Europe’s natural gas prices surged after a fire at a large export terminal in the US promised to wipe out deliveries to a market that’s on high alert over tight Russian supplies.
Benchmark futures traded in Amsterdam snapped a six-day falling streak, while UK prices jumped more than 34%. The Freeport liquefied natural gas facility in Texas, which makes up about a fifth of all US exports of the fuel, will remain closed for at least three weeks. The US sent nearly 75% of all its LNG to Europe in the first four months of this year.
The closure comes as pipeline supplies from Europe’s top providers are also capped. Key facilities in Norway are undergoing annual maintenance this week, while Russia’s supplies are below capacity after several European buyers were cut off for refusing to meet Moscow’s demands to be ultimately paid in rubles for its pipeline fuel.
“An export halt during the high demand winter months would have triggered a much bigger reaction, but the event highlights Europe’s precarious situation and it would likely signal an end for now to the calm trading seen in recent weeks,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank A/S.
Europe has been particularly reliant on US LNG to help offset risk of disruption to Russian pipeline imports, and ample supplies of the fuel in the past weeks had calmed the market after wild swings earlier this year.
“The rising importance of US gas exports to a gas-hungry Europe has been clearly highlighted by price movements on either side of the pond these past few hours,” Saxo Bank’s Hansen said.
The extent of the damage to the Freeport facility is not yet clear, but the fire could potentially knock out abut 16% of total US LNG export capacity “for an unknown period if the fire damage proves difficult to repair,” analysts at Evercore ISI said in a note.
Dutch front-month gas, the European benchmark, traded 12% higher at 89.13 euros per megawatt-hour by 8:53 a.m. in Amsterdam. The contract dropped 16% over the previous six sessions.
UK next-month futures jumped to 174.14 pence a therm. Send-outs from Britain’s LNG terminals, a key European destination for US cargoes, fell about 30% Thursday to the lowest since mid-March.
Even with tepid consumption in most of Europe amid mild weather that means that energy companies may have to turn to gas inventories just as storage levels have improved recently, getting closer to historic averages.
LNG buyers will probably start hunting for replacement shipments from the spot market, but there is a dwindling amount of supplies available, according to traders in Asia. The move is likely to boost already intense competition between Asia and Europe for the fuel.
Gas flows from Norway rebounded after a one-day halt of the giant Troll field for annual tests on Wednesday, but are still below normal as seasonal works at a number of facilities continue. Shipments of Russian gas via the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany will continue to edge down on Thursday, grid data show.