The continuance of heavy heating load and a major prior-day screen spike were sufficient to propel prices further upward at most points Friday. However, prospects for a bit of moderation in cold weather in several areas, the typical slump of industrial demand over a weekend and the easing or lifting of OFOs and similar pipeline constraints (see Transportation Notes) allowed a few instances of flat or softer numbers to remain in the market.

Gains ranged from a nickel to around 90 cents. Transco Zone 6-New York City was king of the price hill with an average of more than $16. The occasional losses and flat quotes, which were concentrated in West Texas and the Midcontinent, ran as high as about 40 cents.

After a couple of days of freezing conditions in some areas, the southern tier of states was due for a warm-up over the weekend. For instance, Houston was forecast to see highs around 60 degrees Saturday and Sunday following an overnight low Thursday around freezing. The Northeast, Midwest and upper West could also expect a slight easing of frigid weather, although furnaces probably would remain busy in those regions.

The dollar-plus screen spike on Thursday that lent support to most of Friday’s cash quotes did a major reversal Friday. After spending a brief period in positive territory during the morning and establishing a new intraday high of $15.200 for a prompt-month contract, January natural gas futures retreated in a big way, diving 68.2 cents to $14.312 in the daily settlement.

The few remaining OFOs or similar constraints on eastern pipes were coming to an end late last week, but Florida Gas Transmission told customers in its market area Friday that with linepack slightly below target levels and very cold weather being forecasted in Florida for the weekend, “there is the potential that FGT may issue an Overage Alert Day on one of the upcoming gas days.” That likely was responsible for FGT’s Zone 3 registering Friday’s biggest advance.

A Rockies producer said she was aware of some wellhead freeze-offs in the region, “including a few of our own wells.” Undoubtedly that was contributing to the low linepack issues on some western pipes, she went on, but it was not too surprising since she understood that some areas had dropped to 45 degrees below zero overnight last week.

Opal business was picking up slowly again after getting devastated by the outage of the EDI (electronic data interchange) server earlier in the week at the Tulsa headquarters building of The Williams Cos., parent firm of Opal Plant operator Williams Field Services (see related story). After no Opal quotes on Tuesday when the server was still down entirely and only a single Opal deal reported each day Wednesday and Thursday, quotes were up to four Friday. Kern River, whose primary supply source is the Opal Plant, continued to report low linepack in all four segments Friday.

A Rockies marketer reported getting force majeure notices from some suppliers as a result of Northwest’s rupture early Thursday south of Green River (WY) Station (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9) because it has cut off the nearby interconnect with CIG for an indefinite period.

A Texas-based producer said Friday there had been “a few” Midcontinent wellhead freeze-offs in Oklahoma and Kansas, but that was earlier in the week “and they’re gone now.” The sun had come back out after some snowy days in the region and that was making a big difference, she reported being told by field operators. The Dallas area experienced a low in the high teens Friday morning, she said, but its was supposed to get back into the 50s over the weekend. That was the only reason she could see for the screen selling off so hard after being in positive territory for a while that morning.

Starting this week Minerals Management Service (MMS) is cutting back its “Hurricane Katrina/Hurricane Rita Evacuation and Production Shut-in Statistics” reports from daily to twice a week. It will post the reports on the website at 2 p.m. EST on Mondays and Thursdays. “In the last few days there has been minimal improvement in the production numbers and this appears to be a trend that will continue with incremental movement over the next several months,” the agency explained.

With 52 companies reporting to it, MMS said Gulf of Mexico shut-ins had been pared to 2,346.79 MMcf/d last Friday, a reduction of 95.04 MMcf/d from Thursday and down 596.51 MMcf/d from the previous Friday. Cumulative deferred production since Aug. 26, when Hurricane Katrina shut-ins began, reached 519.237 Bcf Friday, which is equivalent to 14.226% of the Gulf’s normal yearly production of about 3.65 Tcf.

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