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U.S. LNG Booms As Natural Gas Prices Crash

Despite the current oversupply and depressed natural gas prices all over the world, the global liquefied natural gas (LNG) market is set for further growth, at least into the middle of this decade, as suppliers sanction new projects and major buyers ramp up imports.

Last year, Australia beat Qatar to become the world’s largest LNG exporter, in one of the milestones in the industry in 2019, IHS Markit said in a new report.

Yet, Australia will likely keep that title for just a couple of years, before the United States becomes the world’s biggest LNG producer in 2023.

This development shows how the LNG industry has evolved over the past half-decade and how the surge in U.S. natural gas production and export capacity expansion is upending the market. Just a few years ago, Qatar dominated the global LNG supply. Now its main rivals, Australia and the U.S. are set to surpass the tiny but mighty Middle Eastern LNG producer as the world’s biggest suppliers of the super-chilled fuel.  

Australia’s lead is likely to be short-lived as the U.S. will continue to expand liquefaction and export capacity.

According to data and analytics company GlobalData, the United States will be the global leader in newly built LNG liquefaction capacity between 2019 and 2023.   Related: Oil Diversification Is Already Bearing Fruit For Gulf Economies

The U.S. also leads the global growth in actual LNG supply to the market, IHS Markit data shows. Global LNG supply totaled 373.0 million tons (MMt) in 2019, up by 11.8 percent from 2018, with the United States the leader in new supply, followed by Russia and Australia.

2019 was a record-breaking year for the LNG industry globally, with six records smashed in both supply and demand, according to IHS Markit’s data.

Suppliers sanctioned a record level of new capacity as 70.4 million tons per year (MMtpa) were approved for development—a whopping 40-percent jump over the previous record year for final investment decisions (FIDs), 50.4 MMtpa back in 2005. The United States, Russia, and Mozambique each set individual record highs for levels of annual FIDs in 2019, according to IHS Markit.  

“The ongoing pace of new investment is especially noteworthy considering a market context of weak global prices,” Michael Stoppard, chief strategist, global gas at IHS Markit, said in a statement.

“Not only did LNG grow at an unprecedented rate in 2019, but the industry also laid the foundations for continued strong growth into the middle of the decade,” Stoppard added.

According to Wood Mackenzie’s Global upstream investment outlook for 2020, “LNG is on a major growth spurt. The market is heavily oversupplied at present, but the industry needs to develop new LNG supply to meet growing demand.”

Spending on upstream LNG projects this year is expected to jump by 50 percent compared with 2019 to more than US$30 billion, excluding non-integrated plant spend, according to WoodMac. 

Half of the new capacity approved for development in 2019 was in the United States, according to Wood Mackenzie. 

“Capacity additions in 2020 are harder to call, with sanction decisions for gas projects of this scale increasingly tough to make,” the consultancy said earlier this month. Related: EIA Sees Lower Brent Prices On Fading Geopolitical Risk

On the demand side, both Europe and China shattered records of LNG imports in 2019, with Europe setting records for imports in every single month as well as for the year as a whole.

China, for its part, saw its fourth consecutive year of record LNG imports in 2019, with LNG imports rising by 13.4 percent compared to 2018. China also overtook Japan as the world’s largest LNG importer in the month of December 2019, IHS Markit said.

Japan is still set to be the world’s biggest importer on an annual basis through 2022, but China is drawing closer each year and will beat Japan to the top importer status as early as 2022, as its imports continue to increase while Japan’s imports continue to drop.

The fast-evolving LNG market will have a new supply leader three years from now, as the United States will top the list of exporters, thanks to the ongoing expansion of its LNG export capacity.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.  More