Operators of the Gate Terminal in the Netherlands, a key entry point for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Northwest Europe, said ship operations shattered previous records last year as the continent took in more supply, which flooded the global market.
Duth multinational Royal Vopak and midstreamer Nederlandse Gasunie, which jointly own the facility, join the chorus of portfolio players, traders and countries that reported increasing activity throughout the global LNG value chain last year, developments that should influence the North American sector, which has contributed to growth abroad.
Gate said it loaded or unloaded 171 ships last year arriving from a variety of countries, including the United States. That’s up from the previous record of 104 ships in 2018.
In all, the terminal, which has a regasification capacity of about 424 Bcf, unloaded roughly 319 Bcf from 111 vessels. Eight were transshipments, where LNG is transferred from one ship to another. The terminal also loaded 52 smaller vessels. Most larger LNG vessels typically carry about 3 Bcf.
Gate also saw a record 3,466 trucks loaded with LNG, “mainly for distribution all over Europe,” but also to China, a major importer. Like other terminals across the continent, Gate has tested interest in expanding the facility. It is also studying the possibility of moving LNG by rail, an option that’s gaining traction in other parts of the world.
The terminal said it also saw record nominations into the national transmission network, which were three times higher than in 2018. New records have continued to be set this month, Gate said.
Elevated LNG supplies at terminals across Europe have pushed benchmark prices lower. Meanwhile, countries like Norway and Russia that have long served the continent have been forced to reduce pipeline imports to keep prices from falling further.
As LNG supply has increased, buyers have been more willing to execute spot purchases versus the traditional long-term contracts that have long governed purchases. But as Asian imports have slowed, a more liquid European market where stronger demand exists has lately served as a dumping ground for the fuel.
The continent’s ability to continue taking on more gas supplies is coming into question, however, as a particularly warm stretch of weather shows no signs of breaking into the new year.
The glut is evident as prices have moved lower. The balance-of-the-year strip at Asian benchmark Japan Korea Marker is near $5.00/MMBtu, while the UK’s National Balancing Point, a key marker for the European gas market, is below $4.50/MMBtu, Houston-based Mobius Risk Group noted.
“With natural gas increasingly becoming a globally traded product, weather in demand centers outside of the United States becomes more important,” Mobius said.
If offtakers are unable to absorb all of the supply later in the year, U.S. liquefiers may be among the first to shut-in facilities, a theory that hinges on the ability to push feed gas back into the massive U.S. market, which could hang heavy on already stagnant prices.
The dynamics are also clouding the outlook for the more than 20 announced U.S. export projects totaling roughly 35 Bcf/d that are looking to catch the second wave in the next few years.
Europe’s LNG imports have been steadily increasing since late last year, hitting a peak of 12.7 Bcf/d in November, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.