Copy the top secret data.
Move it swiftly and securely to the drop location.
In a procedure familiar to all who have seen “Mission Impossible,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration follows a strict schedule to ensure that the country's natural gas storage numbers are released at 10:30 Eastern Time every Thursday morning.
Not a microsecond early, and not a microsecond late.
“At 10:15 every Thursday morning, we reset our clocks to the atomic clock at the naval observatory,” EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski said at the University of Oklahoma Energy Symposium this month.
“We're pretty sure that we release it at exactly 10:30, down to the microsecond.”
Fractions of a second can mean the difference of millions of dollars.
“There's a lot of algorithmic, high-frequency trading that takes place,” Sieminski said. “The algorithms trade against each other. This is all happening literally on a microsecond basis.”
Trading volumes spike within the five seconds before and after 10:30, apparently based on speculation and reality of how much natural gas was produced and consumed throughout the country over the prior week.
Production, consumption and storage numbers largely affect natural gas price trends.
To ensure no one gets an advantage, the EIA employs spy practices in its preparation.
The natural gas storage numbers are collected on a computer that is not connected to the Internet.
Thursday mornings, the data is copied securely onto a flash drive, which is then walked to a different computer on a different floor for release at the precise moment.
While the administration has worked to avoid tipping its hand to those gambling most closely on the weekly numbers, Sieminski has advice for anyone else.
“If you want to buy gas or make a hedge, I suggest you do business with somebody other than at 10:30 on Thursday,” he said.