China emerges as latest market for LNG exports from US

Updated: 2016-08-26 08:21

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily)

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A potentially vast export market for the United States opened this week when the first shipment of liquefied natural gas from the US sailed into China.

The cargo of US gas arrived on Monday at the Chinese port of Yantian, in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province. It came from the Sabine Pass export facility, in Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico, according to S&P Global Platts, a provider of energy and commodities information.

LNG is a clear, colorless and non-toxic liquid which is formed when natural gas is cooled to minus 126 C to make it easier to transport and store.

Stuart Elliott, a senior writer at Platts, which is a unit of Standard and Poor's Financial Services LLC, said demand for LNG in China-unlike in Japan and South Korea-is rising, so the US will likely be targeting the Chinese market for LNG exports in the future.

"Total Chinese LNG imports so far in 2016 are up by around 18 percent year-on-year. US LNG is relatively cheap compared with other sources of LNG due to the shale gas boom in the US," Elliott wrote.

China imports LNG from several countries, "but the more alternatives you have, the cheaper you can procure your LNG," Elliott added.

Monday's shipment came via an expanded Panama Canal. New locks that opened earlier this summer permit larger ships to pass.

"Exports to the key markets of Japan, South Korea and China were made considerably more economical with the opening of the expanded Panama Canal," said Elliott. "Currently, the cost of shipping to Japan/South Korea through the canal is $1.11/MMBtu (per one million British thermal units), compared with $1.56/MMBtu via the Cape of Good Hope and $1.71/MMBtu through the Suez Canal."

Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, an industry trade group, said that an expanded Panama Canal will help US LNG producers serve the Asian markets by shaving days off of shipping time.

"Travel time from the US Gulf Coast to Japan will be reduced by 11 to 14 days per voyage, depending on the route taken," he said.

Riedl said the majority of US exports will come from liquefaction terminals located on the Gulf Coast and the East Coast. "US LNG facilities including those that are operational or under construction are authorized to export up to 157 billion cubic meters per year, making them well equipped to meet the growing demand for LNG in Asia," he noted.

A spokesman for the US Department of Energy said additional large-scale liquefaction facilities are under construction in the states of Louisiana, Maryland and Texas.