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The Times They Are A Changin'
It’s the Middle East’s Turn to Buy American Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbon trade between the Middle East and the United States has historically been something of a one-way street, as petrostates have made billions selling off their prodigious oil reserves and Qatar has solidified its position as the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas (LNG). But the American shale revolution is shaking up the status quo, and two recent shipments of LNG have recently punctuated that shift. The FT reports:

Two cargoes of US liquefied natural gas from Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass plant in Louisiana have been delivered to Kuwait and Dubai in recent months to meet the rapidly growing demand for energy.

This reversal of the well-established flows of hydrocarbons from the Middle East to the US reflects the boom in American gas production caused by the development of previously uncommercial shale reserves, and the soaring demand for energy in economies from the Gulf to north Africa.

“We’re in a time of huge change in LNG shipping routes,” said Ted Michael of Genscape, a market data provider. “The old order is being overturned, and we haven’t seen the dust settle yet.”

A decade ago, the United States was busy building massive, costly LNG import facilities along its Gulf Coast. What a difference ten years and an energy revolution can make, as those import projects have been idled in favor of export terminals, where workers are chilling America’s substantial stores of shale gas into liquid form and sending them off to ports around the world. The first shipment went to Brazil, but since then cargoes have made their way to Europe and, now, the Middle East.

Like its oil counterpart, the global LNG market is well supplied at the moment, with Qatar and Australia already exporting larger and larger volumes while the United States looks to become a major player in the coming years as more export terminals come online. It’s a buyer’s market, too, as prices have steadily come down both as a result of contracts that have included linkages to oil prices (which are today less than half of what they were two years ago) as well as sluggish demand coupled with surging supplies.

Selling LNG to Kuwait and Dubai won’t suddenly make the Middle East beholden to U.S. suppliers, but it does signal an important and ongoing change in global energy dynamics. And, as more Middle Eastern countries look to derive less of their electricity from costly and relatively inefficient oil-fired power plants, LNG demand should rise in the region. If and when that happens, there will be plenty of producers here in the United States willing to step up and subvert the traditional energy flows between the Middle East and America.

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