Varying local weather conditions caused cash price movement to be mixed Tuesday, with most points ranging from flat to 15 cents or less up or down. Exceptions included Northeast citygates, which rose up to nearly 35 cents with a return of winter-like conditions there and in the Midwest forecast for Wednesday. But the really big gains came in the Rockies market, which rallied by triple-digit amounts from the plunges it had endured the day before.
Snow is in the Wednesday forecast for parts of the Northeast and Midwest. That's not likely in the South, but a strong cold front will be taking temperatures considerably lower in that region as well (Atlanta's predicted low of 64 Tuesday is expected to drop into the low 40s Wednesday). The West will be mostly dry, with rainfall and possibly snow in the Pacific Northwest being the exception. Air conditioners should be humming in the desert Southwest, where highs in the 90s are expected.
The Rockies were able to make their major rebound because mandated withdrawals from Questar's Clay Basin storage facility were for Tuesday only. However, no injections or withdrawals will be available from Clay Basin through April 18 as Questar continues to test the facility.
A Bentek Energy analysis of pipeline flows in the Rockies shows current utilization of pipes moving gas westward generally high, but less so going eastward. For instance, Bentek said El Paso is currently at 100.0% of capacity going west, but only 48.8% in the other direction. And apparently Northwest is able to accommodate excess nominations, as Bentek measured its capacity use at 102.4%. Kern River and Transwestern both exceed 90% utilization going westward, while Southern Trails trails badly at 16.3%, the consulting firm found.
Only Cheyenne Plains at 97.4%, CIG at 89.4% and Trailblazer at 87.9% were able to surpass 80% capacity in moving gas to the east out of the Rockies, Bentek said.
Bentek's Rocco Canonica said flows on Cheyenne Plains are way up from a year earlier because of Rockies Express Phase I. Until Phase II enters service, any incremental change in supply or demand, such as Questar requiring withdrawals from Clay Basin, can cause extreme market volatility in the Rockies, he said.
The market is likely to see a greater percentage of falling points Wednesday now that Rockies points have accomplished their rebound back to more normal price levels and May futures fell nearly a quarter. The natural gas contract drop came amid overall weakness in the Nymex energy complex, with crude oil and related products plummeting due to an easing of global tensions over the Great Britain-Iran hostage standoff.
A utility buyer in the Mid-South said the current touch of winter in northern market areas is even reaching his area. Area temperatures will average in the mid-40s a for couple of days, he said, which is about 20 degrees below normal for early April. He said his granddaddy often told him, "Don't plan anything for before Easter," and he considers that certainly true this year.
The buyer said his company has started to refill storage, but probably won't do much injecting this week because it will need the gas for immediate burns due to heating load. It may even be necessary to withdraw a little from storage, he added.
A Houston-based marketer said his company saw prices flat to down a little at most of the Midcontinent points it trades, but predictions of Northeast lows in the 30s or less created more strength in that region. He said in one case he paid more than half a dollar higher at Texas Eastern M-3 than he had on Monday.
A West Coast source said mild weather has returned to his region after it was "much colder" last week. It seemed kind of amazing that SoCalGas extended its high-linepack OFO through last Sunday when there was some genuine heating load during the period that the OFO was in effect, he said. He guessed that the OFO survived because of maintenance restrictions on storage injections in SoCalGas facilities.
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