A predicted tripling of sanctions for global LNG projects in 2019 threatens to disrupt future shipping logistics as demand for the gas enters a more volatile phase because of a rapid increase in supply.
This is the result of a likely record year for final investment decisions (FIDs) that will ultimately deliver more than 60M tonnes of LNG per year (mta), nearly three times the 21 mta sanctioned in 2018, as the research director for Wood Mackenzie Giles Farrer forecasts. Inevitably, increased availability of LNG will influence where tankers deliver their loads.
But Wood Mackenzie also predicts shorter-term volatility in the vagaries of the weather that could affect shipping movements – “a mild end to [the 2019] winter could send more LNG into Europe and drive prices down further,” he said.
The energy consultant’s predictions come at a time of concern over the availability of LNG tankers to handle the huge extra output, particularly in the spot market because most of the fleet are locked into exclusive long-term charters. In a mid-2018 study, the International Energy Agency highlighted a possible shortfall in vessels as a threat to the security of supply, particularly in more remote regions.
The dearth of available LNG carriers is reflected in rocketing spot charter rates. In November, they shot to US$190,000 a day, five times higher than in early May.
Overall though, it appears the tanker fleet will have to adjust to changes in demand in the medium-term future. “Asian LNG demand growth will not keep pace with LNG supply and Europe – northwest Europe in particular – will have to absorb the surplus, especially during the summer,” he predicted in a release this week. “But Europe needs additional imports and flexibility, given its increased reliance on maxed-out Russian and Norwegian imports.”
It is therefore likely, he added, “there would be more LNG imports than required. And that in turn would provide competition to pipe imports and put pressure on prices,” he said. However Mr Farrer does not see the level of oversupply in 2019 that others fear.
A record number of LNG projects, as measured by volume, are due to get the green light. Wood Mackenzie sees the frontrunners in the race to hit FID in 2019 as the giant US$27Bn Arctic LNG-2 project in Russia, at least one project in Mozambique and three in America. Of the latter, Wood Mackenzie identifies three major operations as top picks – Golden Pass, Calcasieu Pass and Sabine Pass Train 6.
But that is not all. There are other projects in the pipeline in America as well as in Qatar, Papua New Guinea, Australia and Nigeria, all aiming for FID in 2019.
Wood Mackenzie sees other global influences that would inevitably determine the course of the growing LNG shipping network. “A recession would bring gas/LNG demand and oil prices down, delay FIDs and push the global LNG market back a few years,” said Mr Farrer. “But there could be a worse scenario for the gas market: a major economic downturn happening in 2020 or 2021, just after 60-100 mta of LNG has taken FID. That would wipe out our forecast price recovery post-2020 and make our forecast that prices soften a little around 2025 look a lot worse.”
Chinese demand is also less certain than it was in 2018, particularly if Beijing rethinks its headlong switch from coal to gas. In the last two years demand for LNG hovered between 40-45% growth, but that could fall to about 20%. However, as Wood Mackenzie pointed out, even if that happened China would remain by far the largest customer for LNG in the global market.