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• Natural gas prices have spiked, but the main metrics do not show a 200% increase.
• Wholesale costs rose by 108% between 2017 and 2022, while residential customer costs over the same period have risen by 53%.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., recently took to Twitter to argue that the federal government should do more to encourage the domestic production of natural gas. He cited a sharp increase in prices, exacerbated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine.
In a Sept. 20 tweet, Manchin said that "over the past 5 years, natural gas costs have gone up over 200%. In Europe, it's up over 1,100%. Energy has been weaponized by Putin. We can offset that by reforming our permitting process, which will put more energy into the market & bring down costs for utilities & consumers."
There’s no question that natural gas prices in the U.S. are spiking, but the 200% increase cited by Manchin — basically, a tripling — is an exaggeration by some metrics.
When we asked Manchin's office for their evidence, it pointed us to the Henry Hub spot price. The Henry Hub is a natural gas distribution site in southern Louisiana; gas comes in from pipelines and is then redirected to other pipelines as demand requires. The "spot price" at the hub "reflects the going rate for gas purchased right now," said Hugh Daigle, a professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering.
Manchin’s office cited the change in prices between August 2017 and August 2022, when the spot price rose from $2.98 to $7.88. That’s an increase of 164%, which is substantial, but not quite the 200% Manchin cited in the tweet.
More importantly, the increase is also more modest if you focus on annual averages rather than monthly figures, which helps smooth out some of the month-to-month volatility.
Between 2017 and 2022, the yearly average rose from $2.99 to $6.23, or an increase of 108%, which is significant, but only about half of the 200% increase Manchin cited. (Since calendar 2022 isn’t over yet, we used data for the 12 most recent months to determine the 2022 figure, stretching from October 2021 to September 2022.)
Meanwhile, the "cost" of natural gas depends on where you sit. The Henry Hub spot price is essentially the wholesale price of natural gas, so it’s distinct from the price that consumers will face on their monthly bills.
"Consumers pay higher prices, because in addition to paying for the gas itself, they also must pay to get it to their homes, which requires a lot of expensive infrastructure," said Clark Williams-Derry, an energy finance analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. "In fact, gas itself is often a relatively small share of the price that consumers pay on their gas bills."
Residential consumer prices are up, though at a slower rate than wholesale prices have risen over the same period.
Between 2017 and 2022 (using the same method for approximating the 2022 figure — data for the 12 most recent months), the price of natural gas delivered to consumers rose from $10.91 to $16.74, or an increase of about 53%.
Overall, Williams said, "prices are much, much higher than they used to be. This is largely because the U.S. is exporting more and more natural gas, which is creating a shortfall in domestic supplies that has started to squeeze US consumers."
Manchin said that "over the past 5 years, natural gas costs have gone up over 200%" in the United States.
Natural gas prices have definitely spiked, but not even the data cited by Manchin’s office supported the 200% figure.
Comparing the annual wholesale costs in 2017 and 2022, natural gas prices have increased by 108%, while comparing residential customer costs over the same period, the increase is 53%.
The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.
Joe Manchin, tweet, Sept. 20, 2022
Energy Information Administration, Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price, accessed Oct. 17, 2022.
Energy Information Administration, U.S. Price of Natural Gas Delivered to Residential Customers, accessed Oct. 17, 2022
Email interview with Clark Williams-Derry, energy finance analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Oct. 13, 2022
Email interview with Hugh Daigle, professor in the University of Texas at Austin Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, Oct. 13, 2022
Email interview with Erin Heeter, press secretary for Joe Manchin, Sept. 29, 2022
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