According to Exxon Mobil’s Outlook for Energy (2017), the global market for natural gas (NG) should expand by around 45% over the next 20 years with demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) expected to grow by more than 2.5 times within the same period.
Acknowledged as a low carbon intensive fossil fuel, natural gas is a cleaner, environmentally-friendly and sustainable option for energy transition that reduces the use of high carbon intensive fossil fuels, such as coal and crude-oil distillates. Natural gas is also ideal for increasing energy efficiency on the basis that energy release per mass during NG combustion is the highest amongst fuels (fossil- and biomass-based). Moreover, the amount of energy produced from renewables cannot supply global demands for a complete replacement of fossil fuels.
Accordingly, the LNG market is becoming highly competitive with more than 20 countries already supplying customers around the world. Major suppliers currently include Qatar, Australia, Malaysia, Russia, United States, Nigeria, Indonesia, Algeria, Egypt, to name but a few. Increased capital expenditure in the sector is coming and new LNG players are expected to enter the market in the years ahead. These include countries around the Eastern Mediterranean; the United States Geological Survey (U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2010 - 2014) estimates that the Levant Basin (involving Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey) contains 122.4 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable gas.
In such a competitive environment, Qatar managed to maintain its position as the largest LNG exporter in the world (at 77.8mn tons) in 2019 (2020 World LNG Report), and is massively investing to preserve its role as the main global player. Qatar’s future strategies not only include the expansion of production capabilities by around 64% by 2027 to reach 126 million tons of LNG per annum (The Peninsula Qatar, 2019), but also its shipping capabilities through investment in a new fleet of LNG carriers. For instance, on June 1 this year, Qatar Petroleum announced the signing of the largest LNG shipbuilding agreement in history to secure more than 100 ships valued in excess of QR 70 billion to cater for its LNG growth plans (The Peninsula Qatar, 2020). Additionally, Nakilat, the shipping arm of Qatar's LNG, will significantly increase its current 15% share of the global LNG fleet carrying capacity, and will remain the largest owner of LNG carriers in the world for the coming decades.
This strategic investment will propel Qatar from being the world’s largest LNG exporter and producer to a globally-recognized champion of LNG supply chains. As things stand, an LNG supply chain commonly consists of three main links: exploration and production; treatment and liquefaction; and shipping and distribution. Expanding shipping capabilities will definitely strengthen the third link of Qatar’s LNG supply chain, whereas the first two links are already very well established.
By owning and controlling the whole LNG supply chain, Qatar has acquired a significant competitive advantage, and moved further ahead of the competition in the LNG market. For instance, by owning independent shipping capabilities on top of well-established production and liquefaction facilities, Qatar will be better prepared and ready to respond to future unexpected risk events. Crucially, the country will also be able to recover quickly from any potential disruptions.
Accordingly, Qatar is building one of the most effective and resilient LNG supply chains in the world. The resilience of the country’s LNG supply chains will also increase international buyers’ trust and confidence in Qatar as a reliable LNG exporter. This reputation will in turn consolidate Qatar’s actual portfolio and help earn new market share. Being seen as a reliable supplier is extremely important in a business environment driven by oil-indexed long-term contracts of 15-25 years. Moreover, being the largest owner of LNG carriers in the world will provide Qatar with a huge competitive advantage in the spot and short-term markets. For instance, the LNG market was traditionally dominated by long-term contracts covering 20-25 years. However, thanks to the emergence of new suppliers and consumers, spot market purchases of LNG have also become a common practice. Indeed, spot and short-term LNG trades made up 32 percent of overall import volumes in 2018 (EnergyWorld, 2019) and are expected to rise over the coming years.
To sum up, by expanding its LNG shipping capabilities on top of its well-established production and liquefaction facilities, Qatar is building a holistic, efficient and resilient LNG supply chain. This will provide the country with a unique and significant competitive advantage in a highly competitive LNG business landscape.
Dr. Adel Elomri and Dr. Brenno Menezes are Assistant Professors at the College of Science and Engineering, Hamad Bin Khalifa University.
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