TOKYO, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Japan and India said they were planning a liquefied natural gas importers' group as a way to reduce the Asian price and diversify their import sources.
LNG prices in Asia are higher than those in Europe and North America because the cost in Asia is linked to crude oil prices under long-term contracts.
In their joint statement Monday ahead of the second LNG Producer-Consumer Conference in Tokyo the next day, Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, and M. Veerappa Moily, India's minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, said oil-linked prices for LNG do not "accurately reflect the LNG supply and demand balance" in Asia-Pacific markets, the Financial Post reports.
Government and private-sector officials from about 50 economies attended the one-day conference.
Data from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission indicate Asian LNG importers such as Japan and China paid as much as $15.75 per million British thermal units this month, compared with $2.97 paid by LNG buyers in the U.S. Gulf Coast and $9.79 by British consumers.
Contracts linked to the Henry Hub price benchmark, however, would revolutionize the Japanese market, even if oil-linked contracts continue to dominate the global LNG market, Platts news service quoted Freeport LNG chief executive Michael Smith as saying on the sidelines of the conference.
Freeport, one of three U.S. Gulf Coast export projects looking to tap into Asian demand, announced Monday that Japan's Toshiba Corp. and SK E&S LNG of South Korea had each contracted to liquefy 2.2 million tons of natural gas per year at Freeport's Quintana Island facility in Texas.
The U.S. Energy Department in May gave Freeport LNG conditional approval to export 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day over the next 20 years.
"Our [Japanese] customers -- Osaka Gas, Chubu Electric and now Toshiba -- all are focused on getting U.S.-based natural gas here on a Henry Hub-linked basis, because that's the cheapest gas they can get in the world," Smith said.
"Post-Fukushima, their increasing LNG volumes on top of the very high oil-linked cost is severely hurting their economy," Smith said of Japan's appetite for LNG after the March 2011 earthquake- and tsunami-triggered nuclear plant disaster. "They must drive down the price, and we're happy to be the ones to facilitate that."
Japan, the largest LNG importer in the world, spent $60 billion on LNG imports in 2012. That figure is expected to rise to $72.1 billion this year. Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority is reviewing applications from utilities to operate about a dozen of the country's 50 reactors, shut down in the wake of Fukushima.
India is the fifth-largest importer of LNG after Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Spain. Moily has said he expects India's LNG demand to grow at 2-6 percent a year until 2020 and 2-3 percent thereafter.