Numerous news reporting the blast of a huge polar vortex started to pop last week, as temperatures plummeted all across the nation in a phenomenon that is being called the Big Chill. Consequently, natural gas prices soared to never before seen levels as the cold wind has literally frozen natural gas supplies and forced several plants to cut down receipts at the same time customers’ demand for heating continued to climb. Since then, experts have been alerting that the longer the cold wave lasts the higher prices could hit. Some even compared the unprecedented price surge to what was seen inside the stock markets during the peak of the GameStop frenzy.
In fact, as frigid temperatures caused equipment failures, temporary shutdowns, and flaring in at least four processing plants, the hysteria to purchase natural gas has sent prices up 32,000% in a few days. The market’s proverbial truth of low offer and high demand has dramatically hit prices. In several locations on the midcontinent, such as the Oneok OGT natural gas spot, demand was so incredibly high that any available natural gas started to be purchased at virtually any price companies asked, which is why it exploded from $3.46 one week ago, to $9 on Wednesday, $60.28 on Thursday and a shocking $377.13 on Friday, which explains the 32,000% increase – something completely unprecedented in all U.S. history.
This is one of those situations where having a limit-up circuit breaker could actually be a life-saver, although there simply is nowhere near enough supply to meet the demand at any price, for that reason, this explosive upsurge in prices isn’t expected to disappear so soon. Just a couple of days ago, weather forecasts predicted the coldest temperatures in over a decade would hit the midcontinent region over this holiday weekend, which led prices to surge again at several locations across Kansas, Oklahoma, and Eastern Arkansas, where hub prices traded at single-day record highs in the range of $200 to $300/MMBtu, according to a Platts report.
At one Enable Gas Transmission spot, the cash market traded up to $500, with weighted-average prices staying steady by mid-session at around $359/MMBtu. On the other hand, as the offer for natural gas got increasingly limited, the immediate downstream commodity, electricity, followed the same surge in both prices and demand in a matter of hours across all US markets on Friday. Platts reported that “as arctic air mass continues to blanket much of the central US, daily temperatures across some of the locations will range between 30 to 40 degrees below average, according to the NWS. Eastern PJM, Northwest, and much of Texas are also under winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories.”
It goes without saying that this is catastrophic news not only for the continued halt in natural gas distribution but also for tens of thousands of Americans who are about to see the effects of this explosion in electricity prices in this month’s electricity bill. Just yesterday, the peak price in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas reached an extreme all-time high of $5,500, up from $302 the day before.
The latest weather forecasts are indicating that the polar vortex will continue pouring Arctic air into most of the central US through the coming week, which means natural gas prices are likely to rise even further and electricity demand will continue to surge as Americans face one of the toughest winters ever recorded. And the results of this brutal chillwave will be translated numerically in our electricity bills this month, as it seems we have entered a new era where natural disasters and financial strains have become the new normal.
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