Qatar still the LNG Gorilla

But didn’t they have a moratorium on expansion?

Qatar still the LNG gorilla
Wednesday, 21 December 2011

THE good news for Australia’s LNG producers and developers is uncontracted demand from Asia is going to reach unprecedented highs in the coming years. The bad news, however, is Australia’s projects are probably going to be beaten to the punch when it comes to satisfying demand. By Paul Garvey in Hong Kong

An exhaustive analysis of the Asia Pacific LNG market, led by Credit Suisse’s Singapore-based analyst David Hewitt, has identified a massive 49 million tonne per annum gap between LNG supply and demand in the region out to 2015.

The gap is set to broaden even further out to 2020, when Hewitt and his team expect the difference to widen to 82MMtpa.

The figures are over and above the volumes Asian buyers already committed to buy from a variety of LNG projects under construction in Australia.

To put the figure into context, Australia currently produces around 19.7MMtpa of LNG from the North West Shelf and Darwin LNG projects.

The dramatic opening up of demand from the region has been driven in large part by the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan.

Not only did the disaster drive an immediate need for additional LNG to meet Japan’s short-term energy requirements but also the likelihood Japan would increasingly turn to LNG to meet its future energy needs at the expense of nuclear.

The huge supply gap would appear to favour the Australian projects currently under development and in particular those less-advanced projects still looking to lock in long-term customers.

However, Credit Suisse warned it was in fact Qatar in the box seat to soak up all of Asia’s excess demand.

The existing LNG production capacity in place in Qatar, in addition to its capacity to redirect cargoes from the beleaguered European market into Asia, means the Middle Eastern nation is likely to meet Asia’s increasing LNG demands all on its own.

“Looking at uncontracted supply, considering all Australian projects (existing, de-bottlenecking, projects in front-end engineering and design and speculative), all of the proposed projects in North America (both the US and Canada) and Qatar production that could be redirected from other markets, it is clear that Qatar has a monopoly on uncontracted supply until 2015,” Credit Suisse said.

If there’s a positive for Australia, it is that Qatar is set to drive a hard bargain when it comes to pricing.

The Middle Eastern nation, already one of the richest countries in the world, has been determined to pursue oil price parity pricing for its LNG.

High prices for Qatar gas should allow Australian producers to seek similarly high, if slightly lower, prices for their own LNG.

Credit Suisse is not particularly bullish on China as an LNG growth market.

While the country has been touted as the great hope for the LNG sector – and investments in Australian LNG projects by the likes of Sinopec, PetroChina and CNOOC reinforce the point – Hewitt stressed China would be a very price-sensitive buyer of LNG.

Part of that is a legacy of the cut-price inaugural LNG purchase agreement the country struck with the North West Shelf, which entitled it to 25 years of gas at around $US3.40 a unit compared to current prices of around $10 a unit or higher.

It also reflects the large pipeline gas supplies available to China from elsewhere in Asia.

“If sellers were able to replicate this [North West Shelf] price and importantly price certainty for China, now those supplies could spur gas to power generational growth and allow Chinese planners to allocate higher cost gas imports to higher end user price points,” Credit Suisse said.

The reality is, however, that new LNG projects in Asia require prices in $US10-plus range to provide an adequate rate of return given ongoing development and construction price pressure.”

Based on Credit Suisse’s LNG price forecasts, China is set to be “an extremely marginal buyer”.

“We assume that China accepts all of the contracts committed to date and will make limited further deals in the next five years but we do not subscribe to the view that China is a massive LNG demand source in the near/mid-term given prevailing regional LNG prices,” the analysts said.

It means those LNG developers who have locked away their output can breathe easy, while those still looking to pin down buyers for their planned production are going to be a bit more anxious.

The best result for those Australian projects still looking to lock in gas contracts would be for Qatar to abuse its looming market power and drive buyers into the hands of alternative suppliers.

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