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Weekend Cash Prices Drop Across the Board

As expected following Thursday's modestly bearish storage injection report and the subsequent screen plunge, prices saw double-digit declines at all points Friday. The fact that outside the Rockies and Upper Plains cold weather forecasts only occasionally called for below-freezing lows, and the drop of industrial load that accompanies a weekend trading period, also contributed to cash market weakness.

All drops were at least C15 cents or so (Westcoast Station 2 and NOVA Inventory Transfer) and topped at around 70 cents at the Kern River delivery pool. Even with the restoration of full Wyoming Interstate Co. (WIC) transport service late Thursday afternoon (see story in NGI), western quotes tended to see most of the largest downturns, as the return of formerly curtailed Rockies supply was met with relatively light weather-based demand and a high-inventory OFO by PG&E (see Transportation Notes).

However, although most of the western market was very soft, declines were comparatively small in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. Heating load in that area would be rising appreciably by the end of the weekend with a stormy cold front moving in from the Pacific Ocean.

In most of the U.S., near-term weather was expected to be cool to cold with a few scattered instances of snow -- in other words, without any especially substantive impact on heating load that could be expected as the market enters the latter half of November.

Despite a strong screen rebound Friday (December futures finished the day with a 42.4 cent gain), it will be hard for cash quotes to rally with above normal temperatures forecast for most of the U.S. Also, storage pulls may start rising with the start of withdrawal season nearing the end of its first full month, which would tend to supplant new purchases and put further negative pressure on the cash market.

It's easiest to describe where the National Weather Service (NWS) doesn't predict above normal temperatures than vice versa in its forecast for the Nov. 22-26 period. It looks for normal conditions in New England; in most of the southeast corner of the U.S. (from eastern Virginia through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida Panhandle to the southern two-thirds of Alabama); and in most of the Pacific Northwest (the northern fourth of California, virtually all of Oregon and Washington, the northern half of Idaho and the northwest quadrant of Montana). Within the latter two regions, NWS expects below normal temperatures along the coasts of Oregon and the Northern California area, and in the peninsular section of Florida. Otherwise, its forecast calls for above normal conditions everywhere else in the Lower 48 states, with the highest variations from normal concentrated in the Rockies, Plains and western Midcontinent.

A utility buyer in the Lower Midwest said local temperatures had been fairly cold since midweek but were due to start warming up Monday. That meant that although company gas volumes were substantial late last week, they would be dropping off this week. Somewhat wistfully, she declared, "We sure could use an Arctic blast to boost throughput again," adding that it might not be so pleasant for residents personally but would help the business.

Echoing other reports of early starts on December trading, the buyer said her company had already bought some indexed gas for next month.

Another utility buyer, this time in the Pacific Northwest, said the late-weekend storm forecast was definitely on the minds of traders in her region, so their extra purchases kept those points from falling as much as in the rest of the West. The WIC restoration meant little to her company, she said, since it usually gets nearly all of its Northwest Pipeline supplies from Western Canada.

The Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count (http://intelligencepress.com/features/bakerhughes/) found 1,402 rigs drilling gas wells in the week ending Nov. 17, a decrease of 13 from the previous week. All of the 82 active rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were searching for gas, Baker Hughes said.

It's a good thing the Gulf of Mexico has seen an inactive last half of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. It was only last week that many pilots returned to work at PHI, a Lafayette, LA-based helicopter firm serving the offshore market, after a two-month strike. A Bloomberg News report said nearly a third of the 1,200 helicopter pilots operating in the Gulf were idle at the height of the strike. Local 108 of the Office and Professional Employees Union reportedly represented 380 of PHI's 570 pilots at the beginning of the strike and finished with about 200.

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