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Natgas Down, Opportunity Up

Uranium

The abundance of cheap gas has utilities looking to build more gas-fired power plants. Some observers have suggested that this will be to the detriment of the nuclear sector in the US. But that perspective is pretty shortsighted.

It is true that some utilities have delayed plans for new nuclear plants by a few years, primarily in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and the ensuing public backlash against uranium. But that backlash is already fading; and those delays will have only a minimal impact on the nuclear sector in the US. Five new generators are on track for completion this decade, including two reactors approved just a few weeks ago (the first new reactor approvals in the US in over 30 years). Those will add to the 104 reactors that are already in operation around the country and already produce 20% of the nation’s power.

Those reactors will eat up 19,724 tonnes of U3O8 this year, which represents 29% of global uranium demand. If that seems like a large amount, it is! The US produces more nuclear power than any other country on earth, which means it consumes more uranium that any other nation. However, decades of declining domestic production have left the US producing only 4% of the world’s uranium.

With so little homegrown uranium, the United States has to import more than 80% of the uranium it needs to fuel its reactors. Thankfully, for 18 years a deal with Russia has filled that gap. The “Megatons to Megawatts” agreement, whereby Russia downblends highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads to create reactor fuel, has provided the US with a steady, inexpensive source of uranium since 1993. The problem is that the program is coming to an end next year.

At present the world is producing just enough uranium to meet global demand, but this precarious balance is already tipping. There are dozens of new reactors under construction in China, India, South Korea, and Russia that will need fuel. Production increases from new mines and mine expansions are not expected to keep pace. The race to secure uranium resources is on, and for the first time the US has to compete.

The answer is domestic production. The rocks underneath the United States hold lots of uranium, enough to make a significant contribution to the country’s uranium needs. The biggest impediment to mining this resource is public opposition to the nebulous dangers of uranium mining, but as the Megatons program ends Americans will start to see that the alternatives to domestic production are decidedly worse: competing against China, India, and the like for uranium is an expensive and unstable way to acquire a desperately needed energy resource. In fact, we have been vocal in predicting a demand-driven boom in US uranium production. We even expect to see “Made in America” uranium garnering a premium over imported yellowcake, in the same way that in-demand Brent crude oil earns a premium above oversupplied West Texas Intermediate crude.

We have already recommended a range of investments to our subscribers to gain exposure to the coming uranium resurgence and, as with coal, there is more to come: the next edition of the Casey Energy Opportunities newsletter will focus on uranium, with recommendations to boot.

Well-Field Services

The techniques used to unlock natural gas from shale reservoirs – horizontal drilling and well fracturing – worked so well that they created a supply glut that is altering the global energy scene. That supply glut is now prompting natural gas producers to cut back on output, which you might think would be bad news for the well-field service companies that complete those tasks.

Not to worry: North America is also in the midst of a crude-oil production boom, and the common theme linking most of the continent’s new wells is highly technical drilling and production methods. The purveyors of those techniques are the continent’s well-field service companies, and their services are very much in demand.

Well-field service companies have been able to compensate for lost gas fracking business by shifting to oil, as the oil industry has adopted fracking to unlock its shale deposits. If you’ve read about the oil production boom that is keeping North Dakota’s economy hopping, you read about the Bakken shale formation. In the Bakken, wells are drilled horizontally to follow along the oil-bearing layer, and then high-pressure fluids are forced down the well to fracture the shale and release the oil.

Meanwhile, the challenges of producing oil in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico continue to test the limits of drilling technology. Pushing through kilometers of water before drilling through just as much rock and then extracting and transporting oil from a platform rocked by waves and threatened by hurricanes demands a wealth of specialized equipment and operators.

Most oil and gas companies do not own drill rigs, nor do they actually drill or fracture their own wells. They contract those jobs out to companies that drill and frac for a living, known as well-field service companies. And with wells in America’s booming oil and gas fields requiring more complicated and more technical services with each passing year, the services these companies provide are essential to North America’s oil and gas producers.

The Casey energy team is all over the well-field services sector. Subscribers to the Casey Energy Report newsletter and the Casey Energy Confidential alert service were alerted to our latest recommendation in the sector in mid-November. Three months later, our investment is already up roughly 50% and we suggested that subscribers take a “Casey Free Ride,” which means selling enough shares to recoup one’s initial investment and retaining the remaining “free” shares for continued, risk-free upside exposure.

The Take-Home

When a machine is as interconnected as the global energy trade, no part can change without impacting the rest. The dramatic debut of shale gas in North America has done far more than just depress domestic natural-gas prices – a shift of this magnitude has impacts that reach far beyond one commodity or one country. Some of those impacts are negative, but hidden in the doom and gloom lie opportunities to profit. The key is to open your horizons and embrace the complexity and interconnectedness of the global energy machine… either that, or find a good mechanic who can do the job for you.

[One of the best opportunities we’ve seen in years involves leveraging a touchy situation that OPEC doesn’t want you to know about. Learn more about it.]

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