U.S. natural gas futures rose almost 5% on Friday on what is expected to be the country’s biggest gas demand day on record with forecasts for more cold weather and higher-than-expected heating demand over the next two weeks.
In addition to boosting gas demand, the cold this week cut gas output to its lowest in four months as wells and other equipment froze in Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. It was a reminder of the last time gas demand was expected to reach record highs before last February’s freeze.
Analysts expect the cold will boost heating demand and keep forcing utilities to pull huge amounts of gas from storage over the next few weeks, causing overall inventories to slip below the five-year average for the first time since mid-December.
Front-month gas futures rose 18.2 cents, or 4.8%, to $3.984 per million British thermal units at 12:55 p.m. EST (1755 GMT). On Thursday, the contract closed at its lowest since Jan. 4.
For the week, the front-month was on track to drop about 6% after rising about 9% last week.
Last winter, next-day gas jumped to record highs in several parts of the country — gaining over 1,100% on Feb. 12 at the Waha hub in West Texas — as a winter storm left millions without power and heat for days after freezing gas wells and pipes in Texas and other U.S. central states.
In the current spot market, frigid weather and high heating demand for much of the week in the U.S. Northeast kept next-day power and gas prices in New York and New England at or near their highest since January 2018. Traders noted more cold was expected later this week and next.
For the first time since 2019, Excelerate Energy started using its Northeast Gateway liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in the Boston Harbor to deliver fuel into the New England market.
The cold snap put U.S. gas production on track to drop to its lowest since September after lingering cold since New Year’s Day had already depressed output through well freeze-offs and other weather-related equipment issues in several regions, including the Permian in Texas and New Mexico, the Bakken in North Dakota and Appalachia in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
Data provider Refinitiv said output in the U.S. Lower 48 states averaged 94.3 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in January, down from a record 97.6 bcfd in December.
Refinitiv projected average U.S. gas demand, including exports, would jump from 134.8 bcfd this week to 141.4 bcfd next week as homes and businesses crank up their heaters before sliding to 134.5 bcfd in two weeks. The forecast for this week and next were higher than Refinitiv projected on Thursday.
On a daily basis, Refinitiv projected total U.S. gas demand plus exports would reach 153.2 bcfd on Jan. 21, which would top the 150.0 bcfd high seen so far this year on Jan. 7 and the current record of 150.6 bcfd on Jan. 30, 2019. The outlook for Friday was higher than Refinitiv projected on Thursday.