NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's nearly Thanksgiving, yet parts of the U.S. have already experienced deep-freeze temperatures more typical of the heart of winter. That raises some very big questions in an already volatile energy market.
Record onshore natural gas production is going on in the U.S., and a massive early-season cold front has blasted much of the northern U.S. Those should both serve as a reminder that production growth for some exploration and production companies may actually get worse before it gets better.
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And that makes for a bullish scenario this winter for natural gas prices and the United States Natural Gas ETF (UNG) . But that doesn't mean it's good for E&P companies.
Natural gas freeze-offs -- the crystallization of water that comes out of the ground at the wellhead along with the gas -- can block upstream gas flow across a much wider geographic footprint during freezing temperatures than any hurricane could.
And a lot of wellheads are not made to withstand freeze-offs. That can lead to outright delays of planned natural gas production output when temperatures fall below freezing in producing fields.
Consider this: in the winter of 2011, freeze-offs took over 7 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas offline. That was more than the supply disruption taken offline during Hurricane Dennis (6.1 Bcf/d) and just under lost output seen during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike (9.5 Bcf/d).
For reference, over 12.2 Bcf/d of natural gas supply was disrupted during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to the EIA.