Natural gas futures surge after inventories fall near 2-year low

Seasonal Demand

Northern states will see below-normal temperatures through March 28, MDA Weather Services said. Gas futures have rallied 24% from a 2013 intraday low of $3.05 per million Btu on Jan. 2 as waves of unusually frigid weather spurred heating demand late in the heating season.

The low in Chicago on March 18 may be 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6 Celsius), 10 below the usual reading, and two days later Boston may fall to 9 below normal at 23 degrees, according to AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

About 50% of U.S. households use gas for heating, according to the EIA, the Energy Department’s statistical arm. Gas demand typically slumps between the peak heating-demand season and before hot weather drives power demand to run air conditioners.

Marketed gas production will average a record 69.6 billion cubic feet a day this year, down from 70.02 billion estimated in February, the Energy Information Administration said in its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook, released yesterday in Washington. Output will rise 0.7% from 2012.

Freezing Wells

Cold weather has reduced output during the winter as water produced with gas crystallizes and blocks flows from wells.

“As natural gas production in the United States shifts inland, well freeze-offs have become a greater supply disruption risk during the winter,” the EIA said in the report.

The boom in oil and natural gas production helped the U.S. cut its reliance on imported fuel. America met 84% of its energy needs in the first 11 months of last year, government data show. If the trend continued through 2012, it will be the highest level of self-sufficiency since 1991.

Output from U.S. nuclear plants fell 26 megawatts to 83,309 megawatts today, or 82% of capacity, the least since Nov. 30, according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission data compiled by Bloomberg. Production has fallen 13% from this year’s high reached on Feb. 1.

Reactor maintenance shutdowns, usually undertaken in the U.S. spring or fall, when energy use is lowest, may increase consumption of natural gas and coal to generate electricity.

Bloomberg News

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