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Eastern Losses Drive NatGas Cash Lower; Uninspired Futures Mostly Steady

Physical natural gas for the four-day Labor Day holiday weekend fell as temperature outlooks moderated and traders assessed the loss of energy demand from the storm-ravaged Southeast.

The NGI National Spot Gas Average fell 13 cents to $2.44, and greater declines were seen in the Rockies, California and the Northeast. Some points in New England shed close to $1. Natural gas futures trading was lackluster at best. The October contract was unchanged at $2.792, and November shed a penny to $2.898. October crude oil bounced back from a four-day losing streak and rose $1.28 to $44.44/bbl.

New England and the Mid-Atlantic saw stout price drops as temperature forecasts moderated for the extended four-day holiday period. AccuWeather,com forecast that Boston's Friday high of 74 degrees would hold for Saturday, but drop to 67 Monday and reach 72 on Tuesday. The normal high in Boston this time of year is 76.

Gas at the Algonquin Citygate tumbled 94 cents to $1.83, and deliveries to Iroquois, Waddington changed hands 68 cents lower at $2.09. Gas on Tenn Zone 6 200L dropped 91 cents to $1.81.

New York City's forecasted temperatures didn't lend any support to weekend-through-Tuesday gas prices either. The 80-degree high Friday was seen sliding to 77 Saturday and 75 by Monday. On Tuesday the high was expected to be 84, four degrees above normal.

Gas on Texas Eastern M-3, Delivery fell 12 cents to $1.14, and gas bound for New York City on Transco Zone 6 shed 10 cents to $1.23.

Major market center prices softened for the extended weekend. Gas at the Chicago Citygate was quoted 7 cents lower at $2.77, and deliveries to the Henry Hub lost 6 cents to $2.85. Gas on El Paso Permian changed hands 20 cents lower at $2.50, and gas at the PG&E Citygate fell 14 cents to $3.22.

Futures traders see current prices secure for now. "It wasn't much of a day going into the long weekend," a New York floor trader said. "It would seem that traders are comfortably long at this time. The longer-term longs are comfortable, and they are long from the $2.50 area, but the shorter-term traders, day traders got out and put us back to where we were Thursday. For now the upside is intact."

Other traders are short-term bearish on the market. "While this big build [51 Bcf] doesn't necessarily put 4 Tcf back in play at the beginning of the withdrawal cycle in early November, it does shift focus back to the fact demand for cooling purposes will be declining going forward with the passing of the Labor Day holiday," said Jim Ritterbusch of Ritterbusch and Associates in closing comments Thursday.

"We feel that a portion of [Thursday's] selling was also related to the additional price plunge across the petroleum complex. Furthermore, the tropical storm factor ebbs and flows daily, and it appears that some storm premium was being taken out of the market today. While some of the systems are increasing in magnitude, they also appear to be veering away from the GOM production alleys and toward Florida where some East Coast cooling effects are expected to develop. We are maintaining a bearish trading stance and would suggest holding any short October positions in quest of an ultimate decline to around the $2.60 area."

Offshore oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) were re-boarding platforms and rigs and restoring production Friday as the remnants of load-killing Hermine, weakened again to tropical storm strength, moved northeast across North Carolina and toward the Atlantic Ocean, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said (see related story).

BSEE estimated that 192,791 b/d, or 12.04% of the current oil production in the GOM was shut in Friday, down from 15.18% on Thursday (see Daily GPI, Sept. 1), and 229 MMcf/d, or 6.74% of natural gas production, down from 9.03% 24 hours earlier.

Based on data from offshore operator reports submitted through 11:30 a.m. CDT Friday, there were no remaining evacuated production platforms in the GOM, BSEE said. On Thursday, 10 production platforms had remained evacuated. In addition, personnel had returned to all 11 rigs currently operating in the GOM, according to the agency.

At 5:00 p.m. EDT Friday, the center of Tropical Storm Hermine was located over southern South Carolina. Hermine was moving toward the northeast at near 20 mph and was expected to move off the North Carolina coast by Saturday afternoon.

Maximum sustained winds were near 50 mph, with higher gusts. Little change in strength is expected Friday night and early Saturday while the center of Hermine remained over land. Strengthening was forecast after the center moves offshore, and Hermine could be near hurricane intensity again by late Sunday, NHC said.

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