While the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has shifted strategy over the past couple of years, losing some of its clout to control oil prices, major natural gas producers are working to create their own cartel that they hope could bring some stability to international gas prices.
OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, decided in late 2014 to stop shoring up oil prices by tweaking global oil supply, leaving it to market dynamics to determine the price of oil. The thinking was to keep market share away from higher-cost producers, such as those in the North American shale. The strategy has basically worked, leaving lots of carnage in its wake.
The world’s largest gas producers have a different motive. Because gas is not as tradable as oil, with prices often locked into long-term contracts, gas producers have less ability to influence prices as oil producers do. But the emergence of liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade may provide a potential opening for the gas producers group.
Twelve country members and nine observer states met in Iran recently to further develop the strategy of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF). Participants included Iran, Iraq, Russia, Qatar, Venezuela, Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Algeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Egypt, and Libya, among others. It was the largest gathering of the 14-year-old organization, whose members account for almost two-thirds of the world’s gas reserves. Participants discussed the latest trends, developments, and policies affecting natural gas and reaffirmed their support for the objectives of the GECF, which is to support the “collective interests” of its members and encourage cooperation. During the forum, Iran’s president called on gas producers to coordinate policies to increase the share of natural gas in the global energy picture.
The GECF lobbied the recent United Nations climate change summit in Paris, noting that gas is a much cleaner-burning energy source than some alternatives. Gas producers are aware that renewables are growing faster than some expected and could undermine gas’ assumed role as the fuel that will bridge oil to future energy supplies.
One of the biggest concerns among producers is the pricing mechanism used for gas worldwide. Most of the world’s gas supply is locked in long-term contracts, affecting the seller’s ability to take advantage of market conditions. Although LNG is shipped by tankers and can be priced in short-term contracts, compressed natural gas is shipped via pipeline, making it dependent on long-term deals.
Gas producers want what oil producers want—security of demand to fund their economies into the future. But an international gas cartel would face hurdles. Even as LNG trade continues to grow, some of the major LNG exporters—the US, Australia, and Canada—are unlikely to join a cartel. And the volume of global LNG trade still would not approach that of oil, leaving a less transparent market. In addition, the cost of liquefaction infrastructure would likely see players looking for long-term contracts.
Gas Producers Look for Opening
John Donnelly, JPT Editor
01 August 2016