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Cove Point liquefaction terminal on US East Coast begins planned maintenance

Highlights

Annual turnaround takes 5.25 million mt/year facility offline

Asia prices rally, European signals more volatile

Houston — Natural gas deliveries to Dominion Energy's Cove Point LNG export terminal in Maryland fell to near zero Sept. 21 as the facility began planned annual maintenance.

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A notice to customers did not say how long the outage would last, though according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data the facility was offline for 24 days during its 2019 turnaround. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest planned outage.

Traders do not expect much impact on the market as it would likely have already been priced in.

Prices in the biggest market for LNG — Northeast Asia — have appreciated rapidly since the start of September as the key winter demand season rolled into focus. The Platts JKM — the benchmark price for spot LNG the region — has increased more than 30 cents since the start of the month. It was assessed at $4.80/MMBtu on Sept. 21. Prices have moved up gradually though August and September on concerns of production outages in the US and Australia, where Sempra Energy's Cameron LNG and Chevron's Gorgon LNG have been affected, respectively.

Pricing signals from Europe, meanwhile, have been more volatile. Delivered prices into Northwest Europe were only slightly higher than where they started the month, after dipping more than 20 cents/MMBtu and then recovering. The Platts Northwest Europe Marker was last assessed at $4.160/MMBtu.

With the front-month NYMEX gas futures contract hovering just above the $2/MMBtu mark until Sept. 21 — when it slumped — and spot shipping costs to Europe under 60 cents/MMBtu, arbitrage into the European market remains competitive with the traditionally premium markets in Northeast Asia.

In July, Dominion announced it was selling a 25% operating stake in Cove Point to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. After the expected close of the deal in the fourth quarter, Berkshire Hathaway will become the operator of Cove Point, an important outlet for US gas to Europe and beyond with a capacity of about 5.25 million mt/year. Dominion will retain a 50% passive ownership after the deal closes.