July 24 (UPI) -- The Chinese appetite for liquefied natural gas increased more than 30 percent from last year, according to the latest government data.
The Chinese General Administration of Customs reported LNG imports to China increased dramatically as the country looks to rely less on coal for its energy needs. First half demand was up 38.3 percent from last year.
"The growth rate is higher than the 21.2 percent increase registered in the same period last year, partly encouraged by the lowering policy barriers for LNG from the United States to enter the Chinese market," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
A free-trade agreement is needed to secure LNG imports from the United States, which China doesn't have. In May, the U.S. Commerce Department introduced an action plan with China that included a clause on LNG trade. Under the agreement, the Commerce Department said that China can at any time negotiate for LNG imports.
The Commerce Department said the agreement gave China a chance to step away from coal in favor of the cleaner-burning natural gas.
In its annual report this year, Royal Dutch Shell said LNG demand is on pace to grow at twice the rate of conventional gas. China and India, among the fastest growing economies in the world, are leading the pack in terms of growth in LNG imports.
The International Monetary Fund estimated the Chinese economy will grow by 6.4 percent next year, a 0.2 percent upward revision from its previous forecast.
Beijing reported that China imported no natural gas from the United States last year. Overall natural gas demand is on the rise, though coal still accounts for close to 60 percent of total Chinese energy demand.
For conventional natural gas, the Chinese government said it aims to nearly double its consumption to around 10 percent by 2020 and to 15 percent by 2030. Midstream, or pipeline, infrastructure should increase by about 60 percent by 2020 to 64,600 miles. By 2025, all cities in China with a population of more than 500,000 will be connected to some form of natural gas pipeline network.