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Australia overtakes Qatar as world’s top LNG exporter in 2021

January 6, 2022
5 min

Australia’s 10 LNG projects shipped 80.23 mt of LNG and operated at 92% of their total nameplate capacity of 87.2 mtpa in 2021, compared to 2020 when their shipments and collective operating rate stood at 77.63 mt and 89%, respectively, according to Kpler data.

Exports from the 15.6 mtpa Gorgon, 9 mtpa Australia Pacific, 8.5 mtpa Queensland Curtis, 7.8 mtpa Gladstone and 3.7 mtpa Darwin LNG plants, as well as the 3.6 mtpa Prelude floating LNG facility grew by 4.83 mt to 42.71 mt, more than offsetting a combined 2.22 mt drop in exports to 37.52 mt from a year earlier at the 8.9 mtpa Ichthys, 8.9 mtpa Wheatstone, 4.9 mtpa Pluto and 16.3 mtpa North West Shelf LNG plants due to planned maintenance, based on the data.

Qatar retreated to second place, with its exports of 77.83 mt of LNG in 2021 little changed against 77.88 mt in 2020. But the country hopes to regain its former leading position with the completion of its North Field East expansion project in 2025 that will lift production capacity to 110 mtpa from 77 mtpa. Its second expansion project, the North Field South project, is expected to boost capacity further to 126 mtpa by 2027.

The US stayed in third place for the third consecutive year since 2019, when it overtook Malaysia. But a ramp-up in US LNG exports last year helped it to close in on Australia and Qatar, narrowing their lead. And the US looks poised to leapfrog both Qatar and Australia as it brings more liquefaction capacity online this year.

Exports from the six LNG projects in the US increased by close to 50% to 70.43 mt from 47.35 mt in 2020 to operate at 92% of their 76.25 mtpa combined nameplate capacity, Kpler data show. The start of commercial operations at the sixth 5 mtpa train at Sabine Pass and the 10 mtpa Calcasieu Pass LNG project this year will boost the country’s collective nameplate export capacity to 91.25 mtpa.

60% of 2021's global LNG exports from Australia, Qatar and the US

Australia, Qatar and the US together accounted for around 60% of 2021’s total global LNG exports of 382.7 mt. Their collective exports of 228.5 mt in 2021 represented a 12.6% rise from 202.85 mt in 2020 when total global exports stood at 362.96 mt.

Asia accounted for around 173.39 mt, or 76%, of total exports from the three countries in 2021, followed by Europe at 40.91 mt, or 18%, and South America at 13.98 mt, or around 6%.

Australia shipped its LNG supplies almost exclusively to Asia, except for two partial cargoes totalling 30,000 t that it shipped to Spain. This was fairly similar to 2020, when it shipped all of its LNG to Asia except for 150,000 t, or two cargoes, that it delivered to Mexico and Chile. China overtook Japan to become the largest recipient of Australian LNG last year, taking 31.86 mt compared to 29.29 mt in 2020. Japan’s imports of Australian LNG slipped to 27.39 mt in 2021 from 29.43 mt a year earlier.

Qatar boosted its exports to Asia and Latin America, at the expense of Europe last year. It delivered 59.12 mt of LNG to Asia, up from 55.48 mt in 2020, and increased shipments to Latin America by around three-fold to 1.67 mt. But, the country’s shipments to Europe fell by around 23% to 16.81 mt as it shipped more LNG to China, South Korea, Argentina and Brazil.

The US grew its exports across the board to Asia, Europe and Latin America as record-high global gas and LNG prices last year incentivised production.

The increased US LNG output helped to compensate for very low hydroelectric power generation in Latin America due to a severe drought and extremely low underground gas stocks and lower gas output in Europe while helping to meet the demand for winter restocking from northeast Asia.

The recent upward spike in the front-month TTF futures contract to its highest level last month saw it surpass Asian LNG prices as gas shortage fears and low underground stock levels fuelled European demand. This reversed the inter-basin price spread, resulting in US exports to Europe in December outpacing those to Asia for the second consecutive month as it also incentivised the diversion of US cargoes from Asia to Europe. US LNG exports reached a new high of 6.81 mt in December, while shipments to Europe led by the 25 mtpa Sabine Pass LNG plant also reached an all-time high of 4.13 mt in the month. Asia received 1.98 mt of US LNG, while Latin America took 0.7 mt in December.

US LNG exports to Asia in 2021 climbed by around 47.6% to 34.06 mt, while deliveries to Europe rose by around 32% to 24.07 mt and shipments to Latin America doubled to 12.3 mt. China, South Korea, Japan, Brazil and Spain were the largest buyers of US LNG last year, with their receipts of 8.94 mt, 8.80 mt, 7.02 mt,  6.11 mt and 4.26 mt, respectively, representing around half of total US exports.

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