U.S. natural gas futures rose about 2% on Friday as some parts of the country rapidly move from heating demand to cooling demand, which could reduce the amount of gas utilities inject into already low stockpiles in coming weeks.
Traders also noted U.S. futures continued to gain support from much higher global gas prices that will keep demand for U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports strong.
U.S. front-month gas futures for June delivery rose 14.2 cents, or 2.1%, to $7.030 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) by 10:13 a.m. EDT (1413 GMT).
That put the contract up about 7% for the week and 24% in April after falling about 10% last week and 28% in March.
The premium for futures for July over June rose to 11 cents per mmBtu, putting the spread on track to close at a record high for a third day in a row.
U.S. gas futures have gained about 88% so far this year as higher global prices kept demand for U.S. LNG exports near record highs since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Gas was trading around $33 per mmBtu in Europe and $25 in Asia.
The U.S. gas market, however, remains mostly shielded from those much higher global prices because the United States is the world’s top gas producer, with all the fuel it needs for domestic use while capacity constraints inhibit exports of more LNG no matter how high global prices rise.
Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the U.S. Lower 48 states rose to 94.2 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in April from 93.7 bcfd in March. That compares with a monthly record of 96.3 bcfd in December 2021.
Refinitiv projected average U.S. gas demand, including exports, would slide from 93.2 bcfd this week to 90.7 bcfd next week and 90.5 bcfd in two weeks due to a seasonal warming of the weather. The forecast for this week was lower than Refinitiv’s outlook on Thursday.
The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants slid to 12.3 bcfd so far in April due to maintenance at Gulf Coast plants, down from a record 12.9 bcfd in March. The United States can turn about 13.2 bcfd of gas into LNG.
Since the United States will not be able to produce much more LNG anytime soon, the country has worked with allies to divert LNG exports from elsewhere to Europe to help European Union (EU) countries and others break their dependence on Russian gas.
Russia, the world’s second biggest gas producer, has provided about 30%-40% of Europe’s gas, totaling about 18.3 bcfd in 2021. The EU wants to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of 2022 and refill stockpiles to 80% of capacity by Nov. 1, 2022 and 90% by Nov. 1 each year from 2023.
Russia exported about 8.0 bcfd of gas to Europe on Thursday on the three mainlines into Germany – North Stream 1 (Russia-Germany), Yamal (Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany) and the route from Russia-Ukraine-Slovakia-Czech Republic-Germany – down from an average of around 11.6 bcfd in April 2021.
Gas stockpiles in Northwest Europe – Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands – were about 22% below the five-year (2017-2021) average for this time of year, according to Refinitiv. That is about 29% of full capacity.
U.S. inventories, meanwhile, were currently about 17% below their five-year norm.