The United States last year continued to lead the world in natural gas production as well as natural gas consumption, according to BP plc’s latest annual statistical review.

Global gas consumption in 2010 jumped by 7.4% year/year (y/y), the most rapid increase since 1984, according to the 60th annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The review, which covers all forms of energy use worldwide, is considered an objective, global energy data report that is used by business, academics and governments to inform policy and decision making.

“Energy intensity — the amount of energy used for one unit of GDP [gross domestic product] — grew at the fastest rate since 1970,” said Christof Ruhl, BP Group’s chief economist. “And so, when all the accounting is done, planet Earth — we all — consumed more energy in 2010 than ever before.”

Gas production last year was up by almost 5%, and the United States remained at the top of the leader board. Unconventional gas continued to grow “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.

In the last five years global LNG supplies have grown by a cumulative 58%, which is three times faster than total gas production, Ruhl 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. Gas pipeline shipments also were positive last year, up by more than 5% and led by Russian exports.

Gas production worldwide rose a record 7.3% y/y, with nearly one-third of the gains (31%) originating in the former Soviet Union, followed by the Middle East. Russia’s volumetric increase was highest, up 11.6%, while Qatar output jumped 30.7%.

However, Canadian production slumped for a fourth consecutive year, the review noted.

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%.

With energy demand up by more than 11% y/y, China leapfrogged over the United States to take the top spot as the world’s largest energy consumer.

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.”

Dudley said that on a recent trip to China he “came away with a very clear sense of how rigorously China is thinking about these issues. Growth is by no means the only game in town. They want to maintain social cohesion and they want to make their growth more sustainable. In sum, they are worried about energy security and climate change — just as we are.”

Oil remains the world’s leading fuel, at one-third of global energy consumption, but it continued to lose market share for the 11th consecutive year, BP noted.

To address concerns about energy security and climate change, “we can look to the markets, policy tools, technology advances and not least to the growth of renewable energies to allay these worries,” Dudley said.

This year has shown that the global energy markets are resilient, said the CEO. “In the face of significant disruptions to the world’s energy system in Japan and Libya, demand continues to be satisfied. Markets work and markets work best when they are open and transparent.”

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