U.S. natural gas futures held near a two-week low on Monday as a 5% drop in crude futures put pressure on all energy contracts and with forecasts for less cold weather over the next two weeks than previously expected.
The steady prices came even as the amount of gas flowing to U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants was on track to hit a monthly record high in March after Freeport LNG’s Texas plant exited in February an eight-month outage caused by a fire last year.
Front-month gas futures for April delivery fell 0.5 cents, or 0.2%, to $2.425 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) by 8:48 a.m. EDT (1248 GMT), putting the contract on track for its lowest close since Feb. 23 for a second day in a row.
Oil prices fell on Monday along with equities as the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank raised fears of a fresh financial crisis.
The gas market has been extremely volatile in recent weeks as traders bet on the latest weather forecasts.
The front-month fell to a 28-month low below $2 per mmBtu in intraday trade on Feb. 22 on forecasts for warmer weather before jumping 9% to settle at a five-week high above $3 just over a week later on March 3 on forecasts for colder weather. It then plunged 15% on March 6 on an outlook for warmer temperatures.
Freeport LNG’s export plant was on track to pull in 1.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas on Monday, up from 0.7 bcfd on Sunday, according to data provider Refinitiv.
When operating at full power, Freeport LNG, the second-biggest U.S. LNG export plant, can turn about 2.1 bcfd of gas into LNG for export.
Federal regulators approved the restart of two of Freeport LNG’s three liquefaction trains (Trains 2 and 3) in February and the third train (Train 1) on March 8. Liquefaction trains turn gas into LNG.
Total gas flows to all seven of the big U.S. LNG export plants rose to an average of 13.1 bcfd so far in March from 12.8 bcfd in February. That would top the monthly record of 12.9 bcfd in March 2022, before the Freeport LNG facility shut.
The seven big U.S. LNG export plants, including Freeport LNG, can turn about 13.8 bcfd of gas into LNG.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states rose to 98.8 bcfd so far in March from 98.2 bcfd in February. That compares with a monthly record of 99.9 bcfd in November 2022.
Analysts said production declined earlier this year due in part to drops in gas prices of 40% in January and 35% in December that persuaded several energy firms to reduce the number of rigs they were using to drill for gas.
In addition, extreme cold in early February and late December cut gas output by freezing oil and gas wells in several producing basins.
Meteorologists projected weather in the Lower 48 states would remain mostly colder-than-normal through March 28 except for a few near-normal days from March 23-25. That forecast, however, was less cold than previously expected.
Refinitiv forecast U.S. gas demand, including exports, would rise from 119.8 bcfd this week to 120.4 bcfd next week with power generators expected to burn more gas to produce electricity and the amount of gas flowing to LNG export plants expected to rise.
The forecasts for this week and next were higher than Refinitiv’s outlook on Friday.
Milder winter weather so far this year has prompted utilities to leave more gas in storage than usual.
Gas stockpiles were about 22% above their five-year average (2018-2022) during the week ended March 3 and were expected to end about 24% above normal during the week ended March 10, according to federal data and analysts’ estimates.