International marine construction companies are seeing a bonanza of new projects as countries around the world approve massive new terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) – for imports in most cases, and for exports from North America, Australia, and some Southeast Asian countries. Altogether, this frenzy of port building could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade, as seaborne trade in LNG climbs to meet spiraling demand, particularly in the energy-hungry countries of China, India, and other Asian nations.
Total deliveries of LNG were flat in 2013 compared to 2012, according to the BG Group, but this masks pent-up demand, as producers in the United States ramp up export capacity and importing countries scramble to build import terminals. BG Group forecasts that worldwide LNG demand is expected to increase at a rate of 5% annually through 2025, with much higher rates in the developing countries of Asia.
In September the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave final approval to the Cove Point LNG facility, overruling the objections of environmental groups and bringing to four the number of U.S. export terminals officially approved and under construction. All told, 14 terminals are seeking approval by federal regulators in the United States, on the Gulf Coast, the East Coast, and the Pacific Northwest. The Northwest facilities, in particular, face fierce opposition from environmentalists opposed to the increased fracking that large quantities of U.S. exports will entail. With big potential markets waiting not only across the Pacific but in Europe, U.S. oil & gas companies and their representatives in Washington D.C. are eager for more export capacity to come online. There are also at least a dozen LNG terminals proposed along the coast of British Columbia.
With unrest in Ukraine giving rise to fears of disruptions of natural gas supplies from Russia, which provides 30% of Europe’s natural gas, European governments and companies are scrambling to build new import facilities. Paradoxically, with international supplies limited and with Japan, which relies more heavily on imported natural gas for its energy supply than any other country, soaking up much of the available supply at inflated prices, imports to Europe have declined in the last couple of years. The Gate terminal on the North Sea coast near Rotterdam was built with the support of the Dutch government to maintain the Netherlands’ status as a regional gas hub. It is now running at 10% of capacity, according to The Economist.
Nevertheless, imports from the United States are sure to increase, and the European Union sees the construction of new import terminals as a critical matter of regional energy security. Lithuania, for example, is due to open a massive new floating terminal this year or in early 2015. New terminals are especially important along Europe’s vulnerable southeastern coast, as currently countries in the area are essentially captive customers to Russia’s Gazprom.
Amos Hochstein, the acting U.S. special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, testified recently before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying that “[there is a] critical need for Europe to improve its energy infrastructure by constructing new pipelines, upgrading interconnectors to allow bidirectional flow, and building new LNG terminals to diversify fuel sources. … We support proposals to build LNG terminals at critical points on European coasts, from Poland to Croatia to the Baltics.”
The biggest building boom is underway in China, where three import new terminals came online in 2013 and at least two more are expected begin operation before the end of this year. Already, half of the world’s capacity for regasification (the conversion of LNG to conventional natural gas, for transport by pipeline) is located in Asia.
“China’s imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) are growing at a record pace,” reported Reuters earlier this year, “as it aims to use cleaner fuels to cut smog in big cities, creating a powerful new source of demand that has the potential to reshape the market for the super-chilled gas.” China’s LNG imports grew 35% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2013.
Meanwhile, new production is emerging from Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Also Singapore, which sits at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca, through which passes more than half of the world’s seaborne LNG, has formed ambitious plans to be the LNG trading hub for Southeast and East Asia.
These LNG terminals tend to cost around $10 billion apiece. It’s a good time to be in the business of building them.
Tags: Energy Security, Liquefied Natural Gas, Natural Gas, Oil & Gas, Shale Oil, Smart Energy Program
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