Gas demand hits record on Thursday

LONDON (Reuters) - Gas demand hit an all-time high on Thursday, shattering the old record set in January 2003, but supplies were still comfortable amid Arctic weather despite a Norwegian gas supply glitch, National Grid said on Friday.

Gas burns from a ring on a domestic cooker in a home in Manchester, February 13, 2006. REUTERS/STR

Freezing weather swept across Britain earlier this week, blanketing the country in snow, sending temperatures plunging to below minus 20 degrees Celsius in parts.

With two-thirds of homes relying on gas heating to keep warm, demand surged to a new record of 454 million cubic metres (mcm) on Thursday, breaking the previous record of 449 mcm set on Jan 7, 2003.

The near record demand levels all week prompted National Grid to ask big users to switch fuels in some parts of the country..

But overall supplies were not under threat.

“Gas supplies to Britain have been consistently healthy throughout the week,” Chris Train, Network Operations Director for National Grid said.

“We have managed two supply disruptions associated with technical issues in the Norwegian gas fields... The market was quick to respond. The system has worked exactly as it was designed to.”

National Grid issued its second and third ever gas balancing alerts (GBA) on Monday and Thursday, asking for suppliers to increase flows into Britain after two shutdowns at one of Europe’s biggest gas fields.

As opposition MPs blamed the government for risking Britain’s energy security, warning gas stocks were only enough to meet a few days of consumption, two of Britain’s big liquefied natural gas import (LNG) terminals stepped up flows of fuel delivered by tanker from all over the world.

Meanwhile, continental European gas companies also seized the chance to sell some fuel from their brimming stocks to Britain, Europe’s biggest and most open gas market, filling both pipelines that connect the island to the mainland.

“There is no shortage; the system is working as it was intended to,” Boaz Moselle, a director at economic and finance consultancy LECG and former director of security of supply issues at UK energy regulator Ofgem said.

“We have lots of gas from many different sources, so there is a high level of security.”

Britain still gets about half its gas supply from fields on the UK Continental Shelf but had built several LNG import terminals and new import pipelines to compensate for declining UK gas output from maturing fields.

Reporting by Daniel Fineren; Editing by Keiron Henderson