Marcellus Boom helps keep natural gas bills stable in Western Pennsylvania

Katelyn Ferral | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The abundant supply of natural gas from the Marcellus shale is keeping household bills in Western Pennsylvania stable this winter.
Customers of Peoples Natural Gas Co. and Equitable Natural Gas Co. will have lower heating bills, while customers of Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania will experience a slight increase.
Peoples Natural Gas bought Equitable last year, but the two utilities maintain separate rates. Peoples and Equitable serve 700,000 residents in 18 counties.
Customers of Peoples will receive an average monthly bill of $130 for the winter period, November through March — a decrease from an average $133 per month last year, said Joe Gregorino, vice president for rates and regulatory affairs. The company set a rate of $5.04 per thousand cubic feet of gas for the October-December period.
Equitable customers will have an average monthly bill of $146 for the five-month winter period, a decrease from $154 monthly average last year, Gregorino said. The company set a rate of $5.95 per thousand cubic feet for the last three months of the year
The estimates are contingent on the Public Utility Commission approving rates for the first quarter of 2015, but prices are not expected to change, Gregorino said.
The decreases are due in part to the abundant supply of gas from the Marcellus shale, as stable natural gas prices should mean stable household bills, he said. This year’s prices were half of what they were in 2008 before natural gas drilling took off, he said.
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“What we’ve seen since last year and over the course of 2013 is a very stable natural gas market and slightly declining price market. It’s really because of the availability of natural gas through the shale gas development,” Gregorino said. “We have a huge advantage because it’s right underneath our feet.”
Winter bills for Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania’s residential customers will increase slightly from last year. The average residential gas bill for the October-December period will be $86.36, compared to $83.83 during the same period last year, according to the company.
Columbia serves 419,000 customers in 22 counties across Western Pennsylvania. Spokeswoman Sarah Perry said Columbia expects the price of natural gas to remain low and stable for the foreseeable future.
State regulators encourage utilities to buy as much natural gas as possible from Marcellus wells, and that cuts down on transportation prices that are passed to consumers, said Tanya McCloskey, acting state consumer advocate.
“There certainly is a lot of impact from Marcellus shale gas,” she said. “Because it’s right here, now we are able to see some reduction in cost.”
Gas utilities received approval for the rates from the PUC on Oct. 1. They must get rates approved each quarter.
Katelyn Ferral is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or kferral@tribweb.com.

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