Russia eyes island storage for Arctic LNG amid China boom

Additional LNG tanks would offer Novatek greater flexibility to meet Chinese and South Korean demand and cut freight costs

TOKYO • Russia’s Novatek PJSC is looking at storing liquefied natural gas (LNG) produced in the Arctic on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, so it can better meet spot demand from China and cut shipping costs.

Saibu Gas Co Ltd, which last month signed a preliminary deal to allow Russia’s biggest LNG producer to use its storage facilities, said last Wednesday it may build two additional LNG tanks and upgrade its re-exporting capability. That infrastructure would offer Novatek greater flexibility to meet Chinese and South Korean demand and cut freight costs, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd.

“Given its LNG sources are very far from Asia, storage and re-loading will enable it to capture shorter-term arbitrage opportunities,” said Nicholas Browne, an analyst with the energy consultant in Singapore. “Keeping gas in storage could ultimately reduce its costs in supplying Asian markets” because shipping is more expensive from the Arctic when ice cover increases.

The ability to meet spot LNG demand in China may grow in importance as the Asian nation ramps up efforts to use gas in place of coal to clean up polluted urban skies. The country’s LNG deliveries may achieve 22% compounded annual growth from 2017 to 2020, according to Bloom-berg Intelligence analyst Lu Wang.

Prompt LNG cargoes would also help offset disruptions of supply from other sources, such as pipelines. After shipments from Central Asia slipped during peak winter demand last year, LNG imports from Qatar jumped to the highest since 2014. China suffered a similar, though short-lived, Turkmenistan pipeline outage earlier this month.

Novatek’s agreement with Saibu shows it’s prioritising the Asia-Pacific region as it optimises its LNG portfolio, Rystad Energy analyst Xi Nan said in an email. It takes about 15 days to ship LNG from the company’s Yamal project in the Arctic to Asian markets via the Northern Sea route compared to about 30 days by a southern path that travels through the Suez Canal, she said.

Novatek, which is Russia’s largest producer of LNG, declined to comment.

The company plans to make the final investment decision on its Arctic LNG 2 venture, which could cost up to US$25.5 billion (RM104.3 billion), this year. It has an agreement to sell up to 15% of the project to Total SA, and Saudi Arabian Oil Co has expressed interest in buying up to 30% in the plant, projected to have a capacity of about 20 million metric tonnes a year.

Novatek said in August it planned to complete a feasibility study by Oct 1 for a 20-million-tonne per year trans-shipment terminal on the Kamchatka Peninsula that would allow special ice-class tankers carrying LNG from Arctic LNG 2 to transfer the fuel to more conventional vessels.

“The long-term success of Arctic LNG projects depends on routine, commercial navigation of the Northern Sea Route to reach key Asian markets,” said James Taverner, a London-based analyst at the industry consultant IHS Markit Ltd. “A key strategy for Arctic LNG projects is access to reloading and storage facilities close to end-user markets. This allows supply to be quickly and flexibly delivered to Asian buyers.” — Bloomberg