Global liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade is expected to pass the 500 billion cubic meter (bcm) mark in 2023, driven by strong demand in developing Asian markets, according to the International Energy Agency's annual gas market report.
The IEA report, which was released on Tuesday, showed that China accounted for over a third of the increase in global LNG demand.
It said that the U.S. would surpass Australia to become the second largest LNG exporter by 2023 at 101 bcm, but it could overtake Qatar (105 bcm) as the top exporter if new US export projects achieved their final investment decision in the next two years.
"Qatari expansion is not expected to be operational before end-2023," the report noted.
According to the agency, the three global LNG players will together provide 60 percent of LNG exports by 2023, at around 100 bcm each, with Russia gearing up to reach 37 bcm but still some way behind.
-China becomes largest gas importer
The report also said that China would become the largest natural gas importing country in the world by next year, with the share of imports rising from 39 percent to 46 percent.
"Much of the increase is LNG, imports are expected to increase by 80 percent from 51 bcm to over 90 bcm between 2017 and 2023," it said, adding that pipeline imports from Eurasia would also increase substantially thanks to the new and expanded pipeline capacity.
The IEA said that Europe’s import dependency further increased with the impact of Groningen field phase-out in the Netherlands, combined with the continuous depletion of domestic production.
The European natural gas supply gap will increase by 30 bcm over the forecast period to reach over 310 bcm by 2023, according to the report.
"This increasing gap is bridged by a combination of additional LNG and pipeline gas from both new sources and traditional suppliers," it said.
The Dutch government has since 2014 been mandating caps on production from Groningen owing to the impact of earthquakes affecting nearby communities caused by this production.
At the end of March, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy launched the plan to phase out Groningen natural gas production by 2030.
According to the IEA, the announcement marks a turning point for the country as it is the first time an end date of Groningen gas production is mentioned.
By Murat Temizer