 53%, respectively, in the third quarter versus the same period last year.
Keep an eye on natural gas exports
The U.S. is sitting on an ocean of natural gas. Global demand for natural gas is growing, which means the U.S. is in prime position to become a major natural gas exporter. Moreover, the price of natural gas has increased so significantly over the past couple months that domestic producers are greatly incentivized to ramp-up production.
Integrated behemoths like ExxonMobil as well as smaller players like Continental Resources and Chesapeake Energy stand to win big from this. As a result, investors should consider the possibility of exporting natural gas as an exciting way to generate future growth.