Modest softness dominated at a solid majority of locations Friday as outside the Upper Plains and much of the Midwest weekend weather was expected to range from merely cold (a little above freezing) to cool. The relative lack of heating load was reflected in overall pricing.

The expiration-day fall of 10.7 cents by March futures and the typical weekend decline of industrial demand were further bearish factors for the cash market Friday.

With several flat to about 40 cents higher points as exceptions, most of the market saw losses ranging from 2-3 cents to about 45 cents. The winter storm that ravaged much of the upper West last week was moving south and on its way to fading, and in response Sumas, one of the previously strongest non-Northeast points, recorded Friday's biggest loss. Kingsgate, Stanfield and the three Western Canada price points also saw sizeable drops of 10-20 cents or so.

As if trying to make up for the weakness of its recently departed March counterpart, the April futures contract began its prompt-month reign with an increase of 13.3 cents (see related story), promising some degree of support for Monday's cash trading.

Activity in North American shale and unconventional plays continued to increase. According to NGI's Shale Daily Unconventional Rig Count (http://shaledaily.com), 13 more rigs were actively drilling for unconventional oil and gas resources during the week ending Feb. 25 over the previous week. The largest upticks were seen in the Haynesville/Bossier, Marcellus and Uinta Basin plays.

TransCanada had no new announcements about its work on the northern Ontario rupture. It continued to relax its restriction against nonfirm service there to some extent and still estimated that the second of three lines in the area would be restored to service by late Saturday night.

Despite Northern Natural Gas keeping System Overrun Limitations in place in all market-area zones through at least Monday (see Transportation Notes) as lows in its prime market of Minneapolis would get no higher than the teens through Tuesday, prices at the pipe's demarcation point fell nearly 3 cents, IntercontinentalExchange (ICE) said, while ICE-traded volumes shrank from 381,900 MMBtu Thursday to 254,300 MMBtu Friday.

Meanwhile, although Tennessee had lifted its Imbalance Warning for downstream Zones 5 and 6, affiliates Texas Eastern and Algonquin were still encouraging customers to run positive imbalances in the Northeast market area until further notice.

Snow in sunny Southern California? Yes, that was what The Weather Channel (TWC) predicted would reach some of the region's low-elevation mountain areas during the weekend.

Nevertheless, ICE showed a decline of nearly 2 cents in SoCal border prices for the weekend, and trading at the point on ICE's platform dropped from 476,600 MMBtu to 366,300 MMBtu.

Even with subfreezing highs and snow in his area, a Midwest utility buyer considered the market "really soft" with "plenty of gas to go around." Conditions were due to stay fairly cold over the weekend, he said, but a gradual moderation is due after that.

The buyer said he saw "nothing dramatic" during bidweek, but he noted that several of the utility's customers were electing to go with the daily aftermarket in lieu of paying first-of-month index prices, so the company's baseload throughput will be down during March.

ICE reported relatively small amounts of March baseload trading still getting done Friday, with some variations in price tendencies. After dipping to around $3.67 Thursday, on Friday Waha was back to the $3.71-area average that it had recorded Tuesday and Wednesday. MichCon saw less day-to-day consistency than most points being traded on ICE. Its averages went from about $4.10 Tuesday to $4.15 Wednesday before retreating to $4.07 Thursday and then returning to the original $4.10 Friday.

©Copyright 2011 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.