China's LNG imports rise to second highest on record ahead of heating season

BEIJING, Nov 23 (Reuters) - China's imports of LNG in October nearly doubled from the same month a year ago to the second highest on record, according to customs data, as companies boosted imports of the fuel ahead of the winter heating season.

LNG imports rose 95.7% from a year earlier to 3.57 MMt, second only to a record 3.73 MMt in December, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Thursday.

The Chinese government's aggressive campaign to heat millions of homes in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region with natural gas instead of coal this winter has spurred the demand for the fuel and may cause a supply shortage.

Wen Wang, a natural gas consultant with Wood Mackenzie, estimated China's LNG imports to rise 40 percent year-on-year to 20 MMt this winter, as companies bring in more spot cargoes on top of supplies under term contracts.

The surge in demand is luring spot cargoes from places such as Norway and Nigeria that are not traditional LNG sources for China.

Shipping data on Thomson Reuters Eikon shows a 151,000-cubic-metre cargo from Nigeria is due to arrive in China early December, the third from the West African exporter this year.

"The higher-than-usual demand throughout 2017 resulted in higher offtake in contracted volumes through September... This means lower contracted offtake is left for the winter, and higher demand for spot," said Wang.

The customs data showed that China's imports for the first 10 months of the year climbed 47.9 percent from the same time a year ago to 29.09 million tonnes.

In the trade of refined oil products, China exported 1.21 MMt of diesel last month, down 10.8% from a year earlier and higher than September's 1.18 MMt.

Exports of gasoline rose 11.4% from a year ago to 970,000 tonnes last month.

Chinese state oil refiners received in late October a total of 5 MMt of fuel export quotas, with diesel accounting for 60 percent of the quotas. This was an additional batch of quotas to cope with a growing fuel surplus as new refineries started.

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