U.K. Overtaking Spain to Become World’s Third-Biggest LNG Buyer

The U.K. may have surpassed Spain last year to become the world’s third-biggest buyer of liquefied natural gas, a U.S. consultant said.

Britain imported a record 19.6 million metric tons of LNG last year, up 32 percent from 14.8 million in 2010, according to Zach Allen, an analyst at Pan EurAsian Enterprises Inc. in Raleigh, North Carolina. Spanish LNG imports fell by about 18 percent to 17.4 million tons, while French imports rose 16 percent to 11.6 million tons, he said in an e-mail interview.

“A combination of economic problems in Spain plus the availability of gas via the Transmed pipeline are reducing Spain’s purchases of LNG,” Allen said. “I expect they have worked out a beneficial price arrangement with Algeria for gas via pipeline that makes that a better alternative than LNG imports.”

Spain was the world’s third-biggest buyer of the fuel in 2010, according to data by BP Plc’s Annual Energy Review. Japan and South Korea were the world’s biggest LNG consumers.

Japan’s imports of spot and term LNG through November last year increased by 12 percent to 71.4 million tons from a year earlier, according to the nation’s finance ministry. South Korean LNG purchases in the first 11 months of 2011 rose about 9 percent to 31.93 million tons, according to data from Korea Customs Service.

LNG is natural gas chilled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 162 degrees Celsius), reducing it to one six-hundredth of its original volume for shipment by tanker.