Global demand for natural gas is expected to grow nearly twice as fast as total energy supply over the next two decades, especially in the Middle East. Above, the Qatari LNG carrier Duhail, the largest of its kind until date. AFP
In January 2009, Europe faced its biggest-ever emergency over natural gas when Russian supplies via Ukraine were disrupted, transforming the attitude of policymakers, customers and suppliers.
The crisis brought home the importance of supply security and has led to extensive investments in gas storage, which is key to balancing uncertainty over levels of imports and seasonal fluctuations in demand.
Production of natural gas in the European Union is predicted to fall steadily, resulting in a situation by 2020 in which more than 70 per cent of gas supplies will have to be imported from countries outside of the bloc. Europe will be competing as a buyer of gas in a world in which demand is rising sharply.
Global demand is expected to grow nearly twice as fast as total energy supply over the next two decades, especially in the Middle East, where annual consumption will nearly double between 2010 and 2030 from 315 billion cubic metres to 550 billion cu metres.
Developing gas storage facilities is not just a question of enhancing supply security; it can also be used for seasonal optimisation.
Consider the plans by Abu Dhabi to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal at the port of Fujairah, the biggest shipping-fuel terminal in the Middle East, or the gas pipeline from Qatar, which supplies the UAE with a substantial portion of its total requirement.
Imports via pipeline or LNG are characterised by the same volume being delivered every month through the year. Storage is required to balance the difference between summer and winter consumption. On the basis of a steady supply from abroad, gas would be withdrawn from storage in high-consumption periods and injected into storage when demand falls.
Producers and marketers also use gas storage to develop a market for gas trading. They store it when they believe that prices will increase in the future and sell it when it reaches target levels.
Since the Middle East has 40 per cent of the world's known natural gas reserves, excellent untapped investment opportunities exist.
Middle Eastern gas exporters should look to build storage capacity in distant consumer markets as oil exporters have done.
In Europe, storage facilities have become opportunities for exporters and importers to cooperate on gas-storage investment.
At present, there is an underground storage capacity of some 85 billion cu metres in Europe and another 30 billion cu metres in Ukraine, sufficient to store the entire annual LNG output of Qatar, the world's largest producer.
Subsidiaries of Eni, E.On and GDF Suez own the largest underground storage facilities in Europe. Some Middle Eastern firms have invested in European storage facilities: Abu Dhabi National Energy Company has acquired the Bergermeer storage project in the Netherlands, with 4 billion cu metres of capacity.
Statoil, Vattenfall Energy Trading Netherlands and a third company secured more than 90 per cent of the 1 billion cu metres of annual storage capacity made available as part of the 2011 Bergermeer Gas Storage Open Season.
These investments generate a stable return and offer Middle Eastern exporters the opportunity to integrate farther up the value chain.
But there are only a few storage projects in the Middle East.
The LNG terminal in Fujairah aims to secure additional gas supplies as early as 2014 to meet growing electricity demand. The facility would use floating LNG storage and a regasification unit that could be moved at a later stage if necessary. It would be the second regasification terminal in the UAE after Dubai and serve the UAE's intention to create a regional hub, which could be bolstered by including permanent gas storage facilities.
* Axel Wietfeld is a member of the board of E.On Gas Storage.
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