Weekend prices were up by a few cents from end-of-March numbersin most cases Friday. The biggest upticks of about a dime or morewere concentrated at Northeast citygates and also at NorthernNatural’s demarc and Ventura points, where a bit of market-areachill lingered. Small declines of less than a nickel wereregistered in the Southwest basins and California.

While the Gulf Coast was holding April Index levels, Northeastpoints managed modest gains. Declines were found in the West withmany points slipping almost a dime below first-of-month levels.

The early April softness was anticipated by many traders whofigured a continuing lack of heating load in most areas wouldcombine with the usual decrease in weekend demand. Even Friday’supturns in the May futures contracts for natural gas, crude oil andheating oil failed to counteract that, they said.

An eastern utility buyer expects swing softness for the regionto last through this week, citing mild weather forecasts. But aMidwest marketer, saying “we’ll get a better picture of theaftermarket on Monday,” sees a fair chance for a rebound based onadditional storage demand. “Folks may have put off purchasing forstorage over the weekend,” he said, “but then again, there may havebeen some who see prices heading back above index that didn’t.”

A marketer suspected that PG&E citygates saw the biggestswing declines because people had concerns about a potentialweekend OFO. Sure enough, without actually issuing an OFO, PG&Eadjusted its Pipe Ranger Internet site around lunchtime Friday toproject above-target linepack Sunday.

However, external factors likely will help relieve PG&E ofexcess linepack today, traders said. A marketer noted the totaloutages of Transwestern’s Topock and San Juan Laterals startingtoday. There will be zero flow on the Topock Lateral (normally400,000 MMbtu/d) through April 10. The San Juan Lateral (800,000MMbtu/d) also will have zero flow but only through Wednesday; thenit will be around 600,000 MMbtu/d Thursday and return to normaloperations Friday.

Such large outages undoubtedly will enhance the value ofSouthern California border deliveries this week, the marketer said.Naturally Transwestern numbers in the basins will be depressed, sheadded, and Transwestern shippers likely will find switching to ElPaso is not a viable option since that pipeline is running nearlyfull. However, El Paso shippers controlling capacity from thebasins should be able to demand a premium, and the price ofdeliveries into SoCal Gas from both Kern River and Malin viaPG&E will be enhanced, she concluded. That ought to helprelieve any excess linepack on the PG&E system.

Another factor that should help firm up western prices are theApril outages scheduled for nuclear units of the Palo Verde plantin Arizona and the Comanche Peak plant in northern Texas.

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