Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

A Gas Market ‘Mystery’ Is Floating in the Mediterranean

  • Maran Gas Delphi may deliver U.S. shale gas to Mideast, Asia
  • Global glut of LNG is expanding spot market for the fuel

A liquefied natural gas tanker plying the waters of the Mediterranean has created a guessing game for energy traders.

The Maran Gas Delphi has taken a meandering course after loading up on U.S. shale gas a month ago at Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana. The ship anchored off the coast of Greece for several days, prompting speculation that it would deliver its supplies to a port in the region. Instead, the tanker is now off the coast of Egypt approaching the Red Sea, raising the prospect that it may instead travel to the Middle East or Southeast Asia.

The winding track of the Maran Gas Delphi is a testament to how a gas glut fed by surging production from countries including the U.S. and Australia is complicating global trade of the fuel. The rise of so-called homeless LNG, or supplies not already committed to customers, is confounding efforts by traders and analysts to get a grasp of the market and make bets.

“It’s a bit of a mystery,” Jason Feer, head of business intelligence at ship broker Poten & Partners in Houston, said of the Maran Gas Delphi. “Normally LNG logistics are pretty well-rehearsed, and having an LNG carrier cooling its heels is expensive.”

For a QuickTake explainer on the future of LNG, click here

Cargoes of LNG not committed to customers will peak at 80 million tons by 2020, up from 50 million now, Feer said. This comes as buyers demand more flexible terms and long-term contracts expire amid the global market oversupply, he said.

The Maran Gas Delphi is not the only example of how LNG cargoes are taking a longer or diverted route to find a home. The Stena Clear Sky, also with a cargo from Sabine Pass, spent a month circling South America before unloading on Mexico’s Pacific coast, instead of taking a shorter route via the now-opened Panama Canal, which would have saved it about 21 days.

More complicated routes highlight how flexible LNG trade is becoming, with more demand for short-term trade to place cargoes in an oversupplied market, said Malcolm Johnson, a Guildford, England-based faculty member of The Oxford Princeton Programme, an energy training provider.

Flexible Volumes

U.S. volumes are flexible and don’t have destination restrictions and charter rates are low, which means the buyer wins time to find the best market, he said. A tanker that’s carrying an LNG cargo can effectively be used as storage.

“What we are likely to experience is that they do divert cargoes at a certain short notice where demand may arise,” Johnson said by phone. “The tanker charter rates are very low, they are extremely low, they give a cargo owner a bit of space to decide which market to potentially move the cargo to.”

Anangel Shipping Enterprises, owner of the Maran Gas Delphi, and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which chartered the ship, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Cheniere wasn’t immediately able to provide comment. The contract terms of the cargo were unclear.

“Everybody is working to track the vessels,” Feer from Poten and Partners said by phone. “From a trader’s point of view, understanding who’s long, who’s short and where volume is moving is obviously really critical.”

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