China has been working on developing its shale gas resources for a few years now, with mixed success, mainly because of the difficult geology. But times are a changing and, due to developments in shale, Asia’s biggest economy is well on its way to becoming the world’s second-largest producer of natural gas.
The Energy Information Administration, in its latest International Energy Outlook 2016, estimates that China, which was last year producing 500 million cubic feet of shale gas daily, is on its way to ramping this up to over 20 billion cubic feet daily by 2040. While 2040 may seem a long way off, this still represents seriously significant growth, and there is more than one reason for this new focus on shale gas.
For starters, China’s oil and gas majors are suffering not just from low oil prices but also from mature fields, many of them nearing depletion. However, its energy needs are not declining, and the country is still the world’s top energy consumer, with consumption 30 percent higherthan that of the U.S., according to World Finance.
Second, while currently China relies predominantly on coal to satisfy these energy needs, it is also paying increasing attention to the environmental problems related to coal, the cheapest – and dirtiest – fossil fuel that helped its industrial revolution turn into the economic hothouse the world still looks to in hopes that Chinese consumption of energy and mining commodities will help the respective ailing industries. It’s for the very same reason that China was among the main culprits of the recent commodity price slump in both energy and metals.
So, China is becoming more conscientious about its carbon footprint, and gas is a great alternative to coal, since it’s the cleanest (or least-dirty) fossil fuel.
Third, China is finally moving away from heavy industry and towards a more service-focused economic model. This has been bad news for energy exporters that have counted on the Asian economy’s huge energy needs for much of their revenue, but it shouldn’t be too bad as the transition won’t be quick, and there is still India, who will replace China as Asia’s industrial hothouse.Related: Oil Companies Ignoring Investors
Bad news for oil has become good news for gas, and international companies have started betting on China’s shift towards gas, safe in the knowledge – or assumption – that its conventional gas resources are not enough for self-sufficiency and shale gas will be difficult to extract. Some analysts argue that shale gas in China is more hype than anything else. This may well be the case, but it’s not certain, as the EIA forecast suggests.
China has proved time and again in its modern history that when there is enough determination, things can get done. It also has a lot of motivation as well as an example in the U.S., which is now nearly self-sufficient with regard to energy thanks to the shale boom.
This drive towards self-sufficiency can have a pretty bad effect on international gas prices, as Oilprice.com warned earlier this month, if it turns out successful. Its chances of success shouldn’t be underestimated in light of the three factors listed above. China wants to decrease its energy dependency, and it looks like it’s prepared to spend heavily to develop its shale gas reserves, which are estimated to be the largest in the world, or 1.7 times greater than those in the U.S.
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A month ago, crude oil prices were riding a wave, comfortably trading in the mid-US$70/b range and trending towards the US$80 mark as the oil world fretted about the expiration of US waivers on Iranian crude exports. Talk among OPEC members ahead of the crucial June 25 meeting of OPEC and its OPEC+ allies in Vienna turned to winding down its own supply deal.
That narrative has now changed. With Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov suggesting that there was a risk that oil prices could fall as low as US$30/b and the Saudi Arabia-Russia alliance preparing for a US$40/b oil scenario, it looks more and more likely that the production deal will be extended to the end of 2019. This was already discussed in a pre-conference meeting in April where Saudi Arabia appeared to have swayed a recalcitrant Russia into provisionally extending the deal, even if Russia itself wasn’t in adherence.
That the suggestion that oil prices were heading for a drastic drop was coming from Russia is an eye-opener. The major oil producer has been dragging its feet over meeting its commitments on the current supply deal; it was seen as capitalising on Saudi Arabia and its close allies’ pullback over February and March. That Russia eventually reached adherence in May was not through intention but accident – contamination of crude at the major Druzhba pipeline which caused a high ripple effect across European refineries surrounding the Baltic. Russia also is shielded from low crude prices due its diversified economy – the Russian budget uses US$40/b oil prices as a baseline, while Saudi Arabia needs a far higher US$85/b to balance its books. It is quite evident why Saudi Arabia has already seemingly whipped OPEC into extending the production deal beyond June. Russia has been far more reserved – perhaps worried about US crude encroaching on its market share – but Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the government is now seemingly onboard.
Part of this has to do with the macroeconomic environment. With the US extending its trade fracas with China and opening up several new fronts (with Mexico, India and Turkey, even if the Mexican tariff standoff blew over), the global economy is jittery. A recession or at least, a slowdown seems likely. And when the world economy slows down, the demand for oil slows down too. With the US pumping as much oil as it can, a return to wanton production risks oil prices crashing once again as they have done twice in the last decade. All the bluster Russia can muster fades if demand collapses – which is a zero sum game that benefits no one.
Also on the menu in Vienna is the thorny issue of Iran. Besieged by American sanctions and at odds with fellow OPEC members, Iran is crucial to any decision that will be made at the bi-annual meeting. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, has stated that Iran has no intention of departing the group despite ‘being treated like an enemy (by some members)’. No names were mentioned, but the targets were evident – Iran’s bitter rival Saudi Arabia, and its sidekicks the UAE and Kuwait. Saudi King Salman bin Abulaziz has recently accused Iran of being the ‘greatest threat’ to global oil supplies after suspected Iranian-backed attacks in infrastructure in the Persian Gulf. With such tensions in the air, the Iranian issue is one that cannot be avoided in Vienna and could scupper any potential deal if politics trumps economics within the group. In the meantime, global crude prices continue to fall; OPEC and OPEC+ have to capability to change this trend, but the question is: will it happen on June 25?
Expectations at the 176th OPEC Conference
Global liquid fuels
Electricity, coal, renewables, and emissions
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. liquefaction capacity database
On May 31, 2019, Sempra Energy, the majority owner of the Cameron liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, announced that the company had shipped its first cargo of LNG, becoming the fourth such facility in the United States to enter service since 2016. Upon completion of Phase 1 of the Cameron LNG project, U.S. baseload operational LNG-export capacity increased to about 4.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d).
Cameron LNG’s export facility is located in Hackberry, Louisiana, next to the company’s existing LNG-import terminal. Phase 1 of the project includes three liquefaction units—referred to as trains—that will export a projected 12 million tons per year of LNG exports, or about 1.7 Bcf/d.
Train 1 is currently producing LNG, and the first LNG shipment departed the facility aboard the ship Marvel Crane. The facility will continue to ship commissioning cargos until it receives approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin commercial shipments. Commissioning cargos refer to pre-commercial cargo loaded while export facility operations are still undergoing final testing and inspection. Trains 2 and 3 are expected to come online in the first and second quarters of 2020, according to Sempra Energy’s first-quarter 2019 earnings call.
Cameron LNG has regulatory approval to expand the facility through two additional phases, which involve the construction of two additional liquefaction units that would increase the facility’s LNG capacity to about 3.5 Bcf/d. These additional phases do not have final investment decisions.
Cameron LNG secured an authorization from the U.S. Department of Energy to export LNG to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) countries as well as to countries with which the United States does not have Free Trade Agreements (non-FTA countries). A considerable portion of the LNG shipments is expected to fulfill long-term contracts in Asian countries, similar to other LNG-export facilities located in the Gulf of Mexico region.
Cameron LNG will be the fourth U.S. LNG-export facility placed into service since February 2016. LNG exports rose steadily in 2016 and 2017 as liquefaction trains at the Sabine Pass LNG-export facility entered service, with additional increases through 2018 as units entered service at Cove Point LNG and Corpus Christi LNG. Monthly exports of LNG exports reached more than 4.0 Bcf/d for the first time in January 2019.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural Gas Monthly
Currently, two additional liquefaction facilities are being commissioned in the United States—the Elba Island LNG in Georgia and the Freeport LNG in Texas. Elba Island LNG consists of 10 modular liquefaction trains, each with a capacity of 0.03 Bcf/d. The first train at Elba Island is expected to be placed into service in mid-2019, and the remaining nine trains will be commissioned sequentially during the following months. Freeport LNG consists of three liquefaction trains with a combined baseload capacity of 2.0 Bcf/d. The first train is expected to be placed in service during the third quarter of 2019.
EIA’s database of liquefaction facilities contains a complete list and status of U.S. liquefaction facilities.