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Chinese tariff may hurt US LNG industry

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-08-07 22:57

As American liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports may become one of the latest pawns in the trade dispute between China and the US, planned export-terminal expansions in the US could be most at risk, industry observers said.

A tariff also could mean China will source LNG from other global suppliers, and that would affect the US LNG industry, they said.

China on Aug 3 threatened tariffs on $60 billion in US goods — including 25 percent on liquefied natural gas — in response to a US threat to expand tariffs on Chinese exports.

Driven by an ample supply of shale gas, the US has been planning or building several large-scale export facilities to increase the shipment of LNG to feed China's growing appetite for the fuel that is used to replace coal.

Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, a Washington-based industry group, said the Chinese tariffs, if implemented, could hinder projects like the Magnolia LNG export project at Lake Charles, Louisiana.

"Those projects with permits and in which they are about to put shovels in the ground are the ones that could suffer as a result of something like this," Riedl said on Monday.

That project, expected to cost about $3.5 billion, is predicted to generate up to 70 direct jobs and 175 indirect jobs when it comes online and approximately 1,000 jobs during the construction phase.

Riedl said LNG projects in Texas (Cameron and Freeport) are either near or at completion and probably won't be affected by the tariffs.

In 2016, a potentially vast export market opened when the first shipment of LNG from the US sailed into China. China's LNG demands are expected to nearly double to 68 million metric tons per year by 2023 from 2017 and exceed that of Japan, the world's biggest consumer, before 2030, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.

The tariffs may mean that China will source LNG from other suppliers like Australia and Qatar that are eager to fill the gap, said Riedl. "This would be a tremendous missed opportunity and would have very real effects on the US LNG industry," he added.

Kenneth Medlock, senior director at the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, said Chinese tariffs on US LNG could produce a reshuffling in the global market.

"If China is buying other cargoes, then US cargoes will be redirected. This will likely raise the price of LNG as the deck is reshuffled, and the buyer in the global market is negatively affected. Of course, this will also impact demand for LNG more generally, and have ripple effects back through the value chain to LNG producers," he said in an email.

China already has seen a decline in its US LNG volumes recently, importing only four cargoes over June and July, compared with five cargoes in May alone, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data.

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