Asia will be a top supply destination for liquefied natural gas exporters as prices remain linked to oil and stay at a premium to rates in the United States and Europe, apart from offering a growing market with a yawning gap between demand and supply.
Countries from Qatar to Australia with large gas reserves are pumping billions of dollars to develop fields and build liquefaction plants to chill the fuel to liquid and ship it to energy-hungry nations such as India and China.
Competition is growing to grab a bigger share of the Asian market as output from ageing fields at regular suppliers such as Mal-aysia and Indonesia dwindles. On top falling production, these two countries are also using more of the fuel to fire power plants and run buses as economic growth boosts demand.
"Asia's demand for secure supplies from neighbouring sources will preserve the oil-linked prices for the foreseeable future," Peter Cleary, vice-president of strategy and corporate development at Santos, told delegates at an industry conference in the Malaysian capital.
"Oil-linked prices in Asia works because buyers are comfortable with oil as an established, understood and globally traded commodity."
Strong LNG prices provide an incentive for producers to invest in new projects which are needed to meet surging demand in Asia, Cleary said.
Australia's liquefaction capacity growth will overtake Qatar in the next decade, the International Gas Union said in its World LNG Report 2010 released on Tuesday at the industry event.
Roughly 36 million tonnes per annum (tpa) of capacity is under construction in Australia and more than 120 million tpa has been proposed as firms discover additional gas reserves, it said.
Qatar drove liquefaction capacity growth in the current decade, reaching its target of 77 mtpa in February 2011. At the end of 2010, there were 94 liquefaction trains in operation, making up total global capacity of 270.9 million tpa, the report said.
Energy demand in China and India, the world's fastest major growing economies with billion-plus population each, is surging as rising incomes boost air travel, car sales and air conditioners.
"We are a tad bullish on gas in the next few years," Ian Taylor, president and chief executive of Vitol said. "Asia is at the heart of the LNG import market and even Malaysia and Indonesia will be importing."
Chinese imports alone are expected to rise around five-fold to 46 million tonnes by 2020 from just over 9 million tonnes of LNG in 2010, according to energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
In April, China's Sinopec signed a binding agreement to buy 4.3 million tonnes a year of LNG from a project to be developed by Australia's Origin Energy and US oil company ConocoPhillips.
India's trillion-dollar economy is already the world's eighth-largest importer of LNG, and those imports could rise as much as five-fold in the next decade. India's Petronet LNG signed a deal with Gazprom to buy up to 2.5 million tonnes of LNG a year under a deal that could be worth more than $32 billion (Dh117.4 billion).
Elsewhere in the region, Thailand is set to start operating its terminal in July this year, while Singapore's import facility will start receiving cargoes in 2013.
"A city of 1 million people is going to be created every week," Dick Benschop, vice-president for strategy at Royal Dutch Shell, told reporters at the event. "You have to run to be able to stand still."
Malaysia expects its first LNG imports in 2013, according to a presentation by a senior government official at the event.
Malaysia is the top supplier to Japan, the world's number one importer of the super-cooled fuel. South Korea also depends heavily on Malaysia, its third largest supplier after Qatar and Oman, for supplies.
The nation has already slipped one notch to become the world's third-biggest exporter in 2010 from No. 2 a year earlier, according to the gas union report.
Indonesia was the No 2 supplier last year, with 11 per cent share of the global market, trailing Qatar, which had a 26 per cent share.