GAIL sets Jan deadline for firms to lift US LNG

Written by Pranav Nambiar | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 23 2013, 05:08am hrs
LNG vesselsThe LNG vessels are to reach Indian shores by 2017
Putting a question mark over the business of natural gas imports, power and fertiliser companies, despite being starved of fuel and feedstock, have developed cold feet in picking up even the cheapest available LNG cargoes, calling them expensive.

Frustrated at this, public-sector GAIL India has warned in a letter to the power and fertiliser ministries that if these consumers dont undertake to lift the cargoes from the US by January end, it might have to divert the LNG to global markets that would fetch the gas marketer more remunerative returns.

GAIL India had lined up imports of 6 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of LNG from the US, eyeing consumers in the domestic power and fertiliser sectors. The LNG vessels are to reach Indian shores by 2017. LNG from the US is cheaper than that from other sources and is likely to be priced at $10-12 per million British thermal units (mmBtu).

The reluctance of power and fertiliser firms to agree to lift LNG from the US is despite the stagnant domestic production of gas and the widening demand-supply mismatch for the fuel/feedstock.

Prabhat Singh, director, marketing, at GAIL India told FE: We have informed the two ministries (power and fertiliser) that we will wait till January end and if the LNG (from the US) is not picked up by then, we will try to sell it in the international markets. Though the cargoes will land in India starting 2017 only, we need to arrange for the shipping and transportation well in advance. After this (relatively cheap LNG), only more expensive LNG might be available for domestic users.

Meanwhile, GAIL India is also negotiating on time swap arrangements with international suppliers to bring in the LNG at an earlier date.

Pertinently, both fertiliser and power units are pitching for a larger share of the domestically-produced cheaper gas, which is currently priced between $4.2/mmBtu for RILs KG-D6 gas and $5.73 per unit for the Panna-Mukta-Tapti gas.

However, domestic gas prices will rise from next year to a price determined on a quarterly basis by the Rangarajan formula that is indexed to global hub prices. But the Rangarajan-based price, estimated at roughly $7 based on the rates of reference prices currently, would still be lower than LNG prices.

Singh added that GAIL is quite keen to sell the US LNG to Indian buyers as this is the cheapest available long-term LNG linked to the Henry Hub rates, which are hovering around $3.5/mmBtu. GAIL is the biggest offtake holder of US LNG export capacity, with 3.5 mtpa LNG contract from the Sabine Pass project in the US Gulf signed in December 2011 and 2.3 mtpa from Cove Point on the east coast signed in April 2013. GAIL has other more expensive long-term LNG contracts with the Gorgon project in Australia and Gazprom in Russia which are oil-indexed and at present levels would cost over 15/mmBtu.

Analysts say GAIL would find it difficult to find buyers from the power and fertiliser sectors as it would lead to a sharp increase in the cost of production for the companies and larger subsidy burden for the government. According to a Standing Committee on Finance report, the cost of urea production will increase by Rs 1,384 /mt with every increase of $1/mmBtu in gas prices, thus increasing the subsidy burden on the government. Also, every $1 hike in gas price would necessitate a Rs 0.5/ unit increase in electricity tariff, making it difficult to find buyers for the power generated.

GAIL plans to offer the US LNG to three sets of domestic users. First, power and fertiliser companies, which are the largest consumers of natural gas and are currently facing massive levels of under utilisation in capacity owing to gas shortages. Second, other industries like refineries, ceramics, glass, etc. Third, for GAIL's internal use for its petrochemicals and city gas distribution businesses. The plan to sell about 1 mtpa to fertiliser and power units, around 2.5-3 mtpa to other industries and the remaining for internal consumption, said Singh.

As far as other industries (apart from power and fertiliser) are concerned, GAIL believes that once one or two buyers pick up the long-term LNG, several others would follow suit as there is a huge and growing demand for natural gas in the country, particularly for users of more expensive fuel like naphtha or diesel. The uniform pricing policy for city gas distribution as well as the opening of CNG stations in highways will further add to the demand.

Singh said that GAIL is offering a range of options in the type of contracts for Indian consumers. This includes fixing the LNG price at current Henry Hub levels, or having a flexible pricing mechanism that moves in tandem with the changes in Henry Hub with a cap on how high

prices could go, etc.