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CERAWeek: Oil-Indexed LNG Has Burned All Its Friends

Several months ago it was hard to find a global liquefied natural gas (LNG) buyer that had anything nice to say about oil-indexation of LNG contracts. With oil prices having plummeted, one might think buyers would be big fans of oil indexation, but it's more complicated than that.

Buyers want stable prices and shelter from volatility, said Hirobumi Kawano, president of Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corp., on Wednesday. LNG prices have declined, but what happened before the price drop "profoundly impacted Japan," he told attendees at IHS CERAWeek 2015 in Houston.

The Asian premium was caused by oil indexation, but with the tables turned, Hirobumi is not gloating at the pain felt by producers. If prices stay too low for too long, new capacity will not be added, and scarcity of supply will ensue -- and higher prices, he said.

"This does not make anybody happy. For the producer and consumer... stable prices are desirable," Hirobumi said. He recalled the shutdown of Japan's nuclear power industry and the increased reliance on natural gas at a time when LNG prices were high. Hirobumi said he is a believer in U.S. production and natural gas from the United States with a Henry Hub Index.

"Investment in LNG projects should be continued," he said. While Japan's economy might be slowing, emerging countries offer demand growth opportunities for gas, he said, adding that it can take 10 years and $10 billion to construct one new LNG project. And more are needed if the market is to have stable prices. Low prices every now and then shouldn't be the goal, he said.

Royal Dutch Shell plc's Andy Brown, upstream international director, said what LNG buyers want is a portfolio of pricing options, but now they're favoring the Henry index, and its consistency is a virtue.

"Henry Hub has been low and it has been consistent," he said. "All-Henry Hub and all-oil price [indexation] are really two ends of the spectrum that people will not want...I think it's going to have to be a balance, and I can see some portion of oil pricing and some portion of Henry Hub pricing going to come into this formula."

But now that oil indexation has burned the other side of the market -- the supply side -- it's out of the game, or should be, said Cheniere Energy Inc. CEO Charif Souki. Consumers don't want the exposure to potentially higher prices because it is destructive to their operations. And low oil prices don't add up to sanctioned projects for producers, he said.

"For the first time, both sides agree that we should look at a different pricing mechanism," Souki said.

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