U.S. sends first gas to NW Europe in 50 years

LONDON Mon Nov 8, 2010 4:14pm GMT

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States is set to supply gas to Britain for the first time in half a century, with a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker expected to arrive from Louisiana in late November.

U.S. gas prices have fallen more than 30 percent since the beginning of the year, pressured by a surge in North American gas production which has also reduced U.S. LNG imports to minimal contracted volumes.

The U.S. started re-exporting LNG to higher-paying markets in Asia and South America earlier this year, but the Maersk Meridian LNG tanker, expected to arrive on November 18 at Britain's Isle of Grain terminal, is the first to head to Europe -- Russia's main export market.

"It's the first actual case of a direct Atlantic arbitrage that I've seen," one UK gas analyst said.

Although the Maersk Meridian can only carry 166,000 cubic metres of super cooled gas, a 216,000-cubic metre tanker called Al Hamla is expected to load a re-export cargo at the same terminal soon, although its destination is unclear.

Nearly 20 billion cubic feet of gas has been re-exported from the United States this year, excluding the gas aboard the UK-bound vessel.

In mid-October, two cargoes were shipped from the U.S. Gulf by Excelerate Energy, one of which is heading to Kuwait, the other to Argentina.

Only Sabine Pass and the Freeport LNG import terminal have re-export capacity in the United States, although Sempra Energy's Cameron terminal, also in Louisiana, has applied for a licence.

Britain's gas market is more seasonal than the United States, with wholesale gas prices tending to rise more in winter because it has relatively little storage and is heavily dependent on gas for heating.

The world's first LNG tanker, the Methane Pioneer, carried a cargo from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Canvey Island in south-east England in 1959.

Sources told Reuters in February that a cargo of LNG was expected to be re-exported from Sabine Pass to Spain but the delivery was not confirmed.

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