European natural gas prices reached their lowest level in at least a decade this week, fuelled by a battle for market share between the world’s largest producers, Russia and the US.
Prices are poised to fall further, with the benchmark price for gas in the Netherlands struggling to recover from a crash below €10 ($11) a megawatt-hour earlier this summer.
The Dutch front month gas price, a major indicator for the natural gas market in Western Europe, is at its lowest level since its launch in 2010 due to a flood of supply, according to consultants at Rystad Energy.
“In September, gas storage sites in northern Europe will be full, increasing the risk of a further downside in prices,” Niek van Kouteren, a senior trader at PZEM, a Dutch energy company told Bloomberg. “Under a certain price, producers would be forced to extract less gas. But at the same time, big suppliers such as Russia” are trying to increase market share.
Inventories across northwest Europe, Italy, and Austria hit 62.3 billion cubic meters, or 94 percent of capacity, on August 28, according to reports.Despite falling gas prices, Russia and the US have both increased exports sharply in the first five months of this year. Russia made up 38 percent of Europe’s gas demand last year.
Data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that by 2018 annual LNG exports to Europe were 13 times what they were in 2016. That increase came despite the fact that the US is limited to transporting its gas by sea, which coupled with low European prices, forced Washington to export natural gas at a loss.
"As two of the world’s largest gas producers, Russia and the US are natural competitors in what seems to be a race to the bottom, not only in the lucrative Asian market but now also in Europe,” said Carlos Torres-Diaz, head of Rystad’s gas markets research. “Both countries have sent increasing amounts of gas to Europe despite the low price environment.”
Russian energy giant Gazprom said last week that its exports to Europe will decline to 192 billion cubic meters this year, 4.5 percent lower than the record-high volumes in 2018. Its average gas price is also expected to fall 13 percent compared with what it recorded last year. However, Gazprom does not plan to turn off the taps just because of low prices.
“When we have an opportunity, we make extra sales,” said Mikhail Malgin, the deputy department chief at Gazprom Export.