HOUSTON—Looking at a photo of heavy particulate matter clouding the atmosphere in China, Cheniere Energy CEO Jack Fusco recalled how quickly the particles transformed a black Mercedes and other vehicles along the street to the same color.
There were only gray cars in front of the hotel, Fusco said, recounting his stay in Beijing, China, ahead of a trade mission. Speaking during the Texas Oil & Gas Association’s Lone Star Energy Forum on Oct. 22, Fusco explained how the heavy particulate matter was a result of Beijing’s centralized heating system and inefficient, old underground boilers that rely on coal.
“The health risks are immense. So what we’re doing is trying to clean the air in China by delivering natural gas that can displace the coal and the oil that they’re currently using for generation,” said Fusco. “What we’ve been able to do is take their natural gas generation from 6% to 7%. … Their demand in LNG has grown 50% year over year, so the opportunity for us is dramatic.”
So far, Cheniere (AMEX: LNG)—which earlier this year entered two sale and purchase agreements with China National Petroleum Corp. for about 1.2 million tonnes per annum—has delivered more than 50 tankers to China. “We expect that to continue and hopefully grow because we can double the size of Cheniere just with China,” Fusco said. “So that’s been a real focus for us.”
This comes amid an ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China. In September, China imposed a 10% tariff on U.S. LNG in response to the Trump administration placing tariffs on Chinese goods.
The so-called trade war between two of the world’s biggest economic powerhouses is also playing out when U.S. natural gas production is rising and companies are in various phases of growing their LNG export business.
As one of the top LNG exporters in the U.S., Cheniere is operating and constructing its Sabine Pass LNG facility in Louisiana and is constructing a second liquefaction facility near Corpus Christi, Texas. Cheniere is in the midst of a $28 billion investment with seven liquefaction trains. These include five at Sabine Pass, four of which are already in operation and one in commissioning. At Corpus Christi, Train 1 is a year ahead of schedule and commissioning, Fusco said. Sabine Pass Train 5 also recently received FERC approval.
In all, LNG export capacity in the U.S. is expected to increase, considering Fusco said there are about 10 billion cubic feet per day of LNG terminals under construction or currently operating today.
Actions out of Washington D.C., however, could have an impact. It was an area that Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (API), spoke briefly on during his talk at the forum. He spoke about the successes of the oil and gas industry in Texas and in the U.S., where natural gas production has increased by a third and crude oil production has doubled since 2008.
“But, as you well know, we cannot rest on that success, however. We have the resources, the workers and the technology to keep going. But we also need the right policies to sustain the momentum,” Sommers said.
“We cannot let Washington stop that energy revolution,” he added.
Sommers pointed out some tailwinds that included the lifting of the oil export ban by the Obama administration in 2015, tax reforms and the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement under the Trump administration.
“We’re headed in the right direction on trade in North America,” he said. “But when it comes to trade around the globe we have work to do.”
He used tariffs on steel and the China trade dispute involving LNG exports as two examples.
“First, the administration’s trade policies of applying tariffs and quotas on essential steel and aluminum products don’t just increase costs. In some cases, the specialty products we need to build equipment and pipelines aren’t even available from U.S. sources,” Sommers said. “Second, the escalating trade dispute with China puts our LNG exports in the crosshairs, just as we’ve gained a strong foothold in this major arena. Getting priced out of China’s fast-growing energy market only helps our enemies and we have to make sure that we are pursuing policies that make sense for American producers.”
When answering a question from the audience on the topic, Cheniere’s Fusco said the company—which also has contracts with companies in South Korea and Taiwan—was trying to work with the administration and with the Chinese to position the company to be there for China when the issue is resolved. That doesn’t appear to be anytime soon, he said.
However, in Asia, the “difference between the Henry Hub natural gas price—to which U.S. LNG contract prices are indexed—and crude oil—to which LNG prices are benchmarked in Asia—[has] helped to drive increases in LNG imports from the United States,” as explained by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“Our product is so affordable and competitive right now—and they need it—that we will continue to deliver,” Fusco said. “We positioned ourselves like we should. We're a company that’s selling to another company. They just happened to be in Asia for that matter. But I try to stay away from politics if I can.”
As a trade association representing the oil and gas industry, API is no stranger to politics. The association is preparing to work with those on both sides of the aisle for the industry, according to its CEO.
“I don’t represent a Republican party or a Democratic party. I represent the oil and gas party,” Sommers said. “And we need to find advocates all over the political spectrum, so my commitment to this industry is that we’re going to be a bipartisan industry that seeks out advocates on both sides of the aisle.
“Safe and reliable and inexpensive fuel is in everyone’s best interest and I’ve already met with many folks on the democratic side of the aisle and on the republican side of the aisle to build those kinds of consensus to make sure that this industry is successful no matter who the president is and no matter who holds the gavels,” he added.
The forum, which took place on the same day as President Trump’s visit to Houston, also featured several elected officials, including some seeking reelection. Among these was Sen. Ted Cruz (R), who faces Beto O’Rourke (D) and Neal M. Dikeman (L) in the Nov. 6 general election.
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