Trinidad and Tobago, a major LNG exporter in the Western Hemisphere, is changing its emphasis from spot sales to large Atlantic Basin customers to contracts with Caribbean and South American nations eager to move to gas from imported diesel and fuel oil for electricity generation, the country's energy minister said.
"We like to think of ourselves as the Atlantic Basin's LNG pioneer," Kevin C. Ramnarine told an American Gas Association Natural Gas Roundtable breakfast. "But there's no escaping the possibility that the United States, with its considerable shale gas resources, could become the region's LNG export leader if it decides to."
He noted that as recently as 3 years ago, 80% of Trinidad's LNG cargoes went to US customers and the other 20% elsewhere. "That has flipped because of this country's shale gas revolution, and we expect US demand for our LNG to eventually fall to zero," Ramnarine said.
"At present, 15% of our cargoes go to the East—mainly China, Japan, and Korea," he continued, adding that a much larger portion goes to South American customers. "Many countries' balance of payments problems are due in part to their using higher-cost imported diesel and fuel oil to generate electricity," he said.
Centrica PLC, the corporate parent of the privatized British Gas, has won the Trinidad and Tobago government's approval to develop a front stream export project which would ship compressed natural gas in medium-sized tankers to Caribbean customers instead of LNG in larger vessels because natural gas conversion costs for CNG are lower, Ramnarine said.
Barbados also has expressed interest in a gas pipeline from Trinidad, although it would have to be privately financed, he added.
Ramnarine said a major goal is widening the Panama Canal's locks so LNG tankers can cross the isthmus. "That way, shipments could move east-to-west or west-to-east as needed," he explained. "It would truly make LNG markets global."
He predicted that gas prices overseas would remain tied to crude oil because production costs will inevitably climb as more gas is produced from unconventional formations. "We'll have to wait to see what happens if the US becomes a major exporter," Ramnarine said. "That wouldn't happen for at least 3-4 years." He said gas is poised to become the fuel of the 21st century, just as oil was the fuel of 20th century and coal the fuel of the 19th century.
We are living in a golden age of gas, and the US is poised to become a major exporter, along with our country and Bolivia," he indicated. "Its contribution could be even greater because its tight gas resources haven't been fully defined."
Ramnarine was in Washington for the Global Gas Council's inaugural meeting Oct. 24-25 at the Organization of American States.