TOKYO, June 27 (Reuters) - Japan expects to import 15 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from North America per year from as early as 2016 once the United States lifts restrictions on exports to the world’s biggest LNG buyer.
A group of Japanese cabinet ministers on Wednesday cited the volume estimate, which amounts to about 20 percent of Japan’s annual LNG imports, in a discussion on how to drive growth of the world’s third-biggest economy after last year’s Fukushima nuclear crisis, a government official said at a news conference.
A rise in the costs of importing more fuel to cover a drop in nuclear capacity since the Fukushima disaster helped drag Japan into its first trade deficit in three decades last year.
Tokyo now seeks ways to cap costs as it aims to rely less on nuclear power in the medium-to-long term.
Japan wants to tap cheaper natural gas in the United States and Canada if and when their facilities are ready to cool natural gas to a liquid for transport, and a few Japanese companies have made preliminary agreements to invest in such projects.
Wednesday’s estimate did not include a breakdown between the United Sates and Canada but referred to planned investments by four Japanese companies in two U.S. shale gas projects - Cameron in Louisiana and Cove Point in Maryland.
The wash of domestic shale gas hitting U.S. markets has sent gas prices plummeting, and buyers across the world have lined up to buy cheap American fuel. But concerns that the fledgling movement to export LNG could drive up U.S. prices have drawn opposition from consumer groups.
Tokyo has been negotiating with Washington since last year to allow more shale gas projects to export LNG to countries other than those that have free trade agreements with the United States, hoping to receive LNG via the Panama canal.