Industry says natural gas network strong despite harsh winter

Despite natural gas inventories hitting a record low in the U.S., producers and distributors contend the low-cost fuel met the challenge of a brutal winter.

While the Energy Department's stat shop reported multiple strains on the supply of gas to consumers given the extreme cold snaps from January to February, industry executives say the country's natural gas network proved resilient.

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"The 2014 record-setting winter with prolonged cold temperatures and peak demand conditions has demonstrated the readiness and resiliency of America’s natural gas network," said Dave McCurdy, CEO of the American Gas Association said in a statement on Thursday.

"Natural gas utilities work all year to prepare for these types of cold temperatures, and employ a portfolio approach to help ensure they can meet the needs of their customers at affordable prices."

But with inventories so low, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is keeping a watchful eye.

The acting chairwoman of FERC, Cheryl LaFleur, said it was a "crappy" winter for the grid as reliable sources were stretched thin, natural gas being a main one.

Speaking at a natural gas roundtable in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, LaFleur said it will be interesting to see what happens with another winter only nine months away.

"We are monitoring low natural gas storage levels, which is just another result of a difficult winter," LaFleur said. "We are getting into the season of refilling all of the storage facilities."

LaFleur added that FERC predicts the number of injections to refill natural gas inventories will be higher than the past winter.

Lawmakers have expressed concern over the strain to natural gas networks, which sent prices sky high for homeowners this winter, with a number of coal plants unable to provide backup.

“We are concerned that such outages and price increases could be further exacerbated in the future as coal-fired power plants that utilities have relied on to meet the surge in demand are shuttered for environmental reasons," House GOP leaders on the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to grid operators Thursday.

Electricity prices spiked across the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast as temperatures dipped to record lows.