DUBAI (Reuters) - Middle Eastern demand for natural gas is likely to rise faster than supply over the next five years, forcing one of the world's biggest gas reserve regions to import more, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday.
The IEA expects Middle East gas demand to rise by 79 billion cubic meters (bcm) or 20 percent from 2011 to 2017, outstripping incremental supply in the region by 7 bcm as low gas prices encourage consumption and discourage production.
"Middle East gas production is expected to serve exclusively the regional gas market needs in the medium term ...Exports from the Middle East are expected to remain flat," said the agency, which advises industrialized countries on energy policy.
The IEA said that with the exception of Qatar, the world's biggest liquefied natural gas exporter (LNG), Middle Eastern governments will have to either curb demand or import a lot more expensive gas.
"Natural gas demand grows more rapidly than internal production, forcing countries to import either LNG or pipeline gas from other regions. In a few countries, gas demand has therefore to be curtailed," the report says.
The IEA expects Middle East gas demand to rise from around 389 billion cubic meters (bcm) last year to 468 bcm/year in 2017, while regional gas production is likely to grow from 516 bcm to 588 bcm.
Even the 79 bcm additional gas supply forecast is contingent on the successful development of relatively expensive new gas fields, the IEA said.
"The single biggest uncertainty for this growth is the successful ramp-up of gas production across the Middle East," it said, pointing to doubts over the speed of development of Iraq's and Iran's reserves.
Reporting by Daniel Fineren; editing by Jason Neely