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2012年9月26日 (水)

液化天然ガス 官民連携で高値買い是正せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 26, 2012)
Public, private sectors must team up to lower LNG prices
液化天然ガス 官民連携で高値買い是正せよ(9月25日付・読売社説)

Imports of liquefied natural gas to be used as fuel for thermal power plants have skyrocketed, and the price of LNG has been surging. The public and private sectors must cooperate more to ensure LNG can be procured at a lower price.

LNG-consuming nations, including Japan and South Korea, and producing countries, including Qatar, took part in the first LNG Producer-Consumer Conference in Tokyo last week.

Japan is the world's biggest LNG importer and sucks up 30 percent of the total production volume. Since the crisis began at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Japan has increased its reliance on thermal power generation as an alternative to nuclear power.

Before the crisis, Japan's LNG import bill came to about 3 trillion yen a year. This is expected to double to about 6 trillion yen this year.

If generation costs at electric power companies increase and these costs are passed on through higher electricity bills, it will deal a blow to industries and people's daily lives.


Paying a 'Japan premium'

We are concerned that LNG import prices have surged to about six times the price of natural gas in North America.

LNG prices in Asia are linked to crude oil prices; the recent spike in LNG is partly due to higher oil prices. During last week's conference, Japan called for a review of the current crude oil-linked pricing system, but discussions on the matter ended up being carried over to the next conference.

The top LNG importers following Japan are South Korea, Taiwan, China and India. Asian countries and regions import more than 60 percent of total global LNG output.

It is essential for Japan, together with South Korea and other nations, to introduce a new pricing system and lower LNG prices by pressing producing countries.

As for price negotiations with LNG-producers, we hope a method in which not just a single company but many firms, including electricity and gas utilities, can jointly participate will be considered.

With Japan unable to restart idled nuclear reactors and the government laying out a zero nuclear power policy, LNG producers are cashing in by charging a "Japan premium"--forcing Japan to pay a higher price for LNG.

To alleviate this situation, the government should quickly reactivate nuclear reactors once they have been confirmed safe to operate. The government must give consideration to maintaining a balance among power sources, or it could find itself at even more of a disadvantage when negotiating LNG prices.


Shale gas could be savior

In the United States and other countries, new technologies are being used to extract shale gas contained in rocks deep underground. Shale gas reserves are huge, and extracting them will likely relax the supply-demand balance in the market in the future. Some observers have called this the "shale gas revolution."

It is encouraging that Japanese trading and other companies have started moves to obtain concessions to develop shale gas fields in the United States. The government should provide massive development funds and build a framework that will ensure the stable procurement of shale gas.

However, the United States has decided that its LNG can be exported only to nations that are signatories of free trade agreements with Washington.

The U.S. policy on LNG exports under the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement--an expanded version of an FTA--remains unclear. Nevertheless, Japan, to prepare for the future, needs to quickly announce it will participate in the TPP to ensure negotiations on the trade framework are to its advantage.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 25, 2012)
(2012年9月25日02時13分  読売新聞)


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