Atlantic Basin market seesaw tips in favour of LNGTaken from: LNG World Shipping Editor's Viewpoint 9 April 2012
Shipowners are looking beyond the current subdued demand for LNG in Europe to a not-so-distant future when the region drives a resurgent Atlantic Basin market.
While the Asia-Pacific market has been hogging the limelight of late, the jury has been out on the prospects for LNG in the Atlantic Basin. Ever since vast quantities of shale gas were discovered in the US and several European economies went into meltdown a few years ago, the Atlantic Basin LNG market has been faced with the task of reinventing itself.
The precise nature of the trading zone's new alignment has been difficult to profile, due not least to the faltering demand for gas in Europe and question marks over the extent to which US companies will be permitted to reliquefy shale gas for export to world markets. It came as no surprise that Gazprom this week once again put back a final investment decision on its long-planned Shtokman project in the Barents Sea, to 1 July 2012.
At about the same time the US Department of Energy is expected to complete its assessment of the impact on domestic gas prices of the proposed LNG exports from several converted import terminals. The findings could clear the way for the shipment of large volumes of US LNG to overseas markets, and more competition for the Shtokman output.
In the meantime UK LNG import volumes have collapsed in recent months while record numbers of re-export cargoes are being loaded at Spanish import terminals for carriage to Asia where buyers are willing to pay much higher prices for their gas than those currently pertaining in Europe.
Europe's long-term gas needs are key to prospects for a rejuvenated Atlantic Basin LNG trading zone. While short-term indicators are not particularly encouraging for LNG carrier owners, there are several immutable factors that underpin a bright future for the region's LNG industry.
European gas consumption will continue to grow over the longer term, not least due to concerns about the environment, nuclear power and the price of oil, while regional gas output will continue to decline. Furthermore, LNG imports, which currently account for 15 per cent of Europe's gas usage, will ease the heavy reliance on purchases of pipeline gas from Russia.
In addition to these key long-term factors there have been a number of breaking news items in the past few days that augur well for a buoyant European LNG sector, and hence growing volumes of the cargo moving about in the Atlantic Basin.
First of all, Gasum in Finland has announced that it will build an LNG import terminal on the country's southern coast. LNG suppliers had already been studying how they might provide the local depot infrastructure needed for the LNG-fuelled passenger ferries now under construction for Finnish Baltic routes.
However, Gasum's terminal will be a worldscale import facility of an altogether greater magnitude, able to supply up to 50 per cent of Finland's growing gas needs. The terminal would provide the country with access to competitively priced gas on the international market; supply enough fuel to meet peak winter loads; and ease reliance on oil products which continue to increase in price. In addition, the new import terminal could serve as a main supply centre for the growing number of LNG bunkering depots expected to be built along the Finnish coastline.
Also announced in recent days was the construction of a new LNG receiving terminal at Lysekil in Sweden and the provision of a barge in Hamburg that will supply LNG-based power to ships berthed in the German port. The Lysekil terminal will serve the Swedish port's Preem refinery and a number of other local gas users.
Also revealed during the past week are initial results from a project to develop shale gas resources in Poland. The pioneering explorers have complained of rising taxes, a lack of rigs and rocks that are harder to drill than expected. While shale gas may have a role to play in the longer term, for the moment the Polish government is stating that the country's shale gas reserves may be lower than estimated and drilling such wells costs almost three times as much as it does in the US.
In the meantime construction work on Polskie LNG's Swinoujscie terminal, the first baseload LNG receiving facility in the Baltic, is proceeding according to the schedule adopted to enable a June 2014 entry into service. The terminal will have a capacity equivalent to one-third of Poland's current gas consumption and the facility is also expected to play a hub role in the distribution of LNG to bunkering vessels and coastal depots.