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Marcellus shale supply helps lower costs of natural gas in Western Pennsylvania

| Monday, March 31, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

Western Pennsylvanians will pay as much as 7 percent less for natural gas this spring than they did a year ago, with robust supply from the Marcellus shale helping to restrain prices, gas utilities reported on Monday.

“Despite the very cold winter, natural gas prices have remained at historically low levels. It's a good result for our customers,” said Joe Gregorini, vice president of rates and regulatory affairs at Peoples Natural Gas Co.

Peoples and other gas companies this week filed gas cost rates for the April-through-June quarter with the state Public Utilities Commission. The cost of gas usually amounts to about half of a customer's residential heating bill. Taxes and fees represent the rest.

Peoples filed to decrease its rate to $5.53 per thousand cubic feet of gas, down from $5.96 in spring 2013 and $5.61 in the first quarter of 2014. The change should bring the average residential bill to $80.46 a month, according to the company, which serves about 360,000 customers in 16 Western Pennsylvania counties.

The 260,000 customers of Equitable Gas Co. also will experience a slight decline. Equitable dropped to $6.29 its price per thousand cubic feet, down from $6.58 a year earlier. That will put the average monthly bill at roughly $88. Equitable customers paid $6.51 per thousand cubic feet in the first quarter of 2014.

Peoples is merging its business with Equitable, which Peoples acquired late last year for $720 million.

Meanwhile, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania will keep its price level at 55 cents per therm, or about $5.50 per thousand cubic feet of gas. The average residential monthly bill will hover at $86.76, according to the company.

Its gas rate is on par with the first quarter of 2014 and one cent per therm higher than the rate a year ago.

Columbia spokesman Russell Bedell said he could not cite a specific reason for the uptick, indicating factors could range from the weather to the company's supply. Columbia serves 417,000 customers in 26 Western Pennsylvania counties.

The PUC expects natural gas prices might creep up slightly later this year, said spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. She declined to cite specific numbers, but said sharp demand for electricity in the warm summer months could squeeze gas distribution systems.

“That's just sheer demand” as more power plants rely on natural gas instead of coal to make electricity, Kocher said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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