Could we be running out of gas? The unprecedented cold UK March is having all kinds of impacts: tourism, farming, the economy, and no doubt, gas supplier profits too. The unpredictable British weather strikes again. Only a year ago at this time of year, Britain was bathed summer-like temperatures in the low 20s celsius. Britons were on beaches soaking up the sun enjoying the end of winter, even in northern Scotland, where all-time records were broken. By contrast, mother nature is creating a very different March in 2013.
This year the grip of winter is tighter. March 2013 could be the coldest for 50 years. We’re experiencing below freezing temperatures, snow and ice across a large bulk of the UK. As a result, instead of donning bikinis, swimming trunks, and applying sun cream, we’re shivering and sledging in a Siberian style early spring. The consequence is we’re turning to gas to heat and warm our homes and businesses across a swathe of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. By contrast the freak weather has caused flooding in the south west especially Devon and Cornwall. A woman died when her house collapsed following a land slip.
Britain has a surprisingly low amount of gas in storage at any one time. Unsurprisingly, due to the time of year and the sudden spike to gas usage due to the cold weather, this is seriously affecting our gas storage levels. We could be on track to run out of gas by early April. If this did happen, we would have to look further afield for our gas to foreign countries which could include Russia and Norway.
We don’t store enough gas in this country and our North Sea reserves are in decline. We have as little as fifteen days worth of gas in storage at any moment which can diminish quickly, in as little as two days when demand is high.
In addition to low storage levels, yesterday one of the biggest gas import pipelines closed at the UK and Belgium interconnector. A fault cut of the gas supply from one of the UK’s biggest gas supply pipes. Costs for same day gas delivery increased by 50% in some cases to around 150 pence (£1.50) per therm. Later in the day at 15:30 the fault was reported to be fixed and prices went down to 100 pence (£1.00) per therm.
If you don’t know what a therm is, it’s the equivalent of burning approximately 100 cubit feet of natural gas. Therms are terminology most often used by gas suppliers, shippers, transporters and traders buying and selling of wholesale or retail gas. You can convert one therm into a kilowatt hour by multiplying by 29.307111111.
Gas storage is a hot topic from time to time. Especially given other countries have much more capability to store gas for cold periods,perhaps because they experience deeper and more prolonged winters on European continent. National Grid, yesterday confirmed that a normal day in march might see 270 million cubic metres of gas in the UK consumed. At the moment 320 million is being consumed which makes it easy to understand why we could in theory run out of our own gas reserves soon. The storage system will have a chance to recover over the weekend as businesses are shut. Next week will see our infrastructure tested to the limit again, especially if the unseasonable spell of snow and ice continues.
The picture to the left was taken by 1Gas Director, Richard Hearne in the Turton district of Bolton, Greater Manchester. The view is taken Edgworth looking towards Chapeltown on the West Pennine Moors.