UPDATE 1-Enel close to 20-year deal to buy U.S. LNG from Cheniere

Thu Apr 3, 2014 11:38am EDT

(Adds start date of LNG supplies from 2019, detail, background)

ROME, April 3 (Reuters) - Italian utility Enel is close to signing a 20-year deal to buy gas from U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) producer Cheniere Energy, a senior company executive said on Thursday.

Deliveries are expected to start from 2019, Enel Chief Financial Officer Luigi Ferraris said at a strategy presentation in Rome.

The deal is for 1 billion cubic metres of U.S. shale gas per year over a 20-year period and could be extended for a further 10-year term, he said.

It comes after Spain's Endesa, which is controlled by Enel, agreed on Wednesday to buy 1.5 million tonnes of LNG for 20 years from Cheniere's proposed plant in Corpus Christi, Texas.

That is equivalent to 2 bcm of shale gas per year.

A boom in shale gas production in the United States has prompted companies to try to build plants to liquefy and export the fuel on tankers to distant markets not reachable by pipeline.

Cheniere has already secured around a dozen LNG sales deals from its Sabine Pass export plant in Louisiana and is now focusing on locking-in customers for the Corpus Christi plant, even though U.S. regulators have not yet approved that site for exports.

Countries across the world have been quietly signing deals in recent months to import LNG from the United States, revealing a growing appetite for the fuel overseas. (Reporting by Alberto Sisto; Writting by Oleg Vukmanovic; editing by Jane Baird)