LNG

Flames from a gas well 40km north of the Qatari capital Doha (KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

Flames from a gas well 40km north of the Qatari capital Doha (KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)

Global trade in liquefied natural gas has doubled over the last decade and looks set to overtake pipeline gas trade before 2020. LNG is the only viable way of supplying most of the growing requirements of China and India, and the most obvious way of diversifying European supplies away from dependence on Russia. The growth in trade, however, also puts the spotlight on the sources of supply. Central to everything is the tiny Middle Eastern emirate of Qatar

An Egyptian protester waves the national flag. MAHMUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images

A protester waves the Egyptian flag (Getty)

After a decade of introspection, Europe is being forced to confront the instability on its borders, particularly to the east and the south.

At least five deeply troubled states – Mali, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine – pose a diverse series of threats ranging from a flood of refugees to the radicalisation of individuals and terrorism, to the disruption of energy supplies.

The problems in each of the five could spread to other states and regions – including Lebanon, Algeria and the Balkans. But further problems could be yet to come, if the list of unstable countries is extended to include Egypt. The risk is very serious.

A casual observer would be forgiven for thinking that Egypt has been stabilised by the election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the removal from government of the Muslim Brotherhood. The outcome may not be exactly what was hoped for when the protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo three and a half years ago, but there is order in the streets. Unfortunately that is not the full story. Egypt is financially broke and dangerously dependent on the insecure generosity of the Gulf states. The risk of violence has killed the tourist industry, which was a major source of revenue and employment. Living standards have fallen and Egypt now faces a profound crisis with a shortage of energy, water and food. 

It is impossible to understand the outlook for energy prices – internationally or at the domestic level – without looking carefully at what is happening in the gas market. The simplistic assumption is that because demand is rising, prices must also increase inexorably. This assumption underpins a lot of official forecasts and the business plans of some optimistic producers. The reality is much more complicated. The emergence of a spot market suggests that there is a strong chance of prices falling over the next decade. 

The cancellation of the Shtokman LNG project by Gazprom was bad (if not totally unexpected) news for Gazprom.  The company will now be even more dependent on selling pipeline gas into northern Europe.  That will put pressure on prices and could squeeze out other suppliers in areas where Russia has particular political leverage – such as Germany.   The more important consequence though is that the decision will force a reappraisal of several other LNG projects around the world which have been relying on ever rising gas prices. 

According to the most recent published estimates the economy of the eurozone countries will decline by just 0.3 per cent this year.  But the reality could be worse.  GDP data is always unreliable and hard numbers on some of the key elements in the economy such as energy consumption often provide a more accurate picture of what is really happening.  Recent data showing a sharp fall in gas consumption suggest a sharp contraction in recent weeks.