US natural gas futures jumped about 4% to a fresh 13-year high on Wednesday as power generators and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plants consumed more of the fuel.
Power companies burned more gas to generate electricity due to a lack of wind in recent weeks. Wind was on track to produce just 10% of US power generation this week, down from a recent high of 16%, while gas was on track to generate about 36% this week, up from a recent low of 33% a few weeks ago.
On their second to last day as the front-month, gas futures for June delivery rose 38 cents, or 4.3%, to $9.176 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) at 9:28 a.m. EDT (1328 GMT), putting the contract on track for its highest close since August 2008 for a second day in a row.
Futures for July, which will soon be the front-month, were up about 4.7% to $9.25 per mmBtu.
US gas futures were up about 146% so far this year as much higher prices in Europe and Asia kept demand for US LNG exports strong, especially since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine stoked fears Moscow might cut gas supplies to Europe.
Despite those supply concerns in Europe, US futures have soared about 38% over the past month, while European prices slid about 9% as Russia keeps sending supplies via pipeline and LNG vessels keep delivering cargoes.
Gas was trading around $27 per mmBtu in Europe and $22 in Asia.
US futures, however, continue to lag far behind global prices because the United States is the world’s top producer with all the gas it needs for domestic use, while capacity constraints inhibit additional LNG exports.
In the spot market, next-day gas prices for Wednesday in Chicago and at the Henry Hub benchmark in Louisiana both rose to their highest since hitting record highs during the February freeze in 2021.
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, off the monthly record of 96.1 bcfd in November 2021.
Refinitiv projected average US gas demand, including exports, would slide from 89.4 bcfd this week to 88.3 bcfd next week. The forecast for this week was higher than Refinitiv forecast on Tuesday, while its outlook for next week was lower.
The average amount of gas flowing to US LNG export plants rose to 12.4 bcfd so far in May from 12.2 bcfd in April. It hit a monthly record of 12.9 bcfd in March. The United States can turn about 13.2 bcfd of gas into LNG.
Since the United States cannot produce much more LNG anytime soon, it has worked with allies to divert cargoes from elsewhere to Europe to help break the region’s dependence on Russian gas.
Russia exported around 7.5 bcfd of gas to Europe on Tuesday, up from 7.4 bcfd on Monday, 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 was down sharply from 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, from 39% below normal in mid-March, according to Refinitiv. Storage was currently about 40% of full capacity.
US inventories, meanwhile, were in worse shape at around 15% below their five-year norm.