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By Daniel Fineren
DUBAI (Reuters) - Three big Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers are set to deliver gas to snow-covered Britain this week, with another shipment from Trinidad due to arrive at the start of April, according to ship tracking data on Reuters received on Sunday.
A late blast of winter weather has drained Britain's already modest gas stocks to around a tenth of their capacity, sparking fears of supply restrictions with the cold weather forecast to continue into early April.
Three Qatari tankers delivering LNG over the next few days could supply a total of around 430 million cubic metres (mcm) of gas, compared with current daily gas demand of around 370 mcm.
The first docked at the Isle of Grain terminal near London on Sunday, with a second due to deliver fuel from the world's largest LNG exporter on Monday and another expected by Friday, AIS live tracking data showed.
A fourth LNG cargo set sail for Britain from Trinidad the day after UK wholesale gas prices surged towards record highs on Friday, and could arrive around Apr. 3, according to voyage calculations using the (www.searates.com) website.
The Trinidad delivery could add another 80 mcm of gas to UK supply in the first week of April, but there are mounting concerns that more will be needed to supplement supply from the North Sea if gas stocks dry up completely as winter drags on.
According to Reuters analysis of AIS data transmitted by the world's fleet of LNG tankers on Sunday, there were no other ships indicating that they are heading to Britain.
It is possible that tankers currently sailing to the Americas from African or Middle Eastern producers could be diverted to Britain to cash in on the surge in UK gas prices at the end of last week.
There is no sign of any more Qatari LNG ships heading to Britain in the Mediterranean.
Two vessels sailing from Qatar towards the Suez canal are not indicating their final destination, but even if they do head to Britain, the Al Hamla is at least 12 days sail away while the Al Areesh is 15 days from boosting Britain's gas supplies.
Britain's gas stocks stood at around 10 percent of their capacity, or around 446 mcm on Saturday, according to the latest data available from National Grid.
But Britain also has an additional 358 mcm of gas - almost a day of its total gas needs - still held as LNG in storage tanks at UK import terminals.
The UK was a net gas exporter until 2004 but has become increasingly dependent on imports as its own production from the North Sea has declined rapidly over the last decade.
In a bid to diversify supply sources, it built some of Europe's largest LNG terminals in the middle of the last decade.
Until last year the two terminals in Wales and an older facility near London were big contributors to Britain's gas supplies and helped boost north-west European supplies through a link to Belgium.
A temporary flood of LNG in 2009-10 led to some new UK gas storage projects being put on hold as apparently plentiful supplies of LNG, especially from Qatar, challenged the economics of stashing gas in summer for use in winter.
But LNG's share of UK gas supplies has shrunk significantly over the last year, as competition for finite Qatari LNG has intensified from high paying buyers in Asia while new LNG consuming markets have absorbed supply from producers in the Atlantic basin.
Much of continental Europe still gets its gas on long-term contracts from Russia and Norway, but Britain's supplies depend on UK market prices being more attractive to foreign suppliers than other markets.
(Editing by Ron Popeski and Mark Potter)