U.S. natural gas futures held near a five-week low on Tuesday as forecasts for cooler weather and more heating demand this week offset a milder outlook next week.
Milder weather should allow utilities to leave more gas in storage. Gas stockpiles were about 2.4% below the five-year (2017-2021) average for this time of year.
In addition to the mild weather, traders also noted demand for gas was limited by the delayed restart of Freeport LNG’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant in Texas from mid-December to the end of year.
Some analysts, moreover, have said that even that restart timeline is unlikely.
They do not expect Freeport to return until January or February or even later because it will likely take federal pipeline safety regulators longer than Freeport thinks to review and approve the plant’s restart plan once the company submits it.
At least one LNG vessel – Prism Brilliance – gave up on Freeport after the company delayed the planned restart, according to ship tracking data from Refinitiv.
A couple of ships – Prism Diversity and Prism Courage – however, were still waiting in the Gulf of Mexico to pick up LNG from Freeport.
The plant, which can turn about 2.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas into LNG, shut on June 8 due to an explosion caused by inadequate operating and testing procedures, human error and fatigue, according to a report by consultants hired by the company to review the incident and propose corrective actions.
Front-month gas futures for January delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 0.8 cent, or 0.1%, to $5.585 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 9:42 a.m. EST (1442 GMT). On Monday, the contract closed at its lowest since Oct. 27.
U.S. gas futures were up about 50% so far this year as much higher global prices feed demand for U.S. exports due to supply disruptions and sanctions linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Gas was trading at $42 per mmBtu at the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) in Europe and $33 at the Japan Korea Marker (JKM) in Asia.
U.S. gas futures lag global prices because the United States is the world’s top producer with all the fuel it needs for domestic use, while capacity constraints and the Freeport outage have prevented the country from exporting more LNG.
Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states rose to 99.6 bcfd so far in December, up from a monthly record of 99.5 bcfd in November.
With colder weather coming, Refinitiv projected average U.S. gas demand, including exports, would jump from 117.3 bcfd this week to 119.5 bcfd next week. The forecast for this week was higher than Refinitiv’s outlook on Monday, while its forecast for next week was lower.
The average amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants rose to 12.0 bcfd so far in December, up from 11.8 bcfd in November. That compares with a monthly record of 12.9 bcfd in March.
The seven big U.S. export plants can turn about 13.8 bcfd of gas into LNG.
During the first 11 months of 2022, roughly 67%, or 7.1 bcfd, of U.S. LNG exports went to Europe as shippers diverted cargoes from Asia to get higher prices. Last year, just 29%, or about 2.8 bcfd, of U.S. LNG exports went to Europe.