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South Korea becomes top importer of US LNG

South Korea overtook Mexico in October as the greatest overall importer of U.S. LNG over the almost three years since the first cargo left the Lower 48, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Energy.

With a lack of domestic energy resources or connections to international natural gas pipelines, South Korea is one of the world's top importers of LNG and other fossil fuels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Shipments of U.S. LNG to South Korea remained robust as cargoes flowing to another key market, China, dwindled amid a trade dispute between Beijing and Washington.

DOE figures for October showed Cheniere sent 10 cargoes of LNG to South Korea, totaling about 35 Bcf worth of gas. That brought the total imports by South Korea to 341.4 Bcf, or 19.6% of all U.S. LNG exports since the first cargo departed from Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana in February 2016.

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But Mexico remains a top destination for U.S. LNG, receiving 19.1% of total U.S. exports over those years. Demand in Mexico is strong, in part because of delayed pipeline projects within its borders. Mexico received a total 7 Bcf of U.S. LNG in October from two shipments.

Rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China led to Beijing slapping a 10% tariff on U.S. LNG on Sept. 24. LNG shipments from the U.S. to China ground to a halt in September. South Korea still took in 24.1 Bcf of LNG in September, the most of any country during that month. Meanwhile, China's next cargo of LNG from the U.S. would not arrive until Nov. 11. The vessel carrying that cargo departed Oct. 10 from Sabine Pass, and the latest DOE figures showed it was one of two cargoes that departed from the Cheniere facility to China in October. The combined shipments carried a total of about 7.3-Bcf worth of LNG.

In recent weeks, some developers of U.S. LNG export projects have been encouraged by a temporary truce in the U.S.-China trade war.

Japan, another top importer of U.S. LNG, brought in more than 3 Bcf in October, with a cargo shipped from Dominion Energy Inc.'s Cove Point LNG terminal in Maryland. India imported 7.1 Bcf during the month.

Other notable exports for U.S. LNG in October included European customers such as Italy, which received 4.8 Bcf, and the United Kingdom at 7.2 Bcf, the Netherlands at 3.1 Bcf and Spain at 3.5 Bcf. France also imported a total 4.8 Bcf from two cargoes, the first to go there since the exports from the Lower 48 began.

Total LNG exports from the U.S. in October amounted to 89.8 Bcf. Monthly export totals stand to increase in 2019 with the addition of Cheniere's Corpus Christi LNG export facility in Texas and a fifth train at Sabine Pass. The Corpus Christi terminal on Dec. 11 shipped its first LNG cargo, which headed for Greece. Three other developers have edged closer to starting up U.S. LNG export projects.