The economic and financial impact of governmental deregulation on the U.S. natural gas industry




Zhou, Naijiang, 1962-

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The recent changes in the structure of the U.S. natural gas industry include consolidation of operations among oil and gas producers, a revised role for major interstate natural gas pipelines from merchants to common carriers, emergence of natural gas spot and futures markets, and increased gas-to-gas competition and competition from alternative energy sources. Particularly, FERC Order 636, issued in 1992, directed a sweeping restructuring of the natural gas transmission industry. The FERC's intent was to bring about the final deregulation of the gas industry, creating a market place that would promote competition, give consumers more choices, and provide more efficient and market-sensitive gas supplies and transportation services. As a result, the way of doing business in the U.S. natural gas industry has been permanently changed. Changes in the governmental regulations have affected not only the structure of the gas industry, but also the economics of natural gas companies and end users. During the regulatory transition, major interstate natural gas pipelines incurred significant costs, and their overall financial performance was less than satisfactory. On the other hand, however, local distribution companies enjoyed growth in asset base, operating revenues, and net income. In general, industrial and electric utility customers have benefited more from the recent changes in the U.S. natural gas market than captive residential and commercial customers. Facing these unprecedented developments, producers, pipelines, and local distribution companies restructured their operations. They laid off employees, spun off assets, consolidated operations, reduced long-term debt, and adjusted capital spending in an effort to cut down costs and improve operating efficiency. The outlook of the gas industry can be characterized by sustained gas demand and tight supply, with the greatest opportunity for gas market growth coming from electric power generation and natural gas vehicles. The market share of Canadian gas in the U.S. is expected to increase. Governmental regulations will continue to play an important role in stimulating increased use of natural gas. To adapt to an increasingly competitive environment, the future strategies of the gas companies should emphasize efficiency, supply reliability, R&D, and risk management