Despite the fact that natural gas prices last week hit their lowest level in two years – and that many exploration and production companies have largely abandoned natural gas in the age of America’s oil boom – Houston’s Southwestern Energy is doubling down on its investment in gas.”We’re really a gas-driven company,” chief executive Steven Mueller told the Chronicle on Tuesday, a day after the company announced it would increase capital spending next year by $200 million, to $2.6 billion, at a time when other Houston-based exploration and production companies are cutting back.”Today’s gas prices are low,” Mueller said. “We’re a little bit contrarian. We don’t think it will stay in that low $3 range.”The price closed Tuesday at $3.094 per million British thermal units, but Mueller said he expects that to rise in the coming year as utilities continue to shift from coal to natural gas-fired power plants. Inexpensive natural gas in the U.S. maintains a distinct price advantage compared to natural gas sourced abroad, he said.The CEO said Europeans, whether they use liquefied natural gas or imports from Russia, are hard-pressed to find natural gas for less than $9 per million BTU. At that point, manufacturers and other heavy users of natural gas will likely shift more operations to the U.S. to take advantage of its comparatively cheap natural gas – providing a boon for Southwestern. “We’ve got gas, we’ve got the infrastructure, and we’ve got the stable government,” Mueller said.
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