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LNG could stabilise energy uncertainty

News - Ukraine's gas crisis could trigger a boom in the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals.

Earlier this month, Russia flexed its muscles when it cut off the gas supplies to the Ukraine in a row over payments and prices.

British gas imports were largely unaffected by the turmoil on the continent, although the situation had a ripple effect on UK prices, driving them up.

The row has reinforced Britain's need to review its energy supply situation as comfortable self-sufficiency comes to an end. This has prompted the government to launch its second energy review in three years. It is expected to set out the criteria for this later this month.

Energy industry insiders expect a switch in dependence from piped natural gas to imported liquified natural gas (LNG), with a resulting upturn in the construction of storage terminals.

Britain has been a net exporter of North Sea gas since the mid 1990s after exploiting huge reserves.

But production peaked in 2000/2001 and has since declined at a rate of approximately 2% a year.

This left the UK increasingly dependent on imports to make up the shortfall in gas supplies.

At present Britain relies on a gas pipeline from Zeebrugge that links into the European network of suppliers. Russia is the largest contributor of gas to the network, putting in 25%.

Another line from Norway is expected to come on stream in early 2007.

But as concerns grow over the security of piped gas supply, LNG is coming to the fore. More and more processing plants are being built on coasts close to gas deposits in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

'LNG requires more expensive infrastructure, ' says one expert 'but is necessary to guarantee future political stability instead of leaving us at the mercy of countries like Russia.' Industry cruitment agencies say they have seen rapid increases in demand for engineers and designers for these projects; they expect this trend to continue.

New LNG projects are expected to extend the boom.

Plans for receiving terminals in Essex and Teesside have just been announced and more are expected to follow.

LNG can be shipped from any processing plant around the globe to receiving terminals which turn it back into gas for use in power stations, industry and homes.

If Britain decides it must keep importing some of its energy, it could reduce the threat to supplies by relying on imports of more than one type of fuel from more than one country.

LNG could help on this front, and help buy time while the government decides on our future energy mix.

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