Until the middle of the 20th century, trade in natural gas was largely restricted to wherever producers could reach with pipelines. That all changed with the introduction of liquefied natural gas tankers, which suddenly opened up far flung markets to gas production from all around the globe.
That innovation has only become more important in recent years as increasing exploration of unconventional natural gas reserves has led to a dramatic redistribution of the world's natural gas production.
To help account for the continuing growth of the LNG market around the world, as well as the newly emerging market for compressed natural gas (CNG) transportation, Genscape has partnered with Commodity Vectors to create a more comprehensive energy intelligence network.
Genscape has traditionally relied upon the use of land-based monitoring systems, largely tracking flows through pipelines as well activity at important production, consumption and storage sites. Commodity Vectors has developed technology specifically for tracking the increasingly important maritime energy shipments, a system that Genscape CEO Matthew Burkley said "will add a whole new level to market transparency to oceangoing bulk energy commodities."
Data from energy giant BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2012 show how vital an addition this new technology has already become. From 2010 to 2011, global LNG imports rose from a bit more than 10.6 trillion cubic feet to nearly 11.7 trillion cubic feet, an increase of 10.1 percent. By itself, LNG was responsible for nearly 77 percent of all the increase in natural gas imports last year.
This change has hardly followed all the traditional patterns either. The U.S., far and away the world's largest consumer of natural gas and traditionally a major LNG importer, saw a nearly one-fifth decline in shipments from overseas last year. In addition, the Middle East suddenly emerged as a notable natural gas importer, with incoming LNG shipments surging by nearly 57 percent from the year before to reach almost half the imports of the U.S.
Meanwhile, demand continues to surge in the energy hungry Asia Pacific. Japan, the world's largest destination for LNG, saw its imports jump by 12.5 percent - an increase of around 427 billion cubic feet, or more than the U.S.' entire annual imports.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that global natural gas consumption has more than doubled over the past three decades, from only 53 trillion cubic feet in 1980 to 113 trillion cubic feet in 2010. The distribution of consumption has evened out notably as well, with the Middle East growing from only 2 percent of consumption in 1980 to 12 percent two years ago and Asia rising from 4 percent to 17 percent over the same span.
Even Central and South America are starting to emerge as a modest consumer, a trend reflected in a nearly 19 percent climb in LNG imports for countries other than Trinidad & Tobago - the region's major natural gas exporter.
The situation is only set to grow more complicated in the coming years as U.S. energy companies push for an outlet for booming shale gas production. As it stands, there are more than two dozen LNG import facilities proposed, approved or under construction in a country that suddenly finds itself facing the potential of a domestic surplus. Reuters reports that NERA Economic Consulting has been hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to produce a highly-anticipated report on the prospect of developing an export market in the country, a move that could dramatically shift movements of the energy commodity around the globe.