Phil Flynn
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Phil Flynn

Phil Flynn is writer of The Energy Report, a daily market commentary discussing oil, the Middle East, American government, economics, and their effects on the world's energies markets, as well as other commodity markets. Contact Mr. Flynn at (888) 264-5665

[Emma Ockerman, Bloomberg]

An early cold snap may deliver natural gas traders the most bullish inventory report heading into the winter heating season they’ve seen in more than a decade.

On Thursday, the U.S. government will issue its weekly estimate of gas stockpiles. And based on a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis, the report may show a gain of only 8 billion cubic feet. That’d be the smallest increase for this time of year since supplies of the heating fuel declined in 2006. (Back then, a combination of nuclear shutdowns and an early chill had power plants plowing through gas.)

A small inventory gain would be a rare win for bulls at this time of year, when gas suppliers are typically racing to store the fuel in preparation for the peak demand season. A cold snap’s to thank for stoking demand sooner: Temperatures are forecast to continue to dip well below normal from the U.S. Pacific Northwest to the Northeast through Nov. 10. As a result, natural gas burn may jump 24 percent in the Midwest alone from a year earlier, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The early demand surge threatens to exacerbate already-tight supplies and could lead to price spikes during the heating season should cargoes of liquefied natural gas continue to leave U.S. shores.

“We’re seeing a lot more demand than anticipated, and you’re probably going to see some pullback in production as well on seasonal maintenance,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst for Price Futures Group, said by phone. “When you compare that to the five-year average, it makes it look a lot more bullish.”

Natural gas has continued to flow out of massive shale formations in the eastern U.S. at record-high levels, and that should help prevent major supply constraints, Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Het Shah said. But several pipelines proposed to carry gas out of those reservoirs are facing setbacks.

TransCanada, Williams

On Monday alone, TransCanada Corp. delayed the startup of its Leach Xpress gas project, which will ship Appalachian supplies, to January from Nov. 1, and Williams Partners LP was forced to temporarily halt construction on its Atlantic Sunrise project, also planned to deliver shale gas, due to a court order.

“The market has been banking on Leach” to help replenish U.S. gas stockpiles, Shah said. The delay only stands to keep “new supply from hitting the market,” he said.

U.S. gas futures for December delivery settled at a seven-week high Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The median of four other analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg show a gain of 14 billion cubic feet.

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