By Tim Daiss
China’s seemingly endless thirst for natural gas is on a collision course with not only U.S.-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) project developments, but others as well, including Russia and Australia, in a move that is revolutionizing global markets for the super-cooled fuel. Per China’s government mandate to replace coal-based power generation with natural gas, the cleaner burning fuel is set to make up at least 10 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2020, with further earmarks after that.
Not only is China’s pivot away from coal to natural gas changing natural gas market dynamics, both piped gas and LNG, it is also causing a knee jerk response among the country’s state-owned oil majors.
Going long on gas
Yesterday, state-owed Sinopec Group said that it aims to more than double its receiving capacity for LNG over the next six years. The company will add new LNG receiving facilities along China’s east coast for a total of 26 million tonnes annually by 2023, up from the current 9 million tonnes. Currently, China has 17 LNG import receiving terminals.
The company also wants to increase its domestic shale gas production by two-thirds by 2020. Sinopec said it will have some 60 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas capacity, which includes imports and also domestic production by 2023. In 2017, it produced only 27 bcm of gas.
Last week, the company said that Fuling, China’s first shale gas field, had built up an annual capacity of 10 bcm. Dai Houliang, Vice Chairman and President of Sinopec Corp. made the announcement at a news conference in Hong Kong when it disclosed its 2017 annual results. In 2016, the field generated over 6 bcm of shale gas.
The company has also made new advances in its shale gas business, with a recent discovery in the Weirong block in southwestern Sichuan province, said Sun Huanquan, general manager of the group’s oilfield development division. He didn’t elaborate on the new find but said it should contribute to the group’s shale gas production target.
In January, amid a record cold snap in the northern part of the country and as the government hurried its implementation of coal replacement with gas, LNG imports spiked 51.2 percent over the same period the previous year.
In fact, the country’s January total was equal to 63 percent of the volume discharged at terminals in Japan, the world’s largest buyer of LNG. Japan imported 8.26 million tonnes of LNG during the month, a 0.5 percent year-on-year decline. Though China’s LNG imports have trended downward as warmer seasonal temperatures crept in, its LNG demand will continue to increase on a year-on-year percentage basis as more coal fired units are replaced and as the industrial sector uses more gas to fuel its operations.
At the end of 2017, China bypassed South Korea to become the second largest global LNG importer. Ships discharged 37.9 million tonnes of LNG at Chinese receiving facilities in 2017, a 48 percent year-on-year increase. South Korea imported 37.5 million tonnes of the super-cooled fuel in 2017, a 12.2 percent year-on-year increase.
Green foot print
Sinopec is also pivoting toward a green foot print, according to a report on Tuesday in state-run Xinhua news agency. According to a so-called “green action plan,” Sinopec’s gasoline and diesel products manufactured in 2018 will meet the State VI emissions standard, which is equivalent to the Euro VI standard, the report said.
In six years, the company will see the percentage of its clean energy output exceed 50 percent and will build another 1,000 natural gas stations for vehicles. More than 10,000 kilometers of gas pipelines will be put to use, while the transfer capacity of LNG will reach more than 26 million tonnes per year.