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US natural gas futures rose about 4% on Thursday as worries Europe will not have enough gas in storage for the winter heating season boosted global prices to fresh record highs, keeping demand for US liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports strong.

With gas prices in Europe up about 9%, traders noted US prices would likely have climbed higher but were held back by mild US weather in recent weeks that has allowed utilities to inject more gas into US stockpiles than is usual for this time of year.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) will release its weekly inventory report later Thursday. Analysts forecast utilities added 87 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into storage during the week ended Sept. 24. That compares with an increase of 74 bcf in the same week last year and a five-year (2016-2020) average increase of 72 bcf.

If correct, last week's injection would boost stockpiles to 3.169 trillion cubic feet (tcf), which would be 6.3% below the five-year average of 3.383 tcf for this time of year.

US natural gas ease on mild weather, expected big US storage build

Looking ahead, analysts expect US inventories will reach about 3.5 tcf at the start of the winter heating season in November, which they said would be a comfortable level even though it falls short of the 3.7 tcf five-year average for that time of year. That is nowhere near as dire as in Europe where analysts say gas storage is over 20% below normal in some countries.

In a volatile week of trade, gas futures for November delivery rose 21.7 cents, or 4.0%, to $5.694 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 8:21 a.m. EDT (1221 GMT). So far this week, gas prices closed up 11% to their highest since February 2014 on Monday and dropped 6% on Wednesday. Traders said price swings were amplified by speculative trading around the expiration of the October future on Tuesday.

For the month, the front-month was up about 31%, its highest since October 2020. That puts the contract on track to rise for a 6th month in a row for the first time since hitting a record seven months in June 2008. During those six months, the contract has soared 84%.

With gas prices at or near record highs of around $32 per mmBtu in Europe and $30 in Asia versus just about $6 in the United States, traders said buyers around the world would keep purchasing all the LNG the United States could produce.

Despite reductions at several plants this month, data provider Refinitiv said the amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants has slipped modestly to an average of 10.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in September from 10.5 bcfd in August.

But no matter how high global prices rise, the United States only has the capacity to turn about 10.5 bcfd of gas into LNG. Global markets will have to wait until later this year to get more from the United States when the sixth liquefaction train at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass and Venture Global LNG's Calcasieu Pass in Louisiana were expected to start producing LNG in test mode.

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