U.S. Natural Gas Prices Steady Ahead of Federal Storage Report

(Reuters) — U.S. natural gas futures were little changed on Thursday as the market waited for direction from a federal report expected to show a much smaller-than-usual storage withdrawal last week when warmer-than-normal weather kept heating demand low.

That lack of price movement came despite a bearish low amount of gas flowing to LNG export plants due to an ongoing outage at Freeport LNG's plant in Texas and the bullish drop in output in recent weeks and forecasts for a little cooler weather and more heating demand over the next two weeks than previously expected.

Despite the forecasts for a little cooler in coming weeks, meteorologists forecast the weather across the Lower 48 U.S. states would remain mostly warmer than normal through at least March 18.

Analysts forecast U.S. utilities pulled just 40 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas out of storage during the week ended March 1. That compares with a decrease of 72 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2019-2023) average decline of 93 bcf for this time of year.

If correct, that would leave gas stockpiles about 31% above normal levels for this time of year.

Front-month gas futures for April delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 0.8 cent, or 0.4%, to $1.921 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) at 8:36 a.m. EST (1336 GMT).

Prices collapsed to an intraday low of $1.511 per MMBtu on Feb. 27, their lowest since June 2020, as near-record output, mostly mild weather and low heating demand this winter allowed utilities to leave significantly more gas in storage than usual for this time of year.

Supply and Demand

Financial firm LSEG said gas output in the Lower 48 fell to an average of 100.1 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) so far in March, down from 104.1 Bcf/d in February. That compares with a monthly record of 105.5 Bcf/d in December 2023.

On a daily basis, output was on track to drop by around 4.8 Bcf/d over the last month to a preliminary seven-week low of 99.0 Bcf/d. That would be the lowest daily production since early February 2023, excluding the massive 17.3-Bcf/d drop in mid-January due to freezing wells.

Traders said the output drop showed that several energy firms, including Chesapeake Energy, soon to become the biggest U.S. gas producer after its merger with Southwestern Energy, were following through on plans to cut gas drilling this year.

EQT, currently the biggest U.S. gas producer, said on Monday that it would curtail nearly 1 Bcf/d of production through March.

With seasonally warmer weather coming, LSEG forecast U.S. gas demand in the Lower 48, including exports, would ease from 111.6 Bcf/d this week to 110.9 Bcf/d next week. Those forecasts were higher than LSEG's outlook on Wednesday.

Gas flows to the seven big U.S. LNG export plants slid to an average of 13.4 Bcf/d so far in March, down from 13.7 Bcf/d in February. That compares with a monthly record of 14.7 Bcf/d in December.

Analysts do not expect U.S. LNG feedgas to return to record levels until Freeport LNG is back at full power, which some market watchers say could happen in mid-March.

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