The United States in 2010 continued to lead the world in natural gas production, boosted by massive shale deposits, according to the latest statistical review by BP plc.

The United States also was the world's biggest gas consumer last year, according to the 60th annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy, which was unveiled on Wednesday. The review covers all forms of energy use worldwide and is considered an objective, global energy data report that is used by business, academics and governments to inform policy and decision making.

Worldwide gas output rose a record 7.3% y/y, or 217 billion cubic meters, with nearly one-third of the gains (31%) originating in the former Soviet Union, followed by the Middle East. U.S. gas production rose more than 4%.

"Production exceeded the 10-year average growth rate in all regions," the report noted. "The U.S. remained the largest producer for a second consecutive year, with supply of unconventional gas continuing to grow. In Europe, output reversed previous declines and was the highest since 2008."

North American proved reserves at the end of 2010 totaled 350.8 Tcf (9.9 trillion cubic meters), with the United States accounting for 272.5 Tcf. Canada had an estimated 61 Tcf, while Mexico had about 17.3 Tcf.

Global natural gas reserves in 2010 increased by 5 billion cubic meters (0.3%) to 187.1 trillion cubic meters, according to BP's data. The 2010 global reserves/production (R/P) ratio was 58.6, a decline from 62.7 in 2009.

"World natural gas proved reserves in 2010 were sufficient to meet 58.6 years of global production," said Christof Ruhl, BP Group's chief economist. Ruhl was in charge of compiling the data.

"R/P ratios declined for each region, driven by rising production. The Middle East once again had the highest regional R/P ratio, while Middle East and former Soviet Union regions jointly hold 72% of the world's gas reserves."

Unconventional gas grew "despite weak North American natural gas prices," which traded at record discounts to crude oil. The United States also had the world's biggest increase in volumetric gas consumption, rising by 5.6% to a new record high.

"The shale gas revolution in the U.S. and massive changes in LNG [liquefied natural gas] markets are reshaping the world of natural gas," said Ruhl.

Because of the massive amount of shale gas in North America many gas U.S. producers and LNG import facilities are working on ways to export excess gas supplies.

According to the BP data, global LNG supplies in the last five years have grown by a cumulative 58%, which is three times faster than total gas production, the economist noted. In 2010 "the supply of LNG expanded by an unprecedented 22.6%," or 55 billion cubic meters.

The worldwide natural gas trade saw robust gains overall last year, jumping by more than 10%, with LNG shipments alone recording a 23% gain. Qatar's LNG shipments were up by more than half (53.2%). Among LNG importers, the largest volumetric growth was in South Korea, followed by the United Kingdom and Japan.

"LNG now accounts for 30.5% of global gas trade," Ruhl noted. "We see how as a result of the shale gas revolution in the U.S. and the amount of LNG available globally, now there's competition between gas and coal, with gas increasingly replacing coal and power generation in many countries.

"And because of this big difference now between oil prices, kept high by OPEC, and gas prices kept low because of abundant supplies, we see countries switching."

One of the biggest findings in the latest report is the "tremendous energy demand growth, the highest growth rates...for primary energy since 1973, the highest energy consumption ever, highest energy consumption per capita," said Ruhl. A worldwide economic recovery in 2010 resulted in robust energy growth, with "the strong bounce back, in particular, of the industry sector," Ruhl noted.

For the first time, China overtook the United States as the world's largest energy consumer, according to the review.

"Energy intensity -- the amount of energy used for one unit of GDP [gross domestic product] -- grew at the fastest rate since 1970," said Ruhl. "And so, when all the accounting is done, planet Earth -- we all -- consumed more energy in 2010 than ever before."

Overall, gas consumption by members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) jumped by 6.4% y/y, or 93 billion cubic meters, "with consumption attaining all-time highs." Developing countries' gas consumption also grew, jumping by more than 7% -- 63% higher than in 2000. India's gas demand was up by the largest margin y/y, rising 21.5%.

China gained the lead in a year in which a rebound in the global economy drove consumption higher and "at a rate not seen since the aftermath of the 1973 oil price shocks," said BP CEO Bob Dudley. The growth in energy consumption was broad-based, he said, with both mature, developed economies and developing countries growing at above-average rates.

"There were both structural and cyclical factors at work," Dudley said. "The cyclical factor is reflected in the fact that industrial production rebounded very sharply as the world recovered from the global downturn. Structurally, the increase reflects the continuing rapid economic growth in the developing world."