(adds E.ON official's quotes)
FRANKFURT/ESSEN, Feb 12 (Reuters) - German utility E.ON is expanding its global liquefied natural gas (LNG) business after signing tanker and pipeline deals allowing it to export from the United States, undeterred by weakening market conditions.
In two 20-year deals announced on Thursday, trading arm E.ON Global Commodities agreed charters for up to two LNG carriers from Japan's Mitsui OSK Lines and purchased pipeline capacity to feed a planned export plant in Freeport, Texas.
The deals coincide with one of the worst outlooks for global gas markets in years as new supply and slowing demand halve LNG prices and stall new project investments.
"There is a compelling reason for EON to expand its presence in the LNG business even in the current price environment, probably even more than six months ago," lead LNG originator at E.ON Global Commodities Egied Van Gucht said on Wednesday.
Gucht said LNG is a business in which massive investments now coming to fruition, with export plants in Australia and the U.S., will cause medium-term oversupply, but that the market should re-balance before the end of the decade.
"The oil majors which are behind many of the massive LNG projects, including in the New World, they will put their foot on the brakes quite quickly," he said, pointing to recent cases of cancelled or delayed investment.
"My personal view is I would expect that if this low energy price environment continues for 2-3 years, by 2018-19 the market will be much more in balance again," he said.
E.ON's 20-year deal with Mitsui is for up to two LNG vessels transporting about 800,000 tonnes of LNG from U.S. Gulf projects per year, including the Freeport plant, it said.
The deal would "serve its regasification capacities in Europe and globally optimise its growing LNG portfolio," adding that carriers should be delivered in Q3 2018.
The company also purchased pipeline capacity from the U.S. Gulf South Pipeline Company (GSPC) to feed gas from inland-producing areas to the coastal plant for two decades from 2018.
Under that agreement, E.ON will transport gas on GSPC's yet-to-be-built Coastal Bend Header, a 65-mile trunk tied to other pipelines and storage sites potentially serving the liquefaction plant.
The moves come after E.ON last year secured export rights from the planned Freeport LNG terminal, which it acquired from Japanese utility Osaka Gas, industry sources said.
The company declined to comment on whether it has the right to export LNG from Freeport. (Reporting by Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt, Nina Chestney in Essen and Oleg Vukmanovic in Milan, writing by Oleg Vukmanovic; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Elaine Hardcastle)