Russia’s landmark deal to supply China with natural gas via pipeline over 30 years will have profound impacts globally and create a new price benchmark that may pressure other producers, as consumers choose from a variety of supply sources, according to analysts.

OAO Gazprom on Wednesday clinched a contract with China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) to sell an estimated $400 billion worth of gas over 30 years beginning in 2018 (see Daily GPI, May 21). By the end of this decade, Russia could be supplying almost 10% of China’s gas supplies.

The deal to supply 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year via pipeline is priced at around US$10.00/Mcf, versus a current price of $14.00-15.00 for Asia Pacific imports, close to what most European utilities have agreed to pay over the past two years under discounted long-term contracts.

“We, Russia and Gazprom, have discovered the Asian gas market for ourselves,” said Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller on Thursday at a forum. The transaction “will influence the whole gas market,” pressuring LNG projects in North America, Australia and Africa.

Several analysts agreed that the partnership is a landmark for the global gas market. The compact “sets a new benchmark for what China is willing to pay for natural gas over longer-term contracts,” said Fitch Ratings. Asia liquefied natural gas (LNG) spot prices today are about $13.70/MMBtu, versus U.S. prices of about $4.50 (Henry Hub).

“The deal changes the level playing field,” Societe Generale analyst Thierry Bros wrote. “China has now secured some new gas at a competitive price,” which means LNG shipped after the pipeline is completed “would need to be competitive.” China “now has a powerful stick with which to beat down LNG prices…They can tell their LNG suppliers ‘either you bring your price below Russian piped costs, or we will install a second line from Russia and cut you out.'”

Russia “has thrown down the gauntlet to LNG producers courting Chinese buyers,” said London-based Timera Energy Director David Stokes. “Russian pipeline exports, which look to be competitively priced versus LNG, are set to have a material impact in eroding Chinese LNG demand. There is likely to be an important knock-on impact on the global LNG supply and demand balance, given the central role China plays in growth projections.”

Expanding Gazprom’s Reach

For Gazprom, the deal also gives it a brand-new market that’s roughly the size of Europe, said Wood Mackenzie Ltd.’s Stephen O’Rourke. Russia now supplies about one-third of Europe’s gas supplies, but more important, about 80% of Gazprom’s revenues are from Europe.

“With European gas demand growth uncertain and the Ukraine crisis leading to calls for Europe to reduce its reliance on Russian gas, Gazprom now needs a ‘new Europe’ — enter China,” said O’Rourke.

Gazprom could increase export volumes to China without affecting its ability to deliver to existing European customers, by developing untapped reserves in eastern Russia, said Fitch Managing Director Alex Griffiths, who heads natural resources and commodities. “Some have portrayed the deal as Russia turning away from Europe, in light of the ongoing situation in Ukraine. While it certainly begins to give Gazprom options in where to export, the company’s challenge historically has been to find ways to monetize its 23 trillion cubic meters of reserves at acceptable prices — and the best scenario for the company is an increase in production.

“The deal is therefore positive for Gazprom’s medium- to long-term prospects, especially if it opens the door for a further deal to sell gas from its developed western fields to China in due course…”

The price Russia fetched may be comparable to that of Gazprom contracts with Western Europe customers, but it’s “far above the prices at which gas can be sold in Russia,” said Griffiths. “A key difference is that gas to be sent to China will come from largely undeveloped fields, implying a significant upfront investment, which President Putin announced as US$55 billion. The 38 bcm announced is equal to about a quarter of Gazprom’s annual deliveries to Europe.”

Russia also has announced it may abolish the mineral extraction tax for gas fields that deliver gas to China, potentially adding even more to Gazprom’s bottom line, he said.

Russia likely is looking well beyond China for customers. Rumors are circulating that a transaction similar to the one with China is being negotiated with India.

Russia is building new facilities and expanding other LNG export plants on its Pacific coast, near Sakhalin Island, where ExxonMobil Corp. and others are partnering. ExxonMobil struck an alliance with Russia’s OAO Rosneft in 2011 (see Daily GPI, Aug. 31, 2011).

The pipeline to China would position Gazprom with leading Asia Pacific gas buyers, putting it at an advantage geographically over exports from North America and elsewhere.

China Gas Demand Expected to Quadruple by 2035

However, the Asia Pacific region will need a lot of gas to keep up with demand. The International Energy Agency has predicted that China’s gas demand will quadruple by 2035. Russia exports will be a “drop in the bucket” as far as Asia Pacific’s thirst for gas, said Ziff Energy’s Ed Kallio, who directs gas consulting. “It doesn’t even come close. This doesn’t even scratch the surface.”

And China hasn’t placed all of its bets on Russia, with large investments in gas schemes around the world, including British Columbia (BC), where a dozen-plus LNG export terminals are on the table. It’s also a big investor in Australia export projects.

As well, China is planning to build at least 15 gas import terminals, which would make it the biggest gas importer after Japan.

BC Premier Christy Clark said she didn’t think the Russia agreement would satisfy China’s thirst, nor its need to diversify supply.

“I don’t think there’s a country in the world that today wants to depend on Russia as their sole supplier of natural gas,” said Clark. “Providing the assurance that we are not going to play politics with energy — I think that’s worth a lot to our potential partners out there, I think, especially China…We’ve certainly seen the way that Russia likes to do business these days, and we certainly know that the Chinese want a dependability of supply. We can supply that.”

Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. CEO Hal Kvisle isn’t overly concerned about the deal pressuring Canada LNG. The former chief of TransCanada Corp. discussed the tie-up during a conference call during Talisman’s annual investor day. The quantity of gas directed to China isn’t enough “to swamp the market…It certainly doesn’t shut the door on LNG exports from Canada.”

Woodside Petroleum Ltd. CEO Peter Coleman, whose company is Australia’s biggest gas exporter by volume, agreed that China would need a lot of gas from a lot of sources. Australia export facilities, including those backed by Chevron Corp., Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and ConocoPhillips, have faced huge cost overruns and labor shortages, but the backers haven’t signaled a slowdown.

“China’s growth is coming off such a small base at the moment…It’s got a lot of headroom in it,” Coleman said.

Wood Mackenzie’s Gavin Thompson, who heads Asia gas research, said the “comparisons with the development of Gazprom’s export business into Europe are clear, with almost identical population sizes between Northeast China and Western Europe. Gazprom’s exports to Western Europe first reached 38 bcm by the mid-1980s and have since increased to over 150 bcm into the whole of Europe.

“We anticipate overall gas demand from China over the next two decades will grow more rapidly than that witnessed in Europe from the mid-1980s.”

He said eight provinces in Northeast China would receive the East Siberian gas; the area has a population of around 360 million, roughly equal to that in Western Europe. The region also experiences “extremely cold winters and suffers from a shortage of indigenous supply options.” By 2025, Wood Mackenzie estimates that total gas demand from the eight provinces alone will reach 125 bcm; the Power of Siberia gas pipeline system would meet “over a quarter of regional gas demand by this time.”

Without that eastern Russian supply, the region was facing increased reliance on imported LNG, Thompson said.

Qatar, the world’s largest LNG producer, already is negotiating with CNPC and state-owned PetroChina Co. to supply 7 million metric tons/year (mmty); China now has long-term contracts for around 5 mmty. Major gas fields offshore Mozambique and Tanzania also hold promise.

Too Much Gas?

With gas reserves increasingly growing worldwide as unconventional drilling techniques improve, will there be enough buyers?

“There will be more gas than needed, so those who get to the market first and cheapest will win,” said Sasol Petroleum International’s Ebbie Haan, managing director.

There’s also the political strength that China and Russia gain through the gas alliance.

“From the perspective of international relations,” said Thompson, “this deal also signals a deepening of energy ties between Russia and China. They now cooperate across a range of different commodities and have established a broad base for further increases in trade in oil, gas, LNG, coal and electricity.”

The crisis in Ukraine, which has strained Russia relations with Europe and the United States gave “new urgency to the Russian desire to branch out to new markets,” said Credit Suisse analysts. “The implied price comes out at just under $10.00/MMBtu, but more importantly, provides China with something of a lever to cap ‘expensive’ LNG.”