BCF is perhaps one of the biggest units of volume for measuring gases. It’s the abbreviation for billion cubic feet. The unit is normally used in the oil and gas industries, particularly in the US.
You might come across this unit in projections and financial reports from companies extracting, producing, and selling natural gas in North America. It may also be used in legal documents like a natural gas well lease or royalties agreement.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, the US produced, on average, 91.5 BCF of dry natural gas per day in 2020. That amounts to over 33,000 BCF of gas production in 2020, the second-highest amount on record.
BCF Meaning Gas
BCF’s meaning in the gas industry is pretty straightforward. It represents one billion cubic feet of natural gas. It’s based on the standard unit of volume in the metric system cubic feet (cu ft. or CF).
One cubic foot represents the cube with one foot (12 inches) sides. One cubic foot of natural gas is what it would take to fill up one cube of one-foot sides. As gas wells typically have vast amounts of natural gas and condensate reserves, a cubic foot is too small a unit to measure the volume.
Other units of volumes used in the gas industry are MCF and MMCF. MCF is the de facto unit of natural gas in the gas industry. MCF stands for thousand cubic feet, whereas the M stands for thousand. MMCF stands for million cubic feet, whereas the MM stands for million. Similarly, BCF is the next in line with billion cubic feet.
To reduce the length of the numbers, many companies opt to use bigger units like MMCF or BCF instead of MCF or just CF. Here’s how one can represent a gas well that produces 5,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas:
5,000,000 cu. Ft.
Cubic foot and all its derivatives are common in the US, where the imperial system of units is the standard. More commonly, these units are used for measuring materials in a gaseous state as other units of volume like liter or gallon are difficult to use for gases.
So BCF is largely used by natural gas companies operating in the US, whether they are based in the US or abroad. MCF, MMCF, and BCF are also used by the companies listed on the stock exchanges to report their finances.
However, it’s important to note that these units are not used in other parts of the world. So companies, analysts, and regulatory authorities often have to take into account the conversions to report production numbers in different regions.
For this reason, many international companies operating in the US use the MCF and its derivatives but also provide conversions in other standardized units used elsewhere.
The units are also important for calculating royalties for the mineral owners who have leased the mineral rights to the oil and gas companies. As royalties are often based on production, it’s important to establish a unit for measuring production and calculating monthly, quarterly, or yearly royalties.
BCF vs. BCFE
BCF differs from BCFE, which stands for billions of cubic feet equivalent. While it’s based on BCF, it doesn’t represent the volume of natural gas. BCFE represents the energy this amount of natural gas produces in relation to the energy a barrel of crude oil produces.
In terms of energy production, 6,000 cubic feet of natural gas produces the same amount of energy as a barrel of oil.
BCFE is more frequently used in financial reports for stakeholders and investors, as this unit makes more sense regarding the value of the resources. Even though natural gas can provide a lot of use cases, energy production is the main application.
While in the US, the gas industry uses MCF and its derivatives like BCF, in other oil and gas regions around the world, they use thousand cubic meters (MCM).
As a meter is bigger than a foot, cubic meters and thousand cubic meters are not equal to cubic feet and thousand cubic feet, respectively.
1 meter = 3.28 feet
1 cubic meter = 35.3 cubic feet
1 MCM = 35.3 MCF
1 MMCM = 35.3 MMCF
The counterpart of BCF in the metric system would be BCM or billion cubic meters.
1 BCM = 35.3 BCF
If you want to calculate the amount of energy one BCF of natural gas can produce, you’ll need to use the British Thermal Unit (BTU). BTU is essentially a unit of heat, but it’s often used in the oil and gas industry to measure energy production.
1 MCF = 1,000,000 BTU or 1 MMBTU (million BTU)
1 MMCF = 1,000 MMBTU or 1 BBTU (billion BTU)
1 BCF = 1000 BBTU or 1 TBTU (trillion BTU)
So one BCF of natural gas can produce one trillion BTUs of heat/energy.
Another unit used for estimating the energy production of a mineral is BOE, or barrels of oil equivalent. If we compare BCF with BOE, we find how many barrels of crude oil it would take to produce the same energy as one BCF.
1 BCF = 190,000 BOE
So basically, one BCF of natural gas is equal to 190,000 barrels of crude oil as far as producing energy goes.
BCF or billion cubic feet is a useful unit of volume for natural gas when documenting large reserves or monthly/annual production. While MCF is considered standard in the US, BCF is commonly found in natural gas reserves and wells documents. It’s an imperial unit, so companies and parties in the US use it.