Japan likely buyer for US LNG exports

The US could become a major LNG supplier to Asia in the future, Toshi Yoshida, global energy partner of Mayer Brown LLP, told a Mayer Brown energy conference in Houston on May 23.

Other Mayer Brown conference speakers noted the growth in oil and gas production from shale plays in recent years. Given the surplus in US gas supply, various companies are considering using US LNG terminals to export LNG to Europe and Asia.

US LNG terminals were built to import LNG before the shale production boom. Meanwhile, Japan’s reliance on fossil fuel is climbing because all of its nuclear reactors are offline following the March 2011 incident in which an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit off Tohoku, eastern Japan.

A subsequent 23-ft tsunami swamped parts of Japan and knocking out the country’s nuclear-generation capacity at Fukushima.

Separately from the conference, Barclays Capital issued a May 23 research note saying it expects total Japanese fossils fuel imports to increase with oil and products stabilizing at around 4.6 million b/d in 5 years and LNG imports growing to above 135 billion cu m by 2016.

Most US companies have yet to receive permission from the US Department of Energy to sell LNG to Japan, which lacks a free-trade agreement with the US. Sempra of San Diego has submitted a request to DOE and hopes for approval by yearend.

Other US companies also have submitted or plan to submit similar requests. Excelerate Energy wants to develop a floating LNG export plant in the Gulf of Mexico, which would be a first for the US. The Lavaca Bay LNG project off Texas tentatively is scheduled to start exporting by 2017.

Cheniere Energy, which soon plans to start construction on its LNG plant in Sabine Pass, La., already signed supply deals with buyers in Spain, Britain, India, and South Korea. Cheniere Energy has conditional approvals from the US government.

US companies hope to sell US gas to higher-price markets elsewhere. Recent US prices are less than $3/MMbtu while Asian LNG prices are at 4-year highs of about $18/MMbtu, analysts said.

Yoshida noted that LNG export projects and contracts take time. Industry executives generally agree that most LNG projects take at least 4 years to build.

“It’s not like oil trading,” Yoshida said. “The core nature of LNG is tailor-made projects with specific buyers involved from the beginning.”

Ramsey Fahel, Anadarko Corp. vice-president and general manager, agreed, adding that LNG projects are not done on a speculative basis. “Deepwater costs are too high,” for operators to consider spec projects, Fahel said.

In addition to the prospects for US shale gas development to push LNG into global markets, Anadarko notes another potentially large source of supply from eastern African fields off Mozambique.

In November 2010, Anadarko reported a third large gas discovery in the Rovuma basin off Mozambique. The company said the three discoveries together were more than sufficient to support an LNG export project (OGJ Online, Nov. 29, 2010).

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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