European imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) hit a new record in November, and the United Kingdom is on track to challenge Spain as the globe's third largest importer of LNG, according to analysts. Cargoes are largely staying away from the shale gas-soaked U.S. market.

"In December, the average daily sendout from the UK's three LNG import terminals was 3 Bcf/d," said analysts at Pan EurAsian Enterprises Inc. "In Spain the average since Dec. 1 has been 2.4 Bcf/d. Year to date, the Spanish average is 2.5 Bcf/d versus 1.8 Bcf/d in the UK."

Japan is the largest importer of LNG, followed by South Korea and traditionally Spain, according to Pan EurAsian.

Separately, Waterborne, which tracks LNG markets, said Europe is importing record volumes of LNG.

"Europe imported a staggering 302 Bcf -- some 52 Bcf more than the previous record volumes imported just two months earlier," said Waterborne President Steve Johnson. "Europe's appetite for LNG has exploded. We believe this is partly due to the unusually cold weather setting in.

"In addition, the U.S. simply is not importing as much LNG as was expected due to the high level of shale gas being produced. Europe is simply snapping up a lot of this uncommitted gas."

UK imports were the biggest contributor to the November European record, Johnson said. The UK imported 73 Bcf during the month, which set a new UK record, according to Waterborne.

While trending above 2008 and 2009 levels, imports of LNG to the United States are running significantly lower than the levels of U.S. LNG banner year 2007, according to Pan EurAsian.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently said LNG imports to the United States hit their low point for the year last August (see Daily GPI, Oct. 11).

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