The world’s main liquefied natural gas (LNG) demand growth market, China, will continue to be the single largest source of LNG demand globally in 2019.
However, the breakneck demand surge of the past two years is expected to slow down this year as China is determined to avoid severe shortages by boosting pipeline connectivity, building more storage and import terminals, and raising domestic natural gas production.
To be sure, LNG demand in China will still grow, just at a slower pace than it did in 2017 and 2018, analysts say.
In the 2017/2018 winter season, China gobbled up spot cargoes to meet soaring natural gas demand in freezing temperatures, upending the LNG market, which was thought to be on the verge of oversupply just a year ago.
The Chinese coal-to-gas switch policy for millions of households backfired with severe gas shortages last winter, lifting domestic Chinese LNG prices to more than US$20/mmBtu and driving Asian spot LNG prices up.
This winter season, China’s authorities have been determined to avoid another natural gas supply crunch. And they are handling supplies much better than past winter—domestic natural gas production is rising, state energy giants are boosting gas pipeline infrastructure and connectivity, and the coal-to-gas switch is more measured and moderate, taking into account expectations of demand.
This winter, Asian LNG spot prices fell last week for a fifth consecutive week amid above-average temperatures and ample supply. Major Asian buyers—especially China—had stockpiled gas well ahead of the winter. Milder winter weather in some parts of Asia and high stockpiles mean that there is currently little appetite for spot cargoes.
The improved pipeline connectivity and increased storage capabilities are expected to remove some bottlenecks across China and address seasonal demand shortages this year, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.
In 2018, China’s natural gas imports—including pipeline and LNG imports—soared by nearly 32 percent from 2017 to a record 90.39 million tons, solidifying China’s position as the world’s biggest importer of the fuel. Related: Global Outages Boost Oil Prices
China became the world’s top natural gas importer—including LNG and pipeline—in October last year, overtaking Japan which imports all its gas as LNG.
According to Platts Analytics, China—currently the world’s second-largest LNG importer behind Japan--is set to overtake Japan as the top global LNG importer by 2022 as China will continue to be the largest growth factor behind global LNG demand growth.
China’s total natural gas demand is expected to rise by 11.4 percent in 2019 over 2018, slower than the growth in previous years, according to analysts at the country’s largest oil and gas producer China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).
More than half of China’s expected 308 billion cubic meters (Bcm) of natural gas demand this year is set to be met by domestic production, which is seen rising by 6 percent on the year to 171 Bcm, according to CNPC’s analysts.
In 2018, China’s natural gas production increased by 7.5 percent on the year, with December output up 10 percent from December 2017, data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China showed last week.
Rising domestic production and improved pipeline infrastructure will surely help China to ration natural gas flows to avoid last winter’s severe gas shortages, but its LNG demand growth—albeit at a slower pace—is still set to be the key driver of global LNG demand growth.
“Economic slowdown, a more considered approach on coal-to-gas switching and increased domestic infrastructure availability will mean LNG demand will slow in 2019, from the 40-45% growth we have seen in 2017 and 2018,” energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said in its 2019 LNG outlook earlier this month.
“But China will still grow at around 20%, by far the largest source of LNG demand growth in the global market,” according to WoodMac.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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