Natural Gas Storage Climbs; Prices Drop 1.2% - TheStreet



) -- Natural gas prices dropped 1.2% on Thursday, as weekly inventory stats showed levels climbed higher last week and approached the upper end of prior projections.

Natural gas storage levels in the lower 48 states rose by 81 billion cubic feet for the week ending June 18, the Energy Information Administration said Thursday morning. According to a poll of analysts conducted by Platts, many on Wall Street were looking for inventory levels to rise between 78 billion to 82 billion cubic feet.

Total stockpiles, which now stand at 2.624 trillion cubic feet, are 0.5% lower than last year's levels at this time, but remain 13.3% higher vs. the average over the past five years.

The most actively traded July delivery natural gas contract on the Nymex lost 6 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $4.75 per million British thermal units.

Meanwhile, the August crude pared weakness seen earlier in the session to settle 16 cents, or 0.2% higher at $76.51 a barrel. The contract was pressured in the morning by lingering concerns about economic recovery and weaker-than-expected

stockpile data released Wednesday.

Energy stocks provided no respite for the major averages, which were each trading roughly 2% lower. Although weakness was spread across sectors, energy was one of the worst-performing areas.

The NYSE Arca Oil index dropped 2.3%, and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index lost 2.5%. On the


, shares of

Exxon Mobil

(XOM) - Get Report

fell 1.7%, and


(CVX) - Get Report

finished 2% lower.

Shares of


(BP) - Get Report

slumped 3.1% on Thursday as the firm said that a

containment apparatus was reinstalled after a collision knocked the cap offline, sending oil and gas gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for about 10 hours.

Elsewhere on the Nymex, August heating oil futures gave up a penny, or 0.4%, to settle at $2.08 a gallon, while the August gasoline contract added a penny, or 0.5%, to settle at $2.09 a gallon.

--Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York