As the world struggles to recover from the pandemic, soaring natural gas prices threaten to become a drag on the economies of Europe and elsewhere. Wholesale prices for the fuel are at their highest in years — nearly five times where they were at this time in 2019 before people started falling ill with the virus. Spanish households are paying roughly 40 percent more than what they paid for electricity a year ago as the wholesale price has more than doubled, prompting angry protests against utility companies.
The pain is being felt across Europe, where gas is used for home heating and cooking as well as electric power generation. Citing record natural gas prices, Britain’s energy regulatory agency, Ofgem, recently gave utilities a green light to increase the ceiling on energy bills for millions of households paying standard rates by about 12 percent, to 1,277 pounds, or $1,763, a year. Gas prices in the United States have risen as well, but they are only around a quarter of those being paid in Europe. The United States has a big price advantage over Europe because of its large domestic supply of relatively cheap gas from shale drilling and other activities, while Europe must import most of its gas.
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