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LONDON Jan 16 (Reuters) - U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter Cheniere Energy Inc has inked a 15-year, 1 million tonne per annum (mtpa) sales deal with Swiss commodity trader Trafigura, a sign of how the sector's middlemen are expanding their market share.

LNG deliveries to Trafigura, one of the biggest independent traders of the fuel, will begin in 2019, Cheniere said in a statement on Tuesday.

Swiss trade houses grabbed a $10 billion share of the rapidly growing LNG business last year, handling roughly 8.5 percent of all supply.

They have benefited from the emergence of new LNG importing countries such as Egypt and Pakistan with rapidly growing energy needs and high credit risks, acting as a buffer for risk-averse suppliers and producers unwilling to take direct exposure.

Trafigura, Vitol, Gunvor and Glencore are all used to dealing with politically complex markets. As many countries are hungry for gas as a cleaner alternative to oil and coal for generating power, traders are expected to keep growing their market share.

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