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Demand for gas soars amid cold snap

The UK's biggest gas storage facility was running at full tilt to meet demand today as the country shivered in the grip of freezing temperatures.

British Gas owner Centrica is meeting more than a quarter of the UK's gas needs through its Rough undersea storage facility and Morecambe Bay gas fields, as well as the Langeled pipeline from Norway, which it operates.

The trio are expected to provide around 130 million of the 447 million cubic metres of gas predicted to be needed today - the biggest of the winter so far and close to the all-time record of 449 million seen in January 2003.

Centrica said 45 million cubic metres was being pumped in from Rough, along with almost 13 million from Morecambe Bay and 61 million through the Langeled pipeline.

Demand for gas has been increased by the cold weather as well as a return to work across the country after the festive break.

National Grid yesterday warned power suppliers to use less gas after a 30% rise on normal seasonal demand during the cold snap.

The power distribution company issued a gas balancing alert (GBA) yesterday afternoon - only its second ever.

GBAs are a way of warning customers to ease off on the fuel as well as encouraging suppliers to bring in more gas.

A National Grid spokesman today said the GBA had not been renewed as the market responded to the warning by using less gas and increasing imports, although he did not rule out further alerts in the days ahead if the cold snap continues.

Wholesale gas prices for immediate delivery hit 60p a therm at one point yesterday amid worries over demand, although this does not necessarily mean higher household prices as most energy suppliers buy up their supply months in advance to help cover fluctuations.

Nick Campbell, an analyst at energy consultancy Inenco, said the UK had had to rely on liquefied natural gas and increased imports from Norway through the Langeled pipeline, helping to ease prices to around 46p a therm.

The UK is more exposed to wholesale prices than other countries due to its much lower levels of gas storage - accounting for around 5% of the country's needs, compared with around 24% in France and 21% in Germany.

Rough is the UK's biggest facility, accounting for around three-quarters of the country's storage capacity.