* IEA sees Asia benefiting from signs of delinking from oil
* IEA says oil market well supplied, but glut not expected
By Osamu Tsukimori
TOKYO, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Asia should benefit from the convergence of global liquefied natural gas markets amid signs of change for its pricing structure linked to oil, the head of the West’s energy watchdog told Reuters on Thursday.
Gas has historically been pegged to the oil market through long-term contracts, because both fuels used to be produced by the same exporters and were often used in the same industries.
But a rising disconnect between gas and oil suppliers and new two-way contracts between exporters and customers based on regional gas exchanges means gas is more likely to take its cue from specific regional prices rather than global benchmarks, such as oil’s Brent crude.
“We can see that the gas market will be converging and also it goes for prices,” Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told Reuters on the sidelines of a news conference, when asked about Asia’s efforts to link LNG prices with the U.S. Henry Hub gas benchmark.
Removing the link between gas prices and oil and moving to so-called hub pricing would drastically cut the cost of natural gas imports, but producer countries such as Qatar have long opposed such moves, saying they need oil-indexed prices to finance the huge expense of building LNG projects.
“For Henry Hub prices, you have to take into account the transport costs, the marginal cost and so on, but the price will be definitely lower than you are paying now,” Van der Hoeven said.
LNG is expensive in Asia, fed partly by Japan’s need for fuel to run power stations after most of its nuclear plants were shut following last year’s massive earthquake.
It is nearly four times the cost of natural gas in the United States, where a boom in shale oil and gas has driven down prices.
Van der Hoeven’s comments come amid signs that Asia’s energy-hungry nations may finally be making headway in their push to scrap oil-linked pricing of natural gas.
Cheniere Energy has struck long-term deals to supply South Korea and India from the Sabine Pass project at Henry Hub-linked prices. Kansai Electric also secured BP’s non-U.S. LNG supplies at Henry Hub-linked prices, likely to be the first time for a Japanese firm.
Van der Hoeven was in Tokyo to meet Japanese trade minister Yukio Edano and attend a World Energy Outlook presentation.
Separately, Van der Hoeven told a news conference on Thursday that world oil markets were well supplied, despite the loss of around 1 million barrels a day of crude from Iran.
Brent has stayed above $100 a barrel for most of this year, boosted by concerns over supply disruptions after the United States and Europe slapped sanctions on Iran in a bid to force Tehran to abandon its controversial nuclear programme.
“Altogether, when we look at the supply of the market, the market is sufficiently supplied,” she said. “But I agree it would be nice if this would be reflected in the lower price.”
She added, however, that the market was unlikely to see a glut, where supplies far exceed demand.
“We project that there’s such a huge growth in demand for energy, especially in emerging countries, that a real glut will be something that is not to be expected. Let’s be honest about that,” she said.
A recent spike in tension in the Middle East, following air strikes by Israel on the Gaza strip and Palestinian rocket attacks, has for now had no impact on the IEA’s outlook for oil market fundamentals, she said earlier this week.
The IEA advises industrialized nations on energy policy and represents 28 oil importing countries.