The war in Ukraine is raging, Russian natural gas exports to Europe are dwindling and the winter heating season is approaching. That would seem like a recipe for higher prices, yet the cost of the fuel, which is vital for heating homes and for powering electricity plants and industry, has been plummeting.
The benchmark European price of natural gas this week fell to a level that is more than 70 percent below its record high in August. One of the main reasons for the plunge in prices is that Europe, at least for now, has all the natural gas it needs.
That is because over the summer, Europe went on a global buying spree as Russia, its longtime main supplier, reduced its flow of natural gas.
Across the continent, governments and businesses have aggressively replenished how much gas they are holding in storage. At the urging of European Union officials and at a high cost, energy companies and governments have filled underground caverns and other facilities to more than 90 percent of capacity, compared with less than 80 percent year ago.
Companies that sell natural gas, driven by the high prices, flooded the European market. Special ships with huge amounts of liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., raced to Europe from the United States, Qatar and other countries (including Russia) that produce large amounts of gas.
The rush to sell to Europe was so great that vessels are now loitering off the coast waiting for slots at crowded terminals to unload their cargoes.