By Debjit Chakraborty, Anna Shiryaevskaya and Harry R. Weber
(Bloomberg) — Gail India Ltd. bought the second shipment of liquefied natural gas from Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Sabine Pass plant in Louisiana in a deal that makes it the first Asian importer of U.S. shale gas.
The nation’s biggest supplier will receive the cargo, bought on spot basis, at the Dabhol import terminal on the country’s west coast by mid-April, Vandana Chanana, a company spokeswoman, said Friday by e-mail. Faith Parker, a spokeswoman at Cheniere in Houston, didn’t immediately respond to a voice mail left outside office hours and an e-mail sent Friday morning.
The deal marks the beginning of U.S. LNG exports into the world’s biggest importing region of the super-chilled fuel, just as regional producers from Australia to Papua New Guinea ramp up supplies. India last year overtook South Korea as the world’s second-biggest importer of the fuel on a spot and short-term basis as buyers took advantage of a slump in prices brought on by the crash in crude oil and an oversupply.
“This is the first and definitely will not be the last shipment to go to India from the U.S. Gulf Coast,” Chris Rumley, a senior LNG and natural gas consultant at Poten & Partners, said by telephone from Houston on Friday. “There is terminal capacity in India and if the price is competitive against alternative fuels, then there’s a market there for it.”
The delivered price of the cargo is about $5 per million British thermal units, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Chanana declined to comment on commercial terms.
That’s higher than the $4.30 per million British thermal units now paid by customers in northeast Asia for spot cargoes, according to assessments by the World Gas Intelligence publication. Prices crashed 78 percent from the peak in February 2014.
The price slump supported demand for spot cargoes in India. Imports rose 45 percent to 9.7 million tons in 2015, the biggest increase in spot and short-term traded volumes last year, according to the International Group of LNG importers annual report published this week. India imported a total of 14.6 million tons of LNG last year, unchanged from a year earlier, according to the group.
The Clean Ocean LNG tanker left Sabine Pass on March 15 after loading the second export cargo from the terminal. It’s sailing toward South Africa, according to ship-tracking data on Friday.
Some analysts had expected the vessel to go elsewhere, perhaps to South America because of demand there for the power-plant fuel and because of the content of the gas Cheniere was producing.
“We initially thought when it left it would be Rio or Kuwait, because of there being hotter gas, meaning higher ethane and C+ content, in the tanks when they started to liquefy,” Jason Lord, LNG analyst for energy data provider Genscape Inc., said by telephone from Boulder, Colorado. “Their regas facilities and grid tend to be able to handle that better in the Atlantic basin. Potentially, this one in India can handle that.”
The first batch of LNG from the Cheniere terminal was shipped to Brazil in February, marking the start of U.S. shale gas exports. The third cargo on the GasLog Salem is also set to go to Brazil, while the destination of the fourth shipment on the Energy Atlantic is still unclear, according to the ship-tracking data.
Cheniere plans to ship as many as eight cargoes of LNG from its Sabine Pass project by May, the Houston-based company said in a February notice to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Cheniere’s initial exports are commissioning cargoes as part of the startup process to ensure the terminal is fully operational. Once that’s complete, Cheniere will need regulatory approval to operate the terminal commercially.
Gail India has agreed to buy 3.5 million metric tons of LNG a year for two decades from Sabine Pass. It has also booked 2.3 million tons a year capacity in the Cove Point LNG liquefaction terminal in Maryland. The shipments are expected to start in 2017 or 2018.
Gail will import around 6 million metric tons of gas from the U.S. from 2018, India’s Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said in an interview in New Delhi on March 28.
–With assistance from Naureen S. Malik.
© 2016 Bloomberg L.P