Posts from Richard Pratt

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is planning massive and rapid changes in its natural gas supply, including a significant increase in LNG deliveries from the U.S. But there are major challenges and implications associated with this shift. For example, how can the U.S. government prod U.S. exporters to send more LNG to Europe? How can LNG buyers — or sellers — collaborate without running afoul of European Union antitrust laws? Can the development of new LNG import terminals be fast-tracked? And can long-term contracts for Russian pipeline gas be breached without penalty now that Russia has suspended deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria for not paying in rubles? In today’s RBN blog, we discuss what U.S. and European efforts need to overcome.

The first wave of LNG projects has done more than just catapult the U.S. to the top tier of LNG exporters, it has reshaped markets, helped move LNG closer to being a true global commodity, and spurred changes in everything from ship sizes and routes to contract types and pricing formulas. Talk about having an impact! And, with new projects still coming online in the U.S. and final investment decisions expected on new terminals and expansions this year, the U.S. LNG industry’s effect on the global gas trade is sure to grow. In today’s RBN blog, we look at the practical impacts that have accompanied growing U.S. production with an emphasis on logistics and, perhaps most important, the changes to LNG pricing in Asia.

As recently as the mid-to-late 2000s, the U.S. was expected to become a major importer of LNG. Instead, the opposite occurred. Once forecast to need tens of millions of metric tons of LNG each year to meet its own power needs, the U.S. is now producing about the same amount and sending it out to Asia, Europe, and other overseas markets. That swing — from the expectation of being a major LNG importer to the reality of being a top-tier producer/exporter — has had a huge impact on the global market, and the influence of that reversal cannot be overemphasized. In today’s RBN blog, we look at how U.S. production has moved LNG closer to being a global commodity, the effect of growing U.S. production on the market, and prospects for future growth.

Japan’s strategy for LNG imports has been based on security and reliability of supply, with JERA, the country’s largest LNG buyer, reliant on supply contracts that can last for 20-25 years. Those deals have been of paramount importance since imports to Japan started in 1969, but things are changing in a big way. In parallel with Japan’s plan to decarbonize its economy, JERA has made clear its intention to reduce its dependence on long-term LNG contracts and instead focus more on short-term deals supplemented by spot market purchases. This decision will have several important effects, and in today’s RBN blog, we look at what it may mean for the LNG industry.

The number of floating storage and regasification units in operation has nearly doubled in the last few years, but that’s hardly a shock given the growth in the global LNG market. What might be a surprise is how a number of these specialty vessels are being utilized and what it could mean for the shipowners and the wider LNG market. In today’s RBN blog, we look at specific projects to gauge the progress made in the FSRU space, the recent slowdown in orders, some of the challenges the sector faces, and the trends emerging for new and converted FSRUs.

A major driver for global growth in natural gas use, including LNG, derives from the power-generation sector. Large Japanese utilities introduced LNG into the power fuel mix in the early 1970s. More recently, a number of utilities in other countries have increased their use of gas-fired generation — and their imports of LNG — largely due to gas’s lower emissions profile and the flexibility that gas plants offer in balancing variable demand loads with variable dispatch profiles, including wind farms and solar facilities. The growing availability of LNG has also spurred interest among independent power producers (IPPs) in developing similar gas-fired projects, but so far fewer than 10 such projects have come online and some do not operate at their full potential. Why has LNG-to-power made such little headway in the independent-power segment? In today’s RBN blog, we examine the special nature of IPP-owned LNG-to-power projects and the challenges they pose not only to their sponsors but to LNG suppliers.

Of the 10 Bcf/d, or more than 75 MMtpa, of nameplate LNG export capacity currently operational in the Lower 48, Japanese companies form the largest single group lifting U.S. cargoes. Their commitments total ~2 Bcf/d of U.S. liquefaction capacity. However, Japan’s LNG consumption has been falling over the past two years, and in 2019 and 2020, U.S. LNG accounted for only 0.6 Bcf/d and 0.8 Bcf/d of Japanese imports, respectively, or about 20% of the country’s total LNG demand in each year. In other words, Japanese companies have made commitments for incremental LNG from their remotest supply option against a backdrop of falling domestic demand. In all cases, the Japanese players have opted not to buy FOB from producer projects, but instead have booked capacity at the Cove Point, Cameron, and Freeport LNG export facilities — all plants that require offtakers to secure and transport the feedgas supply for LNG production. This type of arrangement carries with it the need to set up gas trading desks in the U.S., with front-, middle- and back-office personnel, plus operations staff, representing additional fixed costs. What was the motivation for these commitments, made by no less than seven of Japan’s major LNG buyers, how successful have they been, and what lies in store for these volumes that the country does not appear to need? Today, we look at where these volumetric commitments fit, not only in the portfolios of the capacity holders but within the broader context of LNG commerce and commoditization.

IMO 2020, the mandate that ships plying most international waters slash their sulfur emissions starting in January of last year, was only another step in the International Maritime Organization’s long-running effort to ratchet down the shipping industry’s environmental impact. The group’s next focus, as you might expect, is reducing shippers’ carbon footprint — while no specific rules have been set, the IMO in 2018 laid out the goal of cutting ships’ carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from their 2008 levels by 2030. One way to move toward that goal would be fueling more ships with LNG, which emits 20-25% less CO2 than very low sulfur fuel oil. But as we discuss in today’s blog, shippers could augment those emission reductions by moving from the LNG trade’s traditional point-to-point model to optimization through cargo swapping.

On the surface, it may seem that the LNG market has normalized after the past year’s tumult, and it’s true that many of the day-to-day disruptions that plagued LNG offtakers and operators have subsided. Mass cargo cancellations are a distant memory, and U.S. LNG exports have been flowing at record levels. Global demand has recovered, and buyers are back to worrying more about what they normally worry about: storage refill and securing enough supply for the next winter. However, in other ways, the pandemic and the more decisive shift toward decarbonization measures in many ways have fundamentally changed how deals for future LNG development will get done. Today, we look at what the global initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will mean for LNG project financing.

On the 8th of October, the LNG carrier Golar Penguin loaded a cargo for RWE at the Freeport LNG terminal in Texas. Five days later, on October 13, the vessel was sitting just north of Panama. But then, the ship abruptly changed direction on the 14th and headed towards the Cape of Good Hope to deliver to the Far East. The reason for the diversion was that the vessel did not have a passage booked in the new locks of the Panama Canal and would have had to wait approximately nine days for its turn to transit, before heading across the Pacific Ocean to Asia. Since then, as queues of LNGCs for Panama Canal transits, both northbound (ballast) and southbound (laden) have developed, more ships have opted for the longer route. In today’s blog, we look at the delays that have developed surrounding the Panama Canal and the implications that its operations hold for global LNG trade.

Over the past decade, floating LNG — for liquefying and shipping offshore natural gas supply — emerged as a promising technology that would enable development of smaller, more remote offshore gas fields around the world. But with a handful of projects now completed and in commercial operation, the challenges of financing, developing, and operating this relatively new technology are overshadowing its prospects. Of the more than 20 FLNG projects that have been proposed since 2007, only five have crossed the finish line and only two others have reached a favorable final investment decision (FID). Moreover, Shell’s Prelude FLNG offshore Northwest Australia — the largest of the existing FLNG facilities — has been dogged by issues since its commissioning in mid-2019, and the operator last week said the unit will not produce any more LNG cargoes this year, after being shut down since February for electrical problems. Today, we examine the headwinds facing FLNG projects.