The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Thursday reported an injection of 80 Bcf natural gas into underground storage for the week ended May 20. The result fell short of market expectations and historic averages, driving Nymex natural gas futures higher.

Ahead of the print, the June contract was up 13.1 cents at $9.124/MMBtu. The prompt month jumped to around $9.200 when the EIA data was released at 10:30 ET.

By 11 a.m. ET, the June contract was at $9.189, ahead 19.6 cents from the prior day’s close.

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Analysts on The Desk’s online energy platform Enelyst noted relatively modest injection data in the South Central region, where intense seasonal heat fueled robust cooling demand during the covered week. They also cited lower wind production that, by extension, required increased natural gas burns to meet energy needs in Texas and neighboring states.

Additionally, production proved modest nationally. It hovered around 94 Bcf during the covered week, notably below the roughly 97 Bcf level analysts say may be needed to meet summer cooling demand and fortify stockpiles for next winter.

The EIA print confirmed “that supply/demand balances are indeed quite tight, despite the much higher prices we have been seeing,” Bespoke Weather Services said.

Prior to the report, major polls showed median estimates hovering around an injection of 90 Bcf.  

The Wall Street Journal’s survey of analysts found an average injection prediction of 90 Bcf. Estimates ranged from increases of 81 Bcf to 103 Bcf. Results of Reuters’ poll spanned predicted increases of 76 Bcf to 103 Bcf, with a median of 90 Bcf. Bloomberg’s poll found estimates from 77 Bcf to 103 Bcf, landing at a median expectation for an injection of 91 Bcf.

The 80 Bcf increase in storage compares with the 109 Bcf injection recorded in the same week a year earlier and the five-year average build of 97 Bcf.

The increase for last week put inventories at 1,812 Bcf, below the year-earlier level of 2,199 Bcf and the five-year average of 2,139 Bcf.

By region, the East and Midwest regions led with increases of 29 Bcf and 27 Bcf, respectively, according to EIA.

The South Central increase of 16 Bcf followed and included a 15 Bcf injection into nonsalt facilities. Salt supplies, however, were flat. EIA noted that totals sometimes do not equal the sum of components because of independent rounding.

Mountain region stocks increased by 6 Bcf, while Pacific inventories rose by 3 Bcf.

Looking ahead, analysts say utilities may continue struggling to narrow deficits to historic averages.

Early estimates for the week ending May 27 submitted to Reuters ranged from injections of 69 Bcf to 100 Bcf, with a mean increase of 91 Bcf. That would compare bullishly with an injection of 100 Bcf during the same week last year and a five-year average injection of 100 Bcf.

Following Thursday’s print, several analysts on Enelyst said they may lower their estimates into the 70s Bcf. They noted such a modest increase for the final full week of May would signal that storage levels are anemic.

The numbers are “trending in the wrong direction,” said one participant on the platform.

Bespoke agreed: It “points to precariously low end-of-season storage levels if we cannot make, and sustain, significant gains in production over the next several weeks, especially if we do get a return to a hotter weather pattern as we move into the core of the summer season.”