U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports will be up 28% for the quarter ending in February from the same period a year ago, a trend that may continue into 2010, Houston-based Waterborne forecast Friday.

Waterborne analyzes and reports on global shipments of LNG and liquefied petroleum gas. Analysts in December predicted that U.S. LNG imports would rise this year even with low natural gas prices (see NGI, Jan. 19).

“This is the first year-over-year increase in LNG imports to the U.S. in the past year and a half,” said Waterborne President Steve Johnson. “We see this as a sign of things to come, and expect the trend to continue for at least the next consecutive 16 months.”

Johnson admitted that “few industry analysts have supported our forecast. Yet we anticipated an unprecedented increase in global supply and a dramatic drop in demand for LNG throughout the world, especially in Asia. So we knew surpluses would result.”

According to Johnson, the European market has absorbed about all the LNG surplus it can handle. With warmer temperatures ahead, it is just a matter of time before LNG shipments move west.

“Spot traders with U.S. terminal capacity have found momentary refuge in Europe for excess volumes,” he said. “We expect their cargoes to begin repopulating U.S. fall-back facilities over the next couple of months.”

According to Johnson, delays in global liquefaction projects and plant outages, combined with sharp increases in Asian and European demand, caused U.S. LNG imports to fall in 2008. However, within 18 months, Waterborne expects U.S. import volumes to exceed 2007’s record imports, which averaged 2.1 Bcf/d.

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