East coast gas prices appear too high and future supply is uncertain

18 February 2020

The 2020 supply demand outlook in the east coast gas market has improved and LNG netback prices have decreased, but domestic prices remain high and there is significant uncertainty about future supplies, according to the Gas Inquiry 2017-25 Interim Report released by the ACCC today.

The report found that the supply outlook for 2020 has improved slightly since July 2019 but beyond 2020 there is significant uncertainty about whether future demand can be met.

Importantly, between 30 June 2017 and 30 June 2019 Queensland LNG reserves were written down by more than 4,400 PJ.

“Southern states risk facing a shortfall in the medium term unless there is more exploration and development in the south, or new infrastructure to bring more supply to southern states,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“We continue to urge state and territory governments to assess individual gas development applications on a case-by-case basis. We also suggest they actively manage tenements to prevent ‘warehousing’ of gas, and that they coordinate the development of pipeline and storage infrastructure to avoid unnecessary duplication.”

While LNG netback prices have been falling since May 2019, with forward LNG netback prices for 2020 well below netback prices seen in recent years, prices offered in the East Coast Gas Market have remained mostly steady within a range of $9-$12/GJ.

“The recent significant divergence between the netback prices and the prices offered is a concern for the ACCC and in 2020 we intend to now delve much deeper into the reasons why this is occurring,” Mr Sims said.

“Indeed, average netback prices expected for 2020 have been under $7/GJ since November 2019, which is well below prices being offered to domestic buyers.”

“We have been watching prices closely, and have observed instances where prices offered have included a fixed price component, on top of an LNG spot price linked component,” Mr Sims said.

Commercial and industrial gas users have continued to try to reduce their overall gas costs, but most have reported that they have largely exhausted all opportunities to reduce their gas use through energy efficiency improvements.

“Unfortunately, the concerning trend of companies closing regional manufacturing plants that are now unprofitable due to high gas prices has continued,” Mr Sims said.

The report also examines access to gas pipelines in regional areas, where some pipeline operators appear to be actively discouraging access. The ACCC is examining this behaviour to determine if it may constitute a breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

The ACCC’s next interim report will be provided to the Treasurer in June 2020. It will report on the long-term gas supply and demand outlook, the recent experiences of commercial and industrial users in securing gas supply, gas prices offered and agreed in the market, and gas transportation prices.

Note to editors

An ‘LNG netback price’ is a measure of an export parity price that a gas supplier would expect to receive for exports. It is calculated by taking the price that could be received for a quantity of LNG and subtracting or ‘netting back’ the costs incurred by the supplier to convert the gas to LNG and ship it to the point of delivery.

LNG netback prices are a key factor influencing domestic gas prices. Improved transparency on LNG netback pricing will assist to reduce the information imbalance between gas users and suppliers, thereby improving the competitiveness of the bargaining process.

The gas prices mentioned in this media release and in the ACCC’s Gas Inquiry 2017–25 Interim Report – January 2020 (unless otherwise stated) are ‘gas commodity prices’. These prices do not include any separate charges, such as applicable transportation or other additional charges that may be passed through to gas buyers.

Background

On 19 April 2017, the Australian Government directed the ACCC to conduct an inquiry into the supply of and demand for wholesale gas in Australia, and publish regular information on the supply and pricing of gas for three years. On 25 July 2019, this inquiry was extended until December 2025.

The ACCC is required to submit interim reports no less frequently than every six months and provide information to the market as appropriate, with a final report by 30 December 2025.

Release number: 
16/20
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