According to a survey released this week, oil and natural gas executives and investors think the price of natural gas will remain below $2.50 per 1,000 cubic feet (mcf) for the rest of the year -- a level that is too low for the industry's growth.
Eighty-six percent of the 768 respondents, the majority industry executives, believe natural gas prices will average under $2.50, while 61 percent think they will drop below $2 this summer.
The outlook for 2013 is not much better: 65 percent of poll respondents believe natural gas prices will stay below $3 per mcf through 2013.
More than 70 percent of the those responding to the survey said growth in natural gas development needs a market price of $3.50 or higher in order to be sustainable.
The poll was conducted by Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., an energy investment and merchant banking house.
On Wednesday, natural gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange traded at $2.21 per mcf, four cents higher than the previous day's close.
Natural gas prices have been plummeting thanks to production that is outpacing demand. Technological advancements in natural gas drilling -- namely hydraulic fracturing, or fracking -- allows for the horizontal drilling in unconventional shale deposits, and has opened vast tracts of recoverable natural gas throughout the country.
Regions like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and Texas are experiencing an energy boom, and the nation's storage capacity for natural gas is almost exhausted.
The Marcellus Shale formation, which straddles Pennsylvania, Ohio and parts of Virginia, alone contains 84 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
For the time being, large oil and natural gas companies like Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) are weathering low spot prices for natural gas thanks to high crude prices -- even if they are scaling back their production of natural gas -- but for mid- to low-level natural gas producers, the prices are harder to bear.
At this point even a major hurricane or a very hot summer are not likely to get this market turned around, as the supply [and] demand balance is so loose that a major supply response is the only likely catalyst to spawn a price rally, and that would be a difficult feat given current production and projections, said a market report by Snyder Brothers Inc, an independent oil and natural gas company based in Pennsylvania. The outlook remains bleak until something changes.
The same survey showed respondents think the spot price for crude oil will remain high, averaging between $90 and $110 a barrel through 2013, which could prove problematic for the Obama administration as it struggles to rein in high energy costs including gasoline ahead of the November election.
Crude oil in New York on Wednesday traded at $103.32 a barrel.