Leaders of gas exporting powers to urge return to oil-linked price
Doha (Platts)–14Nov2011/616 am EST/1116 GMT
Ministers of the world’s leading gas exporting countries with control over 70% of global natural gas reserves met in Doha Sunday to prepare for the group’s first summit and agreed a communiqué to be issued by their leaders that will call for the restoration of a price link to oil, a senior delegate said.
A communiqué issued after the ministerial meeting made no mention of price and was thin on details of discussions during a closed session of ministers, which saw Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi make his first visit abroad as representative of his country since his appointment in August. He will be joined Tuesday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, or GECF.
But a senior delegate said the ministers of the GECF, now numbering 12 after Oman was admitted as a member, approved the wording of a communique for their leaders, due to meet in Doha on Tuesday. He said the final statement includes a call, endorsed strongly by host Qatar, of the need to attain oil price parity for gas while upholding the principle of long-term contracts as the main basis for gas exports.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani set the tone for the GECF’s first gathering at heads of state level when remarks he made two years ago calling for a restoration of the oil-gas price link were reproduced by all Qatari state-owned media on Sunday.
“It is time for the members of this forum to work together to restore the link between gas prices and oil prices and achieve parity between them,” official news agency QNA quoted the emir as saying at a GECF ministerial meeting in Doha in 2009, when gas prices had slumped in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The agency noted that former Algerian Oil Minister Chakib Khelil last year warned that long-term gas sales contracts were under threat after spot prices in 2009 fell to less than a quarter of their previous value.
The communiqué said ministers “took note of the key elements of the Secretariat presentation on gas market developments and discussed the challenges facing the natural gas industry as well as effective cooperation among GECF members for developing a stable and transparent gas market.”
The ministerial statement made no mention of prices, which have diverged in recent months with Asian markets securing higher prices in the wake of Japan’s rising imports of LNG in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, leaving a big gap with gas prices in the US, where shale gas is rapidly displacing imported LNG.
Indeed Kevin Ramnarine, energy minister of Trinidad and Tobago, once the biggest exporter of LNG to the US, told Platts he expected exports of LNG from the Atlantic LNG complex in Trinidad to the US to fall to zero in the future as a result of rising shale gas output there.
He said exports to the US had fallen to just 25% from 70% four years ago and Trinidad had adapted to the change by diverting supply to South America, Europe and Asia, which this year accounted for 22% of Trinidad’s LNG exports.
The so-called shale gas revolution in the US and plans by several other countries in Europe and Asia to develop their shale gas reserves is one of the major challenges facing the producers and exporters of conventional gas gathered in Doha, the capital of the world’s largest producer with a capacity now at 77 million mt/year.
But Qatar has no plans now to expand its capacity to meet the surge in demand from Asia with a moratorium on further development of the massive North Field expected to remain in place, Qatari Oil Minister Mohammed al-Sada said.
He was evasive when asked whether Qatar would now revise its decision on the moratorium given that it had boosted shipments to Japan in the wake of the tsunami and expectations of strong growth in demand for gas over the next two decades.
“We have to take care of the reservoir management and the technical side of the production of the North Field. It is important to us and a lot of valuable information can only be obtained after producing and seeing physically the performance of the field and this is what we are looking at,” Sada said, adding that Qatar would honor its commitments to customers.
Although Sada did not say that the moratorium would not be lifted, his remarks suggested Qatar had no plans to review the moratorium on the North Field, the world’s biggest concentration of non-associated gas.
“This is a depletable resource and one should look carefully at how to produce it and maintain the productivity of the field for as long as possible,” he said.
A senior Qatari gas industry source said there were no plans to lift the moratorium, which had been due for a review in 2014 after completion of reservoir studies on the North Field’s performance.
Qatari officials have said previously that they could increase LNG production by debottlenecking existing LNG trains to provide an additional 10-12 million mt/year.
However, the source said, with the moratorium in place, there would be no gas available for any expansion.
There had been some speculation that Qatar halted further development of the North Field, which is an extension of Iran’s South Pars gas field, because of fears in Tehran that rapid development on the Qatari side would lead to depletion of reserves on its side of the offshore field.
Iran, which has the second-largest conventional gas reserves after Russia, has been unable to raise its gas production capacity as rapidly because of restrictive international sanctions that have deterred foreign investment.
Previous talk of a possible collaboration between Iran and Qatar to jointly develop the shared gas field has come to naught.
The GECF, which is dominated by Russia, Iran and Qatar, has often spoken of the need for cooperation among its members though there has been no concrete action to that end in the ten decades of its existence.
Russian Energy Minister Sergey Shmatko told the news conference Russia was open to collaborative efforts, noting that the opportunity for Qatar to join Russia’s Yamal LNG project had been discussed. But the Russian minister gave no indication as to whether Qatar was any closer to joining France’s Total as a partner in the Yamal project, a subject that has been on the cards for some time.
Sada said in response to a question that the issue of swapping LNG for Russian pipeline gas, once touted as a possiblity, was not raised.
Amid talk of achieving gas price parity with oil, now trading around $115/barrel for benchmark Brent Blend crude, the GECF was keen to reiterate that there was no plan to transform the Doha-based forum into a cartel.
Prices “depend on commercial interactions among the exporting countries and their customers but does not fall under the GECF’ jurisdiction,” said Bokhanovskiy, who was elected to a second term as secretary general.
“It is not our role to coordinate price policy or quotas for production of gas … all our members are free to formulate their own commercial policy. It is not a question to create some kind of formula. We are for the connection between oil prices and gas prices and for the oil indexation of gas prices.”
The next ministerial meeting will be held November 2012 in Equatorial Guinea.
–Kate Dourian, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Posted on November 14, 2011, in Asia, Energy, GEOPOLITICS, Japan, LNG, Oil, Qatar, Russian Federation and tagged Asia, Doha, Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Japan, Liquefied natural gas, LNG, Qatar, Russian Federation. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Leaders of gas exporting powers to urge return to oil-linked price.