'Gassing Up': A Sign Of Global Economic Recovery?

'Gassing Up': A Sign Of Global Economic Recovery?

Exploding global supplies of natural gas and low prices may fuel surge in use and conversion. Cheaper nitrogen fertilizer ahead?

Driven by surging natural gas consumption in Asia and the United States, global use rebounded 7.4% from its 2009 slump to hit a 2010 record 111.9 trillion cubic feet. That's according to a new Vital Signs Online report from the Worldwatch Institute. That increase ballooned the natural gas share of total energy consumption to 23.8%.

But the bigger news for agriculture is that world-wide production of natural gas continues to explode. It's a key element of nitrogen fertilizer production which suffered from short supplies and high natural gas prices as recent as five years ago. As reported earlier on this website, worldwide nitrogen fertilizer production is expected by fertilizer industry experts to expand significantly through 2012.

Since 2010, natural gas development has exploded with new and major production coming out of the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Northeast United States, plus other countries. That growth is reflected in development of new pipelines, natural gas terminals plus gas-to-liquid conversion plants. 

World-wide demand is also growing at a phenomenal rate, according to the Vital Signs report. The world's largest incremental increase in natural gas use occurred last year in the United States, where low prices triggered a 1.3 trillion-cubic-feet increase to 24.1 trillion cubic feet. The Asia Pacific region experienced the strongest growth as a share of 2009 consumption levels, with China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan all experiencing demand growth of over 20%.

Natural gas producers have responded to this revived demand with a 7.3% boost in production. The share of global natural gas trade represented by liquified natural gas surpassed 30% in 2010 for the first time on record. Gas-to-liquid conversion plants make the energy resource more transportable.

The United States maintained its position as the leading source of natural gas, accounting for close to 20% of the world's total production in 2010. In Russia, which holds nearly 25% of the world's proved natural gas reserves, production jumped 11.6%.

Two major developments this year have significantly affected the stability of global natural gas markets. The political unrest brought about by the "Arab Spring" slowed production in a number of gas-producing countries in North Africa, according to the Worldwatch report.
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