March 2, 2011 / 6:33 AM / 9 years ago

Japanese utilities keen to import LNG from U.S. to diversify sources

SINGAPORE, March 2 (Reuters) - Two of Japan’s biggest utilities are keen to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from U.S. producers in an effort to diversify their supply sources, executives from the companies said.

“We are interested in the movements in the U.S. market and keeping an eye on developments there. More supply is always good news for buyers, and flexibility of supply is getting more important,” said Sunao Nakamura, managing director of TEPCO Trading Corporation, at a LNG conference in Singapore on Tuesday.

TEPCO Trading is the trading arm of Tokyo Electric Power Co , Asia’s biggest utility.

The massive increase in U.S. shale gas production and reserves in recent years has turned the U.S. gas market on its head, prompting traditional LNG importers to launch plans to export domestic gas overseas.

U.S. LNG can make up a small portion of a buyer’s portfolio until the stability of supply can be ensured, said Hiroki Sato, head of LNG business at Chubu Electric Power Co , Japan’s third-largest power firm.

“The best portfolio will mix the best characteristics of several LNG projects,” he told delegates at the conference.

Two projects in the U.S. Gulf — Cheniere Energy and Freeport LNG — are seeking regulatory approval to export LNG to higher-paying markets overseas.

The bet for export is that U.S. gas prices will stay low versus European and Asian gas prices over a 25-year period, making it profitable to produce and ship gas from the United States overseas.

Cheniere has signed non-binding agreements with a string of potential customers in Europe, Asia and the Americas in recent weeks.

Demand growth in Japan, currently the world’s largest importer of LNG, is expected to remain steady at 2 percent per year to 2016 and reach 77 million tonnes, according to a recent report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. (Reporting by Francis Kan; Editing by Manash Goswami)

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