Column: Europe's gas prices retreat as storage almost full

Astora natural gas depot in Rehden
The Astora natural gas depot, which is the largest natural gas storage in Western Europe, is pictured in Rehden, Germany, March 16, 2022. Astora is part of the Gazprom Germania Group. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer/File Photo

LONDON, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Europe's gas futures prices have started to soften as storage facilities become full, signalling the need to slow the pace of inventory growth, even though rationing could still be needed later this winter.

Futures for deliveries in January 2023, likely to be the coldest part of winter 2022/23, have fallen by almost 30 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh) since Sept. 13.

But prices for deliveries in November 2022, the start of the main heating season, have fallen much faster, by 49 euros per MWh over the same time period.

As a result, the calendar spread from November to January has slumped into a large contango of 18 euros per MWh from a backwardation of 4 euros as recently as the middle of July.

Traders now anticipate supplies will be plentiful during the first part of winter though concerns about availability later in the season persist.

Chartbook: Europe gas prices and storage


Inventories in the European Union and the United Kingdom (EU28) have climbed to 1,029 terawatt-hours (TWh), according to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe.

Stocks are +110 TWh (+12% or +1.0 standard deviations) above the seasonal average for the previous ten years ("Aggregated gas storage inventory", GIE, Oct. 13).

And they are still rising by almost +3 TWh per day, a record for this time of year, as traders and utilities maximise stocks in response to government instructions.

Stocks are on course to continue accumulating later into October or even early November than usual, boosting the total, delaying the onset of depletion, and increasing winter energy security.

But storage sites are nearing their full capacity. For the European Union as a whole, storage is already at 92% of its maximum capacity.

Storage is close to the maximum in France (98%), Germany (95%), the Netherlands (93%) and Italy (93%), which collectively account for two-thirds of all EU inventories.

There is still some spare capacity in Hungary (77%), Austria (85%) and the Czech Republic (89%) and other small storers.

However, with space running short, nearby futures prices are retreating in a signal to slow the rate of inventory additions and encourage more consumption.


The combination of falling nearby prices with firming prices later in the winter and the rest of 2023 highlights the limitations of Europe's storage system.

The system is designed to cope with seasonal variations in gas consumption, not the strategic loss of gas imports as a result of an embargo, boycott or sabotage disrupting imports or halting them altogether.

The system has been filled enough to ensure gas is plentiful in the first part of winter, whatever the weather or what happens to supply from Russia.

But it cannot hold enough gas to ensure there is sufficient in the later part of the season in the event the winter is unusually cold or supplies from Russia are halted.

In that case, the market will still need much higher prices or some form of physical rationing to conserve stocks later in the winter.

Related columns:

- Mission accomplished? Europe fills gas storage ahead of schedule (Reuters, Oct. 4)

- Europe tops up gas stocks, but winter demand cuts essential (Reuters, Sept. 7)

- EU prepares public opinion for winter gas siege (Reuters, July 27)

- Europe forced to pay even higher prices to fill gas storage (Reuters, July 5)

- Europe fills gas storage at record rate as Asia's buyers step aside (Reuters, May 17)

- Europe makes rapid start on refilling gas storage (Reuters, May 4)

John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own

Editing by David Evans

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John Kemp is a senior market analyst specializing in oil and energy systems. Before joining Reuters in 2008, he was a trading analyst at Sempra Commodities, now part of JPMorgan, and an economic analyst at Oxford Analytica. His interests include all aspects of energy technology, history, diplomacy, derivative markets, risk management, policy and transitions.