The liquefied natural gas (LNG) market is returning to life. With prices in the critical Asia market stabilizing, on the back of news that China’s January imports surged 40% year-on-year — continuing a trend toward rapidly-rising gas use here.

There’s been a lot of speculation that U.S. LNG producers can grab a big share of this growing market. With first-ever exports from America recently sailing to Japan and South Korea.

And now, the first numbers on export economics for those destinations are hitting the street — and they don’t look great.

LNG
By ????? (http://photozou.jp/photo/show/150113/155961586) [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp], via Wikimedia Commons
Japanese trade data released Friday showed that U.S. shale gas imports have been very costly. Coming in at nearly double the price of other suppliers.

Japanese Ministry of Finance reports showed that importers paid $645/tonne for 211,237 tonnes of U.S. LNG during January. A full 67% higher than the average price paid for all imports, which came to just $386/tonne during the month.

Costs for U.S. shipments were substantially higher than Japan’s lowest-cost imports — which came from Angola, at a cost of $337/tonne.

In fact, the next-highest-cost supplier to Japan — Brunei — only charged $416/tonne. Still considerably cheaper than American imports.

Here’s the critical thing. When the U.S. LNG export space was starting up, many observers pegged the costs for shipments to Asia at between $12 and $14/MMBtu. A range many analysts said was uncompetitive with other suppliers globally.

And this week’s data confirms those forecasts. With the price tag for U.S. imports equating to $13.10/MMBtu.

Those numbers are indeed disconcerting — especially when compared to other big exporters like Australia. With that nation being the top supplier to Japan during January, at a cost of just $384/tonne, or $7.80/MMBtu.

Japanese buyers brushed off the high prices, saying U.S. supply is important for “diversification”. But numbers like this will almost certainly be a deterrent to larger-volume purchases of U.S. LNG — making American gas a swing supplier here, dependant on pricing fluctuations.

Watch for more data from Japan and beyond in Asia to see if U.S. suppliers can bring down the rates. If not, U.S. LNG may end up being more connected to closer-at-hand markets such as Europe and South America.

Here’s to getting the bill,

Dave Forest

Article by Pierce Points