Category 2 Hurricane Isidore left the gas market playing all sorts of guessing games going into the weekend. However, most of the storm’s price-boosting impact appeared to have been spent in the eastern gains of nearly half a dollar over the previous two days. Friday’s small gains at Northeast citygates and some Gulf Coast points were greatly outweighed by flat to slightly lower numbers at other Gulf Coast points and larger losses throughout nearly all of the Midcontinent/Midwest and West.

Isidore made landfall late Friday afternoon about 40 miles east of the western tip of Cuba, the National Weather Service said. It was moving toward the west-northwest at nearly 7 mph, a course that would take it into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico sometime Friday night. What happened after that was totally up in the air. Some thought the storm would loiter around western Cuba for most or all of the weekend; others called for a turn east into Florida, or a turn west toward Mexico, or staying the course into the central Gulf. One point of agreement was that Isidore’s course was likely to be erratic.

The “Strike Probability Chart” at the web site projected Isidore as most likely to head due west after leaving western Cuba, which would cause it to pass to the north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and keep it away from U.S. Gulf production.

With the weekend looming and little to no agreement as to where Isidore would go, traders found themselves preparing for anything. “It could go north, it could bank west; everything has to be considered,” said a Northeast trader. “It is all just wait and see right now, but we are planning ahead. We are getting our gas ranked, so we can cut supply in the order we want. We kept our transport to a minimum, only moving gas if there was a nice margin. We’re not making any gambles just to work a spread.”

The Minerals Management Service in New Orleans said producers had informed it of 19 platforms and 12 mobile rigs being evacuated of non-essential personnel. However, MMS received reports of only 2.5 MMcf/d of gas being shut in as of mid-afternoon Friday, although that volume was likely to grow through Friday night and the weekend.

A spot check of pipelines with offshore connections found essentially no impact other than Texas Eastern’s saying a producer in the Mobile Bay area had shut in 4 MMcf/d on its system, hardly enough to threaten deliveries. However, all of the pipes said their Gas Control units were monitoring the situation closely.

Precautionary evacuations from Gulf of Mexico platforms were beginning Friday morning, although the hurricane’s eventual course was still very much in doubt. Shell Exploration and Production Co. (SEPCO) said 650 non-essential personnel had been shuttled to shore and more would be evacuated as the day continued, but as of early afternoon no production had been shut in. A spokeswoman said essential workers remained on duty at all of SEPCO’s offshore locations.

“We’re watching the situation as much as everyone else, but it looks like things will still be very unsettled when we leave tonight for the weekend,” said one source. The hurricane was expected to be slow in passing over or around the western end of Cuba and might not arrive in the production area, if it does head that way, until Sunday or Monday, according to one forecasting service.

“I have noticed some traders have backed out of deals, not wanting to do anything concrete right before the storm,” one source reported. “We are planning on losing some Mobile Bay capacity on Sunday, but the majority of action will be next week. We are predicting the storm won’t hit before Tuesday, so getting too worked up about it now could put you in a bad situation. Our plan is to not let our counterparties net out gas. We will force majeure, if necessary, and hold off third parties.”

“Everything fell off for us,” said a Gulf trader. “With so much storm hype going into the day, cash had a long way to fall. Some counterparties pushed it up, but now the screen is down 9 cents.”

“These numbers are frustrating,” said a disgruntled Midwest trader. Even with the region’s price drops for the weekend, he found it “a little annoying to see Midwest prices move up so dramatically [over Wednesday and Thursday] for a hurricane. I know there are ties to the Gulf, but the relation seems strained, and this is just hype.” There are maybe four to five weeks of storage injections left, he said, and “we are playing as close to the center as possible, stuffing gas all the way.”

PG&E citygates, after having seemed to ignore the second straight day of a utility high-linepack OFO Wednesday by rising nearly 15 cents, responded to a new OFO issued for Saturday (see Transportation Notes) by recording one of Friday’s biggest drops of about 20 cents. (SoCalGas did not declare an OFO, a marketer said.) Reflecting on the overall western softness, a producer noted that El Paso had ended San Juan Crossover maintenance, putting 575 MMcf/d of takeaway capacity (not necessarily that amount of supply, he cautioned) back on the market. He didn’t think there were any “substantial” shut-ins going on in the Rockies. After experiencing gas as low as 40 cents earlier this month, Rockies suppliers are not likely to shun prices two to three times that much, he said.

With so much attention being paid to Isidore, it was worth observing (as did New York City-based Weather 2000) that “unseasonably cold air (including frost/freeze prospects for the Northern/High Plains) is about to pour into the Central and Eastern U.S. over the weekend, next week and likely into October.” The service said this would be “the first taste” of the forecast of a cold fall that it issued this summer.

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