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As Polar Vortex weather event hits, natural gas prices skyrocket

A woman covers her face to protect herself from the frigid cold temperatures though downtown Chicago.


There's nothing like a cold blast to heat up natural gas prices.

The so-called Polar Vortex covering much of North America drove up short-term prices on Monday, with some supplies in the eastern United States surging as much as eightfold as heating demand soared.

At a pricing point for New York City natural gas, known as Transco Zone 6, some spot – or prompt – deals were quoted as high as $90 (U.S.) per million British thermal units before settling back to $70.80. That is up from $13.82 per mmBtu on Friday and less than $4.90 a year ago.

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"It's concentrated for tomorrow for the bitter, bitter cold" with prices expected to ease after that, said Kate Trischitta, director of trading at Consolidated Edison Inc.'s wholesale energy trading division in New York.

In the futures market, New York Mercantile Exchange gas for February delivery edged up less than a penny to $4.31 per mmBtu.

Despite ample supplies of gas across Canada and the United States, bolstered in recent years by the widespread development of shale gas resources, the runup shows that weather is still one of the most important determinants of short-term pricing.

Half of the United States was under a wind chill watch or warning from the U.S. National Weather Service, following a massive snowstorm in the Midwest and Northeast, according to AccuWeather.

Very small volumes trade at the highly inflated pricing in what amounts to emergency buying, said Luc Mageau, an analyst at Raymond James.

"It is typically the area of higher demand to begin with, so you can get some weird trades once in a while if there's a plant that needs the gas and there's a couple molecules left in storage," Mr. Mageau said.

The bone-chilling conditions are extending into Canada. In Toronto, forecasters called for temperatures to plummet to -25 overnight, prompting city officials to issue an extreme cold weather alert.

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Despite the cold outlook, Toronto-area spot gas slipped 27 cents from Friday to $4.99 per mmBtu. Still, Canadian prices have strengthened in recent weeks as winter heating season set in, prompting large draws on inventories that ended the summer at very high levels, especially in the West.

In Alberta, where most of Canada's gas is produced, the benchmark spot price was the equivalent of $3.94 per mmBtu, about 40 per cent higher than a year ago.

With a report from Bloomberg News

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