Big question of the month: Can the new front-month gas contract can sustain a price higher than $3 per Mcf for any extended period of time, given the swelling supplies of natural gas in inventory? The problem for the natural gas market has been that gas production continues to remain strong due to the continued development of new producing wells from highly prolific shale plays, writes Allen Brooks, managing director of Houston-based Parks Paton Hoepfl & Brown, in the firm's "Musings From The Oil Patch" newsletter. "The increase in gas production volumes was thought to have been arrested by now as a result of the nearly 50% cutback in gas-oriented drilling since last fall," he writes. "Unfortunately, E&P companies continue to drill highly prolific wells in the gas-shale basins due to their estimated lower finding and development cost allowing them to generate profits in a low-price environment and in order to retain expensive mineral leases signed in recent years. The impact of these new prolific wells, coupled with the decline in domestic gas demand due to the weak economy, has been greater than expected weekly gas storage injections." If gas injections continue to average in the 50- to 55-Bcf range until the winter heating season arrives and when gas begins being withdrawn, storage capacity will reach full capacity, according to Brooks. "There are essentially 10 more weeks of injection season and at the current injection rate, the industry will be trying to stuff another roughly 550 Bcf of gas into the already jam-packed facilities around the country. The real problem as we approach full capacity is that storage availability in broad geographic regions and even in local areas can reach full capacity well before the entire system, causing supply system discontinuities and pricing anomalies."