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NYMEX February gas settle at $2.953/MMBtu, up 3.9 cents

The NYMEX February natural gas futures contract settled at $2.953/MMBtuFriday, up 3.9 cents, with substantial storage pulls seen as below-freezing temperatures are expected to continue for several days in major US demandareas in the Midwest and Northeast.

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The contract traded Friday as high as $3.008/MMBtu before ending thesession on a downward slope.

Temperatures in Chicago were expected in the low teens through Tuesday,according to the National Weather Service, while temperatures in New York andBoston were not expected to break the freezing mark through the same period.

That weather pattern is expected to continue for the next 14 days, withcolder-than-normal weather expected in the entire eastern half of the US.

Data from Platts Analytics' Bentek Energy showed US demand at 113.7 Bcf/dFriday, rising to 115.3 Bcf/d Saturday.

Seven days out, demand is expected to average 125.3 Bcf/d.

Production has been running at a steady rate, with a seven-day average of77.1 Bcf/d. Over the next two weeks, the average is expected at 76.35 Bcf/d.

With demand outpacing supply, there have been healthy draws from storagebecause of cold weather.

Over the last five days, withdrawals have averaged 41.9 Bcf/d. Thatpattern looks to continue through the next week, when pulls are expected toaverage 48.9 Bcf/d.

As expected, the withdrawals have been heaviest in the Northeast andMidwest. On Friday, those two areas combined for a 23.7 Bcf/d pull, while theWest and South together had draws of 14.5 Bcf/d.

As a result, inventories have taken a big hit in the Northeast andMidwest since frigid weather moved in. Stocks for those two areas stood at1.706 Tcf December 23. Friday, that number shrunk to 1.572 Tcf, a drop of 134Bcf.

The NYMEX settlement price is considered preliminary and subject tochange until a final settlement price is posted at 7 pm EST (2400 GMT).

--John DeLapp,

--Edited by Valarie Jackson,