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NEW YORK: US natural gas futures gained more than 3% ahead of the expiry of the front-month March contract on Friday on forecasts for colder weather and higher heating demand over the next two weeks than previously expected.

On its last day as front-month, gas futures for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) were up 8.3 cents, or 3.6%, at $2.40 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) by 9:42 a.m. EST (1442 GMT).

The contract has risen 5.5% so far this week, after briefly dropping below $2 per mmBtu earlier this week.

“We are seeing support in US gas markets this week from a combination of shifts cooler on weather outlooks, confirmation of 2 (LNG) trains at Freeport restarting and some early announcements that drillers are cutting back on plans for 2023,” Gary Cunningham, director of Market Research at Tradition Energy, said in an email.

Data provider Refinitiv estimated 355 heating degree days (HDDs) over the next two weeks, up from 347 HDDs estimated on Thursday. The normal for this time of year is 342 HDDs.

HDDs estimate demand to heat homes and businesses by measuring the number of degrees a day’s average temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius).

With cold weather coming, Refinitiv forecast US gas demand, including exports, would rise from 119.0 billion cubic feet per day this week to 121.4 bcfd next week.

Refinitiv said average gas output in the US Lower 48 states fell from 98.1 bcfd in January to 97.4 bcfd so far in February, due to a cold spell earlier in February which froze oil and gas wells. That compared with a monthly record of 99.8 bcfd in November 2022.

On Wednesday, Chesapeake Energy Corp said it would drop three drilling rigs in coming months and would reduce gas output by 4% to 6% this year. The move followed Comstock Resources Inc’s, which earlier disclosed it would take down two rigs in coming months due to weaker prices.

“With the upcoming arrival of March and the roll to the April futures as the prompt contract, the weather factor will be diminishing in importance in forcing the market to rely heavily on a supply-side response to current low pricing,” analysts at energy consulting firm Ritterbusch and Associates said in a note.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said utilities pulled 71 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas from storage during the week ended Feb. 17. That was more than the 67-bcf decrease analysts forecast in a Reuters poll.

On Tuesday, Freeport LNG got approval from federal regulators to partially restart commercial operations at its Texas plant after an outage caused by a fiery blast last June that lasted more than eight months.

The second-biggest US LNG export plant was on track to pull in about 0.75 bcfd of gas from pipelines for the third day in a row on Friday, according to Refinitiv. Freeport LNG, when operating at full power, can turn about 2.1 bcfd of gas into liquefied natural gas for export.

However, energy regulators and analysts, have said they do not expect Freeport LNG to return to full commercial operation until mid-March or later.


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