Paraphrasing a Christmas carol, “It’s beginning to look a lot like last week” when it comes to the spot gas market. Just as the Nov. 28-Dec. 2 trading week featured three days of mostly rising prices followed by two days of majority softness, the current week’s market was generally strong through Wednesday before falling at most locations Thursday.

With much of the eastern half of the U.S. expected to have above-normal temperatures in the coming week, it would not be surprising to see prices continue slipping Friday to complete the week-to-week rerun.

Several points that were flat to nearly a dime higher were chiefly clustered in the Midcontinent/Midwest and Western Canada. Among losses ranging from 2-3 cents to nearly 35 cents, Northeast citygates led the way back down, much as they had tended to lead the overall ascent through Wednesday.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) exceeded most estimates when it reported a storage withdrawal of 20 Bcf for the week ending Dec. 2. Expectations tended to be more wide-ranging than usual but generally were on either side of 10 Bcf. Canaccord Genuity analysts, who had looked for a 6 Bcf pull, attributed the unusual variation in estimates to analysts contending “with a moving target for industrial demand post the Thanksgiving holiday and fuzzy degree day relationships that tend to exist at the onset of winter heating demand.”

They also noted that despite the report being nominally bullish in surpassing expectations, on a relative basis it “should compare bearishly to last year’s 89 Bcf withdrawal and the 66 Bcf five-year average drawdown amid degree days that were 28% lower [year-on-year] and 17% below the long-term average.”

Although January futures rose several cents following the EIA announcement, they slipped a bit in later Nymex trading to wind up the day 3.6 cents higher (see related story).

The National Weather Service’s forecast for the Dec. 13-19 period shapes up as an east-west divide: above-normal temperatures everywhere except upper New England east of a line roughly following the Mississippi River; below-normal readings from the Front Range of the Rockies westward; and a large vertical swath of normal conditions between them.

A snowstorm was exiting northern New England Thursday, ending accumulations of snow but leaving gusty winds behind in much of the Northeast, The Weather Channel (TWC) said. A slight warming trend will begin Friday in the region, but lows will remain just above freezing for a while longer. Snow and subfreezing lows will remain a feature of the Midwest climate, TWC said, while the South will get a bit warmer but still be pretty chilly except in South Texas and the Florida peninsula. Meanwhile, the West can expect mostly the status quo: mostly cool along the California coast, but frigid temperatures staying in place from the Rockies through the Upper Plains and Western Canada.

A fire Tuesday evening at Falcon Compressor Station in the Enterprise Products Partners-operated Jonah Gathering System behind the Opal Plant apparently had little market impact. Kern River, which derives most of its supply from the plant, fell nearly 15 cents Thursday despite the station remaining offline. Falcon has been isolated, but investigators have not yet been able to enter it to search for a cause of the fire, an Enterprise spokeswoman said. There were no injuries, she added, and a timeline for return to service has not yet been determined.

Although low-linepack issues have been resolved by Transwestern and El Paso, both pipes continued to report several instances of underperformance by receipt points in the Southwest production basins.

Although both pipes saw big price drops, affiliates Texas Eastern and Algonquin are requiring customers to either stay in balance or run positive imbalances in their Northeast market area.

A Midwest utility buyer said this week’s cold spell has been good for the company’s throughput, which was “kind of needed” because milder conditions previously had limited heating load sales. Area lows have started reaching the low teens in the last couple of days, he said.

The buyer commented that he thinks it’s reasonable to assume that increasing use of storage has kept a damper on Midwest prices rising very much despite subfreezing lows in many areas. The new demand will keep the utility’s supplies from building up too much and create a little flexibility space in its storage accounts, he said.

A Midcontinent producer reported that several traders had bought small amounts of intraday gas after underestimating their heating requirements earlier. Prices were going down in late deals based largely on forecasts of milder weather by the start of next week, he said.

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