US natgas drops to 25-month low

US natural gas futures fell about 3% to a 25-month low on Friday on forecasts for less cold weather and lower heating demand over the next two weeks than previously expected.

That put the gas contract on track to drop over 63% over the past seven weeks, its biggest seven-week collapse in history after weather in the US Lower 48 states was the second warmest on record in January with an average temperature of about 41.8 degrees Fahrenheit (5.7 Celsius).

The warmest January on record was in 2006 when the temperature averaged 42.8 F, according to data from Refinitiv and the federal government.

In an outlook that has further depressed gas prices, meteorologists forecast the current extreme cold freezing parts of the country would end on Feb. 4 and average temperatures will climb back to mostly above-normal levels from Feb. 5 through at least Feb. 18.

The gas price drop came even though the current cold cut output by freezing oil and gas wells and despite growing expectations the Freeport liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant in Texas could start pulling in big amounts of fuel as it restarts LNG production in coming weeks.

Federal regulators this week approved Freeport’s plan to start sending gas to one of the plant’s three liquefaction trains, which turn gas into LNG. On Thursday, Freeport asked regulators for permission to start loading LNG on ships to free up space in the storage tanks for the new LNG expected to be produced soon.

Analysts, however, have said they still do not expect Freeport to return to full LNG production until mid-March or later.

Freeport, the second-biggest US LNG export plant, shut after a fire in June 2022.

The energy market expects gas prices to rise once the plant starts producing LNG again. When operating at full power, Freeport can turn about 2.1 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas into LNG each day. That is about 2% of total US daily gas production.

Federal regulators will hold a public meeting on Freeport on Feb. 11 to provide members of the community and other interested parties an opportunity to voice their concerns about Freeport’s restart plans and get an update on what’s happening at the plant.

Over the past week, US gas output has dropped about 3.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) to a one-month low of 93.6 bcfd as winter storms freeze oil and gas wells – known as freeze-offs – in several states, including Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

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