Panama Canal Working to Increase LNG Vessel Capacity as Demand Grows

lng carrier panama canal
The LNG carrier Oak Spirit transits the Expanded Panama Canal with a cargo LNG loaded from Cheniere’s Sabine Pass terminal. Photo Credit: Teekay

Executives from U.S. LNG exporter Cheniere Energy met with representatives from the Panama Canal this week in Panama to discuss the waterway’s growing LNG vessel segment.

Since the opening of the Expanded Panama Canal in 2016, LNG has emerged as the fastest-growing segment for the waterway in part due to the United States emergence as a gas supplier to Asia and other global markets. To date, the Canal’s Neopanamax locks have transited more than 280 LNG vessels, and traffic is expected to continue to rise steadily, according to the Panama Canal Authority.

Currently, all U.S. LNG exports are made from Cheniere’s export terminal in Sabine Pass, Texas, the only facility in the contiguous United States that has received government approval for LNG exports. More than 60 tankers that loaded at the Sabine Pass terminal have now transited the Panama Canal. 

“Our visit allowed a greater understanding of the complexities around the Panama Canal operations. We are very appreciative of the collaboration with the Panama Canal to facilitate our 62 transits in 2017, positioning Cheniere as the largest LNG user of the Canal,” said Eric Bensaude, Managing Director, Commercial Operations and Asset Optimization for Cheniere. “The Panama Canal and the LNG industry are, together, going through a learning curve. Cheniere is confident in the Panama Canal’s capabilities to adapt in addressing the needs of the growing LNG sector. The success of the Panama Canal is essential to the satisfaction of Cheniere’s customers and to the LNG industry as a whole.”

Right now, the Panama Canal offers one reservation slot per day for LNG vessels and, at times, has transitted two fully-loaded LNG vessels. To accommodate customers’ needs, the Panama Canal says it is working towards increasing the number of LNG vessels that can use the waterway on any single day.

“The Canal has transited up to two fully loaded LNG vessels a day, when it has been necessary, as part of its efforts to accommodate customers’ needs. In fact, two-LNG-transit days have become more and more frequent as the result of the optimization achieved by traffic scheduling and close coordination with Canal customers. The Panama Canal is also offering more flexibility for LNG bookings so exporters can opt for the Canal route even if that was not the original plan. As expectations for growing LNG shipments materialize, the Panama Canal is already working towards significantly increasing the number of LNG vessels that can transit the Neopanamax locks in a day,” the Panama Canal said in statement.

“As exports from the United States increase, LNG transits could increase by 50 percent by as early as September. The meetings with Cheniere allowed us to hear about customers’ experience transiting the Neopanamax locks first-hand, and to collaborate on ways we can continue meeting this growing demand from the LNG industry,” said Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano. “We look forward to working with all of our customers as the industry expands even more.”