Asia and the United States helped boost global consumption of natural gas by 7.4% in 2010 to a record 111.9 Tcf, effectively rebounding from a 2009 slump, according to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research firm based in Washington, DC.

In a seven-page “Vital Signs Online” report issued in December, researchers Saya Kitasei and Ayodeji Adebola said natural gas accounted for 23.8% of global primary energy use in 2010 — a slight increase from 23.4% in 2009 — which they attributed to new infrastructure in several countries.

According to the report, global natural gas production almost matched the increase in demand in 2010, climbing 7.3% to 112.8 Tcf. But the rapid growth in production caused global proved natural gas reserves to increase by only 0.3% to 187.1 Tcf, the equivalent of 59 years worth of supply at current production levels. Most of the reserves are in the Middle East (40.5%) and the former Soviet Union (31.3%).

The report cited research from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that suggests global unconventional resources — including shale gas, coalbed methane and tight sands — could hold as much recoverable natural gas as conventional resources, adding that unconventional resources are spread more broadly around the globe than conventional ones (see NGI, April 11, 2011).

“The United States and Canada are the only two countries where unconventional gas made up a significant portion of natural gas production in 2010,” the report said, “but Australia, Poland, Germany, the United Kingdom and China are actively pursuing shale gas development within their own borders.”

Worldwatch said for the second year in a row, the United States was the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2010, accounting for just under one-fifth of global natural gas production. The United States also posted the world’s largest incremental increase in natural gas consumption in 2010, jumping 1.3 Tcf to a total of 24.1 Tcf, due in large part to continuing low prices.

Meanwhile, Asian demand also grew rapidly in 2010. China passed Japan to become the continent’s largest natural gas consumer, taking in 3.9 Tcf, or 3.4% of global natural gas demand. The report said China, India, South Korea and Taiwan all increased their demand for natural gas by more than 20% in 2010.

The report also disclosed that the portion of global natural gas trade represented by liquefied natural gas (LNG) surpassed the 30% mark for the first time. Globally traded LNG reached 10.5 Tcf in 2010, a 22.6% increase from 2009. About half of the increase in exports came from Qatar (up 53.2% to 2.67 Tcf in 2010), which alone exported about 25% of the LNG traded globally in 2010. But Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia combined to export 9.4% more LNG as well, and exports from the three countries represented 29.3% of global exports.

Worldwatch said global liquefaction capacity reached 270.9 MMtpa by the end of 2010, a 58% increase from 2005. Liquefaction capacity projects in Qatar have boosted the country’s share of global liquefaction capacity to 26%.

The report conceded that two major international events — the Arab Spring political unrest in North Africa and the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan (see NGI, March 28, 2011) — affected the trajectory of global natural gas markets last year.

“Natural gas is likely to play a major role in filling the gap left by idled and phased out nuclear plants,” the report said. “The unanticipated spike in public opposition to nuclear power can only increase global natural gas demand in the coming decade.”

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