Cheniere Energy Inc. said it has loaded the first commissioning cargo from the third train at the Corpus Christi liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in South Texas. 

The La Mancha Knutsen arrived at the facility on Sunday and departed Monday, nearly full with 168,000 cubic meters aboard, according to Bloomberg ship-tracking data. Cheniere, which said last month the train was 96.7% complete and undergoing commissioning, noted on Twitter on Monday that the company is ahead of schedule. 

The third train has a capacity of 4.5 million metric tons/year (mmty) and is expected to be finished and in service in 1Q2021, which would bring total output to 15 mmty.

Cheniere sanctioned the third train in 2018, the same year the Corpus Christi terminal produced its first LNG. In November 2019, the company moved up its timeline to complete the third train to the first half of 2021, several months ahead of schedule. 

In a separate Twitter post, engineering, procurement and construction contractor Bechtel Corp. said the first cargo milestone also came after one of the “shortest timeframes” for constructing an LNG train worldwide. Bechtel is taking control of LNG production until commissioning is complete, a process that essentially ensures the system is working properly before it is turned over to Cheniere. 

There may have been incentive for Bechtel to finish quickly and hand the reins to Cheniere as global natural gas prices are strong, and the arbitrage window between the Gulf Coast, Asia and Europe is wide open. Including variable costs for things including port fees and fuel, spreads to Asia are at $4.253/MMBtu in January, $4.268 in February and nearly $3.00 for March, according to NGI data

The spread to Europe is also profitable for U.S. offtakers at more than $2.00 throughout the winter, according to NGI calculations

Strong winter buying, supply disruptions and vessel delays to transit the Panama Canal are among the factors supporting prices.