(Bloomberg) -- After more than a year’s respite from record price swings in Europe’s natural gas market, traders are getting agitated again. 

While demand remains muted and the region exited the heating season with the highest stocks on record, industry players gathering at the Flame conference in Amsterdam this week see risks mounting. And prices are responding. 

Worries include uncertainty over remaining Russian flows through Ukraine and rebounding gas demand in Asia. A colder-than-normal winter spurring consumption at home is also seen as more likely after two consecutive mild ones. 

“Are we out of the crisis? I think it is too soon to say,” said Cara MacDonald, head of LNG & clean fuels supply and origination at RWE AG. “If we have a cold winter, this year, next year, the flexibility on the demand side will diminish.”

The concerns are showing up in the futures market. The contracts for next winter are the most expensive on the curve.  

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the region largely replaced pipeline supplies from the east with liquefied natural gas from other sources including the US, Middle East and Africa. But nations such as Austria and Slovakia are still getting most of their fuel through that traditional route from Russia. 

That may soon change. Speaking at Flame, an executive from Gas TSO of Ukraine ruled out any interconnector agreement that would allow Russian gas to transit when the current deal expires by the end of the year. There will be no capacity auctioned on the border, Andrii Prokofiev said. 

While traders don’t appear to completely rule out some flows, such comments are posing a big question mark, said Marco Saalfrank, head of continental Europe merchant trading at Axpo Holding AG. 

That risks volatility increasing again, after a decline since the record price spikes at the height of the energy crisis in the latter half of 2022. 

Competition between Europe and Asia for LNG is also here to stay, Patrick Dugas, head of LNG trading at TotalEnergies SE, said at Flame.

China’s first quarter LNG imports increased by 21% from a year ago, while there are also signs of growing appetite from markets in Thailand and Egypt. Like in Europe, most of the Asian LNG buying is done during the heating season in the northern hemisphere. 

“If we look at the forward market for next winter, there is a risk premium,” Axpo’s Saalfrank said. 

Other issues mentioned by traders at the conference include potential disruption in the US during the hurricane season later in the year and issues at production facilities. Outages at the Freeport facility on the Gulf Coast or in Norway, now Europe’s biggest supplier, have sent European prices soaring over the past two years.

“It’s not about what actually happens, but it’s about what people expect to happen,” Gregor Pett, chief analyst at Uniper SE, said on a panel at Flame. “That creates price rallies on its own.”

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