With the first cargo of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Lower 48 states expected to depart Wednesday afternoon from Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Sabine Pass terminal, the global gas market is entering a period of evolutionary change, speakers at IHS CERAWeek said.

While LNG carrier Asia Vision was still loading its cargo Wednesday morning, Cheniere’s President of Marketing Meg Gentle said the company has been commissioning the Sabine Pass terminal since January.

“They’re still loading [the first cargo] today at Sabine Pass, and it is expected to depart the facility later today as it makes its way to Brazil.” According to reports by Bloomberg, Brazil’s Petrobras is the buyer.

Gentle and other panelists at the conference in Houston outlined what they see as a bright future for natural gas globally, particularly LNG. Gentle said the global gas market amounts to about 330 Tcf/d currently, about 70% of that coming from domestic sources, 20% from imports via pipeline,and 10% from LNG.

LNG could account for 15% of the global market by 2030, Gentle said. “From minimal exports in 2015, the U.S. will become one of the three largest suppliers to the global market by 2020, and this is based upon production from the five [U.S. liquefaction and export] facilities that are under construction today…Those facilities will produce about 60 million tonnes of LNG into the global market. That will represent about 20% of the LNG market at that time.

“Despite near-term pessimism, we expect LNG markets to continue to grow.”

Natural gas is seen as the fuel of a new century by many, according to Gazprom Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev. “If we still believe in market forces, the low prices will drive the demand,” he told the audience.

To facilitate the growth of global gas demand, liquidity and transparent pricing are necessary, speakers said. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in Asian markets, where buyers for a while now have not been content to be merely price takers.

Yuji Kakimi is president of JERA, a fuel procurement joint venture formed by Tokyo Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power. It would be a major player in the global gas market and could flex its muscle when it comes to procuring LNG, he said. “We will be buying as much as 40 million tonnes of LNG every year. This will make us the single largest buyer of LNG in the world.

“Huge changes are taking place in Japan,” he said. Electricity and natural gas markets are diversifying, and LNG sourced from the United States, at attractive prices, would facilitate demand growth. And a benchmark index will emerge in the Asian market to reflect supply, demand and price for LNG, he said.

He said JERA is seeking diversity of contract maturities and is not content to only sign up for long-term supplies. Oil-linked indexing won’t be the only price-setting mechanism as other indices come into play. JERA plans to enhance its trading capabilities and seek partners to become involved in new development if it helps the Asian LNG market.

Gentle also sees contract terms for LNG growing shorter in length. “I am a believer that by 2020 we will see the industry sell its volumes 50% on a short-term basis compared to 30% today,” she said.

“The new era of more flexible, more resilient and more reliable LNG starts today with the first vessel to leave Sabine pass.”

“It’s a big day for our shale gas revolution of this last decade,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told CERAWeek attendees. “As you know, our production is up very, very considerably…

“Natural gas has helped fuel a manufacturing advance in this country, and today will be the first day of a big LNG tanker leaving from our shores with exports from the Cheniere project at Sabine Pass…[I]t is fully loaded, something like 3 Bcf, and within hours will be sailing for Brazil. This is really a major milestone…As many of you know, we have given non-free trade agreement country export licenses for roughly 11 Bcf/d.”

Moniz added that the U.S. Department of Energy is accepting comment on a study examining the implications of exports of up to 20 Bcf/d of LNG.