U.S. natural gas futures were trading near flat on Thursday after paring earlier gains after the release of a government report showing a near normal storage build last week allowed the market to focus on forecasts for cooler weather and lower demand next week than previously expected.
Traders noted prices had been up more than 1% before the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the storage report on concerns the report could show a much smaller than expected build and on forecasts for hot weather to return in early August after next week’s cool down.
EIA said utilities added a near normal 62 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas to inventories during the week ended July 12.
That was a little less than the 65 bcf build analysts forecast in a Reuters poll and compares with an increase of 46 bcf during the same week last year and a five-year (2014-18) average build of 63 bcf for the period.
The increase boosted stockpiles to 2.533 trillion cubic feet (tcf), 5.3% below the five-year average of 2.676 tcf for this time of year.
It was the first week so far this year that the storage build was less than the five-year average.
The amount of gas in storage has remained below the five-year average since September 2017. It peaked at 33% under the five-year average in March 2019. Analysts expect inventories will reach a near-normal 3.7 tcf by the end of the summer injection season on Oct. 31.
Front-month gas futures for August delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange were unchanged at $2.303 per million British thermal units at 10:40 a.m. EDT (1440 GMT).
Before EIA released the storage report, the front-month was up about 1.4%.
Meteorologists forecast the hot weather seen this week will peak over the weekend with temperatures next week expected to cool to near normal levels before rising again around the start of August.
Data provider Refinitiv projected demand in the lower 48 U.S. states would fall from 91.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 90.1 bcfd next week because power plants will not have to burn as much gas to keep air conditioners humming with the more moderate weather.
That is lower than Refinitiv’s forecast on Tuesday for next week of 90.8 bcfd. But it keeps power generators on track to burn more than 40 bcfd of gas on average this month, which would break the sector’s 39.9 bcfd monthly record set in July 2018, according to federal energy projections.
Since Tropical Storm Barry hit the central Louisiana coast on Saturday, energy firms have slowly been returning Gulf of Mexico wells and platforms to service.
Gas production from the offshore Gulf of Mexico was expected to rise to 1.7 bcfd on Thursday from a low of 1.2 bcfd on Saturday-Monday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with a high of 3.1 bcfd during the first week of July.
With the gains in the Gulf, output in the Lower 48 states edged up to 87.9 bcfd on Wednesday from an eight-week low of 87.6 bcfd on Tuesday, according to Refinitiv. That compares with an all-time daily high of 91.1 bcfd on July 5 and an average of 82.1 bcfd during this week last year.
The amount of gas flowing to the nation’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals, meanwhile, dipped to 5.7 bcfd on Wednesday from 5.9 bcfd on Tuesday due primarily to small reductions at Freeport LNG’s Freeport plant in Texas, which is in the process of starting up, according to Refinitiv.
The amount of gas flowing to the LNG export plants hit a record high of 6.3 bcfd on Sunday as new units at several facilities prepared to enter service, including Cheniere Energy Inc’s Corpus Christi in Texas, Sempra Energy’s Cameron in Louisiana, Freeport and Kinder Morgan Inc’s Elba in Georgia.