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US natural gas futures rose nearly 3% on Wednesday to a near four-week high, supported by forecasts for colder weather and higher heating demand through early January.

On their last trading day as the front-month, gas futures rose 11.5 cents, or 2.8%, to $4.170 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) by 9:17 a.m. EST (1417 GMT) after hitting their highest since Dec. 3 earlier in the session.

"The market is looking forward to a little bit of colder weather going into January. Also today being the expiration of the January futures contract, I think that's helping as there is some last-minute buying to hedge against the potential cold weather next month," said Daniel Myers, market analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston.

Data provider Refinitiv estimated 454 heating degree days (HDDs) over the next two weeks in the Lower 48 US states, up from the 419 HDDs estimated on Tuesday. The normal is 439 HDDs for this time of year.

HDDs, used to estimate demand to heat homes and businesses, measure the number of degrees a day's average temperature is below 65 Fahrenheit (18 Celsius).

US natural gas slips off 3-week peak on mild weather, lower demand forecasts

Refinitiv projected average US gas demand, including exports, would jump from 109.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) this week to 125.6 bcfd next week as the weather turns seasonally colder. Those forecasts were higher than Refinitiv's outlook on Tuesday.

Global gas prices have repeatedly hit record highs as utilities around the world scrambled for LNG cargoes to replenish low stockpiles in Europe and meet insatiable demand in Asia, where energy shortfalls have caused power blackouts in China.

US futures jumped to a 12-year high of more than $6 per mmBtu in early October but have retreated because the United States has plenty of gas in storage and ample production for winter.

"Supply risks are unlikely to be a factor as storage levels are trending marginally higher than the five-year average for this time of the year. As a result, US gas prices will continue to remain isolated from the turbulence in Europe and experience only limited upward price movement through the first quarter of 2022, barring any unexpected cold snaps," Kaushal Ramesh, senior analyst at Rystad Energy, said in a note.

The amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants has averaged 11.9 bcfd so far in December, now the sixth train at Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass plant in Louisiana is producing LNG. That compares with 11.4 bcfd in November and a monthly record of 11.5 bcfd in April.

Output in the US Lower 48 has averaged 97.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in December, which would top the monthly record of 96.5 bcfd in November.

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