After the $5 billion-plus expansion of the Panama Canal is dedicated this Sunday, June 26, the first “New Panamax” vessel scheduled to pass through the canal’s new, longer, wider locks will be the Lycaste Peace, a Very Large Gas Carrier (VLGC) that is transporting propane from Enterprise Products Partners’ Houston Ship Channel export terminal to Tokyo Bay in Japan. What remains to be seen, though, is how many other supersized vessels carrying propane, liquefied natural gas (LNG) or other hydrocarbons will follow, and how soon. Today, we mark the formal opening of the newly enlarged Atlantic-Pacific short-cut with a look both at the game-changing potential of the expanded canal and the realities of today’s energy and shipping markets.
China has got a lot of shale gas. To the tune of 1,275 Tcf of technically recoverable shale reserves, by some estimates. But today it is all still sitting in the ground. If that potential is tapped in any significant way, it will have a huge impact on global gas balances, with implications for LNG markets, economic competitiveness and geopolitical clout. But a lot of obstacles must be removed before the promise of Chinese shale gas can be realized. Last week I spoke at the Global Unconventional Gas Summit, held in Beijing. After listening to two days of presentations on the issues, I came away with the view that while some of these barriers are inherent in the Chinese system, probably the biggest barrier is a general misunderstanding of why shale gas developed the way it did in the U.S. in the first place. So today we will provide a small window into the Chinese shale gas initiative and in the process learn something about the real drivers of shale gas development here in the U.S.