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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures edged up about 2% on Monday as the amount of gas flowing to US liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants rose to a seven-week high, causing some in the market to worry about the amount of gas available for US stockpiles.

Over the past couple of weeks, the amount of gas in US storage compared to normal levels for this time of year has fallen below the amount of gas available in Northwest European stockpiles.

That’s because much higher European prices continue to attract pipeline exports from Russia and LNG tankers from around the world.

European prices, which were still about three times higher than US prices, were trading at their lowest level since before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in part because stockpiles in Europe are filling fast.

US Front-month gas futures for June delivery rose 14 cents, or 1.7%, to $8.223 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) by 9:53 a.m. EDT (1353 GMT).

Last week, speculators increased their net long futures and options positions on the New York Mercantile and Intercontinental Exchanges for the first time in five weeks to their highest since early May, according to the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Commitments of Traders report.

Gas was trading around $22 per mmBtu at the Japan Korea Marker (JKM) in Asia and $26 per mmBtu at the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) in Europe, its lowest since Feb. 22. The US contract, meanwhile, rose to a 13-year high near $9 on May 6.

Data provider Refinitiv said average gas output in the US Lower 48 states climbed to 95.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in May from 94.5 bcfd in April. That compares with a monthly record of 96.1 bcfd in November 2021.

Refinitiv projected average US gas demand, including exports, would ease from 89.4 bcfd this week to 88.0 bcfd next week. Those forecasts were lower than Refinitiv forecast on Friday.

The average amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants has risen to 12.4 bcfd so far in May from 12.2 bcfd in April. That compares with a monthly record of 12.9 bcfd in March. The United States can turn about 13.2 bcfd of gas into LNG.

On a daily basis, LNG feedgas was on track to hit a seven-week high of 13.3 bcfd on Monday. Since the United States will not be able to produce much more LNG soon, it worked with allies to divert exports from elsewhere to Europe to help European Union (EU) countries and others break their dependence on Russian gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian exported around 7.4 bcfd of gas to Europe on Sunday, down from about 7.5 on Saturday, on the three mainlines into Germany: North Stream 1 (Russia-Germany), Yamal (Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany) and the Russia-Ukraine-Slovakia-Czech Republic-Germany route. That compares with an average of 11.9 bcfd in May 2021.

Gas stockpiles in Northwest Europe - Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands - were about 11% below the five-year (2017-2021) average for this time of year, down from 39% below the five-year norm in mid-March, according to Refinitiv.

Storage was currently about 39% of full capacity.

That is healthier than US inventories, which were around 15% below their five-year norm.

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