Natural gas futures managed to rebound somewhat Tuesday from the prior session’s losses as afternoon weather data trended colder, and stockpiles remain low for this time of year. Warmer temperatures forecast for the eastern half of the Lower 48 limited buyer interest in the spot market, though West Texas saw double-digit gains; the NGI Spot Gas National Avg. fell 0.5 cents to $2.735/MMBtu.
The April Nymex futures contract settled at $2.784, up 1.2 cents on the day after trading in a range from $2.752 to $2.798. The May contract also fell 1.2 cents to settle at $2.797.
Afternoon weather models added a few gas-weighted degree days back to the 15-day forecast, according to Bespoke Weather Services, a development the firm viewed as “supportive in light of the current storage deficit.
“While we still see risk as very low of getting to 1.0 Tcf by the end of this month, we will undoubtedly still have quite a deficit to last year, which will keep a floor underneath prices until it is clear that we will have no issue making that up,” Bespoke said. “We feel that in the near term, that floor is in the $2.70-2.75 zone,” unless there is a “bearish surprise” in Thursday’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) storage report.
“Having said that, balances remain weak, and we currently do not see a major bump up in weather demand that would assist in any re-tightening, so the reality is that we are range-bound for awhile,” absent a storage surprise or a stronger cold shift in the forecast.
Energy Aspects is looking for this week’s EIA report to show one of the largest withdrawals of the season and a potential record for the month of March. The firm issued a preliminary estimate for a 220 Bcf withdrawal for the week ended March 8.
While the early March cold blast that briefly pushed Henry Hub spot prices above $4 last week occurred “too late in the heating season to drive a cash-led rally along the Nymex curve, another significant late season paring of inventories is contributing to supportive fundamentals for injection season 2019,” Energy Aspects analysts said.
Following last week’s storage report, the firm revised its end-March carryout projection down to 950 Bcf, compared to 1.0 Tcf a week earlier.
“We project the largest-ever weekly withdrawal in any March on record, of 220 Bcf for the week ending March 8, easily topping the 198 Bcf draw in the first week of March 2015,” the firm said. “Injection season 2019 balances are sending the same signal as this time last year -- namely, that end-October storage carryout is set to be at a critical balancing point of 3.4 Tcf, assuming 10-year normal weather.”
But this comes as the key components of supply/demand balance heading into the 2019 injection season “look wholly different” compared to last year, with liquefied natural gas (LNG) feedgas supplanting power burns as the key line item on the demand side.
“Feedgas ebb and flow as new trains come online has punctuated balances,” Energy Aspects said. “Because of generally supportive weather for shipping, the role of LNG storage in balancing feedgas has been somewhat taken for granted.
“Some commercial forecasts are calling for a quieter than normal upcoming hurricane season,” it noted. With gas exports from Cheniere Energy Inc. terminals, as well as Freeport LNG and Sempra Energy’s Cameron project “potentially all running this summer, the demand side impacts from weather could be far larger than anything the market has yet to witness, and capacity utilization at LNG storage will be crucial in determining how feedgas does (or does not) get throttled back amidst such conditions.”
The firm pointed to a “deep fog event” in February that it said impacted exports from Cheniere’s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana as an example of the potential for weather in the Gulf of Mexico to disrupt LNG demand.
“From Feb. 1-6, visibility was so limited that no ships could dock at Sabine Pass,” according to Energy Aspects. “...At the start of the fog event, Sabine Pass had 5 Bcf in its storage tanks. Despite seeing no outflows from exported volumes, the facility still received 3.2 Bcf/d in feedgas Feb. 1-2 and 2.5 Bcf/d on Feb. 3. Flows then sharply decreased, averaging just under 1.0 Bcf/d Feb. 4-6 before two ships were finally able to dock and load cargoes on Feb. 7. Sabine Pass ended that foggy period with 13 Bcf in storage, the highest since the first day’s feedgas started flowing to the terminal’s Train 5 in early November 2018.”
Since normal ship traffic resumed after the event, Sabine stockpiles have stayed around 13 Bcf, with the start up of Train 5 meaning more ships need to dock to keep up with the increased liquefaction activity at Cheniere’s facility. At these levels, the firm estimated that Sabine could only accommodate about one day’s worth of feedgas coming in without a cargo being loaded.
“This means any fog or storm disruptions to shipping in the future could significantly limit LNG feedgas,” Energy Aspects said. “We project a 2.2 Bcf/d increase year/year in feedgas in March, and a 2.6 Bcf/d rise year/year during injection season 2019. However, weather disturbances lend strong downside risk to demand, especially if storage remains elevated” at the Sabine facility.
Warm Eastern Half, Cold West
In the midst of an overall downtrend going back to the weather-driven peaks recorded to start the month, spot prices generally worked lower or traded close to even Tuesday. Benchmark Henry Hub slid 1.0 cent to average $2.785.
Over the next few days, the United States will be “divided temperature-wise, with much above average temperatures in the eastern half of the country” and below average temperatures in the West, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
“Highs in the 60s will spread as far north as the Great Lakes region by Thursday, 15-25 degrees above normal,” NWS said. “In the West, highs of 15-25 degrees below average are expected for the Intermountain West Wednesday and into the Northern/Central High Plains on Thursday. Low temperatures will stay within 5-15 degrees below average in the West.”
Some of the steepest losses occurred in the Northeast Tuesday, with Algonquin Citygate tumbling 60.5 cents to $2.995.
While the heating season has shown signs of winding down, the spring nuclear outage season has started ramping up. The amount of nuclear generating capacity currently offline has come in higher than expected and above year-ago levels, according to Genscape Inc.
“In the past week, five plants with a combined capacity of nearly 8.2 GW were taken offline on schedule,” Genscape senior natural gas analyst Rick Margolin said. “This raises the total amount of nuclear nameplate capacity offline to 17.86 GW. On a purely one-to-one basis this would translate to about 3 Bcf/d of replacement gas burn, but that does not take into consideration generation from renewables like wind and hydro (which both rise in the spring), coal, and generally lower loads in the spring.
“Current outage levels are, however, nearly 7 GW greater than this same time last year, and about 5 GW higher than what had been scheduled entering spring.”
The majority of current nuclear outages are focused in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region, according to Margolin.
“Scheduled outages for the balance of March are expected to sustain a year-on-year increase, however, only for this month,” he said. “Scheduled outages for April and May are expected to each be more than 5 GW lower than their respective months in 2018, and June outages are scheduled to be about 3 GW lower, resulting in a total spring turnaround with less capacity on outage than last year.”
Prices were steady for much of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic region Tuesday with warm temperatures on tap this week. Transco Zone 5 shed 2.0 cents to average $2.800.
Meanwhile, a number of Rockies locations notched gains Tuesday, with Cheyenne Hub picking up 15.0 cents to average $2.560.
The NWS short-range forecast on Tuesday called for heavy snow to spread across the Rockies and into the Plains.
“The San Juan Mountains, Central Rockies and parts of the Central and Northern Plains are expecting 12-18 inches of snow, with isolated amounts of two feet,” NWS said. Near-record low pressure values were expected to “lead to a tight pressure gradient, which causes high winds. Thus, blizzard conditions are possible for the Central/Northern High Plains.”
Prices throughout West Texas strengthened for the second straight day Tuesday after posting steep declines late last week. Waha jumped 34.0 cents to $1.255.
Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America (NGPL) notified shippers Tuesday that it completed repairs at its Compressor Station 102 in its Midcontinent Zone, resolving a force majeure declared last week. The maintenance occurred downstream of volumes flowing out of both Permian Basin and Oklahoma production areas, Genscape has said.
Meanwhile, a different NGPL force majeure over the weekend in the pipeline’s its Permian Zone was mitigated through reroutes on El Paso Natural Gas (EPNG), according to Genscape analyst Matt McDowell.
“Flows out of NGPL’s Permian Zone were clipped by about 75 MMcf/d” during the two days the force majeure was in effect, and the flows impacted by the incident “were able to rejoin the Midcontinent line northward via the ‘El Paso/NGPL Tap Moore’ interconnect with EPNG.”