The U.S. and China will represent the top export and import markets, respectively, for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) in 2022, according to a recent report published by leading information provider IHS Markit.
For the U.S., the position represents a shift upward from being the third-largest LNG exporter in 2021 at 73.6 million metric tons (MMt), following Australia (83 MMt) and Qatar (81.3 MMt). Top African exporters in 2021 were Nigeria (17.9 MMt), Algeria (12.3 MMt) and Egypt (6.9 MMt). In 2021, the U.S. added 25 million metric tons of LNG capacity owing to an expansion in liquefaction capacity, coupled with average utilization of plants increasing to 98% in the third quarter of last year. LNG development in the U.S. accelerated pre-pandemic due to the U.S. shale revolution and growing liquidity in LNG markets, including the commissioning of Venture Global’s 10 million tons per annum (MTPA) Calcasieu Pass LNG project, Tellurian’s 27.6 MTPA Driftwood LNG project and Cheniere’s Sabine Pass Train 6 facility.
Investments in gas and LNG capacity over the past 24 months were made under the assumption that oversupply in the LNG market would dissipate after 2021, and that demand growth would exceed incremental supply thereafter. While short- and medium-term demand for LNG exports faced uncertainty in the early part of the pandemic, industry experts remained confident that demand would recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and beyond in mature markets, and even expand in emerging markets due to a low-price environment that would boost consumption.
For its part, China already represented the top importer of LNG in 2021, importing 81 MMt in 2021 and replacing Japan as the largest LNG importer globally. China has witnessed a significant surge in natural gas demand in the last year, with economic growth reaching 8% and electricity consumption growing by 10%.
According to the IHS Markit report, “LNG Trade in 2021: Runaway Recovery,” over 65 MTPA of long-term contracts were signed in 2021, rebounding to an all-time high after pausing in 2020. Even before the pandemic, the global LNG market was experiencing a shift away from long-term contracts with minimum purchase obligations and complex pricing structures, as LNG spot cargo was available at nearly half the price as LNG cargo under long-term contracts. Now, the report notes that spot LNG prices have skyrocketed above their oil price equivalent, settling at $40 per million British thermal units by December 2021 and no doubt contributing to the return to long-term contracts.
As predicted, increased global accessibility to gas, compounded with competitive prices brought on by the onset of COVID-19, has triggered industrial gas demand growth. Gas consumption in the power sector also continues to grow, in which gas demand for power generation is expected to increase at an average rate of one percent per year until 2040, according to the International Gas Unions’ Global Gas Report 2020.