Japan Agrees to LNG Diversions for Europe

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The Japanese government has decided to respond to the US' call for help with Europe’s gas woes. Several LNG cargoes will be heading there this month, according to a senior government official.

Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) Koichi Hagiuda said Wednesday that Japan would be diverting LNG to Europe. "Several (LNG-laden) vessels are heading to Europe in February, and more will be heading in March," he said. "We (have) asked companies to consider how to respond as much as possible while watching the situation after April."

However, the cargoes due to reach Europe this month were already planned to be sold to Europe — prior to the US' request — Meti admitted. The owners of the cargoes are likely to be firms that engage in trading, such as Japan's largest LNG buyer Jera, which has tolling capacity at the Freeport LNG facility in the US.

Hagiuda made the comments after meetings with EU Ambassador to Japan Patricia Flor and US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel.

Strategic Ally

As a strategic ally of the US and the world's second-largest LNG market, Japan has been asked by the US to help with diverting cargoes should Ukraine tensions escalate and lead to disruptions in Russian gas supplies to Europe. The government indicated last week that Japan is ready to help the international community but it would need to first ensure there are sufficient supplies to meet domestic needs.

However, most observers do not expect to see a major reduction in Russian gas exports to Europe due to major political and economic repercussions for Moscow. There may also be constraints on boosting Europe's LNG imports as its regasification infrastructure is approaching its physical capacity limits.

It Won't Be Easy

One of the companies the government has reached out to for help is Inpex, which operates the 8.9 million ton per year Ichthys LNG project at Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory. It is 19% owned by Meti.

Inpex CEO Takayuki Ueda told reporters during an earnings briefing Wednesday that Inpex will try to respond to the government's request, but added that it won’t be easy as most of the LNG production has been committed to buyers in long-term contracts. A majority of Ichthys’ production has been sold to major Japanese end-users such as Jera, Tokyo Gas, Kansai Electric and Osaka Gas, with some volumes delivered to Inpex’s own terminal in Niigata prefecture. The remaining volumes have been contracted to Taiwan’s CPC and TotalEnergies, which is a 26% partner in Ichthys.

Diversion cargoes could also come from the US as Japanese firms have contracted significant volumes that do not have destination restrictions.

Privately held trading houses Mitsubishi, Mitsui and Sumitomo as well as major power utilities Jera and Osaka Gas hold tolling capacity at the Cameron, Cove Point and Freeport LNG export facilities. Most of these volumes have either been resold to Japanese end-users under term contracts or sent home. Some volumes may be available for trading.

Japan's relatively flexible US LNG represented less than 10% of its supply in 2021 (see graph).

Heavy Snowfall in Tokyo

Japan is expecting heavy snowfall in the Tokyo metropolitan area in the coming days, which is expected to deplete utilities’ LNG stocks and potentially interfere with diversion efforts.

Latest data showed that the country’s LNG stocks have been declining steadily to 1.63 million tons on Feb. 6, down from 1.67 million tons a week ago and 1.76 million tons on Jan. 23. But inventories are still higher than in 2020, when they were below 1.5 million tons.

Unlike crude, Japan does not hold strategic stockpiles for LNG, which is difficult to store.

LNG Supply, Liquefaction, LNG Projects, LNG Spot Trade
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