A tanker was crossing the Atlantic on Sunday to warm New England households with natural gas whose sources are thought to include a project in the Russian Arctic under US sanctions. The US has never before imported LNG from Russia, according to government records. The Gaselys left the UK’s Isle of Grain terminal with a cargo of liquefied natural gas two weeks ago. Engie, the French energy group that owns it, said the tanker was headed for its LNG import terminal at Everett, Massachusetts. The cargo will replenish storage facilities depleted by a record winter cold spell. Some of the gas originated from Russia’s new Yamal LNG export terminal, which was opened formally by President Vladimir Putin last month, analysts said. Yamal was hit by US sanctions in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Shipments of Russian oil and gas are not subject to sanctions, but “US persons and those in the US” are prohibited from financing Novatek, the lead company in Yamal LNG. Engie said it purchased the cargo on a spot basis to supplement supplies coming from Trinidad and Tobago. The transaction complied with US trade laws, it added. The prospect of Siberian gas heating New England homes highlights the fraught role of energy in Russia’s relationship with the US. Thanks to the shale boom, the US eclipsed Russia as the world’s largest gas producer and since 2016 has exported LNG to states including Russian neighbours Lithuania and Poland. With more export plants to come into service to 2020, the Trump administration has been encouraged to talk about a policy of “energy dominance”. The $27bn Yamal project is, meanwhile, central to Russia’s efforts to stay competitive in global markets. “There isn’t really anything intellectually inconsistent about a dominant America buying Russian gas,” said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, a US-based consultancy. “There may be something politically troubling about it.” The first shipment of gas from Yamal arrived at the Isle of Grain LNG terminal in south-east England last month, a propaganda coup for Russia. Its embassy in London tweeted that the imported Siberian gas would soon be heating UK homes as the country faced its coldest weather of the winter.
In fact, the gas never left LNG storage tanks at the Isle of Grain and was swiftly reloaded on to the Gaselys. Ed Cox, LNG editor at ICIS, an energy market information provider, said it was impossible to be sure that all the gas molecules aboard the Gaselys were of Russian origin, because they may have been mixed with LNG from other sources at the Isle of Grain. But he said the transfer appeared to be a co-ordinated operation. Russian media were quick to point out the shipment was at odds with the US’s rise as an energy power. “This delivery completely contradicts the strategy of development of the American market,” wrote the Kommersant newspaper. The unusual delivery may be more reflective of the New England energy market than the US as a whole, however. Limited gas pipelines from producing regions leave its states dependent on shipments of LNG in winter months, mostly sold under long-term contracts from Trinidad. “During the recent cold snap, LNG was absolutely vital in meeting customer needs,” said National Grid, which owns Boston’s gas utility. The Gaselys went from the Isle of Grain to Algeciras in southern Spain to refuel with oil, then headed across the Atlantic towards the US. It was only two days from its destination when it turned back east again, having been delayed by the weather, Engie said. By Friday it had resumed its journey towards Boston. Frank Harris, head of global LNG at Wood Mackenzie, an Edinburgh-based energy consultancy, said the circuitous voyage was unusual. “Generally, if you load an LNG cargo you’re heading for a specific destination as quickly as possible,” he said. As the Gaselys sailed west, at least two tankers full of US LNG were heading in the opposite direction towards Europe. The Golar Crystal and Maran Gas Sparta both loaded this month at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, according to ClipperData.
Source: FINANCIAL TIMES