China’s imports of LNG over the first 10 months of 2021 were the world’s largest, surpassing Japan, according to data from China’s Administration of Customs and from Japan’s Ministry of Finance. Prior to 2021, Japan had been the world’s largest LNG importer for 51 years, according to historical Cedigaz data. From January through October 2021, China’s LNG imports averaged 10.3 billion ft3/day, a 2 billion ft3/day (24%) increase over the same period in 2020. Japan’s LNG imports averaged 9.6 billion ft3/day over the same period.
China’s LNG imports have grown steadily every year since 2006 (when China began importing LNG), except in 2015. In 2017, China became the world’s second-largest LNG importer, surpassing South Korea. In 2018, China surpassed Japan as the world’s largest natural gas importer; combined natural gas imports by pipeline and LNG averaged 11.9 billion ft3/day compared with Japan’s average LNG imports (Japan does not import natural gas by pipeline) of 10.9 billion ft3/day that year.
Growth in China’s LNG imports has been supported by the rapid expansion of LNG import capacity. Between 2013 and 2020, China’s LNG import capacity more than doubled from 5.8 billion ft3/day to 11.7 billion ft3/day, according to the International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers (GIIGNL). In 2021, China’s LNG import capacity increased further to an estimated 12.9 billion ft3/day when expansions at four existing terminals were completed. By 2024, as several more projects currently under construction are completed, China’s LNG import capacity will expand by an estimated 4.0 billion ft3/day, according to the International Gas Union.
Imports and domestic production of natural gas have both grown to meet China’s increasing natural gas demand, which has been primarily driven by government policies promoting coal-to-natural gas switching in an effort to reduce air pollution and meet emissions targets. Since becoming the world’s third-largest natural gas consumer in 2013 behind the US and Russia, domestic natural gas production in China has expanded, as have natural gas pipeline and LNG imports. Between 2013 and 2020, domestic natural gas production in China nearly doubled, from billion ft3/day to 31.9 billion ft3/day (a billion ft3/day increase, or 92%); natural gas imports by pipeline almost doubled from 2.6 billion ft3/day to 4.4 billion ft3/day (a 1.8 billion ft3/day increase, or 71%); and LNG imports nearly quadrupled from 2.4 billion ft3/day to 9.1 billion ft3/day (a 6.7 billion ft3/day increase, or 275%), according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
In 2021, China imported LNG from 23 countries. Australia has been the largest LNG supplier to China every month since April 2016. From January to October 2021:
- LNG imports from Australia averaged 4.1 billion ft3/day, a 0.3 billion ft3/day increase (9%) y/y, accounting for 40% of China’s total LNG imports.
- LNG from the US, Qatar, and Malaysia each accounted for about 11% of total imports to China. Imports from each country averaged about 1.1 billion ft3/day.
- LNG imports from the US increased by 0.9 billion ft3/day (320%) compared with the same period last year and ranked second behind Australia. China became the second-largest destination for US LNG exports in 2021 (January through October), according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s LNG monthly reports.
- LNG imports from Qatar and Malaysia increased by 0.3 billion ft3/day compared with the same period in 2020.
- The remaining 19 countries supplied a combined 2.8 billion ft3/day (27% share) of LNG to China. LNG imports from Indonesia and Russia (the fifth and sixth-largest suppliers) averaged 0.7 billion ft3/day and 0.6 billion ft3/day, respectively.
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