Wednesday, February 16, 2022

LNG: The US are a new player in the european gas game

 In view of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the menace of a natural gas cut off from Russia and the increased will of several european countries to turn away from russian gas, us-american companies take the baton as a supplier of LNG to Europe, writes french newspaper Le Monde:

It was December 2021 when it appeared that Russia was amassing its troops on the doorstep of Ukraine. Suddenly, the Minerva Chios, an LNG carrier from Louisiana, turned around, while it was in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Direction Europe, via the Suez Canal, with its cargo of American liquefied natural gas (LNG). It was the same for the Maran Gas Vergina, coming from Delaware, which was approaching the Strait of Malacca: it turned around to unload in Turkey. The Marvel Crane, which was going to use the Panama Canal for Asia, headed for Spain. The Old Continent, so dependent on Russian gas, suddenly became attractive and shipowners diverted their cargoes to the best buyers.

These diversions at sea are marginal in the supply of Europe. According to the Wall Street Journal, 40% of European Union imports came from Russia in 2019 – 22% from Norway, 7.2% from Algeria and 4.6% from Qatar. But he is a newcomer to the game, the United States.

Thanks to the exploitation of oil shale, the country has become the world's leading producer of hydrocarbons, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. The United States began to export its production from 2016, President Obama having abolished an export ban dating from 1975 after the first oil shock. Six years after shipping their first LNG carrier, they should become the leading LNG exporters in 2022, ahead of Qatar and Australia, thanks to the opening of new terminals in Texas and Louisiana.

The United States, half of whose exports are destined for Asia, are now flying to the aid of Europeans, with exports quadrupling in one year (5 million tonnes in January).

They dream above all of preventing the inauguration in the second half of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, supposed to supply Germany with half of its gas via the Baltic without passing through Ukraine. “If Russia invades, then there will be no more Nord Stream 2. We will end it,” warned Joe Biden, during a meeting at the White House with the German Chancellor on February 7, assuring that he had the means to do so, even if Germany controlled it. "I promise you, we are capable of doing this," the US president said. Olaf Scholz replied in perfect ambiguity: “We will be united. We will act together. And we will take all necessary measures. »

To help Europe get rid of Russian gas, it still needs to be equipped with the necessary infrastructure. Germany does not have an LNG terminal and suddenly realizes its dependence. "Liquefied gas is an alternative solution to importing Russian gas," explained Chancellor Scholz's spokesman, recalling that "several projects" for terminals were in the works in the north of the country.

One of the most advanced European countries is Poland, which very quickly wanted to free itself from Russia. As early as 2006, it began to build an LNG terminal on the Baltic Sea which entered into operation in 2016. Poland then entered into long-term supply agreements with American companies such as Cheniere Energy and Sempra Energy. France has LNG infrastructure but finds itself at odds with its climate and anti-shale gas discourse. Engie had planned to sign a 20-year, $7 billion contract to buy LNG from NextDecade in Texas. But the French government, which holds third of the voting rights at Engie, torpedoed the project in the fall.

At the European level, environmental concerns are suddenly fading in favor of gas security, as evidenced by a press release from Joe Biden and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, released at the end of January. “The United States and the EU [European Union] are working together to supply (…) the EU with natural gas (…) in order to avoid supply shocks, including those that could result from a new Russian invasion of Ukraine”, wrote the two officials, believing that “LNG can (…) allow the transition to a net zero level of greenhouse gas emissions”.

In Brussels on February 7, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered his services: "When Russia cut off gas supplies to Europe due to a dispute with Ukraine in 2009, people died of cold. And when energy supplies fail, economies falter. We are determined to prevent this from happening again. »

Gas diplomacy is not new. Already under Donald Trump, in March 2019, in Houston (Texas), Mike Pompeo, then Secretary of State, had denounced the dependence in which Russia and Iran placed certain countries thanks to their hydrocarbons, and had urged to buy American .

“We don't just export American energy. We export our business value system to our friends and partners. »

The United States is mobilizing its producer and consumer allies to divert traffic to Europe. After asking Qatar, whose emir was visiting Washington in early February, to help the Europeans, the Biden administration asked Japan to divert some of its LNG imports. Tokyo is, behind China, the world's second largest importer of LNG (74 million tonnes). The amount of diverted cargo is likely to be limited given Japan's needs. According to AFP, Economy Minister Koichi Hagiuda mentioned his country's "difficult" energy situation while explaining that Tokyo wanted to respond to the call of the United States and the European Union.

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