July 23rd, 2012
05:18 AM GMT
Editor’s note: Outlook is CNN's in-depth look at business climates around the world. To August 12, 2012, we’re focusing on Singapore.
Singapore (CNN) – Singapore’s strategic position at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca – one of the world’s critical energy chokepoints – has always meant the resource-poor city state has occupied a special place in the world of geopolitics.
Almost all of East Asia’s oil supplies must pass through the narrow shipping strait making Singapore one of the world’s busiest ports, but also vulnerable to shifts in the region’s energy mix.
The recent unrest in the Middle East – which has some analysts saying that $100 per barrel is likely to be the default benchmark oil price for some time to come - has demonstrated to Singapore that its energy security hinges on reducing its exposure to price and supply risks.
With gas from Indonesia’s East Natuna fields in plentiful supply, Singapore is backing gas as Asia’s fuel of the future – and it is plowing serious money into making sure it has the infrastructure to become one of the world’s most important shipment hubs for liquid natural gas (LNG).
Its LNG terminal - now 80% complete, according to a recent report from the Singapore government - is to cost at least $1 billion and is on track for completion in at the end of 2013.
According to Neil McGregor, chief executive of Singapore LNG Corporation, the trade in oil and gas largely follows a north-south axis – the energy giants of the Middle East and Russia export to demand points in Europe, the United States and Asia.
The transpacific trade in oil, gas and coal – the east-west axis – accounts for just 1.4% of global trade in these products. Even though oil and gas is the most traded product in the Asia-Pacific region, there is virtually no energy trade across the Pacific.
However, he believes this space is about to change, “particularly when you look at Asia in terms of demand, most of the world’s future gas demand is set to come from this region.”
He says several factors are now converging to shift the axis of energy trading, creating a more integrated and competitive market in energy products in the Asia-Pacific region.
The most important is the discovery of massive deposits of unconventional shale gas in the United States and Canada.
Asian oil and gas companies are now investing heavily in U.S. and Canadian energy assets – especially Canadian oil sands which contain the third largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world – and conditions are right for a tipping point that could see the transpacific axis become a center for the energy trade.
The Trans-ASEAN Gas Pipeline (TAGP) - of which Singapore is one of the major backers - is perhaps the best indicator yet of the emerging strength of gas.
A massive project under the auspices of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), it aims to connect the whole of Southeast Asia into one of the largest networks of its type in the world.
Linking the gas reserves of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines, Brunei and Thailand, the project has the backing of the oil and gas majors in each of these countries and is expected to be in full operation by 2020.
The network already has 10 cross-border gas pipelines costing $14.2 billion, which traverse 3,952 km (2,455 miles) and transport 3,095 MMcf/d (million cubic feet per day) of gas.
There are at least six other projects ready to be commissioned and operating by 2016. Key to the project is the development of the massive East Natuna gas field in Indonesia.
The latest pipeline under construction is the Indonesia-Thailand pipeline, which will connect the gas field to the Thailand-Malaysia Joint Development Area (JDA), and from there link up to Thailand’s existing pipeline at Erawan.
ASEAN says the project will connect a population of 677 million people spread across 4.5 million square kilometers in a network attracting $93.6 billion worth of investment. Ultimately, the gas pipeline will break the bounds of Southeast Asia, serving lucrative gas markets in China, Japan and India.
“Singapore is very afraid of being dependent on any one source of energy, and any one source of that fuel chain,” said Benjamin Sovacool, a Research Fellow and Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore who specializes in energy policy.
“It’s diversifying its fuel base by considering things like coal and nuclear in addition to oil and gas, and it's diversifying ways to get natural gas by focusing on LNG and pipelines simultaneously. It’s not really committing to any single project.”
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