Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s biggest energy company, and Royal Dutch Shell Plc said a U.S.- led transformation of the natural-gas market will boost the global economy even as oil becomes more expensive.
“Natural gas is quickly becoming a key enabler of economic growth and environmental progress around the world,” Rex W. Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon, said at a conference today in Kuala Lumpur. “We are living at a historic moment in the evolution of energy markets. How we respond will shape the quality of life for generations to come.”
A shale boom in the U.S. has helped it surpass Russia as the world’s biggest producer of natural gas and brought the country close to energy independence. Gas is poised to overtake coal as the second-most widely used source of energy worldwide by 2025, with demand in Asia projected to grow by more than 50 percent over the next three decades, Tillerson said.
Reserves of gas, a cleaner-burning fuel, are helping rebuild the U.S. economy and enabling China to replace more-polluting coal, Peter Voser, Shell’s chief executive office, said in a separate speech at the World Gas Conference in the Malaysian capital today.
U.S. gas production increased 8.1 percent last year alone, about the same as in four years in the previous decade, the International Energy Agency said in report released today.
U.S. Surplus Gas
“While the U.S. has yet to export LNG, it is already physically exporting its gas surplus to neighboring countries,” including Canada and Mexico, according to the report. While Australia’s LNG production was stagnant last year, the country is expected to be the largest LNG supplier by the end of the decade, the IEA said.
Shell, Exxon, Chevron Corp. and Woodside Petroleum Ltd. are among companies leading $180 billion of liquefied-natural-gas ventures in Australia that are underpinned by demand from Asia’s biggest economies. China, estimated to hold triple the shale reserves of the U.S., and Australia will see the next wave of the gas revolution as world LNG demand doubles in the next decade, Voser told delegates at the conference.
Woodside, Australia’s second-biggest oil and gas producer, said the U.S. is unlikely to grant new natural-gas export permits until after the presidential election and volumes eventually shipped may be lower than some predictions.
“Some people speculate about numbers up to 100 million tons per year” of liquefied natural gas exports, Chief Executive Officer Peter Coleman said in an interview at the Kuala Lumpur conference. “I don’t see that. It’s unlikely there will be a lot of movement on additional expansion until after the election cycle in the U.S.”
Woodside, operator of the A$15 billion ($14.6 billion) Pluto LNG project in Western Australia, expects the U.S. to export 30 million to 50 million metric tons of the fuel
“In the U.S., you are always going to have constraints with the need for gas in power generation and the chemicals industry,” Coleman said. “That says a lot of gas will stay in the U.S.,” he said. “Australian LNG has its place.”
Benchmark gas prices in the U.S. have slumped to the lowest in a decade amid a supply glut.
Gas futures slid to $1.90 per million Btu on the New York Mercantile Exchange April 19, the lowest since September 2001.
Oil prices are unlikely to collapse as they did in 2008 because long-term fundamentals haven’t changed and supply will struggle to meet a projected increase in global demand, according to Voser.
U.S. crude futures, which slumped to an eight-month low near $81 a barrel yesterday, have declined because of concern over economic growth this year and as geopolitical tension in producing regions subside, the Shell CEO said.
“The softening of the oil price at the moment is a reflection of some of the geopolitical issues being less dominant and the lower demand outlook,” Voser said. “The long-term fundamentals haven’t changed, which means that most probably, given energy-demand growth in the world in the longer term, supply will struggle to keep pace.”
Oil dropped from a record high of $147.27 a barrel to $32.40 between July and December 2008 as the global recession sapped demand. Futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange tumbled 17 percent last month, the most since December 2008, and traded today as high as $84.92 a barrel.
“We’ve seen a lot of volatility, mainly on the demand side,” Voser said after delivering a keynote address at the industry gathering. “We’ve had some geopolitical dimensions around the Middle East, in Iran and Syria, following the political tensions in Libya a year ago, so I think that’s reflected in the price in the more short to medium term.”
Oil traded as high as $110.55 a barrel March 1 on speculation that international sanctions against Iran threatened supplies from the world’s fourth-biggest producer. Prices have since dropped as Iran resumed talks with the West over its nuclear program while Europe’s debt crisis and China’s slowing economy damped the outlook for oil demand.