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The impact of India's first offshore LNG terminal

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LNG Industry,

In the build up to this year's CWC World LNG & Gas Series 8th Asia Pacific Summit, held in Singapore from 20 - 23 September, CWC interviewed Manish Tiwani, General Manager, H Energy.

What impact do you envisage India's first offshore LNG terminal, once finished and operational in 2019, will have on the country's demand growth prospects?

The offshore project, as a concept, is a novelty for the Eastern Indian market, the shorter gestation period for developing the floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) project along with the strategic location has intrigued stakeholders throughout the gas value chain. The proposed FSRU terminal is set to be the gateway for natural gas to Eastern India which would not only support the industrial growth of the states of West Bengal and Odisha but will also provide an economical and environmentally friendly energy solution across various customer segments. The project is likely to cater to the needs of fertilizer units, refineries, petrochemical plants and industrial units in the Eastern India region. In addition, the project is also expected to be a catalyst for city gas distribution in the cities of West Bengal and Odisha, facilitating natural gas availability to domestic customers and the transportation segment. The concept of an offshore FSRU will set an example for LNG infrastructure creation in various parts of India which are still undeveloped due to lack of proper port infrastructure and limitation of draft at smaller ports.

The 715 km Contai-Dattapulia-Jajpur-Dhamra-Paradip natural gas pipeline will connect all the major cities and towns of West Bengal and Odisha. The pipeline including proposed interconnectivity with other pipelines planned in the region connecting the northern Indian region to Eastern India market will be a strong demand driver for the region. In total the pipeline is expected to unlock a demand of 5 - 6 million tpy initially and up to 10 million tpy in the medium to long-term.

What do you consider to be the main merits of securing supply on a long-term basis over the spot market?

The key feature that differentiates a long-term contract from a spot contract is security of supply on stable predetermined terms. Long-term contracts are preferred by customers having anticipated stable and sustainable demand in long run of 10 – 15 years. whereas spot contracts are executed to satisfy a peak surge in demand. In the recent past, owing to the present market conditions, procurement of spot cargo is also a means of averaging the price differential of long-term contracts and prevailing market prices.

If we follow the LNG market for the past 20 years it is evident that spot market has grown significantly, this is a favourable phenomenon since it increases the liquidity in the market. However, as we have seen time and again every time the spot prices are soft, the buyers keep increasing their spot portfolio cutting down on the signing of new long-term contracts, which is a dangerous practice. There is no alternative to long-term stable supply contracts and the spot and short-term purchases shall be only used as an optimisation tool and too much dependence on the volatile spot market needs to be avoided, the only change can be the duration of long-term contract from a period of 15 - 20 years to 10 - 15 years.

You are working on agreements to secure further LNG volumes - how do you see the LNG supply outlook in the next three years?

The next three to five years are going to be quite crucial in determining how the markets are going to behave during the next two decades. We expect that once all the under construction projects in the US and Australia are operational in the next three years this will bring significant overcapacity in an already saturated global LNG market. Further, depending on crude prices, major projects in Eastern Africa will be taking financial investment decision (FID) in the next 2 - 3 years. The US has significant additional capacities which can be added to the market if Henry Hub (HH) prices remain above US$3/million Btu. If we also count the Russian projects and additional capacity from other project expansions worldwide we are looking at a significant oversupply in the market for the next 3 - 5 years.

Do you think smaller or newer LNG buyers entering the market are experiencing any significant challenges or opportunities over the larger, more traditional buyers?

Being a new player in business comes with additional efforts to make ones presence more conspicuous and credible at a global platform. The risks that LNG suppliers perceive while dealing with new entrants is significantly higher than that of established players. The higher risks are mitigated by imposing higher credit security obligations on new entrants making credit arrangements a formidable task and creating impediments towards finalisation of the deals. Another significant challenge for the new buyers and aggregators entering the LNG market is the volumes requirement, which ranges between 0.2 - 0.3 million tpy in the form of multiple deals of varying tenure and hence these cannot be clubbed in. LNG project developers are not keen to supply such contracts at these volume levels, hence the role of portfolio players and trading companies becomes significant to bridge the gap and help create additional demand in the market.

The first natural gas pipeline in eastern India is planned to be built following final approval from the pipeline regulatory authority - once completed, how do you think it will impact on India's choice of fuel in the energy mix?

Presently natural gas contribution is around 7% in the Indian energy basket, this mainly comes from customer in Northern and Western India as Eastern India is yet to be connected to the national gas grid. At present, the customers in Eastern India are forced to use uneconomical and highly polluting liquid fuels, however the LNG terminal project and the natural gas pipeline will provide them with the option to use natural gas. After the commissioning of the proposed natural gas pipeline the share of natural gas is expected to rise significantly as the industrial belts in West Bengal and Odisha have immense potential in terms of natural gas consumption. The fertilizer units, refineries and petrochemical plants along the proposed route are likely to be the anchor customers replacing liquid fuels.

The government of India has already given mandate to all urea producing units to switch to natural gas, and has issued directives in 2015 for making available imported gas (RLNG) available to all urea producing units at uniform price. The city gas distribution sector has started assuming importance and policies are in place to incentivise new entities participating in this business so that energy needs of industrial, commercial, transport and household segments can be satisfied. The mentioned policy reforms are driven by a strong public sentiment and are a clear indication of the nation's willingness to promote the usage natural gas. The proposed pipeline will not only connect Eastern India to the gas grid but also strengthen nations commitment towards reducing emissions by promoting green fuels like natural gas.

Interview conducted by CWC Group. Edited by

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