Extreme cold, especially in the densely populated upper Midwest and Northeast, created astonishing demand for natural gas in January, according to Bentek Energy, the oil and natural gas analytic unit of Platts, a global company that tracks energy use and demand.
Both daily and monthly records were set.
Average daily use in January exceeded the previous monthly average by about 8 percent, according to data from Bentek.
Sheetal Nasta, manager of energy analysis at Bentek, said the month accounts for seven of the top 10 days of natural gas consumption in the lower 48 states. Five of those days exceeded the previous daily record set Jan. 16, 2009.
Last month's highest demand day was Jan. 7, when 139 billion cubic feet of natural gas was used, according to Bentek. That is about 13 percent more than was consumed on 2009's record day.
Weather and the energy industry are in enough flux that projections are dicey. Having noted that, Nasta put last month's extraordinary demand in context by comparing it to the following projections:
— Based on normal weather and excluding shocks to the market, analysts wouldn't have expected the amount of gas used last month to be needed until January 2019. And the 2019 projection assumes a jump in demand from increased U.S. gas exports.
— In a stable environment, last month's record demand would stand for at least 10 years, excluding exported liquefied natural gas.
As cold pushed demand to record levels last month, it also caused production to slip slightly, said Jack Weixel, director of energy analysis for Bentek.
Domestic production last month was down 1.1 percent from December, Weixel said. The persistent cold caused some wells to freeze up, limiting their production, he said.
Despite the month-to-month dip, production was still 3.2 percent higher than a year earlier, Weixel said. That's another indication of how rapidly natural gas production in the United States is accelerating.
The period of record for natural gas use, based on U.S. Energy Information Administration data, dates to 1994.